Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Sunday, May 23, 2010
 
Why I decided to help organize the first Hacks/Hackers Unite dev camp around the iPad even though I have concerns about Apple's policies



Dan Gillmor wrote a blogpost lamenting the decision of the organizers of Hacks/Hackers to organize their first Unite Dev camp around iPad development despite the myriad problems that journalists have found with Apple's model for how content gets on the iPad. Since I'm one of the organizers, I felt the need to respond to his criticism. I appreciate Gillmor's emphatic insistence on talking about the constantly shapeshifting economic threats to the freedom of the press. While I respect his decision not to come to our event this weekend, simply because it's for the iPad, I wanted to explain why I wasn't ignoring the problems of the iPhone OS restrictions when I made my decision to help with this event. I'm acknowledging (and even agreeing) with most of his points while making the case for the event as we envisioned it and as it is currently going on.

First of all, I am no Apple fanatic. I got my first Mac a couple weeks ago, and while I enjoy some of its features, I haven't fallen in love. I still consider myself a "PC" person. I was gifted an iPod that I use to play music and watch videos. My phone runs Android, and I am really looking forward to learning how to build things for it.

I too am skeptical of how Apple is structuring the iPhone/iPod/iPad store, and how it's keeping much more tight control of apps being developed for the iPhone OS compared to the control it has kept over apps being developed for Mac OS X. According to the Net Applications Data quoted in this Ars Technica post from January, Mac OS X is still less than 10% of the personal computing operating systems market; Apple would have a hard time restricting developers to a controlled market when it was already hard enough to justify developing for such a small market. Many commenters agree that Apple's open market strategy for OS X worked, as evidenced by the plethora of good applications and the relief developers experienced when Steve Jobs confirmed that there is no App store for OS X.

With the iPhone, Apple's power dynamic in the smartphone market was different from the beginning, a difference that's magnified as the userbase of the iPhone OS grows. According to the IDC numbers quoted in this Information Week article, Apple's share of the smartphone market has grown to 16%: a single phone with a single carrier gaining on all the market share (19%) held by several Blackberry models on several carriers. About a year ago, Nielsen estimated that there were 6.4 million active iPhone subscribers. None of these numbers indicate a majority, but they indicate something close to a controlling plurality from a media-based developer's point of view: as a friend in the mobile gaming industry told me, if your product is an interactive mobile widget, right now you will get the most bang for your buck developing it for iPhone OS. (Please see my note below, after my reason #2 for helping with this dev camp.)

That means more power for the guardians of the iPhone app store, which is what scares journalists, and rightfully so. Between the Mark Fiore incident (Wired) and the so-called sexual content censorship (TechCrunch), we of Hacks & Hackers are quite aware of the problems with going to readers through an app store's bottleneck, even had Wired's Brian Chen not pointed them out back in February. It's not dissimilar to the situation faced by comics and columns carried in newspaper syndication during the 20th century: any large third party between the media-maker and the media-consumer allows for the possibility of corporate censorship--and also of government censorship or social-campaign censorship carried out by corporations too willing to kowtow. Centrally controlled device-based media even allows for further chilling possibilities: retroactive censorship and the backflow of information about identities and reading habits. (After all, our local ACLU chapter says our digital privacy laws have been far outpaced by our digital copyright laws.) One hacker friend's immediate response to the iPad dev camp was to ask me to read Richard Stallman's 1997 dystopic tale The Right to Read, which I now recommend too. These are all issues that journalists should be thinking about deeply, and that journalistic institutions should be taking into account as they develop major strategies.

Hacks & Hackers is all about these kinds of discussions, and the iPad censorship issue has been brought up numerous times in our informal discussion events and twitter conversations. (It came up pretty early yesterday morning at the mic: what about an app explaining these censorship issues?) When Burt told me this was the first workshop-type event he was working on, I was skeptical for exactly the reasons listed above. I'd just begun reading You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier, and I was worried that excessive devotion to developing for the iPad would lead to "lock-in" issues for the journalistic development community. Three things made me change my mind about helping:

1) Right now, the iPad is the biggest multitouch device on the market. There will hopefully be more. But if you're interested in just playing around with the cognitive possibilities of what can happen when journalism consumers kinesthetically play around with their media, this is the place to start. As a new frontier in how human beings play with information, one that unites visual and aural communication with our innate desire to pick things up and turn them around, I think it's worth exploring. And HTML5 offers the possibility of conducting explorations so that all your work isn't eternally restricted to this device. There are too many creative user-interface designers playing in this space to simply ignore it.

