I spent this evening at an event organised by Mortimer Spinks with a theme of open vs closed.
They had three speakers… one a white hat hacker whose thrust seemed to be that passwords are an inherently rubbish form of security and therefore everything is probably “open”, a chap from an online fashion retailer who wanted to make as much of the technology he used open source as possible, and a guy from Google who talked about the importance of the internet being “open” to the free flow of information.
Two main thoughts as a result for me:
Firstly, the digital information libertarianism that the likes of Google, Wikileaks and others espouse kind of scares me. When someone asks “do I look good in this?” they are not looking for a “free flow of information”. Similarly, the free flow of information on the internet enables total nonsense to propagate quickly and in a way that is next to impossible to control; I spoke with a headhunter this evening who had a candidate who had been through a completely refuted legal action, but was failing at the last hurdle of job applications when there prospective employer did an internet search. Internet news today doesn’t become the fish and chips wrapper of tomorrow.
We are defined as humans by our ability to filter and re-present information, and the vaguely autistic notion of the truth without worries me. There again, as Don Tapscott puts it, in the age of the internet everyone it’s naked, so you better be buff.
The second thing I took away from tonight was that the debate of a decade ago, open source vs closed, it’s now pretty much redundant. We are in an age of services where the software is just the delivery mechanism. Open or proprietary, it’s what the service does that counts. Microsoft is as proprietary as anyone, yet is fully committed to many open standards (HTML 5, for example). Google is based on a stack of open source, but ask out for its search or auction algorithms and it is strangely silent. But to the end consumer, is any of this important any more? Probably not…