During my university studies, I first encountered the idea of the Myth of Progress — in 19th and 20th centuries a lot of people assumed that the world generally gets better each generation (aside from occasional blips like depressions or world wars), with less bigotry, better medicine, new technology, etc., but there’s no guarantee that any next generation will build on and improve the accomplishments of the previous one, and history’s movement may be more akin to a random walk.
Case in point: in the information technology world, the greatest accomplishment of the most talented coders and business people in GenX was replacing the Baby Boomers’ nasty old platform-dependent shrink-wrapped computer applications with open web applications that could run anywhere, from a Windows desktop to a Linux cell phone. Write once, run all over the place on any hardware/OS you want. GMail instead of Eudora. Wikipedia instead of Encarta. Cool, eh?
So GenY comes along and says “hey: instead of encouraging people to browse the web with open standards, let’s build proprietary applications that run on only one type of mobile phone. And we’ll allow only one store to sell those applications for each type of phone, and every proprietary, platform-specific app will have to be preapproved and precensored by the phone manufacturer, who will extort^H^H^H^H^H^H be gladly offered a cut of sales.” Even Microsoft in its monopolistic hey-day — before it became the toothless lion it is today — never had the balls to try anything like that with Windows apps.
Who, ten years ago, would have predicted an IT catastrophe like this after so much progress and hope? It’s enough to make a person cry. Let’s encourage those GenY’ers who taken up the torch and continue to work on the dream of an open web.
Rather than just exhort the “GenY’ers” to do the right thing, it would be useful to understand where they’re coming from. Some hypotheses off the top of my head:
– Nobody except big companies selling expensive consulting (or trying to hurt their competitors) are making much of a living producing those open source / web apps? The rags-to-riches iPhone app developer might be mostly a fable, but there are more examples than there are rags-to-riches Mozilla contributors.
– It’s easier for moderately skilled developers to write good looking and acceptable performance apps with the proprietary stuff?
– The Internet/Web was architected for an environment of trust, with security grafted on and in an arms race with those who would steal or vandalize, for profit or kicks. Mr. / Ms. GenY’er may prefer to download with confidence from an app store that does some level of screening than risk a phishing or malware attack from some randome website?
Part of it has to do with size: apps are small things, though they may have large generic datasets backing them.
Small means hacker-friendly (hacker in the sense of a quick and perhaps dirty programmer, not in the sense of a breaker-in.)
A program that only needs one idea, that is easy to implement, that can be reworked without pain, that can go viral or at least be appreciated by friends, and perhaps that can make money, it is no wonder it is attractive. Modularity trumps standards?
We have seen the same thing with web pages and postage stamps. Small is beautiful.
The standards world is not equipped to invent either applications or even the level below applications. There is too much churn. Where standards can play a role is that where a technology like a platform does establish itself as a market dominator, then competition requirements need to kick in: the standardization and opening of the technology, with regulator-enforced mandatory RF licensing of any necessary IP (from any party). As a technology like a reaches the status of dominating its market, its economic implication change: the reward for a company having its proprietary technology reach market dominating success should be first-mover rewards, not the rewards of artificial monopoly: secrecy, ownership, control, licensing, strategy etc.
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