Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales: App stores a clear and present danger

January 13, 2011

The app store model is a more immediate threat to internet freedom than breaches of net neutrality. That’s the opinion of Wikipedia chief Jimmy Wales.

According to Wales — who was quick to stress he was speaking in a purely personal capacity — set-ups such as the iTunes App Store can act as a “chokepoint that is very dangerous.” He said such it was time to ask if the model was “a threat to a diverse and open ecosystem” and made the argument that “we own [a] device, and we should control it.”

Speaking at an event in Bristol, England in the week of Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary, Wales argued that many of the concerns over net neutrality were hypothetical and didn’t pose an immediate danger. While he noted the entire issue was complicated, and that his own views would be “policy wonky” (apparently meaning they wouldn’t necessarily blindly follow a strict principle regardless of the specific issue), he said elements of the campaign for net neutrality were “highly overblown” and centered on fears about what might happen rather than what is happening.

Wales answered questions on the topics after giving a presentation on Wikipedia’s past, present and future. He cited a tweet from a teacher who noted “Yesterday I asked one of my students if she knew what an encyclopedia is, and she said ‘Is it something like Wikipedia?’”

According to Wales, examples such as this mean that “the quality of Wikipedia is an important cultural issue.” But he stressed that university students should not be citing Wikipedia in essays and dissertations — or for that matter, any encyclopedia.

Noting that 87% of Wikipedia contributors are male, with an average age of 26 and double the rate of PhD holders of the general population, Wales said one of the major issues for the site going forward was to extend the diversity of people taking part. He said one way of achieving that would be to make the editing system easier to use, getting away from the current tendency for contributors to be confronted with mark-up coding: in particular, he conceded Wikipedia’s syntax for table layout was “a nightmare.”

But Wales also stressed Wikipedia will stick to its core purpose. He noted that adding features such as e-mail or chat functions might increase the number of visitors to the site, but while that is the goal of commercial services, it wouldn’t necessarily improve the quality of Wikipedia’s content, which he believes should be “[Encyclopedia]Britannica or better.”

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26 Responses to “Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales: App stores a clear and present danger”

  1. Marek:

    I personally do not see any problem in having twice PhD holders in Wikipedia’s contributors community compared to normal population. It would be very sorry to have it other way round ;-)

    And “complicated” editing system serves well as first level barrier. If you see Wikipedia’s editing system, as complicated, perhaps you should not write there at all ;-)

  2. JimmyJames:

    “And ‘complicated’ editing system serves well as first level barrier.”

    Rubbish. One’s ability to employ markup intricacies has nothing to do with one’s breadth of knowledge on a subject.

  3. Jeff:

    iTunes App store is a choke-point for good reason: People want trusted quality product that is easy to get at. As soon as you allow an ecosystem to grow without limits – you run into issues that would cause grief with many different entities. While free may be good, people are willing to pay for easy. And easy has to come with certain fences in order to maintain it that way. While you can criticize certain decisions on Apple’s part for blocking various apps, the model of the App store and the model of a moderated system Apple provides is not the fault.

  4. Oliversl:

    How about a Xbox360, Wii, PS3, DVD player, etc

    We own all those devices but we can not control them. I want to install Linux on a X360 but I cant.

    How is that worse than net neutrality which affect all devices connected to the internet?

  5. ken:

    I have an Android smartphone and the Market app limits you to selecting applications that Google has “certified”. There is also a setting (off by default) called “Unknown Sources” which allows you to install non-Market apps. This seems to provide a reasonable compromise: It supports the average user who (like Jeff says) “want trusted quality product that is easy to get at”, but allows the advanced user to move outside the box and install untrusted and potentially dangerous apps, or to use some third-party certifier. Do the Apple devices allow a user a similar option? If not, then I agree with Jimmy Wales.

  6. Brian:

    Except Kerr that even Google Trusted Apps are not trust worthy. Malware has already made it onto the market place becuase Google is not strict in approving apps.

    My reply to Jimmy

    “He said such it was time to ask if the model was “a threat to a diverse and open ecosystem” and made the argument that “we own [a] device, and we should control it.”

    Then buy a open device and let the rest of us who want a closed system use a closed system. The second you start attacking the system of my choice you are trying to make the choice for me. Not cool.

