From services to products

Over the course of my career I’ve done a variety of consulting projects as both an employee and freelancer. I’ve helped found and run a small consulting team. And, through my experience leading engineering teams, some experience of designing products and platforms. I’ve been involved in a few discussions, particularly over the last 12 months or so, around how to generate repeatable products off the back of consulting engagements.

I wanted to jot down a few thoughts here based on my own experience and a bit of background reading. I don’t claim to have any special insight or expertise, but the topic is one that I’ve encountered time and again. And as I’m trying to write things down more frequently, I thought I’d share my perspective in the hope that it may be useful to someone wrestling with the same issues.

Please comment if you disagree with anything. I’m learning too.

What are Products and Services?

Lets start with some definitions.

A service is a a bespoke offering that typically involves a high-level of expertise. In a consulting business you’re usually selling people or a team who have a particular set of skills that are useful to another organisation. While the expertise and skills being offered are common across projects, the delivery is usually highly bespoke and tailored for the needs of the specific client.

The outcomes of an engagement are also likely to be highly bespoke as you’re delivering to a custom specification. Custom software development, specially designed training packages, and research projects are all examples of services.

A product is a packaged solution to a known problem. A product will be designed to meet a particular need and will usually be designed for a specific audience. Products are often, but not always, software. I’m ignoring manufacturing here.

Products can typically be rapidly delivered as they can be installed or delivered via a well-defined process. While a product may be tailored for a specific client they’re usually very well-defined. Product customisation is usually a service in its own right. As is product support.

The Service-Product Spectrum

I think its useful to think about services and products being at opposite ends of a spectrum.

At the service end of the spectrum your offerings are:

  • are highly manual, because you’re reliant on expert delivery
  • are difficult to scale, because you need to find the people with the skills and expertise which are otherwise in short supply
  • have low repeatability, because you’re inevitably dealing with bespoke engagements

At the product end of the spectrum your offerings are:

  • highly automated, because you’re delivering a software product or following a well defined delivery process
  • scalable, because you need fewer (or at least different) skills to deliver the product
  • highly repeatable, because each engagement is well defined, has clear life-cycle, etc.

Products are a distillation of expertise and skills.

Actually, there’s arguably a stage before service. Lets call those “capabilities” to borrow a phrase. These are skills and expertise that you have within your team but which you’ve not yet sold. I think it’s a common mistake to draw up lists of capabilities, rather than services or products.

The best way to test whether your internal capabilities are useful to others is to speak to as many potential customers as possible. And one of the best ways to develop new products is to undertake a number of bespoke engagements with those customers to understand where the opportunities lie for creating a repeatable solution. Many start-ups use consulting engagements as discovery tools.

Why Productise?

There are many obvious reasons why you’d start to productise a service:

  • to allow your business to scale. Consulting businesses can only scale with people, product businesses can scale to the web.
  • to make your engagements more repeatable, so that you can deliver a consistent quality of output
  • to distil learning and expertise in such a way as to support the training and development of junior staff, and grow the team
  • to ensure business continuity, so you’re less reliant on individual consultants
  • to reduce costs, by allowing more junior staff to contribute to some or all of an engagement. Check-lists, standard processes and internal review stages providing the appropriate quality controls
  • to focus on a specific market. Tailoring your service to a specific sector can help target your sales and marketing effort
  • to more easily measure impacts. Products solve problems and, when manifested as software, can be instrumented to collect metrics on usage and hopefully impacts.

Because they have a bounded scope, products are easier to optimise to maximise revenue or impacts. Or both.

A Product Check-list

By my definition above, a product will:

  1. solve a specific well-defined problem
  2. be targeted at a specific customer or audience
  3. be deliverable via a well-documented process, which may be partially or completely automated
  4. be deliverable within a well-defined time scale
  5. be priced according to a tried and tested pricing model

If you can’t meet at least the first three of these criteria then I’d argue that what you have is still a bespoke service. And if you’ve not sold it at all then all you have is a capability or at best an idea.

