Commercial or Not?

Non-Profit or For-Profit?

There are people who only want to work on non-profit projects and people who only want to work on for-profit commercial enterprises.   This is a choice we don’t have to make.   The overall project is to big for any such classification,  but most of it will be non-profit.  However the CASA component is intended as a commercial venture.   This distinction and related matters is discussed in the overall project summary .

More information and comments will be posted here later.  Reproduced below are the relevent sections from the summary.

The CASA Component

CASA, which stands for Computer Assisted Social Activity, was originally intended as the name for a whole class of software, and could be applied to vast amounts of existing software by various people that in some way supports social activity. More recently I have used this phrase and acronym as the name for a specific project of my own, and in the past year and a half it has been loosely used as the name for a possible business or company.

In this document I will stick to earlier uses, mentioning the business aspects but not using the term as the name of any company. There will probably be businesses created to use and make money from CASA software, and that may be very important, but such a narrow use of the term and acronym is not appropriate here.

CASA has a close relationship to another project, the InterMix Club project or idea, suggested as the application of open-source CASA-like software in association with InterMix.ca for the organization of non-profit or open-source software activities. See the InterMix Club component description below for more information.

Use of CASA software in a business, perhaps a business simply called CASA, was originally suggested by Aaron Agassi, who pointed out the advantages of business supported advertising for bringing in users and thus improving the all-important pool size factor. CASA software will support social matching, such as matching people with co-workers, employers, friends and so on. The success of this matching depends on the number of participants, or the size of the pool of participants, called the pool size. A larger pool size means better matches can be found, so anything that can increase the pool size should be considered. Although I am personally more oriented towards non-profit activity I appreciate the value of Mr. Agassi’s vision.

The use of CASA software for social matching will be a bootstrapping process, by which the best people for implementing the system or its various components will be matched for work on those tasks from the pool of participants. That will also apply to the non-profit InterMix component, and indeed the division of interested participants, contributors or potential employees will be divided between non-profit and for-profit organizations by the software itself.

People interested in the for-profit approach should see the CASA Proposal document at casa.html which was written jointly by Aaron Agassi and myself. A page on the InterMix Club will appear shortly, based on the InterMix Club component description to be found below. Both the non-profit and for-profit versions of the central ideas are being actively investigated and should interest many readers of this document.

As a business, CASA software will probably be installed on the World Wide Web as a free service for people who want to find friendship, love, work, education, business opportunities, discussion, cultural artifacts and entertainment. Rather than providing endless lists of good prospects it will perform matching and optimization based on profound mathematical concepts to give people good suggestions that will neither swamp the popular not neglect the unpopular. Suggestions will be improved by feedback and all of the system software will evolve towards genuine effectiveness.

The best overall description of the CASA component as a business will be found at the URL given above, (and here — casa.html — so if you see this document as a web page or e-mail message can just click on the link now). More technical descriptions of the CASA software and links to open-source versions will be posted shortly. For now it should suffice to say that the software uses questionaires, advanced numerical methods to turn questionaire responses into descriptors in vector form, and bipartite matching to generate a stream of suggestions, with feedback used to update descriptors using roughly the Generalized Delta Rule associated with the training of neural networks.

The InterMix Club component

The idea for the InterMix Club component comes from Roger Eaton of InterMix.ca and more information about InterMix can be found at the obvious URL of http://www.InterMix.ca/ and soon via a webpage version of this document. One could regard the InterMix Club component as just the CASA component specialized for non-profit or open-source uses, but the consequences of such specialization are so significant as to merit an individual section.

As a business, CASA is essentially one for-profit company and has a bias toward centralization and a client-server approach, regardless of whether a central site and central server are actually used or not. The InterMix Club approach is essentially a non-profit open-source approach in which many sites are expected to install and operate the open-source software. Therefore the client-server approach is less appropriate and we will move towards an entirely peer-to-peer approach in which almost everyone who uses the system is potentially a server as well as a client. That will change everything.

Unlike the centralizing CASA, the InterMix Club is decentralized, democratic, and something of an intentional anarchy. That has advantages and disadvantages. It is perhaps easier to imagine the disadvantages, since anarchy is generally considered a negative term. People who watched televised scenes from Mogadishu near the time of the US intervention in Somalia may understand that attitude. But amongst Internet and WWW users there is an appreciation of the advantages of anarchic organization — such people understand that ‘anarchic organization’ is not an oxymoron. Something can be be both anarchic and well organized.

The InterMix Club software will initially be the same software as the proposed CASA business will use, but while the later will evolve away from public scrutiny and become proprietary, the InterMix Club software will remain open-source as it develops. Different open-source versions will almost certainly appear, and I will have no control over what happens to it or what it is used for. The CASA business will have access to whatever InterMix develops, since that will be open to all, while proprietary CASA software will belong to the company that creates it. But the CASA business must depend on the few employees it can afford to hire, while the freely-redistributable InterMix software will be able to draw on large numbers of volunteer software designers, coders, and testers worldwide, as Linux and GNU software does.

CASA software will belong to a company, like Microsoft Windows does. InterMix Club software will be more like Linux.

But how will it differ in functionality and architecture? That has not been decided yet. It won’t be entirely decided ever, since it must become whatever its volunteer developers make it become. It will not be oriented towards paid services, central control, secrecy, proprietary collections of data, nor paying for data. It will be more oriented towards groups of volunteers helping people who need help, instead of companies delivering services to other companies or to people with money to spend. The details remain to be discussed.

Copyright © 2000 Douglas P. Wilson

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