Google's Meaning of Open: Is It Yours?

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 22, 2009

Google has made some headlines recently about its stance on privacy. This week the company is taliking about what "open" means to Google. Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president of product management for Google, says that "open will win" across the Internet and "then cascade across many walks of life." It might be a good idea for other businesses in the open business to think about what open means to them as well.

The impetus for the post was that Rosenberg had been seeing disagreement within Google about what "open," means to the company in practice. It's easy to say that a company should be more "open," but difficult to execute when the people involved don't agree on what open is.

For Google, Rosenberg says there are two components to openness: Information, and technology. On the tech side, it means open standards and open source. Information means the information held by Google about users as well as the information that it indexes and has in services. He then lays out what Google employees should think about and some of the ground rules for deciding what should be open and when.

With the exception of Rosenberg's suggestion that users be able to "opt-out," of sharing information (as opposed to requiring "opt-in,"), the guidelines that Rosenberg suggests are a very good starting point. Other companies without a strong definition should think about starting with Rosenberg's definition and working from there.

One might disagree with Rosenberg's definition of open, or specific Google policies, but the exercise itself is very important. Companies working in the technology space need to have a shared playbook for their employees to understand what a company means when it says "open," and what direction they're going in. Too often, large companies have differing definitions of "open" depending on the department or managers making the calls.

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News,,, IBM developerWorks, and many others.