Imagine a city with stores that look like jail cells, dark alleys with no end in sight, graffiti written all over the walls, and thugs on every street corner. This city is the open web, containing Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, eBay, Paypal, and others.
Now imagine a city with multi-million dollar mansions, paved streets with clean sidewalks, beautiful parks with freshly-cut grass, and happy people enjoying every second of life. This is Apple’s ecosystem, led by the iPhone, iPad, and iTunes.
That’s a pretty drastic comparison, wouldn’t you say? Well, this is how Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times sums things up. But I don’t think she has a clue.
It’s my turn.
Imagine a city that has old and massive cathedrals competing with large modern-day skyscrapers, with roads that can take you anywhere you want to go, where crime is a problem only in certain parts (you have to know where you are going), and, with energy and creativity everywhere, the city is always alive. This is the open web, which is reminiscent of New York City. At least, this is how I would describe it.
The Open Web: It’s Not Perfect
Sure, the open web isn’t perfect; at the core, everything is a mess. There is spam and malware everywhere to be exploited if you don’t know what you are doing. There are parts that you would never want to visit. There are places you simply can’t go. And there are many segregated communities.
There is also the problem of lackluster quality in the open web, which Mrs. Heffernan pointed out in her article. The open web is, without question, littered with junky content and, even worse, spam. The quality of this content continually deteriorates as the quantity grows.
Speaking of quantity: there is too much of everything! It’s evermore difficult to find what you want with the increasing amount of noise, from nagging social networks to updating news feeds.
Furthermore, there are things like paywalls that peg a price to quality and private communities that only grant access to a select few. There is also the problem of segregation on the Web: kids tend to stick to MySpace, trouble makers love to visit 4chan, intelligent folk spend their afternoons on Wikipedia, and so on.
But the aforementioned is true of most cities! That is life. So guess what? Everyone can’t live in Beverly Hills or Honolulu. If they did, with time, it would almost surely end up looking like Baltimore or Los Angeles. But. I know. You still want to live there. So this is why people buy Apple products, right?
Apple: It’s Amazing, But…
I’ll be one of the first to admit that Apple has created something that most companies can only dream about: they created an ecosystem that enables users to spend their money and get most of the digital content they could ever desire. TV shows, movies, music, e-books, and applications are all just a click away, and there is so much content that a user would likely never have a reason to leave.
Furthermore, Apple has created the hardware that enables this ecosystem to truly flourish. The iPod revolutionized the music industry. Apple’s iPod Touch and iPhone created a new arena for application development. And now the iPad is taking it a step further with video and e-book content. But all of this stunning hardware serves one purpose: convince users to spend their money within the content-rich iTunes store.
Add to that the icing on the cake — which is the amazing attention to detail and design — and you have perfection. You have your beautiful Utopian city.
Or, at least, so you would think — the world, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), doesn’t work like that.
To be fair: Apple isn’t perfect at all.
We can’t forget that Apple is a cocky control freak. We can’t forget the numerous times Apple has bullied out developers for the wrong reasons. We can’t forget that they charge high premiums for their products. We can’t forget that Apple nearly lost it all in the past. There are numerous other examples, but you get the point.
Apple has its own flaws and imperfections, just like the open web does. Apple’s determination to control everything might prove to be its biggest appeal, but it could just as easily be its downfall in the future. Yet things have never looked better for Steve Jobs’s baby.
We Need The Open Web
While it is easy to call the open web a mess and Apple a paradise city, it is also easy to glance at the surface while managing to avoid looking at it from a different perspective: From chaos comes creativity, and from perfection comes boredom.
Without the chaos and disorganization of the open web, there could be little, if any, in the way of creativity. Because, most importantly, there might be no competition to speak of. Competition spurs innovation and creativity, and it is necessary to keep the entire Internet functioning.
The open web is, essentially, all about choice. People want this choice. And I truly believe that everyone — no matter how ignorant they are of competition and how much fanboy/fangirl tendencies they display — would be much happier knowing that there is always an alternative, if not many others.
Again, Apple’s way is beautiful, elegant, and pleasurable. It gives you everything you want and need. It is amazing. But it isn’t for everybody. And that’s a very good thing.
As Mrs. Heffernan pointed out in conclusion of her article about the open web, we might regret the decision to abandon the open web — I couldn’t agree more.