I don't want a curated Internet. Do you?

You’ve probably read this one before, but I need my dramatic entrance for this blog post.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs

Jobs is, of course, right about design, but his vision of design is as old as the age he was born in. It’s an age of big man, with big design heads and a lot of mad men flair in which a small bunch of people are responsible for the creative output. The rest of the company is basically the execution part. It’s the philosophy of a time in which Detroit was a prosperous city and wasn’t not planing to usher 30% of its houses. Basically, it’s the philosophy of a time before the Internet came along and showed us the potential of goodness we can achieve by opening up certain structures. It’s the philosophy of an era that came before we actually started collaborating and created unimaginable achievements like the Wikipedia or Linux.

This era, as successful as Apple might be right now, is over and it’s probably not coming back. At least not in the foreseeable future. Leadership today is not top-down, it’s more about creating the right environment in which we can start creating products that are influenced by the people that are going to use it. But let me quote Mariana Amatullo, who is Vice President and Founding Director, Designmatters at Art Center College of Design.

I think the era of the star designer is over, frankly. It’s not very interesting to me. I’m much more excited with those individuals who have the ability to do original thinking but really exercise it with a lot of humility. That’s what human-centered design is to me—aspiring to empathy and aspiring to a sense of humility about your ideas, your thoughts, your practice.

When solutions are sustained, a few things need to happen. More and more we’re seeing the value of participatory design process and of finding solutions in a collaborative manner. But when you’re talking large-scale you also need solutions that are supported with policy and funding.

But how do we create sustainable, collaborative solutions? There is a key to those: open and just access for everyone. There is no place for egos in such environments, that’s why the Wikipedia (at least in Germany) suffering so much from the ego tripping of the administrators. They are trying to inflict the rule of few on a something that was created by many.

The same thing is happening when companies are trying to damage the Internet. Obviously, it’s not just Apple. Facebook is the new number one kid of the block and it’s also an ego thing. Mark Zuckerberg and his gang are trying to inflict their perception of privacy on to the rest of us and it’s an ugly thing to do. Don’t take my word for it, go read danah boyd’s very elaborate rant. Or watch Tim O’Reilly speak about the future of the Internet (of Things) and his pleading why it has to be about openness.

At the end of his talk, O’Reilly is saying that we are at the verge to lose the openness of the Internet as we’ve known it for the last 15 – 20 years. He is right. We, as a society, taking the openness of the Internet for granted, because it was born into this world as an open system. Nobody had to fight for it’s openness, because the people who are responsible for its creation did an excellent job of establishing an equal access to it. People like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg don’t believe in equality, because they believe that they ‘know better’. That’s why we have products like the iPad, which is ironically being described as ‘curated computing’. What’s next? A curated version of the Internet?

To that I would need to say: no, thanks. And I can only plead that more people stand up for the fact that those companies don’t take away what we hold precious and that is fundamentally right. Equal, uncontrolled and modified access to the Internet should not be a privilege, but a right.

How can we motivate more people to join in? Well, the first step would be for more people who already know about the problems that companies like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google & Co. inflicting to the Internet to actually do something about it. That alone is, of course, not enough and that brings me back to the Steve Jobs quote from all the way up there.

It’s time that we start thinking about design not only in a way how it looks, how it feels or how it works, but how it was created. Was is the mind of one person or was it a collaborative project? Does it integrate itself in already functioning mechanism or does it exploit those out of pure single mindedness and the wish to make more money for one company? Are you ready to pay more for a product that has been created openly? Would you pay more for an iPad that wouldn’t be so dependent to a closed and censored environment like the App Store?

I’ve written it before: we achieved the same with the production of our food and we’re able to achieve the same thing with digital products. There is no reason why not, but we should hurry up and start asking for change before it’s to late and we lose something that we take for granted today.

Comment [12]

  1. Actually, yes, I want a curated internet. I would go crazy with the information overload if I wouldn’t have any curation. I want instances to decide what they want to pass on to me and what not and give me the best stuff only. But, I want to decide myself who these instances are. I want to choose them and drop them again however I feel like. I basically want to curate my curators. And I want free access to the source material always.

    And that’s why the iPad is an intricated ecosystem for me (including the iPhone etc.). If you look only at the apps first, I can choose my curators by choosing different apps. I can have the NY Times app or the BILD app or both. There are endless possibilities to create a curated access to news and information however I like it. Biggest problem is of cause that all the apps have to get Apple’s approval which is the source for most of the criticism and rightly so because Apple could fix that by allowing me to install unapproved apps on my own responsibility. That’s my demand to Apple.

