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Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All

Dromoland Walled Garden

As we rush to purchase Apple products and services on Cupertino’s monochrome treadmill of shiny shiny I can’t help thinking the open web community is losing something vital – a commitment to net neutrality and platform openness.

If a single company can decide what plays on the network and what does not, in arbitrary fashion, how can that be net neutrality? According to Wikipedia

A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.

Does that sound like the environment we’re currently buying into? Is the AppStore a neutral network? Should it be?

Is Comcast, the company net neutrality proponents love to hate, really the only company we should be wary of? Pipe level neutrality is surely only one layer of a stack. The wider market always chooses proprietary wrappers – every technology wave is co-opted by a master packager. Success in the IT industry has always been about packaging- doing the best job of packaging technologies as they emerge. Twas ever thus.

  • IBM System/360 – the first true mainframe was a packaging exercise.
  • The IBM or Wintel PC was a playing field that said – let the best packager win. Step forward Compaq and latterly Dell.
  • Windows packaged the TCP/IP stack and brought standard network technology in the enterprise.
  • Unix was an academic operating system, but packaged up in a system, generated billions of dollars for firms like Sun, in the era of the Unix Wars. With systems packaging came less application portability.

Packaging is great – its how we take things to the mainstream. But packaging also has a cost. Successful technology packaging invariably involves extending the standard componentry being packaged, in order to improve the overall user experience.

It seems to me that Apple is building a Permission-based Web, where we have to ask permission to play, or to sell apps, or whatever. It makes me nervous. But what really makes the current Apple sales explosion so interesting to me is that was initially driven by the Alpha geeks, who normally stay ahead of the curve on the margins of the mainstream.

Alpha geeks and web communities have talked a lot about openness since the very inception of the network. We claim we want open. We throw stones at those we perceive as trying to impinge on that openness.People practically had heart attacks at the idea Microsoft might be in control of our name space when it first talked to Hailstorm. In Europe, which used to be ahead of the USA in terms of mobile services, until Apple came along, the talk was about how to have Open, rather than Walled, Gardens.

Sun has arguably been more open than any other enterprise vendor over the last five years and how did the industry respond – with disinterest, if sales are anything to go by. Tim O’Reilly said a while back that open source in effect no longer matters - the new frontier is data; “The Intel Inside” as he calls it. Tim has an unerring sense of what comes next, and he also has an unusually strong social conscience.

Tim saw the future back in 2004.

Sites such as Google, Amazon, and salesforce.com provide the most serious challenge to the traditional understanding of free and open source software. Here are applications built on top of Linux, but they are fiercely proprietary. What’s more, even when using and modifying software distributed under the most restrictive of free software licenses, the GPL, these sites are not constrained by any of its provisions, all of which are conditioned on the old paradigm. The GPL’s protections are triggered by the act of software distribution, yet web-based application vendors never distribute any software: it is simply performed on the Internet’s global stage, delivered as a service rather than as a packaged software application.

Apple didn’t make the list in 04, but it would now. Tim seems surprisingly passive in his analysis. But I think Open Source and open standards and neutral networks are worth fighting for – because of the potential for transparent development. Learning and pedagogy: “view source”. We need to agitate for open. So much of what makes open source great are the social aspects of the technology. Lower barriers to participation.

Android Coda: Maybe Open Source is the charm after all.

I suspect that Google’s open source Android play will prove Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer right. It was Ballmer that argued that Microsoft had beaten Apple once, and would do so again by being more open, running on a ranger of devices and growing a larger ecosystem. Right analysis of the situation- wrong pick of the winner. With Acer, Asustek, HTC and Samsung Electronics, Motorola, SonyEricsson on board things look very rosy indeed for Android. I myself have an Android-powered HTC Magic. The hardware may not offer the performance and responsiveness of an iPhone, but that’s really just an implementation detail. The Droid is a spec beast.

Since I got the Hero I have been less worried about the Permission-based Web. Or maybe Google’s packaging is so good that I forgot myself. I still think we need to be vigilant about Net Neutrality, and believe it may be time to think of it as a layered architecture. I think the FTC is right to be looking to extend net neutrality to web service providers. They are as much gatekeepers of the web, and controllers of the last mile, as anyone. Especially as the mobile web kicks in. The open source model of Android potentially fragments The Permission Based Web, and associated data ownership-based business models. Perhaps there is life in the old FOSS dog yet.

photo courtesy of sportsilliterate.

