I love the Open Government Memo, I think it represents some of the most thoughtful and seminal policy strategy Iâ€™ve seen in 20 years in government. I don’t know who actually wrote it for the President, but I think that person should get a medal. And whoever reads it and doesnâ€™t find inspiration for technology’s potential role towards advancing the ideals of our democracy is simply missing out.
At Adobe, we have been lauded and criticized for our role in enabling open government. When we have been criticized we listen and learn so we can improve our business strategy to support the goals of open government. (If you don’t believe me, look to our current collaboration on Design for America with the Sunlight Foundation and PDF best practices forum on GovLoop as evidence of this commitment.) But regardless of your view of Adobe technologies, you will be hard pressed to find an Adobe decision maker who hasnâ€™t internalized the Open Government Memo, felt inspired by it and willing to support its goals.
Conversely, I donâ€™t think the decision makers at Apple have internalized it, because Appleâ€™s recent actions reflect no understanding of Open Governmentâ€™s true possibilities or principals. I still find it hard to believe that a company that founded one of the most generative platforms in the PC era (the Apple II – which shaped an innovative spirit that enabled the Internet era to follow) could possibly work so hard to close down the openness of the Internet. Yet that is exactly what the iPad and iPhone strategy does â€“ a strategy that contradicts the Presidentâ€™s Open Government goals and undermines Internet era innovation. If you are not sure what Iâ€™m talking about, Iâ€™d suggest you read the introduction to Jonathan Zitraneâ€™s Book, the Future of the Internet, and How to Stop It, which was written before the Open Government Memo was published.
Of course, if youâ€™ve followed the recent news, you know Apple is at odds with the broader developer community. So you can color my point of view as you wish, but Iâ€™d still ask you to consider whether you think that Appleâ€™s strategy contradicts the principals of open government along the three main pillars of transparency, participation and collaboration. Here is my argument:
Six months ago, when government executives held up iPhone apps as examples of open government I cheered because the elegant and intuitive design of these devices helped people understand the possibilities of open government. But now I cringe because they are self limiting examples of a closed world where only the most fortunate have access. Open government strives to engage more people, but the government is not going to buy everyone a standard issue piece of proprietary hardware to do so. And it is unrealistic to expect that when the government builds one good application that they then have to expend the resources to rebuild it for every other mobile platform. In the Internet age, cross-platform application development is good for innovation, good for job creation, good for government and the future of our country. Innovating openness requires all of us to think along the lines of President Obamaâ€™s memorandum.
So I return to the question of my post – will you read the Open Government Memo on an iPad? Of course you can, but if you do I hope you will recognize the irony in doing so.
If you’d like an extra dose of irony for your re-read of the Open Government Memo on your iPad, please read it via a cross platform technology that is managed by the International Standards Organization, was invented by an American technology company, and spurred years of innovation – you can do so here in PDF . (And before you offer your comments juxtaposing the differences between PDF and Flash on this point, please consider Adobe’s record and philosophy on evolving open technology, which you can learn more about by clicking here)