Are Walled Gardens Actually Helping Anyone?

BlogHer Original Post

Those of us who have been living life with the Internet for a while remember the early days when there browser wars. Things that worked in one browser wouldn't work in another. That led to a grassroots battle to institute web standards so a page of HTML would work in any browser. Following that there was an accessibility movement so that all content would be accessible to all people, no matter what means were used to get to it. Just when we think we've removed one set of barriers between people and content, up pops another one.

the wall
The Wall by MaHidoodi via Flickr

The latest barrier? Walled Gardens: company-centric universes in which devices can only display and use content from the company store. Walled gardens may seem like a wonderful idea to the heads of Apple and Amazon and Google and Microsoft and Facebook and every other company that is trying to create a closed universe for sales. You buy an iPad – you stock it with stuff from iTunes. Keep it all wrapped up nice and cozy. Keep the money in the company. But walled gardens are not so good for the rest of us – namely the folks buying these devices that are restricted to a specific universe of functionality. And I'm not really sure they are good for the companies that are fostering them.

Plus, people are getting a little frustrated with this whole walled garden business.

There's the frustration of trying to create something new and figuring out how to make it work on every device. You have to download SDKs for every possible option and build for them all. It's a bit ridiculous. As Sandbox of frustration: Apple's walled garden closes in on Mac developers, put it,

Apple's OS X Mountain Lion launched on Wednesday, and with it came a new set of rules laid out by Apple that restrict what Mac developers can do with their apps. To sum it up, developers must "sandbox" their apps in order to take full advantage of new features like iCloud and Notification Center, limiting access to system data much like iOS apps.

How about your frustration of reading about some great app that is exactly what you want and then discovering it only works on iPad or only works on Android, or is only available for Kindle Fire?

ReadWriteWeb, in Instagram Turns Evil, And It's All Our Fault, Dan Lyons put it this way,

Companies like Twitter and Instagram (and Facebook, which owns Instagram) are set up in such a way that their interests have never been aligned with the interest of their users, but in fact are in complete opposition to them.

The only way these companies can succeed financially is by tricking members and forcing them into walled gardens. Think of it this way - there’s a reason that they don't hold a circus out in the open, and instead put it under a tent - and it’s not to keep you dry in case of rain.

People are looking for open alternatives. Amy Gahran, in 5 Affordable Ways Nonprofits Can Use Mobile Technology, stated,

The reason I like Tumblr, and advocate its use, is that it’s perhaps the most mobile-friendly blogging tool out there — both for mobile viewing/interaction, and for posting via mobile. Everything you post to a public Tumblr blog gets indexed by search engines — which beats the hell out of Facebook’s walled garden in the long run.

New companies that promise "open access" such as the textbook company Boundless are springing up. Groups have formed in support of open standards such as groups that advocate for the open EPUB format for ebooks.

Like the web standards movement from several years ago, I think we need an "app standards" movement now. Everything is moving to mobile. Mobiles use apps. I think apps need to fit into the "design once, use everywhere" schema. That is not an anti-capitalist notion – if I can create something and know it's going to work everywhere, I can sell more of whatever it is, not less. That might be better the designer than for Apple or Amazon, the sellers, but everyone still gets to make money.

We don't need to add more barriers to the access to content, we need to remove such barriers.

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
virginia.debolt@blogher.com
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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