Imagine how different the world would be if the foundational technologies of the Internet had been anything other than open and standards-based. What if DNS, TCP/IP, email, and HTML had been proprietary technologies under the control of one vendor.
It’s safe to say that the web and the world would be vastly different — socially, technologically, and economically unrecognizable. The value of open technologies with standards behind them is that any innovator can try their hand at building something on top of that tech. Those innovators then create value for their users and customers, but, more importantly, they add additional value back into the system.
Take the example of DNS. The Domain Name Service is the address book of the Internet, allowing one machine to connect to another with a human-readable address.
It’s not exaggerating to say that much of the Internet economy depends on that ability, and all of the huge quantity of value generated by the net, measured in the trillions of dollars yearly, would have been seriously constrained if DNS had been under the control of one company, whose primary mission was to create value only for themselves. The same applies to the other foundational technologies.
A company like DNSMadeEasy can take that basic technology, build on it, add value to it, and then reap the rewards of that value by extracting some of it as revenue. Their clients can then extract more of that value, and so on, so the advantage is spread between many, fostering innovation and rapid improvement.
Further up the networking stack, the same effect can be observed with technology like proprietary media formats. When browser plugin software is controlled by one vendor and has no basic standards, users are left with less than stellar experiences, as with Flash, because the impetus for value creation and innovation are limited to the interests of that vendor.
It’s possible to make money here, but the exponential value generation and innovation are significantly stifled. We can also see the damaging effects of closed technology when we consider just how poorly maintained Flash has always been, with security flaws being par for the course, and resource usage so inefficient that Apple wouldn’t allow it on their mobile products.
With the coming of HTML5 and open and standards-compliant ways of achieving things that had previously been the domain of Flash, we can expect to see, and are already seeing, an explosion of innovation in that area.
It’s a story that’s been repeated many times. Open source software like Linux has enabled entire industries to grow and change at a pace that closed technologies could not hope to match. Email revolutionised communication. TCP-IP changed the way data and knowledge was distributed forever.
Open technologies help foster an ecosystem that not only distributes value, but multiplies it, allowing many more nodes in the network to extract value without killing further generation and innovation.