Two data points made their way onto my radar this week that got me thinking more about the do-it-yourself city and directions for this site/community.
First, Steve Jobs reframed the discussion about the merits of the Android versus the iPhone, calling it a question not of "open vs closed" platforms, but one of "integrated vs fragmented" platforms. This reversed the whole polarity of the debate. Suddenly Android was not the clear winner, the natural choice for all freedom-loving people. And iPhone was not the evil empire, curtailing users freedoms. Instead, Android was just a mess that required a lot of work on the part of its users just to get up and running, and iPhone was fighting the noble fight against chaos.
Interesting jiujitsu. And even though it was business rhetoric, there is an element of truth to what Jobs said.
The second data point came on Wednesday, when New York City's DOITT announced that the City was signing a huge contract with Microsoft to provide cloud computer services for its employees. The press release called it "a wide-ranging information technology agreement that will consolidate the City's dozens of individual license agreements into a single one and will provide more than 100,000 City employees with state-of-the-art computing power."
And there it was - in one week, Steve Jobs moved the conversation from "closed vs open" to "integrated vs fragmented", and New York City signaled its agreement with him by signing a contract with the biggest maker of closed, integrated systems in the world.
Big wins for closed and integrated.
But is open synonymous with fragmented? Is closed synonymous with integrated? Not necessarily.
Is there then a version of open that also achieves some semblance of integration? And is this possible in the realm of city infrastructure and services?
I think so. And that's something that, if DIYcity ever comes out of its semi-hibernation, would be pursued here. Because that's the trick to making open work and to getting people to buy in to it: making it integrated enough that it's reliable and isn't a complete pain in the ass for the end user (in this case the government and city residents) to figure out.
If the only choice is between open/fragmented and closed/integrated, most people will chose closed and integrated. But if there is a third choice, open-yet-to-some-extent-integrated, that then becomes the preferable option.
I don't fault New York City for going with a closed system for their recent contract - I would guess there aren't any open alternatives out there that offer the same level of integration as Microsoft's package. That's something that proponents of open cities need to think about. It's definitely something on my mind here at DIYcity.