  7. Brian:

    Ken*** sorry cant edit post, Kerr was a typo, if the owner of the blog could correct and delete this one?

  8. Darel Rex Finley:

    We own a device, and we should control it? Does that include side-loading pirated commercial apps? I’ll be with you Jimmy, just as soon as you figure out way to prevent rampant piracy on fully owner-controlled devices. My hunch: It can’t be done.

  9. Jesse:

    I find it funny that articles like this exist, considering the appstore’s design is only similar (before all these other ones came out) to linux repo’s and package managers, which is all open source.

    Brian doesn’t get R&D development costs, or that for a platform to succeed, rampant piracy cannot be condoned.

  10. Jim:

    It kind of goes both ways. A strict App store only system is somewhat harmful to small-shop or home developers because they then have to worry about being accepted into the store. It also causes issues with data persistence. If the App store ever goes down permanently I have no recourse to reload the software I legally bought.

    On the other hand, as was pointed out earlier, App stores give a reliability and scope to the software available. (not everyone who can compile a program will get it in the store.)

    I think one answer would be to have a tiered system. Trusted apps at the top that have been officially reviewed by the app store, then apps by trusted developers and finally a general pool of apps (possibly hosted by different entities). Then it would provide the ease of use, relative safety, and smaller result set of the current App store model with the freedom of a more open, user controlled system.

  11. brooklyn_wry:

    These are legitimate concerns, but, um, am I the only one who uses a web browser on their iPhone? Doesn’t that moot the entire argument, it its *actually* a debate about the freedom of information? It would certainly seem to me that a web browser without blocks or restriction is about as open as it gets?

    Compiled apps are not information, they’re just a more convenient way of accessing it. Its a trade-off. Apple does not control what information you access, only the code you execute. Its disingenuous to imply anything else.

  12. Dr Adford:

    “Noting that 87% of Wikipedia contributors are male, with an average age of 26 and double the rate of PhD holders of the general population, Wales said one of the major issues for the site going forward was to extend the diversity of people taking part.”

    Did this Marxist genius say WHY?

    I thought not…

    I wonder what percentage of contributors are black males…

  13. Brian 2:

    “I’ll be with you Jimmy, just as soon as you figure out way to prevent rampant piracy on fully owner-controlled devices. My hunch: It can’t be done.”

    So as long as piracy exists (hint: always), we shouldn’t be able to control our own hardware? Somehow the software industry has survived the last few decades despite PCs being wide open.

  14. Darel Rex Finley:

    “So as long as piracy exists (hint: always), we shouldn’t be able to control our own hardware? Somehow the software industry has survived the last few decades despite PCs being wide open.”

    Apple’s figured out how to keep piracy to a minimum on the iPhone / iPod Touch, and the result has been fantastic: the most vibrant, fast-growing app development and sales environment in decades.

    I control my iPhone every day — just not absolutely. If you can’t be happy without absolute control of every aspect of your phone, you really need to build your own phone from parts. But good luck getting anyone to develop thousands of quality apps for it. Nothing wrong with wanting total control of your phone — as long as you don’t expect other people develop for it for free.

  15. Darren:

    @Brian, what malware are you referring to? There was some banking apps that were removed (although not confirmed to be malicious) and a wallpaper app that was removed from the Market and then reinstated because it was not found to be malicious. Can you trust the iOS App Market? Last year a flashlight app was removed because it was actually a tethering app in disguise. How did Apple miss that one?

    If you research (eg. a recent WSJ article amongst others), you’ll find that a greater percentage of iPhone apps transmit personal information than Android apps. At least on Android, you are told that an app will access your location and contact data before installing. On iOS, you are kept in the dark.

    I don’t see any inconsistency between having a curated app market for those that want it, as well as an option to load apps from others sources for those that want to take responsibility for their own actions. I doubt this would further piracy because anyone who wants pirated apps can easily jailbreak right now.

  16. Waffletower:

    The app store license agreement REQUIRES iOS application developers to prompt users for permission to transmit any data to a developer’s company servers. If somehow there are more applications on iOS, seems like unsubstantiated scare tactics to me, then the applications are violating Apple’s strict guidelines. Those who criticize Apple for not catching these applications might be hypocritical if they also have issues with the App Store model: because of Apple’s screening policy, there is an additional layer of protection against this sort of scrying. In the wild software distribution model, you have to trust the developer alone.