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75 Responses

  1. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://bit.ly/1knteC pimping a post
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All – http://bit.ly/4DZ2iL “right analysis, wrong winner” – nice #android
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. excellent article by @monkchips about permission based web http://is.gd/4I7kx
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  4. How open is android? As far as i know, the development is pretty closed. Google works on it, and nobody knows what they are doing. It’s not like they have an open version control system, where everybody can see real time how the development of a new version is progressing.

    • more open than iPhone, though, eh @andrej? the MySQL approach works, and should allow Goog to make rapid progress, but as you point out, there is a downside. but its great to see you agitating for more openness.

      James GovernorOctober 30, 2009 @ 2:17 pmReply
  5. Wise words as usual James.

    It’s tough to balance the need to ‘get stuff done’ (which the more polished and proprietary packages tend to give you) with the desire to have and express freedoms.

    Openness is much about your actions as the product you have, I suspect your Hero isn’t ‘open’ till you’ve hacked it to store all your own data.

    Honestly, I don’t know that ‘open source’ really even qualifies on anything but principle if it requires a PhD to understand and modify it.

  6. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://j.mp/43sBBv
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  7. Louis Gray: Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://bit.ly/y3XJ2
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  8. @monkchips nail it: “Towards a Permission-based Web” http://bit.ly/4tCQMz
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  9. You’re asking government to regulate content. Is that really want you want? Isn’t it the access to content that should be neutral and not the content providers?

    In your system. Rush Limbaugh would have to be given equal time on CNN and vise versa. I don’t think we what that kind of world.

    zerosomethingOctober 30, 2009 @ 4:30 pmReply
  10. Having pockets of controlled environments, like those in the Apple world, do not threaten net neutrality. That is as long as it (A) Does not become the prevelant attitude of the web and (B) we continue to have a choice.

    If the government said that Apple products became the default product, and you had to opt into Apple when you change hardware, THAT would be the death of net neutrality. :)

  11. Excellent post, well worth pimping RT @monkchips: Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? http://bit.ly/1knteC
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  12. it annoys me, this falacy that “the alpha geek” has an iPhone.
    geeks have iPhones, undisputed fact. but the alpha?
    the alpha has been doing everything the iphone can do with devices going back to the 90’s.
    the iPhone is not enough. too closed. too locked down. and iTunes? that shovelware bug infested pos. the alpha wouldn’t accept that.
    non-alpha geeks do accept it. because in a workday world of bluescreens of death and user complaints, it works, (kinda, and only within it’s predefined limits). just don’t step outside the bounderies.
    non-geeks accept it too. and somehow seem to, upon purchase, become the technical masters of their domain. extolling the virtues of their shiney toy to all those who will listen.

    a geek with an iPhone is someone who has given up. who no longer looks for better solutions. researching the best options. has quit the bleeding edge. is willing to cast of the shackles of technology as an intellectual persuite, and embrace the warm fluffy pillow of becoming an in’duh’vidual. a “user”.
    an iPhone equipped non-geek, wants to be seen as up there with the latest and greatest. but without the thought, effort, or will to break from the status quo.

    alpha geeks don’t have iPhones. So as such, i see having one as a mark of “not being as technically adept as you wish to be perceived to be”. and not fit for the employ in a higher end technical capacity.

    spoonmonkeyOctober 30, 2009 @ 4:45 pmReply
  13. Neutralidade da rede e empacotamento de tecnologia: http://bit.ly/2Oou8B. Ótimo texto. Esse é um dos assuntos mais importantes de hoje.
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  14. You have touched on a tenet of society. You have the all-benevolent search engine that tracks everyone online tracking us right now on your site…. ??

    Only those who check the code of your page will see the proof of my statement.

    As it has been throughout history, governments start out nice and allow some liberties. Later they turn into dictatorships. The internet will be no different.

    Now… back to that code on this page….

