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Walled gardens on the internet – meaning and examples

moated castle
A walled garden in real life

The term “walled garden,” is typically used in the context of social media sites. Facebook and Instagram are examples of walled gardens on the internet. As a result, these two sites control what content users will see through their algorithms and policies – filtering outposts from other platforms that may not align with their interests or values.

These sites also limit their user’s ability to communicate outside of them by restricting third-party apps such as Snapchat and Whatsapp. Third-party apps don’t allow for live video streaming, limiting its usage during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy when people want to share images they captured while experiencing those events firsthand. This blog post will explore how this term can be applied to other contexts with a correlation.

The internet is a big place. A really, really big place.

So much so that it’s hard to wrap your head around the sheer magnitude of information out there. But what if you only had access to a small fraction of it? What if all you could see were the sites approved by your ISP or those on the Google search engine? This is called being in a walled garden, and it’s something that has been happening for years now with no sign of stopping.

Walled gardens are becoming more popular as companies like Facebook and Amazon continue to buy up smaller companies, giving them control over what we can see online while taking away our ability to choose when we want to visit their site instead of ours. The problem is these sites.

What walled gardens on the internet means in simple terms

A walled garden on the internet is a website that restricts or censors content. It can be used to prevent users from accessing content outside of what is provided by the site, or it may be implemented for censorship purposes.

The term “walled garden” was first coined in an article about AOL Instant Messenger written in 1999. The writer referred to how AOL had created its own chat rooms and chat areas which were not connected with other networks like ICQ and MSN.

In the late 2000s, Facebook came under fire when they blocked access to certain websites, including their competitor MySpace. Walled gardens are often criticized for limiting user freedom, but some argue that this limitation is necessary.

Walled Gardens on the internet: More context

The internet is a walled garden. You can’t go outside of it, and you have to play by the rules inside. What are those rules? It’s hard to say with certainty because they change all the time. But one thing we know for sure: The more people join, the harder it gets to rebel against them or even dictate your own terms as an individual. Welcome to life on the internet!

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A walled garden is a pretty self-explanatory term, though. At issue is whether this is good or bad. Well, I’m about to explain why walled gardens are, at best, a misleading type of practice. At least in the context of digitally served media. Wikipedia calls it a “closed platform” for a reason.

Current events – Walled Gardens

The context of why knowing walled gardens on the internet matters

  • Every day there is are many new account restrictions on Twitter
  • TikTok is being banned or will be banned in many countries
  • FaceBook employs fact-checkers to meddle in the “news arbitrarily.”
  • Epic Games is suing Apple and vice versa.
  • The console wars between Microsoft and Sony are about to heat up

These are just a few examples of “walled gardens” and the problems and lawsuits that are always a consequence. So the question becomes, how do we avoid or mitigate these problems. More importantly, how do we craft a philosophy that counters it while also keeping the benefits.

Walled Gardens on the internet main weakness: Flexibility

Flexibility is one critical weakness of the notion of walled gardens. In essence, by constructing their walls, they are confined to them. People and or competition can sit in the background and lob grenades at you behind your sitting walls.

Now, sure, at least you have walls. But I ask you this, wouldn’t it be better to move away from any grenades completely? Yes, that’s probably easier said than done, but that’s the whole point here.

Being flexible requires much effort; conversely, sitting behind walls is rather lazy. This distinction is important because of the ease of use, and convenience is winning the field. So this philosophy goes against the river currents, but it’s necessary as difficult as it may be.

It’s also necessary to describe these subjects this way. Because on the internet and communication age, the walls aren’t physical; they are more mental. This philosophy seeks to eradicate those mental walls, or at least make them razor-thin.

In summary, flexibility offers an abundance of positives.

  • Huge potential cost saving
  • It’s adaptive to all current and future problems.
  • Will keep the rival(s) on their toes.
  • Can educate over indoctrinate
Transparency

Another weakness of walled gardens is their trade secrets. They might argue they need their secrets, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Let’s explore that for a minute, though, like what secrets could Twitter or Facebook really have? We already know they monetize user data through advertising. We already know they have a left-leaning bias. Moreover, we already know the technology running their site isn’t a trade secret.

With all that said in this example, why is Twitter afraid of transparency. I postulate it could be several things. Including and or, but not limited to, the following.

  • Accountability doesn’t jive with the career type
  • Poor communication within the management
  • A serious lack of leadership from the top down
  • Immature social hierarchies
  • Internal or external power dynamics have gone awry
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It’s clear that with a more transparent approach, modern social networks would benefit greatly. Plus, this argument only scratches the surface. If I could write all of this with a pretty basic tech-savviness level, imagine when I’m smarter or when I link up with more smart people.

I can’t list the cons of transparency because I don’t know what they are. Maybe that’s fortunate or unfortunate, as I don’t get that luxury of having secrets. Idk about any of you, but that sounds right. Like secrets have become the new type of luxury goods.

If secrets are a luxury, then all of this should be an easy rallying cry.

Non-Invasiveness

Invasiveness is a hot-button issue that a lot of people are currently missing. Most people don’t attempt advertising on the internet; if my previous sentence describes you, allow me to enlighten you.

Walled gardens on the internet, like social media platforms, want to be invasive without looking invasive. Yes, you read that right; I’m essentially describing the deception inherent in their business model. They can’t monetize their platforms through advertising and not display invasive ads. That would be like having their cake and eating it too.

All of that direct and implied manipulation takes a lot of work. It’s unnecessary work. That all might result from companies scaling too fast, or there might be something more nefarious going on. In any case, a foundation of minimalism doesn’t exist in the internet game.

In fairness, Tumblr is the closest big platform that has a minimal approach. But how many people do you know that still uses Tumblr? It’s unfortunate because Tumblr is a cool idea. It’s even true that I could take over one social network; it would be Tumblr.

Conclusion

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Enter the walled gardens or don’t. Those are your only options

Creating a garden with no walls isn’t easy. As I’ve described, the environment isn’t favorable in that regard. In some cases, the environment is downright hostile. Plus, introducing people to something new is inherently difficult.

The phrase don’t judge a book by its cover is often said but not often followed. Perhaps in time, you and I can change that. But it can only be done by leading by example. I’m sure you still enjoy hanging out in the walled garden that is Facebook or Tiktok. And that’s perfectly fine.

Enjoy social media, but don’t get stuck in gardens under frequent manipulation and alterations. Knowing that your best user experience doesn’t align with the business goals of major media companies. Lastly, know that we are better because our foundation is stronger.

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