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Rethinking a Gospel of the Web


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Steven P. Jobs of Apple

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

For about a decade now, ever since it became clear that the jungle of the World Wide Web would triumph over the walled gardens of CompuServe, AOL and MSN, a general consensus has solidified among the otherwise fractious population of People Who Think Big Thoughts About the Internet.

That unifying creed is this: Open platforms promote innovation and diversity more effectively than proprietary ones.

In the words of one of the Web’s brightest theorists, Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard, the Web displays the “generative” power of a platform where you don’t have to ask permission to create and share new ideas. If you want democratic media, where small, innovative start-ups can compete with giant multinationals, open platforms are the way to go.

I’ve long considered myself a believer in this gospel and have probably written a hundred pages of book chapters, essays and blog posts spreading the word. Believing in open platforms is not simple techno-utopianism. Open platforms come with undeniable costs. The Web is rife with pornography and vitriol for the very same reasons it’s so consistently ingenious. It’s not that the Web is perfect, by any means, but as an engine of innovation and democratization, its supremacy has been undeniable.

Over the last two years, however, that story has grown far more complicated, thanks to the runaway success of the iPhone (and nowiPad) developers platform — known as the App Store to consumers.

From The New York Times
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