Rise in Proprietary Mobile Apps Threatens to Send Web Back to Early Days

Posted on February 11th, 2016


Image: TelecomsTech

In the mid-nineties, web browsing was still a fledgling phase, where best practices and standards had not yet been firmly established. Two web browsers dominated the industry: Netscape Navigator and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. These two software behemoths adopted a “take no prisoners” approach, incorporating an increasing number of proprietary features to lure users and capture market share.

The proliferation of these proprietary features was reviled by web developers, who were forced to create two different versions of their web pages to accommodate the functionality of Netscape and one for Internet Explorer to ensure usability. The only alternatives to code customization was to create feature-poor sites that could be consistently rendered by both browsers or to build a site that was tailored to work with the proprietary features of just one browser. Neither of these alternative approaches were ideal for attracting and retaining a maximum number of internet users. Over time and especially as more browsers emerged, the industry began to realize that this was not the way to promote the growth of the web.

In October of 1994, HTML inventor and father of the web Tim Berners-Lee threw his considerable drive and vision into the forming of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, an affirming signatory of the OpenStand Principles. The W3C expressed its vision to “standardise the protocols and technologies used to build the web such that the content would be available to as wide a population of the world as possible.”

While the effect wasn’t immediate, the W3C and organizations like it began to have a palpable influence on web development and by the early 2000’s web standards had truly begun to shape the web landscape. In time, web composed of predominantly W3C standards-compliant browsers and emerged, broadening access to content to an expanding global audience. Today, some of the biggest and most recognizable names in technology follow W3C standards in their applications, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and a host of others.

With all the advancement of the standardized web, should one would assume the days of proprietary-driven web applications and platform-specific web development are over? Perhaps not.  

In a previous OpenStand blog post we discussed the increasing amount of Internet traffic that is coming, not from W3C compliant browsers, but from platform-discriminating mobile apps. Today, most mobile apps are developed for only a handful of platforms, resulting in an emerging internet of islands. This has prompted some to fear that the dream of of open, standardized web is starting to slip away.

Social media juggernaut Facebook has launched the Internet.org project to address the dangers of a proprietary and non-standardized web. This has been met by significant criticism. Supporters of the Internet.org project claim that its detractors seek to control much of what Internet users are able to see and do on the web. This “walled garden” approach to web access runs afoul of the hopes of open web advocates the world over, including W3C founder, Tim Berners-Lee, himself.

Though the advance of proprietary-driven mobile applications may indeed be cause for some concern, the promising development model of web apps could serve as a useful antidote. Web apps afford users the customizable utility of conventional mobile apps while allowing the open type of web that innovators like Berners-Lee originally envisioned to flourish. Through the development and promotion of open web standards, we can preserve the dream of an open web.

Join us in working to make the web a better place; become an OpenStand advocate! You can:

Posted in News

Talks of Privacy Heighten Amidst the Advance of the Internet of Things

Posted on January 27th, 2016

Opting out of the IoT presents a set of unique challenges. Olaf Kolkman of the Internet Society recently addressed these concerns and more on their blog.
Image: Internet Society

A common plot device of dystopian fiction is the forceful interpolation of a hostile or overbearing technology. The Orwellian backdrop of an invasive monitoring system or an evil supercomputer handily sets the stage for tension and dramatic conflict. Thankfully leave the most sinister of technological machinations in the pages of fantasy.  

At the same time, there remains a concerned segment of the public that would prefer to see less invasive use of technology in their lives. One one end of this spectrum are the societies (such as the Amish) who dedicate themselves to doing without some of the modern conveniences such as cars, electricity, and indoor plumbing. On the more mainstream, conservative end of the spectrum there is a technologically savvy segment of the population that wishes to maintain a sense of privacy, control and establish conservative boundaries that restrict the invasive use of technology in their lives.   

With some exception, this latter segment may be more likely to opt-out of social media services and restrict personal interactions so that the occur in an “in–person” capacity. They may also be more inclined to advocate for rules, controls and restrictions that establish boundaries that limit the invasive use of technology in society. Unfortunately, as the Internet of Things (IoT) begins to hyperconnect the world through a pervasive number of internet-enabled devices, cameras and sensors, this is making this increasingly difficult.

Recently, Internet Society (IS) Chief Internet Technology Officer Olaf Kolkman posted on the Internet Society blog about the unique challenges of “opting out” of the IoT. As more and more traditionally non-technological systems incorporate Internet connectivity, staying off the grid becomes more and more difficult. Taking a cue from the pages of dystopian fiction, Kolkman poses a question that suggests opting out may not be possible:

There may not be a possibility to opt out because in the smart cities of the future, sensors may track our moves, recognize our faces, and hear our voices. The dystopian view helps us to understand what societal boundaries we need to set and that is a discussion that will have to inform policies. To what extent do we accept that there is a minority that does not want to be exposed to technology?