2) The very reason we fear the iPhone OS---its potentially strangling market grip over mobile interactive apps--is also why it's a good place to build a bridge between hacks and hackers: there are an awful lot of iPhone OS hackers, at least around here, who have put a lot of thought into making engaging mobile experiences. The talent of their community is not automatically diminished by Apple's policies. (I am even more convinced of this after meeting some of these talented developers this weekend.) There's strict lack of access due to concrete policies and legal restrictions, and then there's fuzzy lack of access due to opacity and difficulty of use. Apple has invested in making iPhone development feel accessible to people who might not otherwise try to code for a mobile device, and it shows in the community that's sprung up around this operating system. Android is growing, and I dearly hope we have an Android event soon. But this is the reality: when we shopped the various Unite ideas around, iPhone OS developers seemed to bite more. Maybe we can convince them that journalism and journalistic principles are so awesome they should transition their development focus to a more open system. But that would be a much easier sell if we actually got to know them and knew what we were asking them to leave. This event gives me an opportunity to learn. (NOTE: The recent data--see this Marketwatch story--also indicate that Android, as a platform, is edging out iPhone OS. This is why I bought an Android. But developer expertise follows market share, and right now I know more people who have worked on iPhone OS apps than who have worked on Android apps. The same mobile game building friend who told me about the iPhone OS's greater "bang for your buck" developing interactive mobile media also said he and his peers are keeping an eye on Android, and hoping to learn its ways soon. But right now the iPhone OS still seems like the easiest platform for us to run a 2 day camp that could be exciting, focused and productive.

3) Many media friends of mine, who do cool things in media & journalism while simultaneously pondering all these deep issues, still seem to be excited about the iPad. It's a consumer device as much as a platform, and it's not going away. Why not see if there are ways to develop items in parallel, for instance? I am willing to play with these ideas for now. This dev camp gives me a chance to stay in the conversation and keep it rolling, rather than roll my eyes and leave it. Since I first drafted this note on Friday, Virginia Heffernan wrote an essay in the New York Times Magazine, comparing controlled App stores to the white flight to suburbia of the mid-century, and while I don't completely agree, I do think there are some apt lessons to be drawn from the analogy. As a nation we are still suffering from the market repercussions of those large collective choices, and the crowd doesn't always realize the true power of its economic decisions. But the passion of the responses to that essay is also a simple indication that smart and creative people will be working in the Apple app store, and I want to learn from them. Boycotting an event with iPhone OS developers would be like refusing to conduct any kind of social activism in the suburbs.

Really we just wanted to jump in and experiment with an event where we were doing something, not just talking. And yes, Maker Faire is awesome, but I've been there a bunch of times and I wanted to try something different this year. We haven't tied our necks to Steve Jobs's ball and chain. It's great to listen to the great developers I've met this weekend and the guardians of the free press at the same time. I'll be writing about how this dev camp has gone so far later today, but so far I'm glad I decided to help: there's a lot of creativity and energy here, and plenty of learning that we can carry over to other platforms.

(Note: this isn't my main site, currently, but it functions to hold a post! sahelidatta.com should be back up soon.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

 
Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

ATOM FEED



Spring 2006: Guest Bloggers!
Colin!
Rishi | Scott | Emily
Echan | Robert | ToastyKen

MAIN:ssrdatta.blogspot.com
Email me!
Ways to help the Tsunami Victims Here

Want this badge?

ARCHIVES
01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010 /


Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
The Bellman
Mine's On The 45 (Brimful)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
ChennaiCentral
ClimateBoy
Combing the Sphere
Crooked Timber
Daily Dose of Imagery
The Daily Rhino (Bong Breaker)
Dark Days Ahead
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
Daniel Drezner
Ennis
Ephemera
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Forsv
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Geomblog
Green Ink!
Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
1Locana
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Subjunctive.net:klog
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Wonkette
WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Eschaton(Atrios)
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece
Wonkette
Yglesias:Tpmcafe

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Ephemera
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
InSpiteOfEverything
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
Neil Gaiman
Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud


A Note on Comments
Haloscan is not very good at counting comments. If a comment thread is more than three months old, and you think there might be comments, please click the comments link even if it indicates zero comments. It won't display the true count properly. Thanks!


A note on permalinks
I find that a lot of people don't know about permalinks. When you want to have someone read a specific blog entry, then you should find that blog entry's permalink, click on that, and send them the resulting browser address. Otherwise they will just be sent to the blog in general, and between your reading the blog entry and your correspondent's or audience's getting to it, a whole slew of material may have pushed the entry off the front page. In this blog, the permalinks are the timestamp at the end of the entry. (Feel free to frequently send your friends and family permalinks from my blog!)







Weblog Commenting and Trackback by 
HaloScan.com Powered by Blogger