Apps Destroy Web Unity

Apps Destroy Web Unity1 Apps Destroy Web UnityThere is a debate growing in the international online community, and it’s one of some importance. When I first read about it, it sounded kind of quirky but having considered the reasoning it’s pretty interesting.

The two power houses who have emerged as spokesmen against apps are Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia) and Tim Berners-Lee (the founder of the World Wide Web).

The debate centres on the idea that apps create closed worlds especially in the case of Apple and iTunes. Apps are made for specific operating systems, instead of for the open web. Programs developed or the Web (an intricate interwoven network) makes it more interwoven and connected; Apps may divert the expertise of Web developers to expand these fragmented ecosystems. The result of this of course is to destroy Web unity. The following was taken from

Jimmy Wales, at a recent meeting at Bristol University in the UK explained that Apple’s stranglehold over app development is ‘the biggest threat to the open internet’. He went on to say that the app model is ‘a real danger…A lot of the things that people are afraid of are in reality a long way from happening. The real threat comes from the apps model.’

On the open internet anyone can develop software and give it away or sell it. ‘But in the apps model, you have to get Apple’s permission…That choke point is very dangerous. It’s not theoretical like a network operator potentially shutting out Skype, it’s real and it’s happening now.’

All interesting stuff, but concerns that have already been voiced by Tim Berners-Lee in a recent report. In the report Berners-Lee explains:

In contrast, not using open standards creates closed worlds. Apple’s iTunes system, for example, indentifies songs and videos using URIs that are open. But instead of “http:” the addresses begin with “iTunes:,” which is proprietary. You can access an “iTunes:” link only using Apple’s proprietary iTunes program. You can’t make a link to any information in the iTunes worlds-a song or information about a band. You can’t send that link to someone else to see. You are no longer on the Web. The iTunes world is centralised and walled off. You are trapped in a single store, rather than being on the open marketplace. For all the store’s wonderful features, its evolution is limited to what one company thinks up.

Other companies are also creating closed worlds. The tendency for magazines, for example, to produce smartphone “apps” rather than Web apps is disturbing, because that material is off the Web. You can’t bookmark it or email a link to a page within it. You can’t tweet it. It is better to build a Web app that will also run on smartphone browsers, and the techniques for doing so are getting better all the time.

I have always hated the way iTunes tries to control your music and have always avoided using it by using alternatives. This argument just adds weight to my feelings.

Within the continued and growing use of smartphones, the world of apps is without doubt set to grow and it’s very likely more people will join Jimmy Wales and Tim Berners-Lee as anti-apps protestors.

As with all points of view there exist opposite points of view. Apps are not necessarily a bad thing and this argument might be void. Apps are just clients; clients can be a browser, a native app on a new platform, a service and many more things. Just because one company has a clearly defined play area with a hardware platform to go with it, does not spell doom for the Internet. Apps are being created all the time to combat each others behavior, like those used to get tunes out of iTunes. All Apps can be converted by another App a long as people stay creative.

The rash young programmers seem to think that ever expanding, ever changing and ever growing Internet is nothing but a good thing. If Apps are the new thing, then that’s fine let’s just run with it. The Internet is bigger and better than it was in 1993 and it has always taken unexpected paths.

On the other hand, things can move too quickly, and too often in history have the wise words of the few been ignored by the masses. Let’s just hope that apps do not destroy web unity.