Open vs Closed

I’ve been reading Steven Levy’s Hackers.

There is this great story where the hackers at the AI Lab at MIT are being forced to use a time sharing system on their beloved PDP-6 and they are in revolt.

So Ed Fredkin, who runs the lab, enlists Richard Greenblatt to create a new "hacker friendly" time sharing system.  Richard enlists Ted Nelson and the two of them hack together a new time sharing sysem in "weeks of hard core hacking". They called this system ITS, for "incompatible time sharing system".

The reason for mentioning this is that ITS was completely open.  It had no passwords. It was completely extendable.  Anyone could add features to the system. It was designed specifically so that everyone could look at everyone else’s work.

ITS was built in the late 1960s.

Almost 40 years later we are finally seeing the "hacker ethic" arrive in consumer software and services.

I have a good friend who loves taking photos and she puts them online at Shutterfly.

When I showed her our vacation photos on Flickr last year, she askd why I used Flickr.

I told her it was open, that anyone could see our photos and we could see anyone else’s.

I am not sure what she made of that, but in any case she stayed with Shutterfly.

Then yesterday, this same friend told me that she had been doing research on a trip to Vietnam and came across this great blog called Sticky Rice.

And she mentioned that all the photos in Sticky Rice come from Flickr, so she could click through and see all the photos of Vietman taken by the Stickyrice guy.

I pointed out to our friend that she could go one step further and check out all the photos in Flickr that are tagged with the word vietnam.

The day before The Gotham Gal told the same friend that she should go do a delicious search on vietnam and vietnamese food.

None of this would be possible with passwords and closed systems.

Slowly but surely consumers are being taught the value of open systems that the hackers intuitively understood 40 years ago.

It’s about time.