Sunday, November 27, 2011
Steve Jobs, Apple and the intersection of "censorship" and capitalism
I just finished reading the Steve Jobs biography this morning. It's a good read. Jobs was a fascinating character. I took a few lessons away about focus, more than anything, but very little about how to interact with people. Let's face it, Jobs was not someone I'd want to emulate in the people skills department, mostly because I think if you're really genius you can probably build successful products and companies without being a near-sociopath.
But there was one passage in the book which reminded me of one of my absolute pet peeves, namely the way people mis-use "censorship".
Ever since BlogHer.com was launched in January 2006 we have had a set of community and editorial guidelines. These guidelines tell the world what kind of online space we strive to make BlogHer. And we enforce those guidelines, including the part where our community managers decide when a line has been crossed from healthy debate and criticism into hate speech, epithets or other unacceptable content. We consider it our job as an online publisher to set (and publish) those guidelines, enforce them fairly, and we consider ourselves to be responsible for the tone and community that forms within those guidelines.
My BlogHer co-founders and I have often stated that we don't believe there should be one code of conduct for the entire Internet, but rather that every publisher online is responsible for their own code of conduct.
In other words, I couldn't agree more with Anil Dash who says: "If your website's full of assholes, it's your fault."
There are people who will call it "censorship" if you don't allow certain content, anything from hate speech to commercial pitches (aka spam) on your site. I think that's utter BS.
There is also the chance that some folks won't like where we or any other publisher draws the line of "unacceptable content", that some will disagree about whether guidelines are enforced fairly.
I once quit a forum for this reason. One of my postings got dinged and removed, and I really didn't see the difference between what I posted and what other members of the forum regularly posted. I didn't stop to get into a lengthy argument with the moderator about it; I just thought "meh, this forum isn't for me", and I found some place else to go talk about whatever it was I wanted to talk about.
That continues to be the beauty of the Internet: No more gatekeepers...create your own platform or find your tribe of other like-minded folks. Not every site has to cater to you, and on the other hand a site that doesn't cater to anybody will fail.
So, circling back to Steve Jobs, Apple and what qualifies as "censorship"
The quote that chapped my hide came in reference to Apple's policies about what kind of apps may be sold in their App Store.:
"Still, there was something unnerving about Apple's decreeing that those who bought their products shouldn't look at controversial political cartoons or, for that matter, porn."
That from author Isaacson himself. Plus there was a quote from the site eSarcasm.com:
"Either that, or we just enjoy the idea of an uncensored open society where a techno-dictator doesn't decide what we can and cannot see."
The iPhone (and then the iPad) was the first to deliver an actual pleasant browsing experience on a mobile device. The iPad is in fact such a wonderful browsing device that many sites, like BlogHer, don't even auto-switch to their m.site version for it, giving visitors the full web experience.
So, do Apple devices block certain sites from your browser?
No. No, they do not. Go browse all the porn and politics you so desire. On the vast open Internet. If you feel that browser-based access to any kind of content on the entire Internet is not sufficient and that you must have access to certain apps that Apple doesn't allow in its stores, then no one is forcing you or anyone to buy an iDevice and use the Apple App Store. Apple has a right, and I would say the obligation, to set the guidelines for their store, and you have the right not to want to shop within those guidelines. The market will decide, right?
I just hate messy arguments, and this one is messy. Don't be the boy who cried "censorship".