The Architecture of Cooperation versus The Architecture of Coercion


Today I will make an address at the Digital Directions conference, presented by Fairfax Digital in Sydney, Australia. My comments will focus on the collision between two distinctly different environments for innovation in the digital domain: closed and open systems. Or, as I prefer to think of them, the architecture of coercion and the architecture of cooperation.

I am inspired by a quotation from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “Architecture is the will of the age conceived in spatial terms.”   Mies was referring to the radically re-conceived conventions of physical buildings in the post war era:   but his comment provides a useful metaphor for the dynamic tension between open and closed platforms in the digital media environment.

Internet companies and web visionaries sometimes take for granted the open architecture of the Web: open standards, open source software, open platforms and open APIs. This openness makes possible the blistering rate of innovation and the intense competition that characterizes the Web.

But the history of the first century of electronic mass media is a story of closed systems, proprietary platforms, private infrastructure. As cable TV pioneer John Malone observed, a closed garden is the best way to maximize revenue that has ever been devised.

And therefore, it’s a safe bet that the old giants from traditional media to do everything they possibly can to rebuild their closed systems on the Internet. The collision between new media and old media on the Web can be interpreted as a clash between two architectures. I created this chart to illustrate how the two competing architectures shape the process of innovation.

Which architecture best expresses the will of our age?

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