Curated Computing

Sarah Rotman Epps, Forrester Research Analyst, has an intriguing op-ed at Ars Technica. I think she does a pretty good job of explaining why the iPad has been able to gain traction in a space, tablet computing, that has seen lack luster uptake despite existing for a couple of decades.

I like her concession that the success of Apple’s tablet is partly because it is a peripheral, a supplemental computer. There is an implication that what she is identifying as a fourth form factor alongside desktops, laptops and netbooks will never be able to replace examples from any of the other three.

I still reject that a closed ecosystem is essential to achieving the other quality that she thinks is critical: fitting better into the user’s lifestyle in and around the other computers they already own. I think her advice to really look at how this first practically successful tablet is being used by its owners is sound for the queue of vendors looking to crack into a space Apple has managed to revitalize. I do not believe that a closed, or curated, system is required to achieve the same result.

I think her choice of that term, curated, is telling. Clearly she’s trying to find a softer, more constructive way of talking about, and recommending, Apple’s walled garden. There are other curation models, though, that do not depend on being closed and tightly controlled. Ranking, recommendation, and filtering are vital parts of curation as acknowledged by their use within Apple’s distribution channel. I don’t subscribe to the view that these have to be coupled with gatekeeping and/or pruning to provide a compelling experience to users.

If experience is placed first, there is something also to be said for serendipity and other forms of random discovery. Sure, with a catalog as large as Apple’s store, you can be fooled into thinking there is plenty of space for the chaotically alluring. I remain convinced that the best way to provide the most compelling content and applications is to be open, to invite the unintended rather than to enshrine this rather paltry form of curation.

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