Products evolve from client engagements.

Approaches to Productisation

Some organisations will be using consulting engagements as a means to identify user needs and/or as a means to fund development of a software product or platform.

But developing a product doesn’t necessarily involve building software, although I think some form of automation is likely to be a component of a more repeatable, productised service.

You might start productising a service simply by documenting your last engagement. The next time you do a similar engagement you can base it on your previous most successful project. As you continue you’re likely to iterate on that process to start to distil it into a check-list or methodology. Ideally the process should start from pre-sales and run through to final delivery.

There’s already lots been written about lean product development, the importance of adding metrics (which can include measure product process). And also about the care you need to take about extrapolating the needs of early adopters to later customers. I already feel like I’m doing stating the obvious here when there’s a wealth of existing product development literature, so we’ll skip over that.

But I’ll also note that there’s (of course!) a lot of overlap between what I’m outlining here and the discovery phase of service design. The difference is really just in how you’re being funded.

I’d argue that taking an iterative approach is important even for freelancers or small consulting firms. Even if your end goal isn’t a software product. It’s how you get better at what you do. Retrospectives, ideally involving the client, are another useful technique to adopt from agile practices.

But productisation also takes effort. You can iterate in small steps to improve, but you need to build in the time to do that. Even a small amount of reflection and improvement will pay dividends later.

“The Wizard of the Wash”, an open data parable

The fourth open data parable.

In a time long past, in a land far away, there was once a great fen. A vast, sprawling wetland filled with a richness of plants and criss-crossed with many tiny streams and rivers.

This fertile land was part of a great kingdom ruled by a wise and recently crowned king. The fen was home to a hardy and industrious people who made a living from fishing, cutting peat and gathering the rare herbs that sprouted amongst the verdant grasses.

At the time of this tale the new king was travelling across his lands to learn more about his people. In a certain area of the fen he expected to find a thriving town that had become widely renowned for the skills of its herbalists and fishermen.

Instead he came upon a ramshackle collection of makeshift huts and tents clinging to patches of dry ground. The dejected people living in these shelters had clearly fallen on hard times and were eking out a living on the verges of the fen. Nearby was what was clearly the ruins of their settlement. Houses had tumbled haphazardly into the waters. The broken remains were being picked over for materials to build shelters and provide wood for fires.

Speaking to a fisherman, the king asked “What terrible disaster has befallen your village? How have you good people been brought so low?”

While continuing his task of mending a fishing net, the fisherman proceeded to tell the following tale:

“Our town has grown slowly over the years, sire. We live a hard life in the fens, and building on this treacherous land takes great care. For years our people were limited to building on isolated patches of stable ground. Our original village clung tightly to the patches of rock hidden just beneath the surface of these waters.

Until we made our pact with the Wizard of the Wash.

One day the Wizard came to us and demonstrated his great magicks. Showing how his powers could be used to drive great wooden piles deep into the peat. Deep enough to reach the bedrock and let us build wherever we wished. We would need only ask the Wizard to create a stable footing and we could build wherever we chose. In return, and to complete our pact, we need only to collect for him the rarest herbs and plants for his research. An easy task for us as we have long known the secrets of the fen.

And so for many years we have prospered. Each year we have planned out where we would build our new houses and workshops. And pointed to where we needed new roads, inns and store houses. And each year the Wizard would oblige us with his magicks. The town has spread across the fen and we great started to grow rich from trade.

But then things began to change.

In the beginning the Wizard refused to drive new piles in a few places. He explained that he was concerned that the buildings may hinder certain herbs which grew in that area. And we followed his wishes for there were other places to build.

And so this continued. Each year the Wizard would reject some of our plans or convince us to change them for his own ends. For example where we once had planned a school he instead convinced us to build a new dock for his supply boats. Disappointed, we again submitted to his wishes, for we still needed to build and there was still space aplenty elsewhere. As traders we had grown accustomed to compromise.

