Open or closed web? Newspapers might as well go back to asking Blur or Oasis?

A wonderful brouhaha has blown up between some new media heavy hitters over Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times and her ridiculous notion that iPhones, “apps” and “the gated web” will leave “open Web” users shambling around the digital equivalent of Detroit.

Blanket statements such as “open beats closed” are not enough to dispel the blatant scaremongering of a notion of web-based “white flight”. Heffernan has stretched the already perished “web as city” metaphor beyond its snapping point – maybe she has read a little too much William Gibson or Neal Stephenson and not spent enough time playing with mobile phones.

Stowe Boyd demolishes the usless city metaphor here.

Tim Maly has a pop at her for ignoring the obvious fact that it was the iPhone that brought “open web” browsing to the mobile masses in the first place.

Pat Thornton (@pwthornton on Twitter) found the piece worthless and offensive.

The excellent Dave Winer takes issue with the NYT running a story he says is so devoid of fact. (According to her wikipedia entry, Heffernan used to be a fact checker for the New Yorker.)

The most annoying thing about the piece, for me, is that it ignores that Apple’s is not the most used or fastest growing smartphone OS out there, nor is it the largest smartphone handset maker. I am consistently frustrated as an Android user when organisations announce with fanfare that they have had their “app” published only to find it confined to iPhone users.

Certain newspapers have long been accused of being “Dublin-centric” or “London-centric” – ignoring swathes of their countries’ wider populations for a geographically concentrated audience that they better understand. The massively diminished costs of online publishing were meant to do away with it, but we find that this city-centrism has made way for a type of platform-centric behaviour. There are demographic reasons, I am sure, but none can convince me of the wisdom of taking a general interest product like a newspaper and self-limiting its distribution.

Less annoying, but probably more significant, is that most “apps” are rubbish. I like it when Apple fanboys tout the number of “apps”  available at the App Store as some indicator of quality. I like games and fart noise generators as much as the next man, but it’s not really the hook you think it is.

Even the terminology at work here is interesting – iPhone users go to an App Store, like consumers. Android users go to a Market, instantly conjuring up a place, rightly or wrongly, where commerce takes place.

None of which addresses my real interest in “apps” – the notion that  they are seen in some way as a boon for struggling newspapers, a way of selling “content”. I will have to leave why that is total bullshit until tomorrow.

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  1. 1 Why newspapers should stop chasing app gold « Fin O’Reilly

    […] some type of tablet device, so the market for tablet-using consumers is definitely set to expand. I did have a whinge yesterday about the Apple-centric approach to the app market, but where I think newspapers have a real […]




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