    FriendofJamesOctober 30, 2009 @ 4:52 pmReply
  15. ” The hardware may not offer the performance and responsiveness of an iPhone, but that’s really just an implementation detail.”

    One of a few key details that makes all the difference in the world.

    I know your tone is mostly cautionary and raise some risks that should be considered. But I haven’t seen any cause for concern just yet. Furthermore, I beleive that responding to this potential, but seemingly unlikely (for now) threat to openness runs the risk of needlessly draining resources from the open source community.

  16. I was “passive” in my analysis in the sense that I wasn’t telling people to avoid the future, just to understand what was coming our way. When people understand what is coming, they can respond as it suits them. The benefits from Google, Amazon, et al are enormous despite the monopolistic dynamic that underlies Web 2.0 if you really understand it. So too with Apple. For that matter, so too with Microsoft.

    My mantra is “create more value than you capture.” I like openness because it tends to satisfy that mantra. But as long as any company is creating more value for the ecosystem than they take out, I’m happy. I don’t believe in “pre-punishment”: the idea that we ought to be opposed to companies because of the way they may or may not act in the future.

    In some ways, I’m a bit Hegelian in my thoughts about the progress of technology: Thesis – antithesis – synthesis. IBM opened up the PC then Microsoft closed it down. The internet and open source opened things up again. Now lots of companies — add Apple (and Facebook, who should also be on your radar) — to the list are closing it down.

    But here’s the perpetual “synthesis” hope. The slide towards monopolistic abuse is not inevitable. If a company achieves a natural monopoly yet adopts ecosystem thinking and always tries to create more value for the ecosystem than they capture, perhaps we can come to steady progress rather than wild swings between free and proprietary.

    Overall, expect Microsoft (like IBM before it) to become the big supporter of open in the face of the new closed.

    But I also expect Google to at least try to achieve the synthesis state (android being a case in point) by harnessing the benefits of both open and closed in some kind of harmonic balance. However, that is going to be increasingly difficult for them.

    Meanwhile, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook all seem to me to have monopolistic intentions without the tempering idea that they must always nurture the ecosystem.

    So I evangelize that idea, and hope. Meanwhile, I have faith that if closed appears to “win” again, innovation will bring the cycle round again to a rediscovery of openness in some new, as yet unknown way.

    • @tim non-action can be powerful. in Taoism (and The Art of War) i believe its called wu-wei. so i may have been tweaking you a bit, Tim, but the truth is you were just five years ahead of the rest of us in working this stuff out. Why wouldn’t you have been excited about The Data Wave. Also, like you, I have finally been around long enough to understand the cyclical nature of all this stuff a little better.

      @john what do you use? better performing hardware really *is* just an implementation detail. everything i am hearing about the droid indicates it can hold its own. and from UX perspective Android has a trump card few people mention. Google Search on the home page. I can find things faster than people with iPhones.

      john and tim- actually i do think we need to be ever vigilant and keep the pressure up.

      friendofjames- you are right. google analytics. i am certainly not saying Goog is benovolent, while Apple is not. Google scares the hell out of me at times. However Google does things like address significant resources to open source in terms of code camp. “governments start out nice and allow some liberties” – not sure about that…. but yes. 30 years ago Bill Gates was writing impassioned calls against tech patents because they gave IBM too much power ;-)

      James GovernorOctober 30, 2009 @ 5:37 pmReply
  17. Getting some *great* comments on Monkchips » Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? http://bit.ly/1knteC
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  18. James, I’m really curious about Apple’s behavior. Is it fair to say that by Apple controlling who does and doesn’t play they are maintaining a minimum bar of quality? Because what I find with the “open” environment is that anyone, and I do mean anyone, writes just about anything and releases it into the wild. Isn’t that what happened with the openess of the Wintel platform? So many bad applications out there that compromise the quality and security of the platform.

    Isn’t the inevitable result of such an open system? A tragedy of the commons? Or am I just way off base here?