But then the Wizard began to visit us more frequently, demanding to review in more detail our plans. He objected to certain buildings being extended as they blocked views that he enjoyed. He began to refuse to build in ever more locations and expressed opinions about how the town should grow.

Once he even required us to dismantle several houses so that we might build a better inn for him to stay in during his visits. He threatened to simply remove the foundations if we didn’t comply. In return he choose to drive in only a few new piles. As a result some families were forced to live in cramped and poorer lodgings. And what choice did we have but to comply?

In these last few years the Wizard has became ever more demanding. He has argued that these piles were his, had always been his, and that we have only been using them with his permission. If we were unhappy, he argued, we could simply return to building as we had before.

Sire, while these lands are ours and have been for many generations, we had gladly given ourselves over to a petty tyrant. Once the pact had been made it was easier to comply than to resist.

The final disaster happened a few months ago. The Wizard had long been growing old and unwell. One night he passed away whilst staying in our finest inn. And on that night all of his magicks were undone. And so our fine town suddenly fell back into the swamp.

And so, as you see, we were ruined.”

Sadden by the tale, the king realised that here was a people whose needs had long been overlooked, leaving them at the mercy of fickle powers. He resolved to help them rebuild.

On the spot he issued a decree for the Royal Engineers to provide assistance to any town, village or people that required help. His kingdom would be built on firm foundations.

Discussion document: archiving open data

This is a brief post to highlight a short discussion document that I recently published about archiving open data.  The document is intended to help gather ideas, suggestions and best practices around archiving open data to the Internet Archive. The goal being to gather together useful guidance that can help encourage archiving and distribution of open data from existing portals, frameworks, etc.

This isn’t an attempt to build a new standard, just encourage some convergence and activity. At present the guidance recommends building around the Data Package specification as it is simple and provides a well-defined unit (a zip file) for archiving purposes.

Archiving data can help build resilience in the open data commons providing backups of important data resources. This will help deal with:

  • Unexpected system outages that could take down data portals
  • Decisions by publishers to remove data previously published under an open licence, ensuring an original copy remains
  • Decisions by publishers to take down data
  • Services and portals permanently going offline

If you have thoughts or suggestions then feel free to add them to the document. It would particularly benefit from input from those in the archival community and especially those who are already familiar with working with the Internet Archive.

I hope to build a small reference implementation to illustrate the idea and help to archive the data from Bath: Hacked.

What 3 Words? Jog on mate!

The website notes that “Address data is essential infrastructure“. Geography underpins so much of the data we collect and is collected about us, making address registers important parts of national data infrastructure.

In the UK we’ve been wrestling with the fact that our address register is not open for many years. After the decision to sell the register as part of the privatisation Royal Mail money has been spent on exploring the creation of an open alternative. But it’s looking positive that we may end up getting a free, open version albeit at the cost of another £5m.

What3Words is a UK startup that also recognises the importance of address registers. Their website notes that: “Poor addressing costs businesses billions of dollars and hampers the growth and development of entire nations.

The company has developed an algorithm to assign unique 3 word identifiers to the entire world, creating a global addressing system. The website does a great job of explaining why improving addresses globally is important and highlights the benefits it can bring.

The problem is that What3Words is a proprietary, closed system. The algorithm is patented. The data is closed, with the terms and conditions spelling out in great detail all of the things you can’t do with the system, including:

  • You must not pre-fetch, cache, index, copy, re-utilise, extract or store any what3words Data
  • You may store What3words Data solely for the purpose of improving Your implementation of the API into Your Product provided that such storage: (i) is temporary (and in no event lasts for more than 30 calendar days), (ii) is limited to an amount of What3words Data which is strictly required to improve Your API implementation, (iii) is secure, and (iv) shall in no event enable You or a third party to use the what3words Data outside of Your Products, in any way, or to re-utilise or extract such data
  • For the avoidance of doubt, You must not use any what3words Data (whether accessed from the API or otherwise) for any purposes not expressly permitted under this Agreement, including for Your own use or for distribution, licence or sale to any third-party
  • ..etc, etc

These are all characteristics that help to make What3Words a good prospect for investment: all the defensive walls are in place to protect their intellectual property.

