Thought-provoking article of the day: Jimbo says App Stores are a step back.

I agree on this one. I recently saw an ad about a prominent publication promising a new, hip, trendy iPad version of the same magazine… with a pretty big disclaimer that the release date was “subject to possible Apple’s approval delays”.

At least back in the day, when electronic media was still in infancy, the Big Boys would settle this sort of fistfights out of the public eye.

Oh yeah, back in the day…

Back in the day, when the Internet wasn’t big yet and people had started to get modems when they had heard of these “BBS” things, the Phone Company put up a terminal-based service of their own.

Ours was called TeleSampo (article in Finnish), and had a branch service called Infotel that basically did the same thing. There’s a good chance same sort of stuff happened elsewhere in the world.

TeleSampo was defined in one geek dictionary at the time as “A sampo with which Tele makes a lot of money.” (Sampo being the machine that makes infinite riches in Finnish mythology, and Tele being the name of the phone company, nowadays called TeliaSonera.)

TeleSampo offered metered services with varying prices to perfectly ordinary people. Phone book? No need, just use the pay service to look up numbers. Banking? All major banks offer reliable on-line services through this system; just like you can rely on your phone company, you can rely on the bank - there’s just a very small service charge, but you’ll probably never even notice it, trust me. Software downloads? Why, no need to call up your local BBS and worry about download quotas and availability, there’s a nice service, provided by a local company, that offers software downloads for a very nominal fee. Sexsome pictures? whispers Ah yes, quite, there’s this one fascinating bright-coloured alley down there. Beware, per-minute costs are involved, but they’re quite cheap compared to the voice lines.

Then came the Internet.

No more per-service metered access. No technical feasibility to implement any - yet.

And the cool thing was this: the Internet service providers threw you a free chunk of web space too - not only you could access services built by others, but - here’s the new thing - you could publish your own shit effortlessly too.

It’s no longer the phone company acting as a mediator between the customers and the businesses. Ordinary customers were given a voice. And the businesses were already smiling because obviously, if normal people could get their voice heard in the Internet, the companies could get - or already had - their corner of the Internet laid down.

Oh yeah, the Internet publishing thing was hot. Everyone wanted a personal home page! It’s so amazing that many a good company offers to do this for free, as an ad-supported public service. One of these upstanding utilitarian services was called GeoCities…

….okay, okay, okay, it was a dismal failure when people start sticking in animated GIFs and annoying MIDI tracks. But the point is this: we’ve gotten used to the fact that everyone can establish a page for their personal projects online. Free webhosts, free blog services, free application providers (such as wiki pages) and free social networks are still a big part of the landscape. If you pay a little, you can roll your own web services on your own domain. People wouldn’t pay to become Facebook members.

People have gotten used to the idea that there are free avenues of expression on the Internet.

And the “app store” idea is wrong for that reason alone. Sure, app stores are good for what they do - they sell applications from a certain centralised location.

But they shouldn’t be the gatekeepers of the whole platform. That was what TeleSampo tried to do: Consolidate all major services under the telco’s banner. What lay outside of that sphere was hobbyist activity. BBSes. Luckily, people realised what was wrong with the TeleSampo model, and big companies started offering modem-based services of their own before migrating to the Internet.

I’m just another guy in the Internet. I can write crappy little programs and make them available through my web page - no need to get anyone’s approval. I can write annoying little blog posts - no need to get anyone’s approval. If anyone wants to reprint this babbling in any other publication - minding the Creative Commons license - go right ahead; perhaps you need your editor’s approval, but heck, you don’t need my specific approval, and most certainly not any app store manager’s approval. This is what we expect in today’s Internet. We need nothing less.