The web company founder
He likes it short and sweet, so here he is: Christian Peer, class 1975, brought up in Caldaro and father of three. He was trained in phototypesetting, which is the equivalent of our modern media designer. He created „Peer internet solutions" in 1999, which then developed into the company he now heads, Peer GmbH. Open source became an important part of his life from 2010, just another of his hobbies beside taekwondo, archery and hiking.
You founded „Peer internet solutions" 15 years ago. What did it specialise in?
Peer GmbH manages various tourism internet portals for South Tyrol, Tyrol and Trentino. Our aim is to support guests when planning their holiday. Our revenue comes directly from accommodation venues, who pay us a share for their name to be hosted on our platform. In the last 4 years we have invested in web TV and are in the process of releasing the ‘Peer.tv' web channel. This will translate into different solutions such as a Smart TV app and hotel information channels.
Just how important is online marketing for South Tyrolean tourism and what has been done in the last 15 years in this area?
This dynamic, booming market has seen a lot of activity in the last years. New providers have popped up everywhere…and some vanished just as quickly. Online marketing has become ever more complex and Google, Facebook and Booking.com have been taking a larger bite from it year after year. Hotels have been spending more of their marketing budget online than offline over the course of the last years. A trend which will not disappear soon. I believe it to be very important that local companies, as well as internet providers and hotels, start to become more independent from these global players.
Open Data and Open Source are vital components of your work. Back in 2010, you introduced the first Open Source Augmented Reality Browser for Android, ‘mixare.org'. Well, tell us, what is it all about?
"mixare.org" was an incredibly interesting project for our company. Back in 2010, we were given the task of developing an augmented-reality solution based on an already existing proprietary software. Users were to receive additional information on their surroundings via their smartphone. Basically, you would take your smartphone and do as you would when taking a picture. You would position it in front of, let's say a mountain range, and its name and other information would start scrolling on the screen. At this very early stage we already had several problems with the proprietary software. Even though we were constantly speaking with the producer, they could not provide us with a solution. That's when we had to make a quick choice and decided to develop our own solution. Thus, "mixare.org" was born. A Free Software, nonetheless. Our decision to opt for a license-free software was quite practical. As a small company, we just couldn't test mixare.org on the different smartphones. With a license-free software we could: the task was carried out by the international community. Augmented Reality is, and has always been a hot topic– projects such as Google Glass are the proof of the pudding. However, our company is now focusing on other projects: we have seen how, unfortunately, certain sensors and compasses on the smartphones are prone to fault, even to this day. The project, however, is continually developed by the community, and the different developers all other the world.
When and how did you learn about Open Data and Open Source? What are their pros and cons?
I learnt about them in the year 2000 thanks to the Linux User Group Bozen. The Free Software concept won me over from day one. You build software solutions together, publish the results for free, others test the software, improve it and pass it on. The software is more transparent thanks to this process and everyone wins. Let me also mentions that I believe our society can develop further and quicker thanks to Open Software. A big challenge for modern IT companies is to find a concrete and functional business model using Free Software. Of course, there are already countless successful examples of this out there.
What would you like to see in the future of Open Data and Open Source in South Tyrol?
I believe that our province would benefit enormously by creating an ample set of skills in this area. In that respect, I believe it would be useful if the public administration to use more Free Software. Why invest scarce financial resources in some big-name licenses belonging to global companies (when, after having paid a ridiculous low amount of taxes, these would end up in a bank account somewhere on the Cayman Islands- "Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich", anyone?) if we can invest this money in local companies? Don't even get me started on the actual advantages of using these solutions within and outside of public administration. Recently, I have observed and welcomed the attempts of public administrations to incorporate Open Data in their working process. This is the way forward. Data created with the taxpayer's money should also be accessible to everyone. The Open Data and Free Software combo has created a field where innovation can grow from strength to strength. Innovation which can give us an edge in this industry and, with it, more jobs.
Last but not least: what is your company working on now? Can you let us in on the secret?
As already mentioned, we are investing in our Peer.tv project in the web TV field. Smart TV will become a very interesting market in the future, even if it still doesn't actually exist. The current market situation is too diverse, the big manufacturers don't know where all this is leading to. Fact: videos are becoming more important online; the same goes for smart TVs. We are betting on this, trying to take advantage in line with our growth objectives. We are also working with several South Tyrolean companies on the free "Alpine Bits" interface. A project which will significantly help all of us increase the attractiveness of our products and services.