But these are also all characteristics that make What3Words completely unsuitable as either a global or national address register. So I was dismayed to read that Mongolia have decided to adopt it as their national register. I’m hoping that this isn’t really the case and that story is similar to the apocryphal tales of Honduras’s blockchain based land registry.

Clearly Mongolia is in need of a better data infrastructure and I can understand why a system like What3Words would be attractive. But I think the closed nature of the platform makes it a poor foundation for future growth. While the service might be great for parcel delivery, address and location information is used in so many other ways.

The licensing restrictions mean that its not possible to publish open data to help shed transparency on land ownership, report on crisis mapping, collect and process census or other statistics, and a myriad of other use cases. You can’t even store the data for your own re-use, other than on a temporary basis.

With this in mind I’d find it hard to recommend that any organisation collecting and sharing data should use What3Words. Otherwise the keys to your dataset are tied up with the intellectual property and API licensing of a third party. With terms that can be changed at any time. NGOs and other organisations hoping to publish open data about their activities should approach the service with a great deal of caution.

The fix for all this would be simple: What3Words could publish their data and algorithm under an open licence. I think that’s unlikely though.

Being an idealist I’d like to think that more data startups will start to recognise their role in contributing to a global commons and design products accordingly. And perhaps what we need is not more startup incubators, but institutions that will support the creation of data infrastructure that builds a more open future.

Beyond Publishers and Consumers: Some Example Ecosystems

Yesterday I wrote a post suggesting that we should move beyond publishers and consumers and recognise the presence of a wider variety of roles in the open data ecosystem. I suggested a taxonomy of roles as a starting point for discussion.

In this post I wanted to explore how we can use that taxonomy to help map and understand an ecosystem. Eventually I want to work towards a more complete value network analysis and some supporting diagrams for a few key ecosystems. But I wanted to start with hopefully simple examples.

As I’ve been looking at it recently I thought I’d start by examining Copenhagen’s open data initiative and their city data marketplace.

What kind of ecosystems do those two programmes support?

The copenhagen open data ecosystem

The open data ecosystem can support all of the roles I outlined in my taxonomy:

  • Steward: The city of Copenhagen is the steward of all (or the majority of) the datasets that are made available through its data platform, e.g. the location of parking meters
  • Contributor: The contributors to the dataset are the staff and employees of the administration who collect and then publish the data
  • Reuser: Developers or start-ups who are building apps and services, such as I Bike CpH using open data
  • Beneficiary: Residents and visitors to Copenhagen

Examples of the tangible value being exchanged here are:

  • (Steward -> Reuser) The provision of data from the Steward to the Reuser
  • (Reuser -> Beneficiary) The provision of a transport application from the Reuser to the Beneficiary

Examples of the intangible value are:

  • (Contributor -> Steward) The expertise of the Contributors offered to the Steward to help manage the data
  • (Beneficiary -> Reuser) The market insights gained by the Reuser which may be used to create new products
  • (Reuser -> Steward) The insights shared by the Reuser with the Steward into which other datasets might be useful to release or improve

In addition, the open licensing of the data enables two additional actors in the ecosystem:

  • Intermediaries: who can link the Copenhagen data with other datasets, enrich it against other sources, or offer value added APIs. Services such as TransportAPI.
  • Aggregators: e.g. services that aggregate data from multiple portals to create specific value-added datasets, e.g. an aggregation of census data

In this case the Intermediaries and Aggregators will be supporting their own community of Reusers and Beneficiaries. This increases the number of ways in which value is exchanged.

The copenhagen city data marketplace

The ecosystem around the city data marketplace is largely identical to the open data ecosystem. However there are some important differences.

