Peeking over the Walled Garden

As an internet user – something you obviously are – are you aware of the walled garden you maybe ‘playing’ in? I use the term ‘playing’ very loosely, think of playing at school, at recess time when it was restricted with not much movement and a tonne of rules (no freedom to do what you want). This is similar to being apart of the walled garden on certain platforms.

Technically, a walled garden is defined as ‘a limited set set of technology or media information…provided to users with the intention of creating a monopoly or secure information systems’ (Mittew 2015) think Facebook, think Twitter. It also applies to mobile phone platforms and applications that can be accessed on a wireless network (think Apple’s iOS and iTunes) For open systems (i.e. not walled gardens) think Android, think Linux).

To further illustrate this definition imagine yourself as setting up an account on a social networking site or iTunes, before the account is set up, you, the unauthenticated user is given limited access to the site, but once you are signed up you can roam the garden and are most likely never allowed to leave.

 

The issue I raise here is; should we be worried about the increasing amount of walled gardens on the internet (considering the internet was set up to be a free for all flowing platform, where control was with the end user- not the gardener!) or is this a good thing for users as it helps protect us from things such as malware, and helps us to navigate the tonnes of content on the web… in other words is it just easier and more convenient this way?

I feel we have been lulled in to the state where we must provide more and more information to our gardeners to get the services they provide. In some cases, the companies that create walled gardens have in fact become actual Data States, which hold all our data and are arguably more influential than most nation sates.  These most definitely threaten the democratic nature of the internet- something I see as a major problem.

Another problem with the walled garden is the decision on what you can and cannot do, can or cannot access, is not yours, it’s the closed system maker’s decision. If you don’t agree, tough. If there are things you want to do, and think it’s OK to do, but the maker disagrees, tough.

 

And the rules that define what is acceptable and not in a walled garden are subject to change. Gardeners can unilaterally change their rules (including legal!) at any time, and take away functionality or access you used to have. Which leads to uncertainty.

And then there is platform lock-in. If you buy all your books at Amazon on Kindle, you cannot transfer them to other services. If you spend a lot of money on iOS apps, you’re less likely to change platforms. I concede that with content, this is starting to change with the removal of DRM on iTunes music.

HOWEVER, in saying this, of course I am a user of walled gardens, as it is difficult to survive in today’s technological inclined world.  It would be bias of me to only present the cons of  walled gardens. For one thing, there are fewer, if any, viruses, malware, trojan horses and secret key-logging systems in walled garden platforms (or none yet on the tougher ones like iOS). Whereas most people live in fear in the more open systems of getting hijacked and spend fortunes on protective tools that really don’t work, people in walled gardens feel safer.

The maker of the closed system controls the experience, which, theoretically keeps the crapware out. The carrier, retailer, or other third parties don’t get to install their own stuff in walled garden systems, leading to a better user experience.

Walled garden systems are easier to use and learn because you don’t need special skills to get in. They are targeted at regular people. They are made into comfortable and safe environments, where the limits are known and it’s easy to see and understand what is going on.

And walled gardens are a business and businesses exist to grow and make money. Walled garden systems are profitable, popular and create jobs. Profitable walled garden systems are a better long term investment as you know they’ll be around and supported in the future.

Still, I think as users we should not become use to and nonchalant about giving our details and information to these companies, rather we should be aware of the consequences of letting them control our internet experience.  Can we trust the curators of walled gardens?

Ask yourself, why do I use walled gardens? What do they bring to my internet experience? I would love to hear your answers in the comments below.

To finish, I believe the argument over walled gardens is presented as one between choice and safety, between freedom and central control. In all honesty I think the average person enjoys walled gardens  because they cannot program or fix issues or understand technology. Walled gardens provide a safe, comfortable environment in which they can be just as productive as us geeks. They can write or compose or draw or browse without worrying about or understanding their systems. Just like we drive without understanding how internal combustion engines work. Not only do walled gardens work for them, just look around you, they work very well. Look at the popularity and profitability of walled garden systems like iOS and Facebook and Kindle. To regular people, walled gardens are safe and good.

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Mittew, T 2015, ‘Feudalisation of the internet’, slides, BCM310, University of Wollongong, viewed 13th April 2015.

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