An Open Letter to Apple Regarding The Company’s Approach to Conversation with Its Peers and Its Community

Dear Apple: We miss you. Once upon a time, back before you got real popular, you used to take part in the public square. You may have been less forthcoming than most, but at least your employees would speak at industry events, have unscripted conversations with journalists, and engage in…

cover5_06.gifDear Apple:

We miss you.

Once upon a time, back before you got real popular, you used to take part in the public square. You may have been less forthcoming than most, but at least your employees would speak at industry events, have unscripted conversations with journalists, and engage in the world a bit here and there.

But over the past few years, things seem to have changed. You pulled out of MacWorld and began hosting your own strictly scripted events. You forbid any of your executives from speaking at any public conferences (save one victory lap with Bill Gates a few years ago). Employees blogging, posting to social networks, or offering academic papers for public comment is actively discouraged. In the words of an employee of your one of your former partners : Apple essentially bans “things that we at companies with an open culture take for granted.”

Your relationship to the press is famously combative, those who do get access start their articles with phrases like “we fanboys are pathetic, I readily confess.” Not exactly the kind of press that pushes boundaries or keeps a company honest. And that makes us honestly nervous – we’ve seen what happens when large American corporations create cultures that worship secrecy and refuse to answer to the press. It’s not pretty. (Possibly to your credit, your CEO does seem to randomly respond to emails , but so far no one at Apple will actually verify his responses. Very clever, that!)

Despite the gorgeous products and services you’ve created, we worry that you’re headed down a road that may lead to your own demise. Apple is no longer the underdog living in the shadow of a Microsoft monopoly. Increasingly, Apple is a dominant player in any number of critical network services and points of control – from mobile devices to media access, payment systems to Internet browsing and advertising platforms. In short, we believe Apple is far too important to continue its role as the Howard Hughes of our industry.

So we’d like to publicly invite you to step into the light, and join us on stage at this year’s Web 2.0 Summit. The theme –“Points of Control”- is quite topical, we believe.

Yes, this invitation is certainly self-serving, but let’s just say we’re in good company when it comes to that particular instinct, and our primary goal is to serve our industry and our conference attendees.

Over the past seven years, Web 2 has become an important platform where the Internet industry has had critical, open exchanges of conversation that move the economy forward. It’s where AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts have faced their critics and countered charges of network discrimination. It’s where senior leaders at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter debated their battle plans around real time and social search. It’s where Newscorp CEO Rupert Murdoch defended his acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained his approach to user privacy.

In short, Web 2 is a place where the leaders of the most vibrant industry in the world interact with 1,200 or so of their most important partners, critics, and supporters, in a forum that is open to blogging, tweeting, conversation, and debate. This debate informs and enlightens our industry, moving it forward and keeping all parties honest in the process.

Won’t you join us?

We eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly, Program Chairs and founders, Web 2.0 Summit

66 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Apple Regarding The Company’s Approach to Conversation with Its Peers and Its Community”

  1. It’s interesting to note reading these comments how rude and obnoxious Apple fans are to the slightest hint of critism. A politely put invitation to an event, albeit with some mild critism, is met with vitriol and spitting anger.

    I’ve never understood the aggressive and tantrum mentality of these fans of what is only a company that sells some nicely designed gadgets, it’s like their fanatism for consumer goods overides their entire life, pretty sad really.

    Apple fanatics seem to be like brown shirts or scientologists, they have an ugly and disturbed manner about them that will accept no dissent,and can only respond with vulgarity and thuggish spite. It truly is a cult.

  2. John – I have a lot of respect for you and what you do, think Federated is a needed and extremely important company, and you are an intelligent and well-placed guy.

    But your response to me offers the clearest repudiation of the post yet… you’re not making a case for Apple to be more open on the merits, or out of some organic sense of the way things should be, you’re trying to BOOK THEM AT YOUR CONFERENCE. And when you got no response through conventional channels and associations you decided to throw together this “please, good people of Apple, won’t you come back to the party,” post as some kind of ham-handed public appeal.

    The reality is, they don’t need your party, their customers don’t need your party. I guess the people who do will show up, and learn a lot and get a cool branded bag and then go home when it’s done. No specific offense intended on the “blather” comment. I’ve been to many a trade show and conference and it’s all, ultimately, blather.