  • Steward: The city of Copenhagen is not the only Steward, the goal is to allow other organisations to publish their data via the marketplace. The marketplace will be multi-tenant.
  • Intermediary: the marketplace itself has become an intermediary, operated by Hitachi
  • The ecosystem will have a greater variety of Contributors, reflecting the wider variety of organisations contributing to the maintenance of those datasets.
  • Reusers and Beneficiaries will be present as before

In addition, because the marketplace offers paid access to data, there are other forms of value exchange, e.g. exchange of money for services (Reuser -> Intermediary).

But the marketplace explicitly rules out the Intermediary and Aggregator roles. Services like TransportAPI or Geolytix could not build their businesses against the city data marketplace. This is because the terms of use of the market prohibit onward distribution of data and the creation of potentially competitive services.

In an effort to create a more open platform to enable data sharing, the result has been to exclude certain types of value exchange and value-added services. The design of the ecosystem privileges a single Intermediary: in this case Hitachi as operator of the platform.

Time will tell whether this is an issue or not. But my feeling is that limiting certain forms of value creation isn’t a great basis for encouraging innovation.

An alternative approach would be to have designed the platform to be part of the digital commons. For example, by allowing Stewards the choice of adding data to the platform under an open licence would give space for other Intermediaries and Aggregators to operate.

Let me know if you think this type of analysis is useful!



Beyond publishers and consumers

In the open data community we tend to focus a lot on Publishers and Consumers.

Publishers have the data we want. We must lobby or convince them that publishing the data would be beneficial. And we need to educate them about licensing and how best to publish data. And we get frustrated when they don’t do those things

Consumers are doing the work to extract value from data. Publishers want to encourage Consumers to do things with their data. But are often worried that Consumers aren’t doing the right things or that they’re not able to track when that value is being created.

While these two roles clearly exist I’m increasingly of the opinion that the framing isn’t a helpful one. There are several reasons why I think that’s the case.

Firstly, as Jeni has already noted, it ties us in knots. By identifying ourselves with one or other role we create a divide. This inevitably leads us to focusing on our own perspective, our own needs, and sets expectations of what others must do or should do before we can act. And yet we know that:

  • organisations are often publishers and consumers of their own data. Doing it better helps themselves and not just others
  • to solve big, complex challenges we need to collaborate. Collaboration doesn’t happen when a team is divided and we don’t have shared goals

Secondly, I worry that by framing discussions in terms of Publisher and Consumer we are overlooking opportunities for more collaborative activities. Focusing on Publisher and Consumer leads us to think in narrow perspectives of what an open data infrastructure might look like. I’ve previously highlighted some of the differences between the current state of open source and open data.

I’d suggest that people in the “open source community” think of themselves as contributors, not “publishers of open source software” and “consumers of open source software”.  See also, Open Street Map and other community led projects. Members of the community may tend to fall into specific roles but there’s a shared goal.

Thirdly, its just not representative of the current open data market, let alone what it might look like in future. There are already a number of different types of actors in the landscape. We should make more of an effort to recognise those roles and map out the value they add to the network.

I think it could also help us clarify a number of conversations that relate to “ownership” of data, particularly personal data and how it’s collected and reused.

So, as ground work for an exercise I’d like to do in mapping out an open data value network, here’s a proposed re-framing that recognises a number of different roles.

In each case it might be an individual or an organisation that’s fulfilling the role. And, in any given interaction, its possible that the same person or organisation might be fulfilling multiple roles.

This is far from polished, but thought I’d share an early draft. Add a comment to let me know what you think.

