What walled gardens do to the health of the Web, and what to do about it

David Weinberger took great notes from what sounds like a barn-burner of a talk by Anil Dash at Harvard's Berkman Center on what has happened to the net, and where it's headed:

“We have a lot of software that forbids journalism.” He refers to the IoS [iphone operating system] Terms of Service for app developers that includes text that says, literally: “If you want to criticize a religion, write a book.” You can distribute that book through the Apple bookstore, but Apple doesn’t want you writing apps that criticize religion. Apple enforces an anti-journalism rule, banning an app that shows where drone strikes have been.

Less visibly, the laws is being bent “to make our controlling our data illegal.” All the social networks operate as common carriers — neutral substrates — except when it comes to monetizing. The boundaries are unclear: I can sing “Happy Birthday” to a child at home, and I can do it over FaceTime, but I can’t put it up at YouTube [because of copyright]. It’s very open-ended and difficult to figure. “Now we have the industry that creates the social network implicitly interested in getting involved in how IP laws evolve.” When the Google home page encourages visitors to call their senators against SOPA/PIPA, we have what those of us against Citizens United oppose: now we’re asking a big company to encourage people to act politically in a particular way. At the same time, we’re letting these companies capture our words and works and put them under IP law.

A decade ago, metadata was all the rage among the geeks. You could tag, geo-tag, or machine-tag Flickr photos. Flickr is from the old community. That’s why you can still do Creative Commons searches at Flickr. But you can’t on Instagram. They don’t care about metadata. From an end-user point of view, RSS is out of favor. The new companies are not investing in creating metadata to make their work discoverable and shareable.

[berkman] Anil Dash on “The Web We Lost” (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. But it hasn’t become impossible to use metadata, or RSS or whatever.  Those tools are still available.  Dash’s complaint seems to be that he can’t use those things with the Apple store, or Youtube or whatever.

    So what?  Back in the Golden Age of Geeks, you couldn’t either, because the Apple store didn’t exist yet.  Nobody’s stopping you from programming and creating content using the older, open-source tools. 

    This isn’t a straw man argument.  Every time we hear about companies fighting Net Neutrality or installing draconian EULA, my first thought is, how about we just don’t use that tool?  There are plenty of other tools, and plenty of geeks to make them work.  Why not buy an open-source phone?  Why not start up an ISP in your city and refuse to log traffic?

    It’s not that the Apple store is taking away your freedom.  You just need to choose between the two.

    1. Dash’s complaint seems to be that society in general has opted to act mainly through tools that don’t allow metadata, RSS, or whatever, and so turned its back on such standards. That alternatives exist, people just don’t seem so interested in them, is kind of the point.

      Of course, he also mentions a main exception with social networks and IP like “Happy Birthday”.

      1. I think the stronger point was that we’ve become too happy treating private technological infrastructure (e.g. facebook) as if it were public, which in the long run hurts us (limited access, lack of legal protection). I agree with that, I guess.

    2.  The thing is… Apple is positioning its app store as a “platform”, a word that connotes common-carrier status… but then it doesn’t honour that connotation. Instead, it’s trying to have it both ways, all the advantages of being a common carrier with none of the obligations.

      The App Store is presented to the phone-buying public as having 800k+ third-party apps… but they’re not really “third-party”. Apple maintains editorial control; in a very real way, the app store has 800k+ Apple apps. They happen to have been developed for Apple by third parties, but that’s a detail, in the same way that the chips inside the phone were made by a third party.

      That dissonance is the problem.

      1. I understand.  My point is that there’s a big difference between “connotation” and shackles; but it’s easy to forget that.  Apple wants us to believe it’s their way or the highway, and also wants us to believe the highway is a scary bad place they have tamed for us.  Maybe it’s time to head back to the wilderness.

        How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

      2. I guess I disagree that ‘platform’ connotes common-carrier status. 

        The dissonance in Apple’s case is not Apple’s, but my own. I definitely want editorial control of the app store  to block malicious or racist apps and to limit apps which break the human interface design and style guidelines. I think they should do much more of the latter. But there are other decisions of Apple’s I disagree with, so I’m stuck saying, ‘of course it should be a walled garden, but I don’t like the landscaping’, which is not so easy to argue.

  2. ““We have a lot of software that forbids journalism.” ”

    Er, he gives an example in which journalism isn’t forbidden, but one form of publishing it, with other avenues of publishing it (books, web, podcasts, even a HTML5-based interactive game, etc) still wide open.

    Nowhere is journalism forbidden when Apple says they don’t accept certain submissions. One outlet doesn’t accept submissions of certain types. This is not particularly different from most magazines and newspapers, forever. Submit a journalistic article about drone strike locations to Fantasy & Science Fiction or Road & Track, and they’re unlikely to publish it either.

    As they say, “Freedom of the Press” belongs to the guy who owns the press. If one outlet won’t publish you, find another way.

    1. > even a HTML5-based interactive game, 

      I take it you don’t do much game development, if you think HTML5 can do anything close to what native code can do.

      Road and Track is a magazine, not a ‘platform.’ The promise of the iOS store is that anyone can create legitimate content and distribute it widely. But the cake is a lie.

  3. It was a very considered and considerable talk.  Bruce Sterling has also mentioned it on his blog as well.  Dash spoke about some important stuff.

  4. Easy solution to this. Part of the reason whenever I see someone using an iPhone I laugh at them inside and assume they are a techno-newb.

    I think the only platform I use that I know actively censors is BoingBoing.

    1. Every time I see someone look down their nose at “techno-newbs”, I assume they’re an asshole.

      The great thing about assholes is that you don’t have to laugh at them inside; you can do it quite openly.


    2. “I think the only platform I use that I know actively censors is BoingBoing.“

      That’s funny coming from someone whose avatar directly links to Facebook.

    3. whenever I see someone using an iPhone I laugh at them inside and assume they are a techno-newb.

      Meanwhile… while you’re laughing on the inside and giving this person you don’t know a smug look…

      He’s got a jailbroken iPhone that’s being used to launch a MitM attack via Pirni to sniff your passwords from your smartphone.

    1. Picky!
      What’s the mistake here beyond a typo or two? That iOS isn’t short for iPhone OS but is its updated name?

      1. For the same reason that it’s not NAsA or the FbI :)

        And yes, 100% picky.

        But when there are only 3 letters and someone gets the case wrong on 2 of them, it’s worth pointing out, in my opinion. iPhone* Operating System: iOS.

        * I guess these days it’s just iDevice Operating System, but I don’t know if there’s an official line on that.

        1. I think of the ‘i’ in ‘iOS’ as similar to the ‘i’ in iPhone or iPad. the ‘i’ is just a branding thing, it’s not an abbreviation or anything. So fully spelled out it’s iOperating System.

  5. Yeah, iOS is a “walled garden”. But it’s a garden about the size of California, with plenty of stuff in it that simply hasn’t turned up yet in other locations (and in some cases, never will). 

    I asked an Android user what the advantages of her “open” phone were and she showed me an app that covered her home screen with moving snowflakes. Really. 

    I’ll forgo the snowflakes in exchange for generally better software and relative freedom from malware.  

    I’ll even pay extra for the privilege.

Comments are closed.