    Maybe instead of writing this post you should have just sent Steve an e-mail. He seems to be responding to those lately.

  3. absolutely, perfectly, accurate thoughts that’s being discussed at the I’m with Adobe/ Facebook group. Apple’s grown (groan!) into something they were not. the secrecy, the censorship, the ad hoc measures, the iron grip over the device/ apps, content through the device – are all not desirable to say the least. every company debates with their customers/ developers. not so with apple. i hope they get the stick they so desperately deserve

  4. They are not going to come. Period.

    Apple as a company is used to operate in a stealth mode.

    Still, looking forward to what happens.

    Any (good) chance you have an iPhone. maybe drop an email to Steve directly and see what happens? He has responded to a few, worth a shot then…

  5. Lots of people get into a lather over what Apple and Steve Jobs do or don’t do, because they do things differently than everyone else. I don’t think they really care what others think, and I admire them for that. I honestly think it’s one of the reasons they stand out from the herd, so I say leave them alone and let them get back to doing what they obviously do well. If it turns out to be the wrong way to do things, they will end up suffering for it. Everyone else, just worry about yourselves.

  6. What’s in it for Apple? I suppose they might make more “friends” but only if they open up enough. This means giving competitors an advantage, committing to plans that they might want to change later. All in all the downside seems much greater than any potential advantage.

    Apple has always known that in the fast changing world of technology, for any company, however large, to thrive, it must act like a small business, be nimble, able to turn on a dime when the weather changes, making those bold radical changes often at the cost of upsetting or cutting existing business relationships.

    So they won’t commit to anything more than they absolutely have to, and they are right. And perhaps keeping customers happy is more important than making “friends” in the industry.

  7. Dear Apple,

    Could you come to my birthday party? I realize there’s nothing in it for you, but it’ll make me popular and let me brag to all my friends.

    Seriously, without you the party will be mostly irrelevant. (Randall will bore us to death reading from notecards again.)

    And you should really care what me and my friends say about you. Because we’re bloggers. And we’re important.

    So please, come to my party. And bring a clown for the kids. Thank you.

    -Bryan

  8. The question is though, what does Apple want to be?

    Does it want to be the company we want it to be? Or the one it wants to be?

    Are those desires the same? I highly doubt it.

    I think Apple would be happier with 10% market share free to innovate, do things its way, and provide innovation leadership, than 40% but bowing to the goals of other affected parties.

    Android, WinPhone, Symbian and Blackberry, may ultimately relegate iPhone to influencer (as happened with the Mac) rather than market share leader, but that won’t bother Apple if it hasn’t had to compromise its core philosophies.

    I think we’re pushing **it uphill trying to convince or expect Apple to bend to our objectives. But no harm in trying!

    Apple will be at Web 2 if it fits with its philosophies.

    And maybe that’s how you need to sell them on the idea. Show them how it fits them, not us.

  9. I hope they do go to the summit and respond to the letter kindly. I have a feeling they won’t. As a designer all my equipment in my studio is Apple, but recently I have started to be disillusioned with them as a company.

  10. Apple never gets it till they are down and out. Steve Jobs is going to cost thousands their jobs. Their latest war they are raging on phones and Flash, can only have one outcome; an Apple loss. Just like Apple came in riding the Vista express on all the quirky things the OS had that people will relate to, they will lose to Google’s Andriod commericals from an array of providers that will point out all the things the Iphone can’t do and challenge Apple to fix them. Only problem is there won’t be a Windows 7 recovery because Apple is burning some big-time bridges with the very companies they are trying to shut out. Apple’s only answer for these challanges will be simply we can’t because the market won’t work with us anymore. The Iphone and Ipad are blacksheep 2.0. Products that will only get 10% market share and there won’t be an app that does anything, because they don’t care about their 10%.

  11. What strikes me about this open letter to Apple is that the authors seem to insist that openness is quite simply, intrinsically, unquestionably a good thing. And yet its never made clear just why that is or what exactly is meant by it.

    All sorts of people are upset at Apple these days. And all sorts of people are insisting that Apple “hasn’t learned the lessons from the past” or is otherwise heading down some path of doom. Because, well, you know, ummm.. “open” is just… umm.. well, it’s just as good as it is undefined, apparently.

