Not a Walled Garden

by Moshe Yudkowsky

I see that my fellow bloggers here on this page are searching for the correct term to use for highly-restrictive business models built into several pieces of new technology, such as the iPhone and IMS.

People usually borrow the term "walled garden," which implies that wonderful things grow inside while keeping baneful influences on the outside.

I propose we borrow a different term: "prison farm." Yes, you can grow things on the inside; and yes, they will work and keep you alive. But guards with legal sanctions keep you locked up inside, and all the good things in life are happening someplace else.


Roger Nolan
2007-01-17 04:09:26
I don't think there is enough information on the business model you're trying to name. The term "walled garden" when applied to mobile phone business models refers to content. DoCoMo iMode was the famous example when it initially launched. You could not access any sites or download any content other than that within the iMode garden. No Google, no YouTube only the DocoMo approved iMode sites.

iPhone obviously doesn't function like that; the keynote demo included a non-Apple, non-Cingular web site in Safari. Other content - music and photos - on the iPhone comes from your PC or Mac, not necessarily iTMS. The garden is open.

People are trying to make the iPhone into something it isn't. It isn't a new business model, it isn't a revolutionary phone. It is a revolutionary UI for a phone. It is a great piece of convergence.

One thing I'm really surprised nobody has mentioned is the possibility that the launch of Dashcode is not unrelated to the iPhone. Dashboard hasn't been a huge success on OS X but on iPhone it could be a huge success. "No Applications" is the phrase. This could exclude widgets. Apple list about 3000 widgets on their web site. Even 10% of these would provide iPhone with a very large application library all of which run in the JavaScript sandbox - well away from Cingular's network.

Tommi Vilkamo
2007-01-17 04:28:34
Wonderful metaphor! I spread the word (adding a bit of my own thoughts):
Moshe Yudkowsky
2007-01-17 06:06:02

You make some excellent points, in particular about Dashcode. But I stand by my "prison farm" analogy. While the term "walled garden" may have originated with iMode and its restricted access, it has grown to encompass other restrictions, such as the ones imposed by iPhones.

Even restrictions will find a market, I suspect; look at the success of kosher cellphones.

I'm about to argue elsewhere — your comment arrived just as I was outlining my next blog entry — that iPhone's restrictions may serve a purpose, such as preventing viruses and malware from infesting the iPhone. But in the long run, open and disaggregated systems win out over closed and artificially concentrated ones; the Mac could have conquered the planet if it had only been more open.

2007-01-17 09:28:03
It feels like business as usual where Telco's find ways to screw their customers and foster ecosystems that ensure they will control profit opportunities many times over. In other words, how many times can they sell something to you?
2007-01-17 13:34:29
When my former colleagues at Orange would talk about walled gardens I would challenge their view that their phraseology implied some kind of pleasant experience - then I'd always suggest that in order to fulfil our brand values of 'honesty', that terms like 'Shitty Prison' might be more we're not too far apart in our definitions ;)
Tony Stubblebine
2007-01-18 11:06:50
Nice term. I've applied it to MySpace and am going to start using it in my bookmarks.

Roger Nolan
2007-01-18 22:46:49
> But in the long run, open and disaggregated systems win out over closed and
> artificially concentrated ones; the Mac could have conquered the planet if it had
> only been more open.

This is true but not a universal truth. I don't think the Mac could have been much more open when it was launched. It had other problems - cost being the main one shared with iPhone.

As far as phones go, after 12 years in Smartphones, I'm beginning to doubt if people on the street really want to install applications. I don't see the huge market for software downloads to handsets the industry predicted. Voice (and messaging) remains the killer app. In terms of consumer software sales console games outsell phone software year on year (now there is a Prison Farm :-) .

Symbian and MS phones currently sell because of the functionality you get in the box. Not because they are "Open". Don't confuse our high end geekery with real customer needs. Installing software comes so low down the requirements list for real people it might as well not be there. I think Apple took a decision where to draw their line - right now, I think they took it at the right point.

Palm arguable managed to create a market for 3rd party software but I don't think they are a good example of a successful software platform right now.

Mark Grandcolas
2007-02-06 14:31:01
Good terminology. Appropriate. But hey, Minitel is still around after all, and this has probably been noticed by operators who were forced to shell out big $$ for spectrum and subsidize the cost of handsets. At some point one of them will wake up and say, "gee, what i am really good at is keeping a network running and sending a bill."