  19. Some interesting thoughts on net neutrality http://bit.ly/2Oou8B
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  20. .@bynkii @angry_drunk something for the next AMB: Apple isn’t network neutral! http://bit.ly/3rRkvh
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  21. James Governor’s Monkchips » Towards a Permission-based Web … http://bit.ly/2xg2S6
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  22. Open source software is like public transportation (they still haven’t nailed the implementation). Sure it’s cheap and anyone can hop on, but at the end of the day I’d be more comfortable in a car, a commercially produced, fully walled and isolated in a beautifully engineered and aesthetically pleasing interior.

    For the record, I do ride the subway everyday to work, where I run lots of servers running lots of oss.

    brooklyn_wryOctober 30, 2009 @ 8:02 pmReply
  23. @dominiccampbell I completely didn’t get @monkchip’s point til I read his http://bit.ly/1xW0a. completely forgot about apple cos it’s shiny
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  24. “running on a ranger of devices”

    What?

  25. James Governor’s Monkchips » Towards a Permission-based Web …: Google Search on the home page. I can find.. http://bit.ly/2cxl3T
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  26. In the words of a really bad Streets album, “Everything is borrowed”. The web and ever-increasing use of increasingly less clunky APIs will mean that we will share data, and share functionality. That’s ‘we’ in terms of web users and web developers.

    Ultimately it makes sense for the uber-organisations that will rule our lives when the ubiquity truly hits to be in public ownership of some sort, but it sure as hell aint going to be a national government and it would laughable to even think about the UN. So maybe we can democratise the notion of being a shareholder somehow, so that users own the companies whose technical and superior functionality they are endorsing by picking their preferred supplier.

    In the meantime, there is some basic stuff to be done: can everyone please stop using Internet Explorer because it is shit for everyone involved. Until things that are dealt with then debating the macro-economics of companies supplying far superior servces for generally less money is rather academic. Or maybe IE will be forced to become good as Tim kind of implies. And then Apple will become open. And then we internationalise everything and live in a utopia. Or something.

  27. James Governor’s Monkchips » Towards a Permission-based Web …: Google Search on the home page. I can find.. http://bit.ly/1pAM2E
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  28. “Towards a Permission-based Web” http://bit.ly/4gfuXi – an excellent take on neutrality and walled gardens
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  29. James Governor’s Monkchips » Towards a Permission-based Web …: Is Comcast, the company net neutrality pro.. http://bit.ly/1pAM2E
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  30. Thought-provoking post from @monkchips: Towards a permission-based web (and Apple vs Android): http://bit.ly/4leU4Y
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  31. Thought-provoking: Permission-based web OR Net-Neutrality? (w/ #Apple vs. #Android) http://bit.ly/4leU4Y @monkchips
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  32. Interesting article James, thanks.

    I wonder if this comment will make any sense – I hope so.

    I think your point/position has a strong parallel on the data side. Currently applications have the last word on our data. They “package” it up for us in 2 main ways: UI and API. They sometimes do a good job – sometimes so good that we forget there’s a packaging there at all. Sometimes a bad job, in which case we’re keenly aware of it.

    This is the data side of the packaging question. I don’t think it’s really been addressed yet, but it’s exactly what we’re working on at Fluidinfo. We think the last word in data packaging should not be in the hands of an application. That’s a permissions-based world in which you have to be granted permission to look at (your own!) data, can only do what’s been anticipated, can be locked out, and where you don’t have permission to arbitrarily extend data or to control it (including, to be extreme, the ability to lock out the application that stored the data for you originally).

    We’ve released a new kind of database, called FluidDB that changes all that. It gives the data itself an API and means that the last word about data (packaging) is not left in the hands of an app.

    I wont go on here. Please drop me an email if you’d like to learn more.

    Thanks again,
    Terry

  33. Excellent post.

    So where is the gplish licence that enforces neutral behavior? Is there such a thing? Is that even possible?

