Netly: The Third Screen

Why “open” doesn’t mean “free.”

Posted on: June 8, 2010

There’s a huge amount of misunderstanding these days in the open-versus-closed debate. I’m seeing a lot of hand wringing out there among pundits who believe that the rise of apps-fueled devices will somehow mean that information—now so abundant and free—will retreat behind pay walls, and Evil Big Media will plunge us back into the ignorant, can’t-find-it-anymore pre-Web world. Nothing will be shareable. Nothing will be searchable…

Nope, not at all. Or, as Gob used to say in Arrested Development, “Come on!”

As everyone knows, Google, with it’s endless evangelizing of an unfettered Web, is the standard-bearer for open. And Apple, with the rise of it’s highly integrated iConomy (that extends from the A4 chip to iPods/Phones/Pads to the iOS and the the iTunes and App Store) is the champion of the closed system. These two companies are the poles of Techland and appear, at least through the media’s smudgy binoculars, to be engaged in the tech war of the century.

This is the black and white of the dialectic.

In reality, Google and Apple are moving to the same shade of gray, albeit at different speeds: HTML5.

Google, with a fleet of devices running Chrome OS on the horizon, would like to see this migration occur ASAP. Apple, whose Apps are now generating billions in revenue, is not in such a hurry, of course. (Also, Steve Jobs has said that bandwidth is really the biggest impediment to HTML5 taking off within the next five years.)

But I think it’s fair to say that virtually everyone, in both camps, agrees that at some point in the not too distant future, we’ll be able to give consumers the same rich experience in HTML5 that we now associate with downloaded apps. (Sports Illustrated recently showed off a demo of a prototype in HTML5 that’s virtually indistinguishable from the same thing rendered in Objective C.)

For content producers, the advantages of HTML5 are many, including the ability to write once and run anywhere. While the standard is still years from reaching a tipping point and being widely deployed, it counts over 70 million users who run HTML5-compliant browsers such as Chrome and Safari. Another advantage, of course, is that HTML5 “apps” are really just web pages, and as such are searchable and “open.”

Naturally, once we move to HTML5-based content, pay walls will be in place. But everyone’s content will still be “open” to the World Wide Web. Much of it, though, won’t be free.

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