  • Steward – has responsibility for managing and ensuring access to a dataset. Covers at least the infrastructure supporting the ongoing collection and access to the data. The Steward role could also include responsibilities for managing contributions, e.g. to ensure data quality.
    • Examples: ORCID, Bath: Hacked, “Data Controller” role as defined by ICO
  • Registrar – a specific type of Steward who is responsible for assigning and managing key identifiers and reference data used in other datasets
    • Examples: CrossRef
  • Contributor – responsible for adding, updating or curating data in a dataset, using the tools and infrastructure provided by the Steward.
    • Examples: OSM editors, MusicBrainz contributors, Waze contributors, scholarly publishers adding to CrossRef
  • Reuser – makes use of one or more open datasets to create applications, analysis, etc.
    • Examples: data journalists, City Mapper, “Data Processor” role as defined by ICO
  • Intermediary – provides value added services that wrap, host or enrich a dataset. E.g. visualisation tools, APIs, etc.
    • Examples: Socrata, Data Press, Transport API
  • Aggregator – a specific form of Intermediary that packages together datasets from other sources
  • Beneficiary – benefits from the activity of reusers, e.g. by consuming packaged analyses or other applications
    • Examples: City Mapper users, UK citizen
  • Subject – a person or organisation who is the subject of a dataset or data item. E.g. the person contributing to a health dataset

While the Reuser role is actually the same as the “Consumer” role I referenced earlier, this framing breaks down Publisher into a number of smaller roles which hopefully better highlight some of the interactions that we tend to overlook. I’ve also tried to tease out some of the responsibilities of tool and platform vendors that help support the ecosystem.

If current data publishers began to think of themselves as Stewards of data, then would this let us have a better discussion about ways to enable more Contributors?

Can we make a case that open data publishing should be as lightweight as possible, to simplify the Stewards role, whilst enabling a marketplace of Intermediaries?

Can we better recognise the role of Registrars in creating the web of data?

Would separating out the needs of the Beneficiaries of data from those of Reusers help distinguish between technology user needs and broader needs around data literacy?

Let me know what you think. What else should go on this list?



Designing for the open digital commons

I wanted to share some thinking I’ve been doing around how to create products and services that embrace and support the digital commons. The digital commons is the growing wealth of openly licensed content and data that is now available to us all.

In order to benefit from the commons we need to look after it. Individual communities are best placed to manage the commons resources that matter to them most. And other organisations like the Internet Archive have a broader role in preserving the commons as a whole.

I think there are benefits, when designing a product or service, in spending a bit of time thinking about how it might interact with the commons. For example could it provide a means for users to contribute to the commons by adding more content, or by curating material that is already there, or enabling them to discover and use openly licensed resources.

Why build for the commons?

The commons is a public good. It’s a repository of cultural artefacts, educational resources, scientific research and more. In that light I would expect start-ups and other organisations to want to support the commons. To recognise that its a resource to be managed and shared for all.

However that’s arguably not enough. There are bottom-lines to think about. This means that there should be some business benefits for why you might want to build with the commons in mind. I think that amongst those benefits are that:

  • using and supporting openly licensed material demonstrates how seriously you value the choice and rights of your users. This can build confidence and trust in what you are creating
  • by clearly indicating your commitment to preserve user contributed content, it can encourage users to engage with new tools, platforms and services. No one needs or wants to migrate their content through another incredible journey
  • the commons provides a wealth of free resources that can be used to populate new platforms or provide raw materials for users working with your new tools. More users, more case studies, more impact are always good

There are undoubtedly many more reasons. The creative commons have started to capture how adding an element of openness can help build a business model.

Designing for the commons

But my goal here is isn’t to capture why open is good or why it can be good for business. What I want to do is to start a discussion about what thinking about the commons might mean in terms of how you design a product.

Here’s an initial list of principles. Let me know what you think is missing.

Allow users to export all of their own content and data

This principle isn’t specifically about the commons, but it forms the basis upon which users have full control over their own content and data.

It enables users to easily migrate between tools and platforms that allow them to publish, host or reuse their own material.

It enables self-archiving and sharing of open materials outside of your system.

Allow users to choose how to licence their own content, using a standard licence

The commons is built around standard open licences. Where possible, provide users with a choice of one of the standard Creative Commons licences.

If you’re building a specifically open platform, then you may only want to allow users to publish content if they’re doing so openly. See, for example services like Figshare, which requires users to publish their research data openly.

