Rocks in the Road

I’ve often thought about how damaging advertisements have been to the structure of the internet. Recently, I think it started to impinge on my life in a specific way – I’m looking at new smartphones.

There are plenty of shiny, mostly closed source Android phones. Google didn’t do anything to stop proprietary drivers or other forms of walled garden and now they’re working on DRM extensions for HTML5 so they can keep pushing content with devices that have been turned against their owners.

As a matter of fact, there was a great interview with Cory Doctorow recently on how the deal has soured for libraries. It also makes some points I’ve wanted to articulate about how they’re doing their customers a disservice in the name of short term gratification – by accepting a shit deal so they can loan ebooks – while giving publishers permission to rent them ebooks that disappear far quicker than a paper edition ever would. You can listen to the interview here, and I suggest you do!

In the last few years, and increasingly as it makes it into the wild, there has been a slowly growing buzz about Mozilla’s OS for smartphones, somewhat predictably called Firefox OS. I’m excited, because I trust Mozilla more than Google. (I don’t really think Google is evil, although I think as it grows, what is in its interest will diverge further from the interests of its customers.) Mozilla, though, seems to have similar ideas about what the internet means as I do. That it can be a force for even greater good, bring the world together in meaningful ways, and that making information available in machine-readable forms means people can manipulate it in new, better ways.

With all of that bubbling in my head, I was excited to see there was a phone being made with more mid-level hardware that would run Firefox OS. It’s called the Peak+ and is made by a Spanish company called Geeksphone. It doesn’t seem like many apps are out for the OS yet, but that’s probably to be expected for something that only just had hardware announced in the last month or so.

It made me wonder how well apps made with HTML5 would work. It made me think of RSS. I’ve tried to use RSS readers over and over again for years, but they are always stymied by the ad-supported web. If you’ve tried to use an RSS reader, you’ve probably encountered how many feeds will only give you the first few sentences of an article and then require you to go to their site to read the rest. They’ve already published a story online for free, so why do we need to go to the website to read it? The only thing that makes sense to me is that they need you to load all of their ads.

It makes me think how special things like Wikipedia are, which let you use their content for free, with no ads. Those are the bits of the web that make me proud of humanity. It’s the sort of thing I hope Firefox OS will be, in its own way: software that exists for the users.

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