Kolkman is not the first person to pose this question, and it’s an important one to consider. The global conversation surrounding big data versus personal privacy rights has been ongoing for some time now. If Kolkman’s inclinations are to be taken seriously, the significance of this discussion will only increase with time.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on opting out of the Internet of Things, you can do so by leaving a comment on this post or by using the Internet Society’s Connect Platform.

Your input doesn’t have to end there. You can become an OpenStand advocate and stand with us in advocating for standards that are open, accessible, based on broad consensus and voluntarily adopted. Feel free to:

Posted in News

Web Apps Presents a New Approach to Mobile App Development

Posted on January 13th, 2016

The rise of mobile app usage presents a significant shift in how people access Internet resources and presents some tough development issues. Here's a look at how W3C is working to solve this.

Image: Shutterstock, nenetus

On July 10, 2008, Apple launched a digital distribution platform that proved to be a harbinger of tremendous change for how users engage the Internet. In addition to popularizing the word “app” as a shorthand term meaning “application software,” the Apple App Store offered its userbase an integrated repository of services for utilizing Internet resources. Just a little more than seven years old, the App Store has seen more than 100 billion downloads of its 1.4 million available apps. Other similar software curating services, such as Google Play and the Amazon App Store, have emerged to further establish a veritable “app economy” that represents billions of dollars in revenues for developers the world over.

For users of mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets, apps are the de facto method for optimizing Internet utility, given the size and input limitations that are incumbent with such devices. The fact that apps ride around on devices that we carry with us almost everywhere we go gives them a unique ability to be useful in a number of everyday situations. We utilize apps to give us driving directions, manage email and calendars, store coupons, track activity, pay bills and more. According to a recent survey, more than 80% of mobile Internet use is performed through specialized apps rather than a browser.

Clearly, this represents a significant change in how people access Internet resources. However, while the benefits are considerable, the shift comes with some drawbacks. When a browser was the near-exclusive interface for online activity, switching from one platform to another did not necessarily involve a lot of reinstalling and reconfiguring. Assuming both browsers were up-to-date, there was a seamless experience from one platform to another. Now that individual apps are used for specialized purposes, transitioning across platforms can be a more of a hassle, particularly as some apps must be re-purchased or downloaded to work on a new platform.

The challenges of the app economy are not borne by the users alone; developers have to make difficult decisions as well. Since time and effort has to go into customizing apps to work on different mobile platforms, most developers find that they can only justify focusing on one or two. Those platforms that fail to attract developers will consequently fail to attract users because of the limited apps that might be available. This may prove to be an unfortunate cycle for platforms with less critical mass, as developers are forced to make tough development choices.

International standards advocacy and education group World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is addressing the issue through its participation in Open Web Platform, a new app environment that focuses on web apps. The idea behind web apps it to couple the relative platform independency of a browser with the power and mobile-friendliness of an app. With web apps, a developer could deliver the advanced features of a more conventional app to all platforms in a single deployment.

This method of app development would allow for greater interoperability and further reduce barriers to entry for both app developers and mobile platforms. Two users on different mobile operating systems could cooperate with one another all while being assured of comparable software experiences. The advancement of web app model could be another important transition in Internet usage and a huge step forward for open standards.

Interested in contributing to the discussion of open standards? Become an OpenStand advocate! You can:

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Educating Future IT Professionals in Cybersecurity Is a Communal Task

Posted on December 17th, 2015

When we all participate in cybersecurity, we can increase learning, anticipate future security scenarios and contribute to making the web a safer and more secure space for the global community.

Image: Shutterstock, Mihai Simonia

The OpenStand Principles promote the values of cooperation and collaboration as critical to the development of an open and thriving web. Where security is concerned, cooperation and collaboration help ensure that stakeholders on all sides of the development and application process can provide input receive due consideration, to maximize benefits for all. Furthermore, when organizations openly collaborate on the creation of security standards it can lead to an overall greater security quotient for the entire web.

According to Internet Society (ISOC) Chief Internet Technology Officer Olaf Kolkman, “Good IT professionals take the maxim of ‘security by design’ to heart.” This quote is extracted from his address at the ISOC-sponsored Nairobi Intercommunity 2015 Hub, held earlier this year. The Nairobi summit concerned itself with the concept of “collaborative security.” In short, the concept focuses on designing systems with security in mind, as opposed to integrating security solutions as an afterthought. There are a few drawbacks to this type of “bolt on” security strategy: Not only is it more difficult to effect a comprehensive solution this way, retroactively adding security measures has also proven to be more expensive.

