A Metaphorical Stretch, Perhaps

But a key point — Jonathan Zittrain got here first, of course, but it’s still a point to consider. The Death of the Open Web [pdf]

People who find the Web distasteful — ugly, uncivilized — have nonetheless been forced to live there: it’s the place to go for jobs, resources, services, social life, the future. But now, with the purchase of an iPhone or an iPad, there’s a way out, an orderly suburb that lets you sample the Web’s opportunities without having to mix with the riffraff. This suburb is defined by apps from the glittering App Store: neat, cute homes far from the Web city center, out in pristine Applecrest Estates. In the migration of dissenters from the “open” Web to pricey and secluded apps, we’re witnessing urban decentralization, suburbanization and the online equivalent of white flight.

As a recently minted iPad owner, I can understand that there’s an appeal, but I don’t quite get it. The thing is great for some things, but it totally sucks for others. It’s not going to replace a “real” computer any time soon — or, if it does, it will have to have changed in some fundamental ways; ways that will have essentially made it into a what a “real” computer ought to have become.

In particular, the closed development environment is going to have to change. The App Store is a f*!#ing nightmare. There’s no real indication of how well much of anything works. It’s based on the presumption that, for 10 bucks, just gamble that the thing will do what you want.

That’s fine for a toy, but it isn’t going to cut it if you want something to get something *real* done.

Which is not to say that I don’t like the thing — it’s great at the things it’s designed to do. But I don’t think it’s been designed to overthrow/enclose the open internet. It’s a terrible tool for that task!

Later: Andrew Leonard, on the other hand, seems to have taken a strange sort of offense, missing what I would see as the point of the article, in Death of the “open Web”: Greatly exaggerated. Although his closing paragraphs (modulo *his* embrace of the dogma of “open-ness”) are a perfectly reasonable thought, he misses that what Heffernan is talking about is not “white flight” from the internet but, rather, the rise of the kind of sheltered (and readily exploited!) communities that Turow speaks of in Niche Envy. It’s not that anyone is forcing folks into these communities; rather, it’s that there are real benefits being offered, and some will take the creators of these spaces up on them — at least for a while (see, for example, Facebook’s current round of problems).

The closing paragraphs of Leonard’s entry:

Heffernan is correct to note that Steve Jobs has found a clever way to make money via the iPhone’s walled-off AppStore. Good for him. But the end of that story — as suggested by the skyrocketing growth rates of Android phones — has hardly been written. The open Web tends to find ways around walled gardens. And the computing devices that give us the most choices tend to be the long-term winners. Openness conquers all.

The open Web is unruly, and it can be nasty and brutish. But it is also teeming with life and energy and passion. Not only is it not dying, but it looks impossible to kill.

Ominous Threats

At least it’s not (*gasp*) filesharing (or even Xeroxing!): China Aims to Stifle Tibet’s Photocopiers [pdf]

he authorities have identified a new threat to political stability in the restive region of Tibet: photocopiers. Fearful that Tibetans might mass-copy incendiary material, public security officials intend to more tightly control printing and photocopying shops, according to reports from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

Spain and IPR

Pressure Grows on Spain to Curb Digital Piracy [pdf]

For the third year running, the American trade representative has included Spain on its watch list of countries that breach intellectual property rights because of its “particularly significant Internet piracy.”

Critics say it will be extremely difficult to stop illegal downloading in Spain because of the popularity of these Web sites and a perceived indifference to piracy as a crime. As many as three billion illegal downloads were made last year in Spain, far exceeding the 21 million legal downloads, according to a study by Cimec, a Spanish market research company.

Judges have also shown ambivalence toward the issue. In 2006, the attorney general advised that peer-to-peer downloading should be considered criminal only if done for profit.


I expect to do some blog checking to see what Larry might have to say in response, but I’m not sure that this is going to help anyone’s case. Glenn has made some good arguments against Kagan’s nomination (and I certainly would have preferred to see another nominee, such as Greenwald’s favored Diane Wood), but this is getting out of hand: from Salon.com: How people spew total falsehoods on TV

Apparently, I’m not alone in general: Searching for Elena Kagan [pdf]


A thought puzzle — compare and contrast.

