app store is the new web portal

I’m not in much of a blogging mood, but I wanted to get this down now, with a timestamp, so I can say “I told you so” in 9 months: app is going to become a dirty word.

At work I’ve been fielding a number of calls from tech companies who would like us to develop a version of one of our offerings customized to their upcoming platform — whether mobile, or web-based, or (most ridiculously) centered around a particularly power-efficient x86 processor.  This enthusiasm is a testament to the quality of the work my colleagues do and to the excitement currently surrounding the open gov space.  Both of those are wonderful things!  And to be clear, I intend to take advantage of some of these opportunities.  There is publicity to be had. In some cases I think that saying “yes” is the rational, self-interested thing to do.

But only insofar as it allows us to take advantage of an essentially irrational trend.  It is increasingly clear to me that, in the fall and winter, exclusive” app stores will begin proliferating at a pace that is unjustifiable, and which will likely lead, appropriately, to the concept of “apps” and “app stores” being denigrated and then stigmatized.

Companies have looked at the runaway success of Apple’s mobile application distribution model and found themselves slavering.  Nevermind that the mobile space, and Apple, and their first-mover advantage are all unique.  These copycats are going to try to recreate that success.  Everyone can have their own walled garden!  Every platform will be exclusive and revolutionary!  An no, of course we’re not trying to lock anybody in to anything. Why would you even think such a thing?

It’s heinous, it’s stupid, and it’s contrary to the norms that have made the internet as great and powerful as it is.

To get philosophical for a moment, all this is an iteration of one of a handful of archetypal technology debates — in this case, open versus closed.  The thing is, this is a very boring debate: we know that the answer is “almost always open”, and we’ve known it for a while.  I’d much prefer to go back to fat client versus thin client (aka “the cloud will change everything forever and I have the powerpoint to prove it”).  That debate is at least deservedly cyclical, driven by the ebb and flow of processing power, storage, technology’s social ubiquity and, more recently, battery life and wireless bandwidth.  We’ll probably arrive at an answer there, too, but not before we get a bit closer to the fundamental physical limits constraining our technologies and/or nervous systems.