Thursday, 2 December 2010

Apps v Free and Open Internet?

Photo courtesy Nick Weinrauch, Flickr

Continuing in a just-now-decided series of looks at "iTunes U in the Blogosphere," I refer now to a blog post from last year by Jim Groom, "5 reasons I don't like iTunesU." It is a good blog post, with many excellent comments posted afterwards.

Reason number one got my attention: "Don't trust anything without a URL." The blogger's point here is that URL-based hyperlinks which take the user to a browser is the one way to have a free and open internet environment. He quotes an article by Matt Gold, saying the "app store mentality is killing the internet."

I argued similarly in my blog post with Beyond Distance "The End of the World Wide Web Surf As We Know It?" where I wrote "app proliferation feels like a step backward into separate platform silos."

But now I am questioning myself. Is the fact that we acquire content by an application other than a browser an indication of less openness, less freedom on the web? If the application itself is free and readily available, perhaps that's enough. It should also be available on every operating system. Some criticise iTunes U solely on the basis that it does not run on Linux, and I will not say that is a trivial point.

But apps are here to stay, because mobile internet is here to stay. For many users, internet just has to be mobile; and in many cases and for many reasons with mobile internet, the app simply works better than the browser. So the goal of educators who believe in open educational resource (OER) sharing is to maintain a free and open internet environment, conducive to sharing of OERs, even if one uses an app.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist and SPIDER Investigator


  1. I agree that apps beat a browser, but thats almost because the user interface is designed better.

    Also an App to server communication is likely to be quicker, so thats a better experience. Things get closed off, but thats because the generic nature doesn't really work as well?

  2. I agree with both your points and just hope that "life with apps" can be as open as with a browser!

  3. We really need a platform independent app specification... so you could write one app that runs on any platform. The rise of smart phones is bringing a welcome diversity into the long calcified world of the OS, but this diversity heightens the need for common, open, standards. Android are going down the right road here - android apps work across numerous form factors and devices. iOS is more of a worry, especially when you couple it with the overall Apple "lock-in" mentality.

    Something that can only be accessed on one device is just not open. It's nice, and I'm glad that (some) people can get to it. But in some ways, what a waste...

  4. Just thinking about the ideal 'mobile-ready' OER. I've seen some websites which are so well-optimised for mobile that they feel app-like. That would a good route -- html5 of course now that Windows Metro has thrown its hat into that ring. Also, making text files available as both epub and mobi pocket in addition to pdf would pretty much ensure they could be read on just about anything.