Open vs closed

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…

5 thoughts on “Open vs closed

  1. I love the fish and chip comment, I was there too tonight and I learned three things. There are not enough women in technology – the event was a sausage fest and it spells trouble for the sector in the next five years.

    Secondly everyone spoke about flow of information and the impact of social media but none of those companies appear to train their staff to interact online.

    Finally security will be important but the security isn’t the problem – lack of staff training on how to protect yourself and your company is the problem. That online security piece was fascinating to me but in the end if you create a 10 minute elearning module and make it compulsory for staff you reduce your risk massively.

    Good blogpost – thanks for the insights.


  2. Your last two points are interesting, and part of where possibly IT has a significant problem: for years, IT departments have controlled technology in ways that meant that users were made to feel “safe” – security and information management was dealt with by someone else, and so the end user didn’t need to worry.

    Now people are more generally taking more control of their use of technology, but have never really had the exposure to the risk of managing things themselves. So they simply don’t know how to. It’s also not helped by the guff that our friends from Cupertino have been peddling for years that Apple products are somehow more secure than others. Easiest way to launch a phishing attack? Start a meme that begins with “Free iPad 3/iPhone 5 (delete as appropriate) – provide your details”, and then see the credit card numbers and passwords roll in…

    Naivity, greed and undue respect for “authority” are the weak points in the human side of the internet – passwords are just a sideshow.

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