Paramix Talk: Digital Segregation

Digital Segregation

By: Eddie Baki, 5.4.2011, 08:15

Commercial companies love platforms, which place consumers in isolated easy to control communities. Despite their trendiness such isolated islands have no strategic future, especially for software developers.

Digital segregation is the artificial isolation of digital media consumers into isolated groups for the benefit of the provider. In the 1980s and '90s we were clustered into ghettos of operating systems. Each operating system (OS) was seen by its makers as existing in a vacuum. Communication and data exchange with any of the other operating systems was not a priority.

These OS ghettos became to some extent irrelevant with the open inter-connectivity of the Internet. Yet digital segregation remains a fact of life. You see providers attempting to re-create the Internet within their own confines or bring back the OS wars.

Digital segregation justifies the hefty investment customers have to make in order to use a provider's service or product. From a customer's perspective, these digital ghettos are comfortable. You have a fixed menu of choices. All the boring details are being taken care of by the provider. All your peers are there as well. You are feeling safe and having fun. You feel superior to the unwashed masses on the outside.

Digital segregation contains customers and developers into easy to control fenced communities. The same isolation that makes a platform cool and trendy, allows providers to easily herd their followers in the required direction.

You don't like the way an application links to external resources? Ban it and use consumer safety as a reason.. You don't want third party software accessing your platform? Change the API and cite user experience issues.

Initially application developers also love digital segregation. You have easy access to loads of customers. You can concentrate on producing your software. You don't have to worry about marketing or sales - It is all taken care of. Just submit your application and wait for the buyers.

Still developers will have to face a three fundamental problems, which can ultimately prove detrimental to innovation and survival.

Problem 1: Total dependence
All your work as a developer functions solely within the restricted confines of the isolated environment. Your whole work hinges on that one platform and how its provider steers it. You have two choices: either comply or go.

Problem 2: No checks and balances
Who controls providers within their own islands? Does any segregated community run by a commercial enterprise have an open system of checks and balances? Can you trace the decision process which decides whether your software is acceptable or not?

Problem 3: Multiple versions of the same application
Developers are forced to produce multiple versions of the same software, one for each isolated community, like in the old days of OS wars, and then a web app for the rest of the world. Why not just develop the latter version for everybody?

Digitally segregated communities have no strategic perspectives. The open network always prevails because there's more of it. The outside world produces more innovations and features than any segregated community. In the long term a confined community becomes outdated, and customers leave in droves either to open spaces or to another digital ghetto.

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