One of the biggest complaints from users in the wake of the Google Reader decision was that Google deliberately killed the RSS market in the first place. There has been a drought in the development of quality web-based reader applications due to Google’s presence. There simply wasn’t much development, because Google already handled the Reader space, people were content with the service they were getting, and that was the end of it. People simply trusted that Google would continue to do what they had done all along. Of course, nobody expected the rug to be pulled out from underneath so quickly. Once confronted with what can happen when we become too dependent on a free service, the Internet exploded with anger and confusion. This is quite an interesting thing for Internet users to get so upset about, above all of the terrible things that happen in the world every day. But it wasn’t simply because of Reader, on its face — the anger Google’s decision was about much more than that. It was a breach of trust. A great many internet users still saw Google as the “do no evil” company, the champion of the open web, the one that fights for everyone’s security. The last “good” tech giant that was supposed to advocate for the individual’s interest against that of the corporate machine. This Google surely died long ago, but it is not every day when we are confronted with such a rupture of expectation versus reality, thus giving us the spectacle we witnessed last week.
The fact is that the battle lines are being drawn in the web space, and this is not to the benefit of an open web. Google is closing Reader off, hoping to shuttle users to Google+ when clearly they don’t want to be there. Other Google services that don’t push their philosophy of “store, index, monetize and control” are also rumoured to be short-lived. Facebook is slowly developing its own web ecosystem to remain competitive, with the introduction of new VoIP calling services and tighter integration with their own assimilated properties like Instagram. More and more services are switching to a system of federated logins, giving their users the ability to “Log In With Facebook” while ignoring the serious privacy implications and subtle requirement to deal with the evils of Facebook in order to use a simple web service. Apple and Microsoft are also making gestures in this direction, each pushing their cloud solutions and rumbling about social networks. When the giants of the Web cut themselves off from each other, hoping to create their own unique and profitable web experiences, the freedom of every individual online will suffer. This is simply not the last time such disappointments will happen with these online services, and web users must be ready for what this new precedent means for them.
The only way to definitively remedy these problems is to build the solutions ourselves. There is nothing unique to Google that makes its services pleasing to the eye or fun to use — many of these services were built by people who previously worked in the open-source spectrum, after all. There are plenty of open-source tools to facilitate your online life, whether this is to manage your calendar or contacts, deliver a feed of newsworthy items, host your digital business card, act as your online journal, and much more. These self-hosted tools have not caught on among the general public because of the time it takes to implement them, the skills required to understand how they work, and the IT resources needed to host and maintain them with a decent degree of stability. In solving one problem, these tools have introduced another, creating a clear education and resource gap. This gap was once bridged by free platforms like Google, but now a new bridge must be built, one that is sustainable and democratic.
I believe that arkOS can be a part of this bridge. Giving users the ability to host their own content and maintain it easily and cheaply is of critical importance, and that is the core motivator behind this project. This project is about freedom, not about living by marketing principles, or the wishes of a for-profit corporation. When we give the power back to the users of the web, they will be free to live, to write, to create online without having to play by one online bully’s rules. And we will be fully prepared for the next time a “Google Reader”-type event comes to pass.