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.