    Apple hasn’t changed. Apple’s been this way for a long time. Well, at least since Steve Jobs’ return. And it’s done them very well.

    Something that amazes me is how Steve Jobs consistently does things that just aren’t supposed to work, according to various pundits and self-styled high priests of various dubious belief systems and self-proclaimed experts in the business.

    How could Apple think they could be a serious contender against Sony in the portable music player market? They really need to stop wasting time on that and put their resources into building an MS Office competitor and going for the enterprise. And how could they be so silly to think they could charge 99 cents for a song in a very high quality format when, with a lot of digging on torrent sites, you might be able to find some poorly compressed version of your favorite song? That Steve Jobs just must be crazy.

    We heard the same thing about the iPhone.

    We’ve been hearing the same thing about the iPad. The remarkable thing about the iPad is one’s ability to understand what the device even is seems inversely related to their technical knowledge. It’s amazing to me how many people who write on these topics for a living keep trying to compare it to a laptop or netbook, and seem unable to understand why the iPad isn’t a TabletPC from 2003.

    Unable to fathom these mysteries they take the always unhelpful position that interest in such a device is due to mere “hype” or perhaps just sheer stupidity on the part of the consumers or perhaps Apple management. Let me put it simply: If you believe that the lack of a USB port on the iPad was either a design oversight, the result of a sneaky plan to hold back on this to stimulate sales of iPad 2.0, or that Steve Jobs is just an idiot.

    Helpful hint: if you seriously believe that, perhaps you’re not quite as clever as you imagine. Put another way, the degree to which you think you are smarter than Steve Jobs is probably inversely related to your actual intelligence.

    From reading the tech pundits for several years, particularly following the release of the iPad, I’m quite convinced we’re dealing with a community of people who clearly don’t get it.

    As of late, many of them are very upset at Steve Jobs. The reasons are always murky, and their talk is constantly filled with strange phrases and a lot of emotional rhetoric. Apple is just doing things “wrong”, they are trying to create “a walled garden” (no idea why this is a pejorative term), they are too “closed”, and so many other things.

    Worse yet, Apple is surrounded by this unreasonable “cult” of people who are apparently stupid enough to buy an iPad that lacks a USB port. A bunch of people who are apparently unable to realize the high degree of likelihood that they just might have an emergency print job and come across a printer they can utilize that is not networked. It happens a lot, it would seem.

    But if we are to find the elements of a cult, we need look no further than the fanatical Apple haters. Cults consists primarily of being united by strange, unsubstantiated sacred postulates which are totally and thoroughly ungrounded but endlessly repeated as if they were unquestionably true.

    Cults are also known for being composed of people who are undeterred when their prophecies fail to come true. In fact, they frequently become ever more fanatical.

    Since returning to Apple, Steve Jobs has shown that many sacred beliefs that people have are simply groundless. It was just simply OBVIOUS that the idea that a single company could manufacture the hardware, create the software, sell direct, and make money selling music.. well, it was just OBVIOUS that could never work.

    Openness is just better. We can’t define what we mean by it, but we know its better. Openness just leads to more innovation, you see. It just does. It’s just good. Always and for everyone. Open systems are just better.

    The entire open source movement seems to be infected with a lot of very, very poorly understood memes and ill-digested notions from cybernetics and other 1950s thought that have crystalized (or more accurately, encrusted) into a rigid set of sacred postulates that people fight for without ever seeming to be able to explain to anyone why these things are good.

    Perhaps it’s time we stop telling Apple how the world works, what they should do, how they should be. Perhaps we should look at the iPad and ask ourselves, “could there be some good reasons why there isn’t a USB port on this thing?” And perhaps we should look at the success of Apple and entertain the possibility, as remarkable as it may seem, that perhaps some of our beliefs about progress, technology, and computing may possibly be in need of revision.

    I like my Mac and I like my iPhone. These things didn’t come into the world spontaneously through the random efforts of a bunch of people inebriated on the works of Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds.

  12. With Steve Jobs’ latest letter attacking flash and Apple’s support for open standards on the web one would think Apple would be all over these types of communities.

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