Do Walled Gardens Promote Innovation?

from the not-that-I-can-see dept

A former chief economist for the FCC, Thomas Hazlett, has written an article claiming that walled gardens promote innovation -- which seems like an extraordinary claim. Unfortunately, he completely fails to back it up in the article itself. Instead, he mostly focuses on why regulating open access in the wireless space doesn't make sense -- a statement we tend to agree with. Regulating mandatory openness is excessive, and hopefully unnecessary as the industry realizes that openness actually provides more value and opportunity. It's on that point that we appear to disagree with Hazlett. He claims that walled gardens are better for innovation, arguing that innovations like the Blackberry and the iPhone came first to US networks because of their closed, rather than open, nature. That's not necessarily accurate. It's much more likely that both came to North America first because both Apple and RIM are based in North America. And, it's worth noting that both have expanded overseas.

Hazlett then uses the example of i-mode as another example of a success story of a walled garden -- but ignores that it was actually the freedom and openness aspect of i-mode that made it an initial success -- and it was the closed nature that later limited it. By enabling many developers to compete, real innovations were created. It wasn't because it was a walled garden, but because the folks behind the project recognized the benefit of being quite open within that platform. Hazlett also seems to ignore the longer term history of most walled garden platforms. They may have initial success by creating a limited sandbox, but almost all of them eventually suffer as people go in search of more open and more innovative platforms. That's what happened with AOL. It's also partly what caused i-mode to stumble when it was unable to keep up with the innovation of others in the space. So, yes, it's true that mandatory openness may not make sense, but it's a huge leap to go from there to saying that walled gardens promote innovation. Walled gardens simply leave open the opportunity for someone else to innovate a more open solution.
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Filed Under: innovation, walled gardens

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2007 @ 2:03pm

    > Do Walled Gardens Promote Innovation?

    Of course they do! One must be really innovative to break out of them, you know! =^.^=

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