If you’re building a commercial platform, but are providing a free tier that allows users to publish or host content if it is public, then consider allowing or requiring them to apply an open licence to that material.

Open licences can also simplify your terms and conditions as they grant you the rights you require to store, distribute, and archive content in order to run your service. You don’t need users to grant you additional rights to host or store it to deliver a service.

Other considerations here are giving some thought to whether you can help users to:

  • set a sensible default licence for any material you are helping them to host or publish
  • manage licences of already published material
  • describe and share how they would like material to be attributed

Allow users to easily import and use openly licensed content

Allow people to draw on the commons when using your service or tool. For example if you’re building a data visualisation platform, help them discover openly licensed data that others have shared. Similarly if they’re publishing written content on your service, help them find openly licensed images or other material they can reuse.

Helping users to quickly gain value from your specific tool or service will benefit both you and the user.

Where you do enable reuse of openly licensed material, do what you can to ensure that attribution is properly handled. For example, as a minimum, allow a user to include an attribution statement when reusing some data or an image. If you can do this automatically, by drawing on machine-readable metadata about that content, then you should do so.

If you’re a hosting platform you might also want to think about how you can help users identify where their openly licensed material is being reused. This encourages a virtuous circle of sharing.

Allow all users to easily find openly licensed material you’re hosting

As a corollary to the above, allow users to easily find any openly licensed material that you’re hosting. At a minimum, ensure that the licence associated with content are clearly displayed.

If you’re providing a search or browse function then a useful additional would be adding a means to filter content based on licence. Flickr’s Creative Commons search remains an excellent example of this type of feature.

Allow the web to happen

Platforms should have “soft edges” that allow users to build links between material online. This might include ability to add rich text with links rather than just simple text boxes. Recognise that the rest of the web exists and that users will want to find their own way to bring together a variety of resources.

Allow users the freedom to collaboratively manage open resources

A thriving commons requires an engaged community who are actively contributing and benefiting from its resources. This involves not just publishing and reuse, but also collaborative management.

A good platform will recognise that users may have their own ideas and opinions about how best to organise material. Lightweight tagging and metadata tools can encourage this type of collaborative maintenance. Read “Fan Is A Tool Using Animal” for more on why community maintenance is something you might want to enable and encourage. Avoid trampling on community activity of this type.

You might also consider how users can transfer rights or ownership in material you’re hosting. Perhaps they’d like to step away from managing a resource but allow someone else to take over its stewardship.

Ensure that openly licensed materials are archived

Don’t leave archiving of content until you’re at the end of your incredible journey. Think about shutdownability.

If content and data is openly licensed then ensure that its preserved outside of your system. You don’t need extra permission to do this if there’s an open licence attached to it, but being transparent with users would be a good thing.

Support freemium or sponsorship models

Many platforms have a business model that is tied to the consumption of resources, e.g. a data marketplace might charge users accessing data via its APIs. Or a video platform might charge users for streaming of content.

Models that focus on use rather than hosting can encourage growth of the commons as it allows anyone to contribute.  Re-users then pay for the service level they need to access those sources. Freemium models are also common, allowing some low-level of reuse without incurring extra costs. This supports the commons and allows users to experiment (“try before you buy”) with the services you’re offering.

But a publisher might also want to make that data or content completely available for free at the point of use, e.g. by sponsoring or otherwise covering the costs of downstream users. This provides more options for how publishers want to distribute open resources.

Avoid adding terms and conditions that constrain use of openly licensed material

In short, avoid adding terms and conditions to your service that constrains how users can use the content or data that have been published under an open licence. E.g. additional defensive terms that say that material can only be used for personal use or cannot be redistributed.

Consider what you can contribute to the commons

Finally, even if the users of your product or service aren’t directly contributing material to the commons, think about how openness, e.g. open data, might be an element in your business model. For example sharing openly licensed metadata might drive discovery of material in your platform. Many sites are already publishing rich metadata to improve SEO. Adding an open licence to that material is a small step forward.