  17. Waffletower:

    Also, Darren’s comment on iOS location data is definitely bogus — every application that wishes to use location data can only do so if the user gives explicit permission through a modal prompt. These misrepresentations intending to scare people from Apple mobile devices fails — it only makes you seem ignorant or worse ( depending on your value system) a liar.

  18. Douglas Goodall:

    I also have grave concerns about the “app store” model, as demonstrated by Apple with their app store for the iPhone. For many years (since it’s inception), Apple has attempted to control what applications would be available on their computers. An example of this would be their decision not to sell language tools more sophisticated than basic for the Apple III, if they didn’t like you. With the advent of third party language tools, such as Code Warrior, they could no longer do this. With the development of stronger encryption technologies, it was possible to “sign” applications cryptographically, then configure an operating system to allow/or not allow unsigned programs to run. The trusted computing initiative didn’t take over the world, but Microsoft did push their “managed code”, an aspect of the .NET technology, and immediately, there was a switch in Windows which disallowed the execution of unsigned applications. Apple learned from this, and the process of preparing an application for the iPhone requires one to obtain a limited lifetime code signing certificate whose validity could be revoked at will. Beyond the possibility that Apple’s scrutiny might keep out malware, it also is the mechanism by which they keep out any applications which compete with their own apps to any extent. Given the costs and time involved with bringing an application to market, I believe the marketplace should determine the success or failure of any specific product, and not an arbitrary decision by someone in Apple’s marketing department. For the most part, the app store has resulted in the average iPhone app being more or less “trivial”, unless developed by a company with enough money to pay for the development a product and survive if denied entry into the store. I think this has the effect of suppressing development by startups with limited funding, and narrowing the field

  19. mark:

    Those who cite the intrinsic need for an ultra-closed app distribution system to ensure the success of the platform are ignoring history to some degree.

    MacOS, OSX and especially Windows have all done quite well without this requirement.

    In fact, the greater financial success of the Windows platform over the MacOS platform has been widely attributed to Microsoft’s strategy of making it easiear for anyone and everyone to create/distribute applications.

  20. Dave:

    How many of you developers have had the frustrating and demoralizing experience of trying to place your software on a bricks & mortar store shelf?

    After that you can talk to me about the “limitations” of an App Store (any App Store). The liberation that an online app store offers is supportive of innovation. Good apps sometimes don’t see the light of day because of outdated delivery models which were gate keepers for only the most popular programs.

    It is now possible to have you (pre-approved) app noticed by a person looking for its usefulness instead of trying to convince a tech journal of the value it offers.

    Just sayin…

  21. ikonique:

    There is already an open platform for server-based apps that can be accessed from ANY web-enabled device including iOS devices.

    ALL the protocols are OPEN and there are no restrictions – how do you restrict developers of HTML, PHP, JS, MySQL etc?

    It is ignored by the tech media who only blog about Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft who pay the rent…

  22. Mark:

    If you’re savvy enough to understand the implications of closed systems vs. the open internet model and are able to explain net neutrality, then you’re savvy enough to legally jailbreak your phone and make this discussion moot.

  23. Thomas:

    Mark makes a very good point. What locked system has never had some sort of “jailbreak”. Anyone who cares about a device not being open should be smart enough to jailbreak. The people that don’t care probably like the simplicity of the closed system model. The majority of the people are not tech fanatics and that’s why the iPhone is selling so well. And for those of us that realize we can do so much more with this device there’s always a jailbreak. And hell, it’s legal too!!!

  24. calvin frank:

    As far as me being a member here, I wasn’t aware that I was a member for any days, actually. When the article was published I received a username and password, so that I could participate in Comments, That would explain me stumbuling upon this post. But we’re certainly all intellectuals.

  25. cheap private proxy:

    I’m impressed, I need to say. Definitely rarely do I encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding; the problem is something that not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. I am pretty pleased that I stumbled across this in my search for some thing relating to this.

  26. Abbie Lee:

    For those who want to read about wikipedia and Jimmy and how the website came to be come read here!

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