Open source has reach, but no influence

Take a brief look at the web today and you might think open source has a lot of influence:

  • Swift is open source, from Apple.
  • HHVM is open source, from Facebook.
  • Android is open source, from Google.
  • Bootstrap is open source, from Twitter.
  • .Net is open source from Microsoft.

The fundamental technology behind many of today’s big corporate platforms is open source. These enormous corporations release dozens of open source projects:

But I wonder if this is a mirage.

Despite the widespread open source, we’re entering a world of closed platforms:

  • Today’s iOS9 launch shows what incredible power a single company has over so many independent publishers. Apple would love to push us into reading via the News App (built on open source!) using Webkit (built on open source!).
  • Facebook is trying to get publishers to write directly for their Pages platform (built on open source!), rather than on the independent web.
  • Android is the world’s largest mobile platform (built on open source!), but have you seen what happens to phone manufacturers who don’t play by Google’s rules?

These companies use open source tools to build closed platforms and walled gardens.

Open source is really popular. But if the majority of the web ends up inside walled gardens, what have we gained?

Update: there’s a useful conversation about this post on Reddit.

Update 2: John Gruber has an insightful post on this, showing how Google, Microsoft, and Apple have veto power over web technologies.

Update 3: Here’s a great example of the point I was making:

Facebook … takes pains to argue there’s nothing proprietary about what it’s doing, and that it is using the same code that Web publishers already use to put out its Instant Articles. In Facebook engineer-speak, Instant Articles are “defined in an open format.”

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