Kolkman, along with KENET Senior System Engineer Peter Muia and Airtel Money Africa Head of Information Security Tyrus Kamau, paneled a discussion about the importance of collaborative security. The conversation centered around the “dual tragedy” of having unfilled positions in industry and unemployed ICT (information and communication technology) graduates that don’t have the correlating security skill sets. The resulting gap between what the industry requires and what the education systems are providing is not a challenge that is unique to the Nairobi market. To one degree or another, you can find a similar disjointedness in almost any established market.

Summit panelist Kamau has personally taken part in initiatives that seek to address this troubling disparity. By making integrated security a greater part of the educational experience for technology students, Kamau suggests that graduates will be more prepared to add value to a that is market greatly in need of ICT professionals. Kamau’s idea is to introduce real-world security issues into technology curriculum and to organize cybersecurity “boot camps” that will place students in high-intensity situations. Kamau believes that this approach resonates with the concept of collaborative security and that by thus educating future professionals, the whole Internet can be safer.

This collaborative approach isn’t just relevant for Nairobi; similar boot camp programs can make a positive difference almost anywhere. Because after all, when we all participate in cybersecurity, we can increase learning, anticipate future security scenarios and contribute to making the web a safer and more secure space for the global community.

Join us in working to make the web a better place!

Posted in News

Open Standards Face Challenges in Era of Proprietary Ecosystems

Posted on December 9th, 2015

New devices continue to proliferate into even the most mundane corners of our everyday life, through mobile, wearable technology, smart-home and smart health devices. However, according to Fast Company tech blogger Ross Rubin, the proliferation of proprietary Android and IOS software and devices doesn’t always support an environment in which open standards flourish.

Image: Fast Company

New devices continue to proliferate into even the most mundane corners of our everyday life, through mobile, wearable technology, smart-home and smart health devices. However, according to Fast Company tech blogger Ross Rubin, the proliferation of proprietary Android and IOS software and devices doesn’t always support an environment in which open standards flourish. In a recent post “How the Smart Phone Led to the Death of Open Standards” Rubin quipped:

“What we’re evolving towards is a sea full of islands—gadgets that can communicate back to a smartphone but have little awareness of each other. There have been several attempts to bridge them, including APIs, a few hubs aimed at enthusiasts, and the service IFTTT. But overall, connectivity remains fractured, and there’s no reason to think that an industry-wide standard will fix things anytime soon.”

Rubin’s assertions are not groundless. Google and Apple both leverage proprietary software to enforce market share, and there’s not an incredible amount of profit incentive to make Android and iOS don’t cooperate with each other. As a result, consumers have become more deeply entrenched in the brands, and this consumer choices influences marketshare beyond the mobile phone.

For example, the HDMI-connected media player market, the popularity of proprietary gadgets like Google’s Chromecast and Apple’s AppleTV have far exceeded that of the Microsoft WDA (Wireless Display Adapter) which supports the open Wi-Fi Alliance based specification, Miracast. This trend is also being felt in the auto industry, where many automobile manufacturers elect to support one or more dominant proprietary mobile platforms in built-in display consoles. Offerings from Apple and Google (Android) continue to dominate, while other, consortium-backed, interoperable technical specifications have struggled to gain significant market share.

However, the dominance of proprietary platforms and their impact on open standards support should not be construed as evidence of a less than bright future for open standards advancement. Google and Apple are both participants in numerous standardization efforts. Further, the Internet of Things is still relatively young. There are also significant pushes being made that encourage software developers to invest in standard-friendly platforms.

As we the principles support voluntary market adoption, collaboration, openness, we hope to see future standards introduced that encourage interoperability between proprietary platforms. To raise your voice in support of open standards, please:

Posted in News

The Trouble With Do Not Track—Will Open Standards Help?

Posted on December 3rd, 2015


Image: Shutterstock, ra2studio

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a leading standards development organization and affirming partner and signatory of the OpenStand Principles, recently unveiled a proposal that calls for ad networks and other companies to stop collecting data from users who have turned on do-not-track signals, except for auditing, security, debugging and frequency capping purposes. This proposal, spearheaded by the Tracking Protection Working Group, published a working draft last July entitled Tracking Compliance and Scope that defines the parameters under which a user’s Do Not Track (DNT) preferences may be followed.

This proposal is the result of a four-year privacy initiative from W3C and heralds an important move towards standards for do-not-track. In 2011, the Mozilla Firefox web browser featured a “do not track” (DNT) tool which was essentially a utility through which users could communicate to web sites that they did not wish to have their information stored and tracked. No doubt this seemed like a simple and elegant solution to personal privacy on the web and fellow tech companies Microsoft, Google, and Apple soon featured similar tools in their own browsers.

