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

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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 –- 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

24 Responses to “A Belated New Year’s Resolution: No Walled Gardens!”

  1. My God, I’m tired of people whining about lack of Flash on the i-whatever. “…you can’t even watch Flash on the darned thing, which tends to obviate much of the most interesting content on the web” — really? There’s not a single site I visit on a daily basis that uses Flash, and thank goodness. Clearly your definition of “interesting” means time-wasting YouTube videos; oh wait, you can watch those on the iPad. I can’t imagine what “interesting” content could you possibly mean. I’ll stick with actual words, thanks.

  2. I think that I probably agree with you in theory, but not in reality. Sure, I would prefer open platforms everywhere, but is there sufficient profit motive to encourage vendors to invest startup in development that anyone can take advantage of, possibly to their detriment?

    And who supports that open platform when 3rd party apps fail to perform to expectation? And when this happens and word of mouth just kills the open platform, simply because users of an app they had no control over are able to use the net to kill the product?

    Oh, and as far as eReaders go, I’ve been carrying around one for almost 7 years; I hate being without a book to read, so for the longest time I carried a Dell PDA with a big screen. Last year I switched to an iPhone, simply because my Tilt died and the iPhone was the cheapest smartphone alternative with Exchange support, and the first app I installed was the Stanza reader, which allows me to access the 1000+ ebooks I’ve purchased over the years.

    I don’t think it’s as black and white a choice as you make it seem.

  3. What about Giga-Pro

    GigaOm should start with opening up their subscription required service to everyone for free before telling all other companies to give stuff away for free. I’m seriously tired of Giga, TechCrunch and CNET reporting and sourcing all your stories from each other, very tiring. – Yes, I am pretty close to removing all 3 from my feeds.

    • Pardon me, but he never said anything about giving content away, he said you should not be restricted in the content you can choose. On a PC, you can choose to run any program you want, and wow, even WRITE your own. The iPhone AppStore model does not let you do that.
      The Kindle is a closed reader. Yes, you can load free .pdf files on it, but the issue becomes one of choice. If I buy a book, how is it that they can then take it away later, as they did with the famous 1984 incident? What if they shut off their DRM servers, you lose all your paid books?
      That’s what he is talking about, NOT giving content away for free. He is talking free as in speech, not free as in beer.

  4. “Instead, embrace open video platforms like YouTube –- which you can embed and watch everywhere —”

    I don’t know about you, but I am seeing more and more disabled embeds on Youtube, as well as professional content not appearing on my Apple TV version of Youtube that is available on the web version.

  5. One of the silliest whines I’ve ever read from Louderback.

    Yup. Should have avoided everything designed to run on DOS, too – back in the 80’s.

    Never should have sold and trained folks to use AutoCAD. It caused the world of real estate development to fall into the hands of Republicans.

    And on and on.

    Sorry, guys. Computing is not my religion.

  6. Bastian Nutzinger

    “[…]will deliver an open, anything-goes platform[…]”
    Yep, and “anything-goes” also includes, among a range of undeniable benefits, viri, trojans, bugs, incompatibilities, scams, bad performance, inconsistent UX and a host of other problems I gladly trade in for a walled garden.
    Sorry, no sale.
    I want my gadgets to work. I don’t want to fiddle around with the all day long. If that means that I have to sell my soul to apple so be it.

  7. Raffael Erhart

    You forgot to mention the following walled garden: Windows PC’s. Keep your fingers away from those machines. What? You can’t give up your Windows PC? Then why give up the iPhone?

  8. It wasn’t until I got to the comments that I realised that this actually was a serious article. It reads like a parody of misguided thinking.

    While you’re at it, I guess, don’t forget to dump the XBox, Playstation, Nintendo, anything Sony makes – basically anything that is not free as in beer and free as in speech.

    Or more simply, use anything Google makes, or that somebody else gives away for free.

  9. Arguably, this is amongst the most profound articles ever on GigaOm.

    Before one hurries to jump to one side of the walled garden debate (while clutching her fav gadget), one needs to understand that this article is about the way we want to live five years from now ..or even ten years from now..or the way we want our children to experience the world.

    There can be no two views on open standards. Just imagine if you could make calls to people ONLY on your network. Or if you could buy butter ONLY from the shop where you buy bread. Let’s not conclude that since our preferred walled garden is better or more benevolent, it is acceptable. No, walled gardens are walled. Period.

    Secondly, walled gardens seem to offer commercial carrots such as cheaper content, portability within the walls, etc..Let’s not confuse the goodies enabled by years of technological research for marketing mumbo-jumbo. If music is cheaper today, sure Apple/iTunes deserves a large share of the credit, but then let’s not ignore the efforts of entire industries in making this happen. MP3 was there before iPod.

    For sure the walled gardens hold a certain branding / lifestyle appeal. There will always be boutiques and they will always have discerning, elitist clientele. But they cannot get mainstream because with scale comes inclusion, while boutique means exclusion.

    I’d expect (at least hope) mainstreaming to happen in the coming years in world of content – from ebooks to tablets to movie boxes to voip phones to car systems …and many of these will not be able to make the mainstream grade unless they are open. Open to ideas, open to competition, open to improvement, open for deployment.

  10. OK, some folks like reduced choice for increased ease of use or . That’s fine. But in the long run I see lock-in as causing problems.

    How’s your cable modem service running today? I’ll bet your traffic is being “shaped” to encourage sites owned by the operator, and to slow down what they consider “negative” traffic like legal torrents and other P2P services.

    Why can’t I load whatever I want onto my Kindle for free?

    Lock in in the end concentrates too much power into the hands of the monopoly. that’s why they broke up Standard Oil.

    You’re right about the backflip. Darn it, and I was looking forward to buying one. That sucks. Try the Nexus One!


  11. oh, come on. you’re being hysterical. all walled gardens are not created equal. i love my iphone and my kindle. i’m in those gardens. they’re MY gardens. i pay less money for more content than i did before i had them. are they perfect? no. but have you tried developing for android lately?

    (btw, last time i checked your show diggnation was on hulu…)

  12. Reconsider your AT&T Motorola Backflip as an example.

    “…today we’re hearing reports from around the web that not only does AT&T prevent you from deleting their branded apps from your phone, you’re also not able to download non-market Android Apps”

    And from
    “…not only are they relegated to Yahoo search, but AT&T has loaded the Backflip with annoying AT&T applications that can’t be removed. AT&T’s also managed to cripple user choice in terms of adding new applications, preventing a full range of now-standard Android options …”

    Yet more
    “Motorola Backflip: Android, Minus the Openness”

  13. I agree with Brian. Let the marketplace decide. If a closed system gives me more value for my money, I’ll take the closed system. In the 2 1/2 years I’ve owned my iPhone I can’t think of one example of ‘missing out’ because of a closed system.

  14. Not buying this.
    I love my iPhone, I love my Kindle.
    I get my music much much cheaper than back in the “open” CD days, and save well over 50% on books thanks to Kindle.

    You want me to give up these great devices, I suggest you provide some concrete examples of how they are ‘harming’ me.

    And as I’ve said before, I can’t sympathize with those who want NBC to spend hundreds of millions to get the rights and produce the Olympics and then give it to them, anyway they want, whenever they want, for free.