Recursive Citation

Gruber wrote a commentary on Apple’s white paper which outlines why side loading apps on iOS/iPadOS would be bad for consumers.

Two quick observations from the Gruber’s commentary (unrelated to the topic of the App Store).

Number 1:

Writing a piece like Gruber’s in this style, where you quote sections of content and then comment (or refute) each, is called “Fisking”. I didn’t know that style had a name, but I love it.

Number 2:

In Apple’s white paper, they use this quote from Steve Jobs in service of their argument for the App Store:

We’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once: provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task.

What’s interesting about this quote, as Gruber points out, is that Apple is citing a third-party for a (now rather crucial) argument given by their former CEO:

Amusingly, Apple had to source Jobs’s quote to TidBITS’s archived copy of Jobs’s open letter announcing the SDK, because Apple never gave it a permalink at

This fascinates me.

It also makes me think: what does it mean to be the canonical source for something?

Apple’s own white paper—a document of huge strategic and legal import—uses a third-party source to essentially quote themselves. And that third party source is actually without any official attribution because the primary source (Apple) never published it to a URL!

When I try to imagine this in my own small world of online blogging, it’s as if I was citing myself but pointed to someone else’s website who quoted me. And their quotation of me doesn’t actually have a link back to the thing I said because I never actually put it on my website.

It’s like a form of recursive citation. I cite you who cited me without a concrete canonical source.

The impermanence of the web over a long period of time is going to lead to a lot of fascinating situations like this. Thank goodness, if nothing else, for the internet archive.