walled garden

What is a walled garden on the internet?

On the internet, a walled garden is an environment that controls the user's access to network-based content and services. In effect, the walled garden directs the user's navigation within particular areas to enable access to a selection of material or prevent access to other material.

Although a walled garden does not always prevent users from navigating outside the walls, it often makes it more difficult than staying within the environment.

What are some examples of a walled garden?

Common examples of a walled garden include the following:

  • Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store;
  • Social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter;
  • Collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack; and
  • Advertising and marketing technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

Apple's App Store is a prime example of the use of a walled garden. While the store boasts the ability for users to download more than 2.2 million apps onto their Apple smartphones and tablets, users cannot access applications that do not meet Apple's stringent standards. From Apple's perspective, a walled garden eliminates many apps that are buggy, potentially contain malware or do not adhere to the company's user interface/user experience guidelines.

Social media platforms, such as Twitter, are another good example of a walled garden. When web content shared on Twitter includes a link, the Twitter application opens the webpage within the Twitter app itself, rather than opening an external web browser on the user's behalf. This is done largely so the user never has the opportunity to leave the app and is more likely to continue browsing Twitter after the article has been read. In turn, the longer a user remains on Twitter's walled-garden platform, the more opportunities there are to place advertisements and other promoted content in front of them.

Collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, largely limit user communication to others who use the same platform. This helps solidify user bases and potentially grow revenue for users who require the ability to communicate with others within the collaboration app.

Finally, online advertising and marketing platforms sometimes use a walled-garden approach to help businesses target potential customers -- usually across social media platforms. The owner of the social media platform uses data collected from users to identify those that could potentially be a good fit for a product or service. Businesses interested in targeting these users can then pay the social media company to place ads or other marketing content strategically.

The benefit to the business seeking to advertise is that the social media platform company does much of the heavy lifting to analyze user data to find the best customers to target. On the other hand, the walled-garden approach is great for the social media platform company, as it eliminates external competition.

Why are walled gardens used?

Walled gardens remain popular for the following reasons:

  • They require users to remain on social media platforms, rather than being diverted elsewhere, so that the number of marketing and advertising campaigns can reach a maximum.
  • They control the type of content users can access.
  • They protect users from harmful content or malware-ridden downloads.
  • They create an illusion of exclusivity for walled gardens that requires payment prior to being granted access to walled-in content.

What is the history of walled gardens?

John Malone, former owner of Tele-Communications Inc., has been credited with the creation of the term walled garden. AT&T, which purchased Malone's company in 1999, compares the walled garden to a magazine, in which a compilation of various types of content is made available to the reader. While magazine readers could indeed purchase a different magazine to read and expand their access to content, it is not always possible to do so. Thus, readers are left to access and consume only the content in front of them at a given moment.

Why do many people dislike the concept of a walled garden?

Although walled gardens typically offer a highly polished and easy-to-navigate selection of apps, services and content, that selection potentially includes only a small part of what the wider internet has to offer. This lack of choice often translates to a lack of freedom to access other content that is blocked behind the wall.

As a result, alternate names, such as walled prison and walled desert, have been proposed by some as more reflective of the confinement and lack of diversity of the walled garden. Other synonyms for walled garden include closed platform or closed ecosystem.

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This was last updated in November 2021

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