Wk11: Close To You – the open and closed debate, and do we care?

Open source, open platforms, closed ecosystems – seems these terms have been bandied about A LOT of late. They are very technical terms, and very important causes, with plenty of pros and cons on both sides.

But what about outside of the technical world?

For the music fan, the movie fan, the culturalist – where should we stand on the open vs closed debate? And should we even care?

I think we should.

But there are lots of arguments for and against either side. But maybe we can boil them down to some clear and simple headlines to keep in mind.

Open.

The idea of it is built upon one of the very foundations of the web – that all data is equal.

Open-source, open-standards, open-platforms – it all comes from that core idea. That we share information. That we remain transparent. (I’m going to refer to open-anything as “Open”).

Did you know that you can “View Source” on any website? It brings up the code for that website. Not that many people had code websites from scratch anymore, but I can see how anyone created any part of their website, and replicate that. And by doing that, learn a new skill.

A lot of great stuff has come from the world of “Open”. Firefox is probably the best example – built on a system that is completely open. The great thing is people can create more stuff that fits right into Firefox. I have an All Music Guide search bar, for instance.

This blog is created on WordPress, one of the best examples of “Open” when it works. WordPress is a “distributed company” – it’s employees all work remotely, around the planet. And they all develop for this blogging software separately (or in teams). The whole thing is open, they don’t need to worry about permission from the boss or others.

Here. Take it all. Go make something.

Closed.

Essentially, the idea that something (software, hardware), is protected, mostly as intellectual property. And you can’t screw around with it.

Even though the web is built a spirit of “Open”, computing has been ruled by “Closed”. Microsoft Office is the most famous. If you want to create an add-on for Office, you had to pay Microsoft to un “close” the door for you.

And it works. It protected the program’s integrity, and helped make it perhaps the most popular computer program in the world ever.

Similarly Apple, with it’s “closed” iTunes systems means that there is only one way to use it – Apple’s way. You don’t really own the program. You pay the company for the use of it.

But to understand it better, there is a very clear example of the spirit of “open” vs the spirit of “closed”. It’s MySpace vs Facebook.

Although not completely open-source, MySpace certainly came from the place of “Open”. You could, if you knew HTML coding, change your MySpace profile into almost anything. You could move stuff around, change all the colours and more.

Facebook, however, is very “closed”. Although they allow for some development, they a cordoned-off sandboxes in a larger, unchanging ground. You are just borrwing some space, really.

But the success and failures of both are at the heart of what “Open” and “Closed” means for us – non programming, no techie types.

“Open” is great for the technically savvy and inventive, but for a majority of us wh don’t know what we’re doing, looks shit. “Closed” traps us to conform with everyone else – but at 500 million users – maybe we’re ok with that?

The “Open” vs “Closed” fight has now gone to the tablet world. Google’s Android system is “Open”. Apple’s iPad is “Closed”. Android supporters, Apple haters and techies all attack the iPad’s “Closed” spirit. Over and over in announcements and press releases, the “Closed” point is beaten home.

But does anyone care?

Because Android has a big, huge, fineprint. Android is “Open”, and that means open to everyone. Including a simple Wallpaper App that was sending user’s personal data to somewhere in China. And it’s against the spirit of “Open” to stop it.

On the other hand, iPads and the iOS securoity measures is akin to censorship. Sure, Playboy can’t get on the store. But neither can iTunes competitors. Or clever programs that don’t fit Apple’s incredibly strict guidelines.

Yet, the iPad is the success. As is Facebook.

So who wins?

I think we have to all accept that there has to be both.

Further – that most people will go with “Closed”.

And early adopters and techies will go with “Open”.

There’s no use pumping out PR about how much better “Open” is, and how it is better for innovation and creativity. Most people don’t want innovation and creativity. They want robust and reliable. And they’ve voted that way time and time again. They voted to close.

As for “Open”, it is hugely important to keep it around. Not only as opposition – although there is a sense of “keeping the bastards honest”. But as a place for those who are more innovative, tech savvy and creative than the average bear to out those big ideas to use. Create it for the world, and the world will follow later.

I think it’s time to stop those silly articles about which is better – “Open” or “Closed”. It confuses people. And it distracts from what is truly better or worse about your product.

And in the end, there will always be a audience for both. And one far more than the other. Get over it. Case closed.

Android App sends data to China – http://www.cultofmac.com/android-app-sends-personal-data-to-china/52929

Recent discussion on Digital Planet about the “Closed” iPad. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00f32rt

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