    I would love to require that my open code be used only for applications that play fair so to speak…

    Brian ConnerOctober 30, 2009 @ 11:52 pmReply
  34. This is so much better articulated than my angry appstore rants @monkchips: Towards a permission-based web http://bit.ly/4leU4Y
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  35. Totally agree with the author RT @timoreilly Thought-provoking post from @monkchips: Apple vs Android: http://bit.ly/4leU4Y
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  36. It seems the Net Neutrality rabbit hole only goes deeper: http://bit.ly/3pnddb.
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  37. "Pipe level neutrality is surely only one layer of a stack."Is it? Am I missing something? Doesn’t net neutrality just guarantee all TRAFFIC equal access at the network level? It doesn’t guarantee all APPS equal access to the AppStore, any more than "highway neutrality" (equal access to the highway system) would allow Hyundai to sell its models at a Mercedes dealership…
    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

  38. Thought-provoking post from @monkchips: Towards a permission-based web (and Apple vs Android): http://bit.ly/4leU4Y (via @timoreilly)
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  39. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://bit.ly/1Pq3St (via @ timoreilly)
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  40. Towards a Permission-based #Web http://tinyurl.com/y8gbsr9 #dataownership #permissions #drm #digital
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  41. Towards a Permission-based #Web http://tinyurl.com/y8gbsr9 #dataownership #permissions #drm #digital #neutrality #netneutrality
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  42. Via @timoreilly >> Thought-provoking post from @monkchips: Towards a permission-based web (and Apple vs Android):http://bit.ly/1Pq3St
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  43. Article on Apple,openness,Android,net neutrality etc.An interesting view http://bit.ly/2Oou8B
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  44. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://bit.ly/10Rr9L
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  45. Freedom is a feature, maybe you should buy it.

    Freedom is a featureOctober 31, 2009 @ 2:16 amReply
  46. How Linux-based Google Android might help keep the Net free http://bit.ly/4DZ2iL Thx @glynmoody
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  47. Waiting for my Droid… RT @timoreilly Towards a permission-based web (and Apple vs Android): http://bit.ly/4leU4Y
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  48. Da @timoreilly: http://bit.ly/4leU4Y
    Il solito dibattito fra aperto e chiuso, in salsa mobile. Suona vecchio, e spiegherò perché, nel blog.
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  49. net neutrality, open source or walled garden. iPhone or Android – which model will win? from @monkchips http://bit.ly/1xW0a
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  50. my post on the permission based web, apple and android struck a nerve. slashdotted, @timoreilly RTd etc http://bit.ly/1knteC great comments
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  51. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://ff.im/-aNtM2
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  52. @timoreilly Comment on @monkchips’ Permissions-based web http://bit.ly/2IhF3v re packaging data.
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  53. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All http://j.mp/3tcedG tip @techmeme
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  54. Comment re #api packaging data by @terrycojones on @monkchips’ Permissions-based web http://bit.ly/2IhF3v #dataownership #dataweb #datacloud
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  55. Perms mentioned by @timberners_lee this morning too – RT @terrycojones @timoreilly @monkchips permissions-based web http://bit.ly/2IhF3v
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  56. Thoughts have been provoked – RT @alisohani – Permission-based web OR Net-Neutrality? (#Apple vs. #Android) http://bit.ly/4leU4Y
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  57. Hmm http://bit.ly/IuJHy
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  58. Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality?… http://bit.ly/WHt6s #postrank #net_neutral
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  59. James Governor’s Monkchips » Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wi.. http://bit.ly/dvw5D
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  60. Reading “Towards a Permission-based Web. Wherefore Net Neutrality? Or: Maybe Open Source Wins After All” http://bit.ly/3xp0tb by @monkchips
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  61. While it’s tempting to call out every other option in the ecosystem, I am surprised to find the omission of Maemo which seems to stand a much better chance than Android in delivering on the promise of openness playing well with corporate interests.

  62. [Blog] Omn nom: http://ping.fm/AX1RY http://ping.fm/06e1s
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  63. . @evangineer i am old enough to remember apple blew it before. http://bit.ly/1knteC
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter



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Continuing the Discussion

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  4. […] James Governor at Redmonk toots that horn in a much more sober fashion, even ending on a positive note. (linkage courtesy […]

  5. […] A couple of Christmases ago Stephen O’Grady had a similar experience with the iPhone, but I was never quite ready to join Apple’s Permission-based Web. […]

  6. […] A couple of Christmases ago Stephen O’Grady had a similar experience with the iPhone, but I was never quite ready to join Apple’s Permission-based Web. […]

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