Unprecedented Commercial Freedom

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the dangers of closed marketplaces when it comes to selling smartphone apps. One can ask what are the alternatives, and how they’re better than monopolistic marketplaces. I had started writing a post to answer these questions when a colleague of mine share a fantastic article written by David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails and partner at 37signals.

David starts by writing “It’s easy to take for granted just how good we have it as software makers selling on the internet” as it give “unprecedented commercial freedom”.

David goes and lists his 5 top reasons why he loves the “unregulated Internet” (as opposed to App Stores):

  1. Access to world markets
  2. Direct sales to customers
  3. Free tools and education
  4. No capital requirements
  5. Self promotion can build a brand

All of these reasons are interesting, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on #2 and #3.

Direct sales to customers – I’m quoting David: “There are no distributors and no retailers with their hand out to take a cut. And we, the makers, get to talk directly to our customers—not someone else with a million other products to sell and none of our expertise.”

In short, you don’t suffer from “App Store tyranny” as this is now called. App Stores can be useful if they provide convenience to the users (like payment, curation of apps) and developers (getting additional visibility for apps), on top of direct sales. But if they are the only option, especially if there is a monopolistic App Store, then they are damaging commercial freedom.

Free tools and education – I’m quoting David again: “All the software we needed to build our business with was not only freely available off the internet, it came with a wealth of free education that would shame any university. Programming languages, database systems, web servers, load balancers, operating systems. It was all there for the taking.”

This is something that I have already discussed here on Beyond the Code. Open standards, tons of education material (including Mozilla’s MDN) and all-you-can-eat Free/Libre/Open-Source Software, which is the number one reason why the Web is the platform for so many innovations. This is completely in line with Mozilla’s mission, which is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity. This is also the reason why we’re investing so much in Firefox OS: we want to extend the freedom of the Web to Mobile.