Beware the walled gardens
By Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings.
The technology industry is well-known for coining its own unique phrases and expressions. From big data, to digital divide, to Web 2.0 - and all of the others in between - these phrases have often translated into common usage. While many have become obsolete as technology has evolved, some are more relevant today than when they were first coined.
The term "walled garden" was created by John Malone in the mid-1990s to describe a closed technology platform or ecosystem where the carrier or service provider has control over applications, content and media, and restricts convenient access to non-approved applications or content. In today's Web 2.0 world of access anything, anywhere and ubiquitous social networking, the walled garden should be an outdated concept, and yet it still informs the approach of many of the world's biggest technology companies.
Recent reports of the spat between Instagram and Twitter are the latest example of the pervasiveness of the walled garden attitude in the tech space, with Instagram not allowing Twitter users to view their photos on that platform any more, forcing them to leave Twitter and use Instagram. Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, points out that this approach is contrary to the demands of technology users, who have come to expect interoperability and easy access across ecosystems.
"From the emergence of computers as consumer devices to the growth of the Internet as an information resource and then as a channel for communication and interaction, we have a more personal relationship with technology than at any other point in human history," says Firth. "The world is definitely not changing: It has changed. Web 2.0 has revolutionised the way we use technology. The last 18 months has seen a shift in the way openness and standards are viewed. Closed companies are no longer seen as leaders, and privacy has become the 21st Century battleground. 'Cloud' has become more than a buzzword, as location-less, multi-tenant applications proliferate from social networks to business applications."
The worst offenders are Google, Apple and Amazon, each of which works off a different business model. "This is not about open source versus proprietary software, as illustrated by the fact that Google has established its own walled garden. It's about the closed ecosystem and the ability of these companies to force their users into the ecosystem," says Firth. "This is the single biggest threat to where new technology should be going today."
But does the rise of walled gardens such as Facebook, Apple and Google+ presage an age where we are once again limited to specific platforms and shrinking access to information similar to the Web 1.0 world? Firth thinks not, pointing out that the difference now is that the expectations of users have been set and that we are now the editors and the filters of the Internet.
"Walled gardens try to turn us back into an audience again. The devices we use today to connect to the Internet have moved us into an era where the convenience of connecting at any time from anywhere has given us a sense of entitlement. Access to the wealth of information on the Web has become a way of life, and breaking out of the walled gardens is inevitable. The nature of the Internet ensures that walled gardens are doomed to fail,' Firth concludes.