It's become dogma among many that the 'Walled Garden' approach to the web is a failed idea, with AOL being the classic case. So it's interesting to see that some are challenging this idea on the grounds that in a technology's early stages walled gardens are necessary to ensure ease of use among consumers. In other words, according to the argument, a store like iTunes, which made it simple to sync the music store and the device, helped users get used to the idea of digital music. But users were getting their music online well before iTunes; it's just that the labels wanted a walled garden to protect their content. The case of AOL is interesting, because in the beginning the simplicity of associating the ISP with content clearly appealed to a lot of people. The problem with a cash cow like AOL is that the company was inclined to preserve its status and fight the natural evolution towards openness, as opposed to embrace it. So does the walled garden approach make sense in the still-early days of the wireless web? Clearly, the carriers would like to think so, but unlike the early days of the internet, users already know the web's full potential and are spoiled by it. A stripped-down, limited-functionality system will only go so far, as users wait around for a more robust offering. Still, the lessons of AOL and iTunes aren't to be taken lightly; focusing on usability is a good idea, walled garden or not.
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