    Nevertheless (and that’s where I think the Forrester article is wrong), there is an uncontrolled access to the web on any iPhone OS device called a browser. Steve Jobs may not like it, but I can watch porn on any iPhone OS device if I want to. And even if I don’t trust Apple’s own Mobile Safari, I can choose another browser like Opera or Atomic Web. It’s also interesting to me to see how many apps have actually a browser build into it because the developer knows that the web doesn’t work in a completely fenced in way.

    I second the main point of your article. I just want to make sure, we always get the details correct. I don’t want to see the open movement go down the same path as Greenpeace, blurring the details to create a witch hunt.

    Now, the whole discussion about egos vs. the masses is a topic for another day because it’s even more complex then this.

    Johannes Kleske · May 15, 04:02 PM · #

  2. There is a difference between a curated internet and choosing freely your curators on the internet. Same way as I choose to read everything you blog other people are choosing to read somebody else, because they trust their sources.

    That’s how we manage with the the information that is available on the internet. Also: I started to think that ‘overload’ is kind of the wrong phrase here, because it suggests that there is to much of something while in fact there is not to much information. It data that has been created by somebody and it’s being used by people.

    Anyway … I had to smile after I’ve seen the you linking hotchickswithstormtroopers.com. In an internet that would have been created by Steve Jobs there is no room for such websites, because they diverge from his sense of design, aesthetics and philosophy. And plainly said: I don’t want to buy products from somebody who thinks that he knows what’s best for everybody. Let alone would I buy products from a company that is sueing HTC while actually going after the core of the Linux kernel itself after it has created its own OS from an open source kernel.

    As for the browser argument: right, now there is actually a different browser on the App Store. There wouldn’t be one, if Apple didn’t get all the pressure from outside. Buying an iPad surely doesn’t encourage them to change their tactics.

    And then there is the flash argument. I don’t like flash either and as soon as Google pushes Android 2.2 with flash support, I will disable it on my Nexus One, but the core point here is: I can choose whatever I want to do with the device. That’s the philosophy of Google and that’s why I was able to install a very early, very buggy version of Fennec (the mobile Firefox browser) on my Nexus One without any problem at all.

    It’s a case of priorities, sure. I’m certainly not the mainstream user and most wouldn’t bother installing a Fennec before it’s done, but the important part here is: if we accept the disadvantages as a price for ‘good design and shiny objects’, we’re giving those companies access to destroy the fabric of the free access to the Internet by dictating us what we should see and what we shouldn’t.

    I know, that I often sound very, very patronizing and the comparison with Greenpeace is very well deserved, I guess. But than again, it’s very hard to get enough attention when you’re suggesting something uncomfortable. And I didn’t even succeed to convince my friends from buying themselves an iPad …

    Igor · May 15, 04:32 PM · #

  3. A couple of thoughts:

    * I think priorities are playing a big part here. And the emphasis is on the plural. I have a lot of different priorities. One is to keep Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg from taking over the web. Another is to use beautiful and usable hard- and software and easily keep in contacts with my not so geeky friends and family. The combination of these priorities is constantly changing. One second one is tipping then I read an article or something and then the other one is on top. A clear and final decision would make my life much more easier (which applies to all of these tensions in my life). But I like to keep it this way as it prevents me from living after rules rather than the reality. And it keeps looking for the deeper connections and details and the organic changes of these.

    * I’m also seeing this in a bigger context. Like in our friendship. Your position keeps me from buying into the Apple koolaid and I maybe keep your mind open to some details or different perspectives. I like this symbiosis. They day we’re completely synchronized is the day we lose a lot.

    * Yes, I’m buying an iPad but don’t believe that I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. This time the appeal of this new device and how it enhances my current lifestyle slightly won.

    * I have to disagree on the hotchickswithstormtroopers argument. There are 200,000 apps in the Apple App Store and most of them are even worse then that blog. If only Jobs would be consistent and ban ugly apps from the store ;-)

    Johannes Kleske · May 15, 05:10 PM · #

  4. “They day we’re completely synchronized is the day we lose a lot.”
    That’s on my “favorite quotes-list” now.

    Moritz · May 16, 02:23 PM · #

  5. But how do we create sustainable, collaborative solutions? There is a key to those: open and just access for everyone. There is no place for egos in such environments, that’s why the Wikipedia (at least in Germany) suffering so much from the ego tripping of the administrators. They are trying to inflict the rule of few on a something that was created by many.

    There were quite a lot Wikipedia rivals based on this idea. Most of them failed miserably in short term, the others suffer a slow death noticed by no one.

