Another purported quality of Coursera is that it is “open”, as everything must now be. The cyber-credo of “open” sounds so liberal and friendly that it is easy to miss its remarkable hypocrisy. The big technology companies that are the cybertheorists’ beloved exemplars of the coming world order are anything but open. Google doesn’t publish its search algorithm; Apple is notoriously secretive about its product plans; Facebook routinely changes its users’ privacy options. Apple, Google and Amazon are all frantically building proprietary “walled-garden” content utopias for profit.
“Open-source” software, on the model of the Linux operating system, used to be the cyber-theorists’ favourite example of why open would always beat closed. Yet, for all the admirable successes of open-source software (especially in industrial applications), closed commercial software and services still dominate. Even Google’s open-source Android smartphone operating system is, for the vast majority of customers, experienced as a customised and re-closed version on phones manufactured by Samsung, HTC and Sony.
“Owning pipelines, people, products or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success,” Jarvis wrote in 2009. “Openness is.” What is now the company with the highest market valuation on earth? Apple, which sells physical products, jealously guards its patent hoard and is about as “open” as Fort Knox. Only the most black-hearted of cynics could suppose that it is in a cybertheorist’s interest to lecture media companies that they must be “open” so that the technology companies for which he acts as a useful idiot can happily hoover up all their data for free and monetise it.
Invasion of the cyber hustlers. I do enjoy a good rant.