While providing users with a mechanism to submit DNT requests is a step in the right direction, the DNT request tools haven’t proven to be highly effective. The problem remains that there is no mechanism to ensure websites must to honor user initiated DNT requests. Companies that have elected to ignore DNT requests have justified their behavior by claiming that user-submitted DNT requests do not accurately reflect the user’s desires. This position was given some credence by Microsoft’s decision to have tracking enabled, by default, in its Internet Explorer browser. Would-be trackers claimed Microsoft’s move devalued the meaningfulness of the DNT signal by making it no longer a required user action.

W3C’s proposal seeks to address the shortcomings of existing DNT signal utilities by standardizing how such DNT requests should be interpreted. Another proposal, authored by web privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), goes even farther than the one proffered by W3C, stipulating that websites shouldn’t store visiting IP addresses for longer than 10 days. After that period, EFF says, the data should be “de-identified.” Several pro-privacy organizations such as analytics company Mixpanel, tracking-blocking extension AdBlock, and search engine DuckDuckGo have expressed their support of EFF’s proposal.

But what is the incentive for advertisers and web hosts to honor this new version of DNT signals? Supporters of the EFF proposal have indicated that ad blockers such as PrivacyBadger, AdBlock and Disconnect will examine publishers’ sites to see whether they say they comply with the DNT standards set out by the EFF. If so, the software will not automatically block third-party material from those sites.

Peter Eckersley, chief computer scientist at the EFF, has voiced his cautious optimism regarding the proposal’s success in light of its significant support among privacy advocates. Cooperation from ad blockers will allow users who do not wish to be tracked to have the ability to better understand how their data is being used and safeguard their information. Users who are willing to have their information tracked may be incentivized by web sites for the privilege of doing so.

Tell us what you think of new movements for “do not track” standards, and how companies and advertisers should respond to users who do not wish to be tracked. Leave us a comment and subscribe to our blog to stay informed and up to date on web privacy issues!

Posted in News

The Open Web Platform’s Future Hinges on Standards Innovation & Collaboration

Posted on November 18th, 2015

As Internet technologies pour forth at a dizzying pace, keeping the Open Web at the forefront of innovation is an enormous challenge — and W3C is seeking to address it.

Image: Shutterstock, Minerva Studio

How is the current generation of Internet technologies advancing the Open Web Platform? This is the question that W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) contributor Philippe le Hegaret recently sought to address in his Web Applications column. According to Hegaret, tremendous work is being done to advance the Web Platform but there are many fronts that are still in need of sustained development. Among them, Hegaret suggests, are persistent background processing, frame rate performance data, and metadata associated with a web application or mitigating cross-site attacks, just to name a few. The deployment of HTML5 has been a tremendous boon for the Open Web Platform, but Hegaret insists that “it’s not quite there yet.”

Clearly, as Internet technologies continue to pour forth at a dizzying pace, keeping the Open Web at the forefront of innovation is an undeniably enormous challenge. The key to doing so successfully, Hegaret maintains, is putting the tools for Open Web development in the hands of the developers. HTML5 has gone significant lengths to do just that, providing open standards for the many web utilities that were previously developed using proprietary solutions, such as streaming video and embedded tool sets. Standards Development Organizations, such as the W3C (an affirming partner of the OpenStand Principles) have been contributing to the development of HTML libraries to give Web developers the tools they need to build out their own HTML elements. The idea here is that if the tools are open, extensible, and stable, developers won’t opt for proprietary plug-ins to deliver outstanding functionality to their users.

Two W3C development units, the Web Applications Working Group and the HTML Working Group, have found that their respective briefs have drifted closer and closer together over the years. This signifies HTML’s ability to evolve and adapt to the needs of the application developers to deliver outstanding functionality to their users. Regarding the convergence of the two W3C working groups, Hegaret said:

[W]e’re proposing the Web Platform Working Group as an interim group while discussion is ongoing regarding the proper modularization of HTML and its APIs. It enables the ongoing specifications to continue to move forward over the next 12 months. The second proposed group will [be] the Timed Media Working Group. The Web is increasingly used to share and consume timed media, especially video and audio, and we need to enhance these experiences by providing a good Web foundation to those uses, by supporting the work of the Audio and Web Real-Time Communications Working Groups.

Want to stay informed of all the latest news surrounding the Open Web Platform? Subscribe to the OpenStand blog! You can lend your voice to the conversation by leaving a comment or signing your name! Tell your friends about OpenStand and let’s work together to keep an interoperable and royalty-free Web for everyone!

Posted in News
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