Rethinking Walled Gardens, But Coming To The Same Conclusion

from the eh,-no dept

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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Comments on “Rethinking Walled Gardens, But Coming To The Same Conclusion”

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I, for one says:

Controlled growth

The walled garden model isn’t only for the benefit (arguably) of the users. It is also for the benefit of the system administrators. Starting a new project by simply unleashing some software to the wild, wide open network can be hazardous. A walled garden can be a halfway house between the development sandbox and public release. Google seem to favour that approach with insider Beta groups followed by invites. It can regulate the growth of a new service in a controlled way.

That is the only practical use of the walled garden model imho. The problem comes when the service works, has a massive uptake and the fools try to bound the growth of it into the wider network. It’s a king Canute stance, you can’t kid people that your world is all there is, nothing outside to see and hope to control the way users employ and integrate your service with other systems.

wireless mike says:

Wireless Walled Garden

In the lessons learned by AOL and much earlier, Prodigy/Windows 3.1 ring a bell – bell? The wireless carriers are aware of their vulnerability if they continue to try to hoodwink their subscribers into believing there are technological issues that make it this way – the customers will run when the hedges come down. I pay $239.00 a month for 3000 minutes and blackberry, unlimited Internet – feels like the iron curtain. We are only doing this until… the first WiMAX carriers release their hedge trimming garden killer offering – who will be first? Wholesale data rates are quoted at .10 per KB or the more affordable .75 per meg for wireless data to MVNO’s – these are WHoLESALE rates (makes you want to go be an MVNO huh!. Dual mode 802.1X phones are shipping for three months now but using X, a lower level of the code that will not allow the user to add voip. I am ok with not using voip on my mobile considering this is what the carriers see as their bread and butter (they missed it, voice is already a commodity), but please give us reasonable data speeds and open access to the net without charging me more than I would pay for 3 high speed DSL lines! Which are now $19.95 per month in my City.

Lets start a revolt! I will follow as soon as you get them running!

Robert Rittmuller (user link) says:


I do agree that the “walled garden” concept has relevance in the context of something like AOL and the early days of mass internet adoption. However I disagree that this same reason accounts for the popularity of the iTunes service. What appears to be driving the success of iTunes is simply the price point it operates at. Most users find that paying .99 per song and 1.99 per TV show episode is a great bargain compared to the time it would take to track down (never-mind download) the same content via other methods (p2p, etc). To illustrate this point….you can purchase and own a TV episode for less than the cost of one gallon of gasoline. Think about it….

Ted Brown says:

Walled Gardens do have their uses

“users were getting their music online well before iTunes”

My mom sure wasn’t. Probably not your mom either. Would you want to have to walk her through the use of any fly-by-night P2P application?

Mainstream consumers really do need The Big Shiny Button and No Way To Screw Up, even for technologies that have been around a long time (like video games, which I re-discover–to my horror–every time we focus test something).

AOL had a ton of other issues, but I think its biggest was that it tried to put a wall around the Internet. Too big to contain. Music? That’s easy to wrap your head around, and that’s probably why iTunes is so successful.

eeyore says:

walled forums

Web forums that restrict membership are just as bad. I used to post frequently on a site called netslaves and after it imploded a group of former members started their own board as a members-only forum. You had to register to even read, let alone post, and you had to be nominated for membership by an existing member, which could be rejected by the moderators. The long and short was they ended up with a board with 100 or so people with the EXACT same point of view about EVERYTHING, and differing opinions were simply not tolerated. The funny thing was how they were always harping about “freedom,” particularly as how it applies to drug laws. I don’t think they ever saw the irony of a closed membership forum debating freedom, which was the issue that I walked over.

Taylor Walsh says:

walled origins

Not sure what the purpose of the original post is, but the purpose of the walled garden is to own share, contain costs and so have some stability in the model. In fact AOL’s walled garden co-existed with the Internet in the 90’s (and may yet still do so). As with The Source, CompuServe, Delphi and the first generation of online services, AOL (as Quantum) grew up on X.25 packet networks. More importantly the garden ultimately delivered $20/month x __milion monthly bills. Transitioning out of that circumstance has not been done happily, as you may imagine. iTunes is not a walled garden in any way similar to AOL. It is a cart in the market offering its fare to passersby. AOL’s massive garden, housing assorted markets and villages and condo fees, has simply been superceded. “When in the course of online events…” and all that.

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