An open letter to the designers and developers of the world.
Dear architects of our future lives,
For a long time now, I watched with growing concern as companies like Google and Facebook came to dominate our everyday lives. Companies that provide us with free services and subsidised devices in exchange for our data. In other words, in exchange for our privacy and, thus, ultimately, in exchange for our civil liberties.
I watched with great trepidation as we collectively embraced their shiny toys with nary a thought on the long-term implications of our choices.
I watched in abject horror as a platform like the web, founded on the noble ideals of universality and open access, devolved into an incubator for venture-capital-backed free services. If you look at the top 50 web properties today — save for Wikipedia — you will find yourself staring down an abyss of closed silos.
The open web is lost. We signed its death warrant the day we required a Computer Science degree for admission. Those unable or unwilling to undergo the ritual hazing of the unusable open tools we created migrated to more seamless pastures. The open web was squandered for a tuppence of pokes, a handful of likes, and the promise of photos of kittens from old friends you no longer have anything in common with.
The Snowden revelations over the Summer were the last straw. I could no longer simply sit back and watch. So I am doing something about it. Specifically, I’ve launched a startup, a social enterprise to build a phone, Indie Phone, to empower everyone to own their own data without sacrificing their user experience.
But we can’t do this alone. We need more of you to understand the importance of user experience in the products that we make and to start creating tools with seamless user experiences that happen to be open; that happen to empower people to own their own data. We must compete on user experience with the closed silos if we are to have a chance to create viable alternatives to them.
I want to invite you to join us on this journey, and support us in our mission to bring design thinking to open source and to create the tools we need to protect our privacy and civil liberties without sacrificing our experiences. I invite you to join us to build experience‐driven open technologies. I invite you to join us so that we can make open accessible to everyone.
And if you do not have the technical knowledge or the resources to build new tools and services, you can still contribute by supporting open data initiatives like Open Street Map, by spreading the word about experience‐driven open technology, Indie Data, Indie Web, and Redecentralize, and by supporting organisations like your local Pirate Party, Open Rights Group, Open Data Institute, and the EFF.
Together, we can make a difference.
Together, we we can raise the Phoenix of the Indie Web from the ashes of the Open Web.
And it all starts today, with a vision, an ironclad resolve, and a few defiant words:
We’re not going to take it, anymore.
Founder and lead designer, Indie Phone.
Adapted from Aral Balkan’s Indie Phone launch at Handheld Conference in Cardiff. Read the full transcript.
To learn more about the dangers of corporate surveillance and the ‘free’ business model, as well as the motivations behind experience-driven open source, indie data, and Indie Phone, watch Aral’s talk on Digital Feudalism and How to Avoid It: