There is this burger shop near my home that makes the most amazing burgers, fries and shakes. Bar none. The burgers, of which there is quite the variety, each have their own "secret sauce" that gives each burger its own unique flavor. The fries also have various dipping sauces you can order, each of which are "secret sauces". Lastly, the shakes, which seems to have a never ending array of flavors, each have their own "secret recipe" to the flavor. Because of these trade secrets, the burgers, fries and shakes are outstanding!
It's more than just taste too. Portions are epic. They have the "Big Ben" burger, which cut in half would produce two Big Macs from McDonald's. Then there's the "Double Ben", with two patties and the "Triple Ben" with three patties. Add on the amount of fries, and the size of the shake, and you could easily feed a family of four with one order of the Triple Ben.
Lastly, the service is amazing. Every time I've visited, I've gotten outstanding service from the employees, and the turn around time on preparing my meal is fast. Maybe not as fast as a "fast food" joint, but certainly not as long as your standard dine-in restaurant either. As a result, I recommend Burger Bar in Roy, Utah to anyone and everyone. If you're a burger, fries and milkshake lover like I am, you'll love this burger stand.
However, despite the amazing food, epic portions and fantastic service, Burger Bar operates on trade secrets. The recipes for their burger sauces, dipping sauces and shakes are all proprietary. Further, they aren't free. I pay ~10-12 dollars for lunch whenever I want to pay them a visit. If I bring a party of 6 or 8, I don't get a bulk discount either. So, aside from the food and the service, everything about the experience is proprietary and vendor-controlled.
I'm okay with that. So why is it that some people aren't? Well, not with burgers, but with SaaS, or "software as a service". Of course, I'm referring to Facebook, Google+, Gmail, Bit.ly, and other software vendors that provide an online service to their userbase.
Yet, it's okay to eat the burger, but not okay to use Facebook. It's okay to ignore the trade secrets of a restaurant, but not okay to ignore the trade secrets of a software vendor. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not advocating, endorsing or condoning trade secrets, such as copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc., where the intent is to defend your intellectual property at all costs. All I'm saying is, when it comes to software, I view SaaS a bit differently than installed software.
Continuing the food analogy, when I prepare food in my home, I want to know what's in it. The FDA in the United States feels the same, and as a result, ingredient lists are required to be printed on every packaged food source. So, when making my own burger, I have the right to know exactly how to prepare it, down to making my own "secret sauce". I have the source code to my burger, so to speak, and I can make all sorts of fantastic burgers with that "source". Yet, when I visit a restaurant, I don't need to know the "source code", so long as I feel confident the restaurant isn't trying to poison me or make me sick.
I treat my computer much the same way. My laptop is my home, where I can make my own recipes to create my own software. I have full control over my data, and by having access to the source, make sure the software is respecting my data too (among other things). Google is my restaurant, where I can order software, perhaps pay a premium, and enjoy a good experience, with someone else's trade secrets. I decide what data to give them, and what not to. I still have full control over my data. So, although I don't have access to the source, I don't have to give them my Social Security Number either. On my laptop, having access to the source code is key, and the foundation for a lot of my Free Software principles. On a web site, regardless of the site, I'm not interested in the source code so much, as I am having a positive experience that allows me to interact in a safe and productive manner.
I share this post, because I just finished reading http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2011/11/24/google-plus.html. Bradley Kuhn argues that you won't find him on these services, such as Twitter or Facebook, because of the trade secrets. I applaud him for sticking to his principles, and not compromising. However, does he eat at burger joints where trade secrets have been critical to their success? I'm curious where the line is drawn. Why is it okay to eat and physically digest trade secrets, but it's not okay to execute them in your browser? As a result, I believe Bradley may be distancing himself from those that love him, and just want to interact with him online. In fact, I would say he's distancing himself from the very people he wants to advocate to. How can more people use Free Software, if you are only hanging out with the people who already do, and you are not hanging out with the people who don't?
Just my thoughts. I'm not interested in trolling, so don't take this article as such. Only as discussing an angle to SaaS that I don't think many have thought about. If you're interested in arguing in the comments, please be civil. Thanks.