Woodrow Wilson once said: "That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic." The quote, as near as I can tell, means this: One might be tempted to see the rise of a poor man to the throne to be a sign that everyone is equal -- but if there's still a king, then the people aren't really in charge of the government, no matter how the king came to power.
I had reason to think of this, oddly enough, reading This BusinessWeek talk with Phil Schiller about the App Store. In it, Schiller uses the typical corporate communications strategy of saying that (a) Apple has nothing to apologize for when it comes to the App Store's strict and sometimes opaque standards for rejecting applications and (b) the process will be improved. We didn't do anything wrong, and we'll fix it. Part of the discussion centered around yet another stupid App Store kerfuffle, over an app from Rogue Amoeba that supposedly misused images Apple had the rights to. Needless to say Rogue Amoeba was in the right -- you can find the boring details here -- and, lo and behold, after Schiller told BusinessWeek that "We're trying to learn and expand the rules to make it fair for everyone," the block on the app was magnanimously lifted. Happy ending, right?
Well, not really. The fundamental problem with the way Apple has reacted to a lot of these cases is to solve the specific problems one at a time, righting wrongs in particular cases. This works for a company like Rogue Amoeba, which has huge goodwill in the Apple developer community, can motivate leagues of bloggers and Twitterers to gripe about the injustice done them, and can ultimately get questions asked to a major Apple exec by someone from a major publication. But what about a lone developer with no community cred who has his app rejected for equally specious reasons? With no posse, he's likely to be disappointed.
And that's why Wilson's quote rang true for me here. To change the metaphor a bit: it's not enough that one subject gets the attention of the king and gets the justice that's his due. There has to be a system put in place that renders justice for all.