The Paradox of Open

Reimagining the role of openness in the digital environment
March 5, 2021

The Paradox of Open is the essay that we published in March 2021 to mark the launch of Open Future. In this essay we reflect on almost 20 years of our involvement in the open movement. One of our key insights is that in today’s digital environment, openness serves as both a challenge to concentrations of power and its enabler. 

Solving this paradox, described in more detail in this essay, is at the heart of our work. It provides us with a point of departure for reimagining the role of openness in the digital environment.

The essay traces how the open movement evolved over the years. From its origins in the early 2000s–marked by a belief in emancipatory potential of open sharing of content and data–to current moment, in which the ideals of the open web have been surpassed by economic might of a few “sharing” platforms. It posits that the current concentration of power in the hands of a small number of information intermediaries has led to a situation in which Open is not just a challenge, but also an enabler of concentrations of power.

In order to preserve Open as a strategic concept that contributes to building a more just and egalitarian digital society, the Open movement will need to think about how it can harden its core concepts against abuse and unintended externalities. This insight is the guiding principle for our work at Open Future.

The Paradox of open is available as a visual essay or in a text only version on PubPub where you can also provide comments and feedback.


Paul Keller
Alek Tarkowski
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