Openness Is A Winning Business Strategy
from the it's-not-just-a-philosophy dept
For some unfortunate reason, there seems to be this idea that “open” solutions are somehow a less feasible business strategy. There are still those that sneer at open source companies as somehow being less-than-true-businesses, despite an awful lot of evidence to the contrary. But beyond just being a good business strategy, it’s worth pointing out that “open” solutions will almost always win in the end, because they simply provide more opportunities. For years, AOL insisted on a walled garden strategy — and in the mid-90s there were many who believed that AOL’s proprietary system would “beat” the wider internet. How’s that looking these days?
More recently, there’s been concern about the various “walled gardens” in the mobile space — which folks like Walt Mossberg have referred to as “the Soviet ministries.” Jonathan Zittrain has been beating the drum, insisting that a closed system, like the iPhone’s, is a dangerous trend. However, it seems quite like looking at AOL vs. the internet in the early- to mid-90’s. While the proprietary iPhone system may seem a lot better at first, there are problems under the surface — and openness is coming to the rescue.
Now, we’ve been beating on mobile providers for their silly “walled garden” approach for years, so you’d expect that maybe we’d be pessimistic. But, competition does wonderful things for innovation, and Apple’s presence in the market is driving everyone else to become a lot more open. Hell, even Apple is now a lot more open than it was just a little while ago, when Steve Jobs thought that 3rd party native apps would ruin the iPhone. He changed his mind when he realized that the iPhone needed a more open app environment to compete with what was coming down the road from others (competition drives innovation again).
But, Apple’s iPhone apps aren’t really that open — something that we warned would be an issue. That’s getting some attention now as Apple is, without explanation, making some apps disappear completely, without even telling the developers why. That will cause one (or maybe both) of two things to happen: developers will start concentrating greater efforts on other, more open, platforms to avoid having to deal with the mysterious Apple gods, or Apple will have to give in and be much more open itself.
In discussing this phenomenon, Princeton’s Ed Felten points out:
Generally, the closer a system is to being open, the more practical autonomy end users will have to control it, and the more easily unauthorized third-party apps can be built for it. An almost-open system must necessarily be built by starting with an open technical infrastructure and then trying to lock it down; but given the limits of real-world lockdown technologies, this means that customers will be able to jailbreak the system.
In short, nature abhors a functionality vacuum. Design your system to remove functionality, and users will find a way to restore that functionality. Like Apple, appliance vendors are better off leading this parade than trying to stop it.
Openness isn’t just a business strategy — it’s the natural evolution of the marketplace, because, in the long run, it will be the business strategy that succeeds.