“… because it ‘IS’ proprietary.”

… because it is sinful.
… because those are fattening.
… because they are witches.
… because he’s a stupid jock.
… because it is indecent.
… because they are sheep.
… because we are the chosen ones.
… because it is God’s will.
… because it is healthy.
… because it is perverted.

Because the territory “IS” the map.

Lots of bad things have happened on this planet, because labels were slapped onto realworld things, leading us poor humans to characterize the world in a binary “sinful/non-sinful” way.

“It’s our right, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world.”

“It is safe to drive, because the light is green.”

“That is not good, because it is proprietary.”

That’s what struck me in a conversation today. I’ve been reading up on Mozilla’s Bespin project, trying to understand it, and someone in comments (anonymous, unfortunately) raised the question I had been asking myself


On one hand, we have folks, at Mozilla and elsewhere, telling people that open standards like HTML5, CSS, SVG, the DOM etc. are the way to go for building advanced interfaces on the client side, instead of using proprietary solutions like Flash or Silverlight.

On the other hand, we have other folks, also at Mozilla, saying that none of that stuff was good enough for them, so they had to go straight to 2d drawing primitives and rebuild everything from scratch. At which point, there is no technical reason not to do it with Flash instead, and get the additional benefit of running on all browsers now, with no compatibility concerns.

Two replies followed: “Actually, canvas is an HTML 5 standard, not a proprietary solution. It’s a peer to any other feature of HTML.”

Also: “There are huge differences between canvas and Flash: canvas IS an open standard (see HTML5) and there are multiple interoperable implementations, even multiple excellent open-source implementations.”

I reacted pretty strongly, mostly about the “is a standard” distortion offered as justification.

But the more I thought about it on the walk home, the more concerned I grew with the structure of the communication, beyond its particular factual details.

“This is this, and that is that, and it’s all very clear and distinct” is a useful mental tool in some situations. It makes things easier to learn, for one.

But such binary labeling can become a trap as well. In online debate, many use the phrase “because it’s proprietary” as a cheap way to stop thinking. I’ve been trying in good faith for years and years to pierce past that sophisticated-sounding “proprietary” label, to little result.

Still, the map is not the territory. The menu’s not the meal. Slapping a label on something doesn’t substitute for thinking it through.

I think it’s better to evaluate specific risks and specific benefits of various offerings, and not just reject “because it is dirty”. Your labels are your traps. Free yourself.

If you think that “because it’s proprietary” is sufficient argument, then please do continue be careful in intersections. “Because the light was green” may not prove quite enough to protect you from reality.