    — Torsten · May 17, 09:01 AM · #

  6. Sure, but that does only mean that the right solutions wasn’t found yet, not that it’s not out there.

    Igor · May 17, 09:33 AM · #

  7. As I was watching Tim O’Reilly speak about the future of the Internet, which is rightfully recommended in the blog post above, I started with a recently growing belief that open source is losing ground. In a sense Tim O’Reilly was my last hope, and I was losing my religion. Then he put up a slide that said

    “The underdog is the ally of the open source”

    And it clicked. There is hope. There is hope, because I stopped thinking in the terms of open vs. closed, web vs. apps, free vs. gatekeepers.

    If you look at the history of the open source, it started as a rebellion and continued to be a rebellion against some obstacle, some wall, any sort of legal, technical or business prohibition. Rarely it was the first successful move into some area. However, as a rebel, the open movement found a way to change things, to work around the barrier and find a new way. This pattern is not only part of the open movement; it is also in the DNA of the Internet architecture and in the DNA of the World Wide Web.

    Putting it this way, anytime people rant about Apple, Facebook, the closed Google search algorithm (the evil in the closet), I am able to say, this is a good thing: people noticed a barrier, and the alarms are going off, let’s find a workaround.

    Now, there are always two sides to a coin: In order to be a rebellion, you need something to rebel against. Well it happens to be that we thankfully live in a society that rewards Entrepreneurs who take risks and successfully innovate. Furthermore the society gives the innovators the right to protect their innovation (I don’t wanna get into the whole copyright issue here, a lot stinks with the current system). But basically financial rewards (one might say greed) and legal protection have been the driving force of innovation and free (social) market societies have benefited from that at large.

    So, what does this mean, well it means that as @jkleske well pointed out, what we are dealing with is a symbiosis. I make things, I protect them, you find a way to catch up mostly by opening up the process or the product and gaining ground through benefits of the open model. Then we iterate.

    I like this symbiosis too and I at least for myself choose to stop thinking in open vs. closed and start thinking in yin and yang. So I will continue to enjoy my beloved apps on my beloved iPhone (most of my favorite apps have a web interface also), I will also continue writing code in my beloved Ruby, making financial contributions to [undisclosed] wiki sites and stick it to the man as well as to EFF on a case-by-case basis.

    One last thing:

    While the open movement for now is an underdog movement, there is no reason it has to be that way. However, that needs to be the subject a yet another discussion.

    alipasha · May 17, 02:23 PM · #

  8. Open Source, to simplify the matter, is a multi billion dollar business. It’s not a rebellion of few idealist who are trying to change the world. It has already done so.

    I believe, to some degree, that we as a society just aren’t grasping the fact that things changed and that we can operate differently.

    Take for example Wikipedia vs. established encyclopaedias. There is a business that has gone down under because of a collaborative and open approach to create a product.

    Take Linux vs. established operating systems. Microsoft is investing billions to create their own operating systems and Apple wouldn’t have one, if they wouldn’t use a lot open source projects to assemble their own operating system. Heck, the Internet is running on open source projects like linux and apache.

    So why is it exactly that you assume that whatever Apple has created could not be a creation by a collaborative effort or plain and simple by an open one? Because nobody has done it before? Well, nobody created the iPhone before Apple did either.

    We tend to restrict ourself by the past when it comes to debating the future. This is the case here. Apple is successful because they are doing a lot of things right, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done differently.

    The largest functioning, full featured platform is not Facebook or iTunes, it’s the Internet.

    Igor · May 17, 03:58 PM · #

  9. Wikipedia won, yes, but it came as an open response to the established encyclopedias.

    Linux was Linus Torvald’s response to Microsoft Windows.

    Nexus one is the response to the iPhone.

    Up until now, this responsiveness has been the open movement way.

    NOW! You are right, this is how business has been done in the past. Yet I believe that until we change some fundamentals in our society:

    Simply put we need to adapt the web way, that is a loosely coupled collaboration and division of labour based on merits and not hierarchies.

    However, is this the way we educate students in the classroom? the academics in universities? or the way we reward the workforce in the office? the politicians in the government?

    No, unfortunately not. Once we make those changes, once the society learns to collaborate the web way, instead of the “my way or the highway”, “winner takes all” approach, until then, people playing by the system rules will generally be having a comparative advantage, and the open movement will remain the underdog.

    alipasha · May 17, 04:25 PM · #

  10. Your internet is already curated, and I’ll prove it to you. What search engine do you use? When was the last time you actually navigated to the second page of search results? Where do you buy your books? How do you get your news?

    Christian Romney · May 24, 01:26 PM · #

  11. Christian, I guess – in a way – you’re right, but I fail to see how a more curated internet would make the situation better.

    Igor · May 24, 10:34 PM · #

  12. …community curated options

    — sonny · Jan 11, 07:23 AM · #

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