All of our gardens have walls now

There was a post on Techcrunch over the weekend titled The walled garden has won.  Regular readers will know I’m a big proponent of open systems and hence I read this piece with interest.  Regrettably I think the title is accurate, although I don’t think the news is all bad.

Let me explain.

Firstly the concept of a walled garden has mostly been applied to the web offerings of AOL and mobile operators which gave consumers access to only a limited portion of the web.  Carefully curated, but limited.  That sort of walled garden has emphatically lost. 

What we have instead is a more subtle form of control – rather than the sites we can visit the control is over our identity, over updates of the software on our devices and over the services we can use.  The Techcrunch article points out the following:

  • every phone has a unique ID that is regularly uploaded to the servers of our app providers
  • Amazon can arbitrarily delete books from our Kindles
  • consumers don’t take responsibility for managing their own security on smartphones which means the control necessary to do so has passed to Google, Apple and mobile carriers

Not mentioned in the article is the fact that the most open of mobile OS’s Android comes with a cast iron requirement to use Google Maps and Google Search.  Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that you can only run Apple approved software on your iPad and iPhone.

Last summer I wrote a couple of blog posts about how the web ecosystem is maturing and getting more complicated making it harder for startups to grow to scale without working in partnership with companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple.  I think that is doubly true on mobile where not only is it hard to scale without partnerships a startup remains dependent on its partners for continued prosperity even after it has hit scale.

In many ways I would prefer it if the web and mobile web were as open and free as they used to be, largely because that made it easier for startups, but as I wrote above the news that the ecosystem is to an extent controlled by the large players isn’t all bad.  With the control comes and ease of use which has massively accelerated usage growth, particularly on the mobile web.

Enhanced by Zemanta
  • Anonymous

    I think the control these platforms have now will get bigger, and that is when the real downsides will kick in.

  • It kind of looks that way doesn’t it?, for all the hope and promise of HTML5 etc

  • I agree with your comments but think it is only the tip of the iceberg. I believe the wireless service providers are working on new device based billing and service management systems that will provide consumers with granular detail of their data consumption and the ability to throttle back unwanted bandwidth intensive services or throttle up download speeds. Wireless service providers will also be able to introduce flexible pricing models that will permit third parties to subsidize data usage. This new capability will cause consumers to make decisions about accessing data intensive content over low-cost, low quality Wi-Fi access networks or higher cost, higher quality 3/4G networks. I think the mobile content/application providers will have interesting decisions about whether to subsidize end consumer data usage on higher speed networks to ensure consumers’ mobile experience on their service is brand reinforcing. I can envision Google search having a separate rate card for high speed access versus Wi-Fi. It also makes for interesting business model changes for Netflix and Rhapsody

  • A world where cost to consume bandwidth reflects cost to provide has many attractions. It will be complicated to implement though, maybe too complicated.