Chris Hughes has an interesting post on openness and the internet. I agree with the gist of his idea (closed is bad, open is good) but there are a few things I think need some notes or further thought.

Chris says:

Today’s Internet didn’t have to be free and open, but because of purposeful decisions a few people made, it ended up that way.

Which I find pretty interesting. There *were* closed versions of the internet in 1980’s and 1990’s. They were called ‘America Online (AOL)’, ‘Compuserve’, and ‘Prodigy’ (not the band). And they lost slowly and completely to the open network. And as usual, those that don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. The internet is open, because the best combination of standard & open technology wins. There is a curve of Open vs. Standard, and along it are some optimal points. Those companies, AOL especially, ignored that fact, and lost in the open market because of that.

The internet found one of those balance points in TCP/IP, a100% must-match-standard. And another in the venue of HTML + your_tech_here , which is a ‘you really should’ kind of standard. Apple has found one of those potentialities too, in their public API + private gate-keeping.

The question is not a black or white ‘open vs closed’ question. It’s where in the grey area you want to live. As I type this (on a MacBook Pro, running Ubuntu Karmic Koala) I think that, like any market, a mix of styles and competition, the financial version of variation and selection, will encourage companies to find that sweet spot. As the closed-ness becomes onus, people will switch vendors. Or at least, if and when they can.

I wouldn’t bet on Facebook being around in 10-20 years (too much of a walled garden). I do expect Apple, Steam, and other pseduo-open systems to be still churning, and bringing in cash for their owners. That is a great thing. Better than calling for government intervention, we (inventors, hackers, financiers) should be encouraging development of competing systems and ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think markets can solve *everything*, but I do think there are enough geeks and funders to undermine any empire that gets too large and too closed. Because there is a lot of money is showing the emperor has no clothes.