A Belated New Year’s Resolution: No Walled Gardens!

The recent Comedy Central-Hulu announcement made me recall my New Year’s resolution, one that I wanted to share publicly, and encourage you to embrace as well. It is simple in its concept, but epic in scope.  It involves eliminating something from your routine, something unhealthy –- not for your body, however, but for your wallet, and the world at large. In short, I’m asking you to join me in giving up Walled Gardens.

What does that mean?  Well basically it means to eschew controlled environments, whatever the cost , and to embrace open platforms with all your heart. In practice, here’s what you’ll have to give up:

iPhone and iPad: This first stipulation is a doozy.  Resolve to give up your iPhone, and walk past the iPad display without ponying up.  Why do this?  Well despite Apple’s claims of embracing everyone, the iPhone and iPad are huge walled gardens.  You can’t just load any app -– no, you’re forced to load just those programs that some soulless corporate drone on Infinity Loop deems “appropriate.”

Yes, that means T&A from Sports Illustrated, but not from many other similarly legitimate sources.  Want your iPhone to quack like a duck?  Sorry.  Google Voice, Groovy Sharks — nope, can’t use ’em, says Apple — and the list just goes on and on.

And the iPad looks to be even worse. Heck you can’t even watch Flash on the darned thing, which tends to obviate much of the most interesting content on the web.  Luckily, there are many other awesome alternatives, including the Motorola Backflip, Nexus One, and other great Android phones.  And expect everyone else’s pad — from the sexy U1 Hybrid from Lenovo to Dell’s new super-small slate — to deliver more functionality.

These pads will deliver an open, anything-goes platform, for less money, probably.  I know it’ll be hard, but this year, vow to embrace an open marketplace of apps, video, web sites and books, rather than a locked down, overpriced, shiny gewgaw.

Kindle: Speaking of books, are you thinking of a Kindle?  That’s also a walled garden. Want to buy a book?  You have to go through Amazon. Sure you can load your own stuff onto the Kindle, but only via a few formats, and you even have to pay for that privilege.  Many other types of e-books simply don’t convert well at all.  The Kindle lacks good support for tables and monospaced fonts, has lousy PDF rendering, and worst of all, doesn’t even support the open ePub format.

The lack of ePub means you can’t borrow e-books from your library and read them on the Kindle. It’s as if Jeff Bezos is declaring war on the local library! But even worse, the Kindle is the roach motel of e-books:  Books go in, but they never come out.

Luckily there are other options. f you must have an e-reader today, opt for Sony’s latest touch version.  But if you can wait, do. There were zillions of e-readers on display at CES, and by this fall we should see an explosion of low-cost E Ink-based alternatives that support open standards and a wide variety of off-the-shelf books.

Hulu: And that leads me to Hulu.  Although web-based, Hulu is another walled garden, locking you into its platform.  Want to see it on Boxee?  Sorry.  Oh, well, maybe you can now, but probably not tomorrow.  What about other over the top services?  Not likely.  Hulu is designed for PC viewing only, even though any 15-year-old can easily figure out how to connect a PC to the big screen.  And now Hulu’s been out-gardened by Comedy Central, which is pulling its programs, among them “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” viewable only at  ComedyCentral.com –- another walled garden!

NBC’s Olympics coverage was yet another ridiculous approach to walling off viewership and screwing consumers.  And don’t even get me started on TV Everywhere, the misguided attempt to transmogrify the ultimate walled garden –- cable TV –- into a narrowly protected online universe.  It just isn’t going to work, guys.  Instead, embrace open video platforms like YouTube –- which you can embed and watch everywhere — along with Boxee, Roku, Popcorn Hour, Play On and other wide open services and providers (including Revision3, where I work).

Why?  Because these walled gardens are not only expensive, they lock you in to a never-ending merry-go-round of price hikes, poor customer service and reduced choice.  In the end they will turn the Internet into a monolithic series of silos, accessible only to those with the money, influence or power.  The promise of a democratic medium that lets you reach the entire world with your voice, your vision and your creativity will be gone forever, locked behind corporate palaces that will turn us all into nameless, faceless drones.

Well, maybe it won’t be that bad.  But still, I’m staying away from the iPhone, the iPad, the Kindle and Hulu this year.  And you should, too.

Jim Louderback is CEO of Revision3. He was previously vice president of Ziff Davis Media and Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine and PCMag.com.

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