I Am Pro Choice

No this is not a post on abortion. Nicholas Kristof nailed that issue with his op-ed column in the New York Times today but only about 1% of the New York Times’ online readers will read it because its behind the paid wall.

This is about choice on the Internet.  Choice over what browser you use. Choice over what search engine you use.  Choice over what ISP you use.  And the freedom to choose whatever and whenever you want.

The Internet is the greatest medium ever invented for a bunch of reasons but certainly at the top of that list is that it is truly open and full of choice.  The best services win.  The worst services lose.  Darwinism at work.  Competition breeds excellence.  We all know that.

But there are plenty of people who are not pro choice out there, trying to force you to love them when you don’t.

There are the carriers, wireline, wireless, and cable, who want to control what you get through their pipes and clouds and charge services for the right to flow through them. This is wrong. It cannot happen and I predict it will not happen.  But we must rise up and fight this nonetheless.  The House of Representatives had their chance to show where they come out last week and predictably they are in the camp of orthodoxy, closed systems, and lack of choice.  No surprise there.  But the fight goes on to make net neutrality the law of the land.  I think the markets will make it so regardless of what happens in Washington but the Senate has the opportunity to show that they aren’t as clueless as the House and we’ll see what happens there.

Then there are the companies that make the browsers, Microsoft, Apple, and the open source organization Mozilla which has given us Firefox.  Firefox is loved for many reasons, but the main one in my book is its support of choice.  I choose what extensions I want.  I choose what search services to put in my search field.  I can easily select what I want to be the default.  Microsoft and Apple are not as open to such notions. Microsoft logically favors it’s search service, MSN or Live, or whatever they are going to call it.  Apple favors Google, presumably because its being paid to do that.

Then there are the search services themselves.  For the most part, I’d say that search is currently a level playing field.  But what happens if its stops being level? What happens if Google rejects the "do no evil" mantra that has made us all trust them so much?  What happens if Yahoo! starts directing everyone to Yahoo Tech instead of CNet?

I suggest that Google should start being more pro choice.  They have the most popular service. They will win if they let the users choose them.  They should stop paying for placement and start advocating letting the users determine placement.

And Microsoft has a lot to lose with their opposition to choice.  If Internet Explorer makes it hard to search the Internet with Google or Yahoo! or add extensions/plug ins for competitive services, users will continue to leave the mothership and head elsewhere.

The culture of the Internet has been set already.  It’s over ten years old as a commercial medium. It’s a pro-choice world and its not going back.