Ever heard of a walled garden? They have been prominent for about 5 years now (Zittrain 2008a). Facebook, Amazon and Google Play are all walled gardens because they hold curated content, protection from the open internet and quality control. However, with this also comes licensing fees, copyright controls and content tied to that platform (Zittrain 2008a). Hence, these walled gardens are a step back from the freedom of the internet that Sterling spoke about in 1993, and a move back towards centralisation, censorship and control.
Sterling (2013) refers to the internet today as “a cluster of pipes in the ground leading to big, big data vaults”. A stack is a set of vertically integrated walled gardens. Each stack has its own cloud to store aggregate data and allows it to flow freely through its own proprietary operating system such as Apple. This shows that Sterling has come full circle since 1993 when he wrote an article ‘Short History of the Internet’ which saw the internet as a place of freedom. He now believes that the internet still has users but “stacks have livestock” to create surplus value and these users do not have much independence (Sterling 2013).
This becomes more obvious when looking at a stack like Google. Within Google, even YouTube can be seen as an example of a walled garden. Videos can be taken down upon request. Regulators can take down anything within their walled garden to make a more pleasant experience for users (Zittrain 2008b). There is less independence here because it is controlled and governed by Google. During the World Cup, any spectator who was to film the game and upload this to YouTube would have their video removed due to copyright controls.
The “old” internet is shrinking and it is making way for walled gardens (Batelle 2012). People participate in these walled gardens with little concern – is this participation a vote that the shift from decentralisation back to centralisation is okay?
Batelle, J 2012, ‘What commons do we wish for?’, Battle Media, February 22, viewed 6 September 2014, <http://battellemedia.com/archives/2012/02/its-not-whether-googles-threatened-its-asking-ourselves-what-commons-do-we-wish-for.php>.
Simonds, D 2010, Social networking sites as walled gardens, image, W3C, viewed 1 September 2014, <http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/XGR-socialweb-20101206/Simondseconoart-small.png>.
Sterling, B 1993, A short history of the Internet, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Connecticut.
Sterling, B 2013, Bruce Sterling at Webstock 2013, 9.30-21.00, Webstock, viewed 6 September 2014, <http://vimeo.com/63012862>.
Zittrain, J 2008a, The future of the Internet and how to stop it, Yale University Press, Massachusetts.
Zittrain, J 2008b, Walled garden coding, Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, Harvard University, January 23, viewed 6 September 2014, < http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/3430>.