Walled Gardens

Reading Dave Winer’s rant this morning got me off my duff and posting again. Things have felt really hectic on the day job front and, as a result, essentially all of my posting activity has been over on my day job blog Payments News, not here, for the last three weeks. Indeed, I was even too tired to make it to Mike Arrington’s latest Friday night bash where Dave provided some words of encouragement to the assembled clan.

To me, Dave’s post is all about inclusion and about not working in walled gardens. Indeed, it’s about not even thinking of erecting walls around the gardens we build. Yet, we have walled gardens all around us. Sometimes the walls come down (e.g., the Carterfone decision); mostly new walls go up (e.g., eBay’s just announced Safe Payments Policy that appears designed to keep any new PayPal-like entrant outside the eBay garden or when the New York Times moved some of its choice content behind a new Select wall). VCs have historically looked for big walled gardens — called barriers to entry — although even that seems to be changing.

Seems like walls tend to go up a lot more often (and easily) than walls come down. Then, once you’ve built a wall, you seem to invest a lot of energy in tending to the wall itself perhaps even to the detriment of the garden blooming inside. Indeed, you almost never will tear that wall down of your own volition — even if the garden inside is dying or has already died. It’s only when you’re forced to tear the wall down that it actually falls.

One of the great things about the web to date has been a relative lack of wall building, even by those who could easily have done so. For example, Netscape (with some excellent friends) developed SSL – the key protocol enabling secure communications on the Internet — and gave it away to the community. Dave himself did the same with RSS, enabling all manner of new forms of information distribution to emerge and new millions to be made by others.

This could be changing — or maybe not. Maybe it’s just the usual ebb and flow of business?

There was a Wall St. Journal story last week about how the wireless carriers and telcos were working on plans to restrict the Internet network pipes they sell to customers from being able to support voice over IP telephony traffic — because of the threat it represents to their core business. We’ve got a big set of walls surrounding the cellular carriers — where a Carterfone 2.0 decision is sorely needed. And, the already mentioned the eBay example of limiting payment choices and the New York Times locking up content. Indeed, theres some irony in these examples: limitations on Internet telephony would impact the success of eBay’s recent acquisition of Skype!

Most of us really enjoy the gardening, not the wall building or the wall tearing down, and Dave’s clearly a gardener, at least much of the time. Some great fortunes have been made by those wall builders who knew just where and when to erect their walls. Some great reputations have been earned by gardeners who chose not to erect new walls but who propagated their plants and encouraged others to stand on their shoulders. Do you toil for money or for love?

Which are you? Hoe in hand, or brick? New mantra: “Do no evil, build no walls”?

One reply on “Walled Gardens”

Was rather delighted to see that someone else had made the connection between walled gardens and gardening. And you coudnt be more right about Dave Winer being a gardener.
I myself made the connection in the context of GoogleBase turning into a Walled Garden!

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