Of OpenGardens, Walled Gardens, Coffee, Fax machines, Ostriches, Dodos and User generated content


Of OpenGardens, Walled Gardens, Coffee, Fax machines, Ostriches, Dodos and User generated content

(I like that title :) )

Opengardens 2.0?

When I spoke at the European parliament last week, after the talk, I mentioned that: with a blog called OpenGardens – you would expect me to speak about opening up the walled gardens, Open systems etc etc

While I am best known for my second book Mobile Web 2.0, I co-authored a book before called ‘OpenGardens’ (which is now also the name of my personal blog i.e. this blog)

When I first wrote OpenGardens, the industry was a very different place. In just a few years, things have changed dramatically. Its not just the most obvious changes – such as Operators like Hutchinson 3G doing a total U turn – its all about the direction things are heading and the accelerated pace of change we are about to witness

The debate between OpenGardens and walled gardens is accelerating – especially in the world of user generated content.

Every time you drink a cup of coffee, think about this: Do we want to model the industry on coffee or on the fax machine?

A cup of coffee is a personalised, unique consumption experience. It does not matter who else drinks coffee as long as the cup of coffee I consume – is perfect for me. In this scenario, to create that perfect cup of coffee, someone needs to manage the whole process and provide the superior experience.

We are happy to let that happen.

And to pay a premium for that experience – just ask Starbucks if you don’t believe that!

But then you have a fax machine ..

It absolutely matters how interoperable the fax machines are .. In addition, no one needs to manage that experience for us .. As long as we can connect to people ..

The experience itself is in ‘connecting to people’

Think of that when you have a cup of coffee ..

Currently our industry is all about coffee .. But really it’s all about fax machines in the minds of our customers ..

More so as we enter a user generated content world .. After all, user generated content is about communication. It needs interoperability.

That means no walled gardens simply because our customers want to communicate!

I have two motivations in reviving the OpenGardens debate in this series of posts ..

a) I intend to open up the book OpenGardens i.e. there will be a print version but all the content will be freely available online

b) The debate has moved on a lot since we last addressed it – and the pace of change is accelerating as I discuss below

The problem

From a customer standpoint, there are two problems

a) Interoperability and

b) Service discovery

By extension, developers also face the same problems. Thus the walled gardens debate is much more than ‘on deck – off deck’(or on portal/off portal – in Europe) – it is a wider interoperability debate. Indeed, the biggest successes we have seen so far are from applications that are cross Operator. For instance: admob and screentonic , each of whom have a billion ad impressions per month

Note that: the content consumption industry will always exist. Yes, there will be some elements of personalization and some context we could add to content. But primarily, I would argue that it is not ‘our’ industry. It rightly belongs to the Warners and the Disneys of the world.

Times they are a changing ..

But things are changing ..

There are two related changes :

a) The network is becoming dumb and

b) Power is flowing to the device – because devices can access more than one network type – and are at the edge of the network.

And the third change is the launch of the iPhone.

In a post iPhone era, people will simply not accept an inferior user experience(WAP/XHTML) – and the excuses that ‘That’s all we can do on the phone’. Increasingly, we will see richer and better interfaces which customers are willing to pay for .. leaving behind those who continue to insist on the old style interfaces

Much of my thinking is driven by these two core principles. To me, it follows that for an application to be successful, it must be cross Operator.

Apart from some enlightened operators opening up, providing fixed rate tariffs etc .. (and may their tribe increase!) ..

There are four key ways to bypass operators

a) At the application level, encourage Open source, unify the Web and the Mobile web. Distribute applications over the Web. This is where Ajax and widgets come in.

b) At the network level, encourage devices that support multiple network types(Wifi,Wimax etc). Make the network agnostic(and hence communications seamless and Open gardens). Ensure that the Carterphone and net neutrality principles are applied.

c) Discovery: Application discovery and distribution should be over the Web.

d) Billing : Bill via the Web.

I seek thoughts on this

Much more coming soon .. including the carterphone principle , Net neutrality, legislation, Mobile Widgets, IMS etc etc

Finally, in popular mythology, the Ostrich is famous for hiding its head in the sand at the first sign of danger . Even as the iPhone is almost upon us and customer expectations are going to change forever, we see a lot of Ostrich like behaviour amongst many players in the industry today.

The risk is .. we end up not like the Ostrich but like another VERY rare Mauritian bird

Image: wikipedia


  1. raddedas says:

    I agree completely that apps have to be cross-operator – operator tie-ins with social networking sites and the like seem destined to failure as they artificially constrain users, who really don’t care about what network their friends are on. By cutting through connections arbitrarily they reduce their potential audience by far more than just the operator’s market %age. – your fax analogy works well here.
    I would disagree with a few parts of your strategy to bypass operators though:
    1) I’m not 100% sure that AJAX and widgets allow you to bypass operators though, or make it easy to produce a single interface across web and mobile – there are too many technical constraints and will be for a long time, despite the rapid change in parts of the industry. It’s hard enough just to deploy cross-browser web-only AJAX, let alone deal with the huge constraints of a high-latency low-reliability wireless infrastructure and a huge range of different device sizes and input mechanisms.
    2) Content discovery is a major problem and always will be; discovery via web is likely if you mean that you will use the same services on web and mobile, but it’s not an ideal way to discover new mobile-only services and being tethered to a desktop rather kills things.
    3) Billing via web == can’t bill. People rarely pay for services on the web, why would they pay to get them on mobile? They do of course pay for some content on mobile now, but note that ringtone and wallpaper revenues are dropping as consumers realise they are being ripped off. The more web-like you make it the less people will pay, particularly when you see the quality drop inherent in small screens etc.
    A small correction as well: AdMob hit their billionth impression in January 07 (http://www.smstextnews.com/2007/01/admob_knocks_up_a_billion_ad_impressions.html) and are now approaching 3.5bn, so not 1b/month yet though it certainly sounds better to say it that way :) Screentonic aren’t as brave about publicly stating how many impressions they’ve had, they seem more interested in extreme innovations like creating red wap sites (http://www.screentonic.com/screentonic-innovates-once-again.htm) so I’d have to assume they may be under 1bn/month as well…

  2. Ajit Jaokar says:

    mnay thanks Raddedas for your comments. I shall give my thoughts on this – but am travelling to Innsbruck tomorrow onwards – so responses slower. But I shall definately incorporate it in the next post(if not sooner). kind rgds ajit