  • Option A: Bottlers fight push for federal water tax [pdf}

    An effort in Congress to spend tens of billions of dollars to fix the nation’s aging water systems is facing stiff opposition from soda and bottled water companies, which are major beneficiaries of publicly owned supplies but are fighting a proposal to tax them to pay for the upgrades.

    […] “We’re zeroing in on people who get a disproportionate benefit and rely on safe, secure water sources,’’ said Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who introduced legislation that would raise $10 billion annually — including $3.5 billion for drinking water systems — through a tax on bottlers and other water-dependent industries.

    [S]oda and bottled water companies — already battered by attacks from environmental groups over their plastic packaging — said the cost of upgrading such components as reservoirs and aqueducts should be shared more broadly.

    “The Blumenauer bill is singling out one product unfairly and disproportionately, and it’s not going to solve the problem,’’ said Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, a trade group that represents bottlers, distributors, and suppliers. “This is a gigantic undertaking. This is like the space program, something that goes way beyond taking out a vendetta on one politically incorrect product.’’

    Tracey Halliday, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, which represents big soft drink companies, said they also are opposed to the legislation.

    Bottlers use municipal water for many drinks, including filtered and distilled water. Company executives contend that they are modest water consumers compared with farms and factories.

  • Web’s Users Against Its Gatekeepers [pdf]

    Proponents of the current system — called network neutrality — see that principle as a kind of civil rights declaration of the digital age, one that requires the gatekeepers of the global Internet to treat all users equally, regardless of application, source or download limit.

    While operators have never been required to maintain neutrality, the industry has created that expectation largely by charging users a flat rate for unlimited Internet access.

    But there is a big flaw in the concept, according to the operators: Networks have never been neutral. They have always been actively managed to some extent since their inception in the 1980s to ensure that all customers get a basic “best effort” level of service.

    If an operator could not restrain bandwidth hogs, who typically make up 15 percent of customers but who generate 80 percent of the traffic, most Internet users would experience poor service.

    […] The arcane issue of network management, and the free speech and competition issues it raises, has taken on broader political importance as operators have increasingly micromanaged the flow of data, favoring some users over others as they have sought to handle exploding levels of traffic or deliver premium broadband service at guaranteed speeds to heavy users and businesses.

    […] “We use a form of network management to say, ‘I’m sorry, you are not going to be able to get the same level of service unless you decide to top up,”’ said Richard Feasey, Vodafone’s public policy director in London.

    As data traffic levels rise, some executives, like César Alierta, the chairman and chief executive of the Spanish operator Telefónica, and Vittorio Colao, the Vodafone chief executive, have floated the idea of charging not only customers but also Web sites that generate lots of data traffic, like Google, Amazon and Facebook, for faster, guaranteed service.

    Web businesses, which depend on fast Internet paid for by individual customers, oppose the idea and have been pushing lawmakers in Brussels and Washington to adopt restrictions preventing operators from making deals with content providers.

Could Be A Big Day

Don’t hatchet your Counts before they chicken, and all, but — F.C.C. Is Expected to Make Push to Regulate Broadband [pdf]

Two F.C.C. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, will announce Thursday that the commission considers broadband service a sort of hybrid between an information service and a utility and that it has sufficient power to regulate Internet traffic under existing law.

The F.C.C. decision is likely to be seen as a victory for content companies like Amazon.com and Google, the owner of YouTube, which do not want Internet service providers to have the power to charge them for access to customers or for faster download speeds.

[…] The F.C.C. has limited authority over information services but it has vast powers to regulate certain utilities. It contends that a mix of those powers can be applied to broadband service.

Some potential downsides; deciding to smudge the “bright line” between communication services and information services will likely introduce a whole new set of regulatory headaches for the FCC. It will be interesting to learn over the coming weeks why, exactly, the FCC has decided to tear down this particular regulatory edifice.