Tim O'Reilly: Open the Amazon Kindle
Monday, July 06, 2009 at 05:28 PM EDT
Slashdot has a brief story today about an article in Forbes by Tim Oâ€™Reilly, founder and CEO of Oâ€™Reilly Media, on the success and future prospects for the Amazon Kindle E-book reader. The product has been quite successful:
However, Oâ€™Reilly argues that the current closed architecture and book format of the Kindle is a mistake, one that will in time lead to the loss of its market-leading position:
Now, Tim Oâ€™Reilly does know something about the technology marketplace. His publishing firm is very well regarded by technical folks because it publishes a large number of high-quality titles in the technology field (the popular series of Nutshell Handbooks is an example). Oâ€™Reilly has especially focused on open-source software applications, and publishes books on Perl, Apache, Sendmail, PHP, Linux, and many others. They also sponsor open-source conferences.
His argument, which I find persuasive, is that an open environment will foster more participation in developing the market for E-books, and lead to a richer â€œecosystemâ€ for the product. He makes an analogy with the early days of the Internet. when AOL, Microsoft Network (a/k/a MSN) tried to establish their â€œwalled gardenâ€ model of content presented in a proprietary format using proprietary tools, and proceeded to have their lunch eaten by upstarts like Yahoo! and, more recently, Google.
He also draws an interesting contrast between the Kindle and Appleâ€™s iPhone, which has of course been a big success. He points out that, although Appleâ€™s environment appears to be proprietary (only one carrier, AT&T, and applications only available from the AppStore), there is a large opening for â€œunauthorizedâ€ development, since any Web site can provide an on-line application. Similarly, the iPod music players have a closed architecture, but users can rip music from their own CD collections for listening on the iPod.
As he also points out, this is not necessarily bad news for suppliers. Turning again to the Web, we see a great deal of advertising-supported â€œfreeâ€ content, but that model has created several reasonably large companies. And the recent demise of the original CompuServe service reminds us that being early to arrive is no guarantee of longevity:
When the Internet first became prominent in peoplesâ€™ view of the world, there was a great deal of silliness spoken and written about how it would change virtually everything. Most of those changes have not come to pass, nor arre they likely to, in my opinion. But I think that there are more subtle changes, such as the shift to the generalized â€œopen modelâ€ of development, that will have a lasting impact.
This article originally appeared on Rich's Random Walks.