Walled gardens and forbidden cities

We used to define schadenfreude in technology circles as the warm and fuzzy feeling you got when something bad happened to Microsoft. Now I get the same feeling when something bad happens to Apple. True, they often make it difficult to hate, particularly when they come out with some beautiful technology. But as I have stated often in these pages, one can love their designs and hate the philosophy behind it.

This week we saw the deployment of the tenth version of iTunes to correspond with the launch of a new line of iPods. The most important addition to iTunes has been the creation of a social network that lives within the Apple store called Ping (I will refrain from commenting on the fact that the Silly Names Department has taken over Apple). I turned the feature on just out of curiosity, and when I saw that they recommended Lady Gaga, I turned it back off (apparently, it recommended Lady Gaga to everyone!)

From a marketing perspective, Ping is a work of genius. Users can follow their favourite artists, and located one click away is the iTunes Store, where they can download music from their artists at the same time as they follow their updates and latest news. This joins both the immediacy one experiences through Twitter, and the social interaction and community attained by old MySpace band pages.

From a regulatory perspective, Ping is yet another example of Apple’s walled garden model, where the iTunes store acts as the filter through which you perceive the Internet. The walled garden also acts like a forbidden city, it is intended to keep out the rabble and all unsavoury content (Jobs’ now infamous line “freedom from porn“). Apple is the ultimate censor because they know better than you. If you like their shiny products (and be honest, who doesn’t?), then you will also trust them to make other decisions for you, such as the type of content you want to consume. They will give you the Internet, but it is a scrubbed-clean version, sanitised, inoculated, smut-free Internet, with no porn, no gays, and no dirty content. At the same time that they were advertising Lady Gaga through Ping, they were also filtering out controversial subjects from her news stream, such as gay marriage. You cannot have a clean, family-friendly social network that mentions dem gays, can you?

Another small wave of schadenfreude hit me when I read that one of the first things that happened to Ping was that it started filling up with spam. Let this be a lesson for you Steve, you may want to keep out the rabble, but they will win in the end. Just like zombies, they keep coming at you until you run out of ammo.

Comments 8

  1. Apple mistakes always remind me of an evil, unscrupulous American based finance company I worked for long ago. I'd tell the regional manager that the prospective borrower could not afford the loan payments. The regional manager would always say that at our exorbitant interest rates we can afford a few bad loans. He'd add that if we didn't have a few bad loans, we would be guilty of turning away paying customers.

    If all of Apple's creations were home runs that would mean that Steve Jobs was vetoing the odd good idea for a project. Apple makes a very good profit margin. They can afford a few mistakes. The odd misstep tells me Apple has left no great innovation on a lab shelf somewhere.

  2. I don't understand why people feel so negative about Apple's so called walled garden approach. It's not like Apple is filtering the entire internet. While using Ping or some other Apple feature you get this approach to the internet. At other times you go somewhere else and get different access. What's the big deal.

    If you tune in the Discovery Channel or Nat Geo you are not likely to get R rated movies. If you watch Fox News you get a view of the world filtered for right wing extremists and if you watch Show Time you are not likely to be educated about earthquakes and hurricanes. What's the big deal?

    Lots of people have all sorts of interests that are focused outside of their smartphones. For those people Apple provides a very safe and practical way to use the internet. For those that want to live life on the edge there is jailbreaking.

  3. Any computer with a browser on it does not live in a walled garden, or are they kept from any forbidden city. This entire line of argument with respect to Apple is a canard.

  4. @NT

    It's not about the technical reality, it's about the intention of Apple. If people are anaesthetised sufficiently by the increasing Apple presence in every aspect of their digital lives (and it certainly seems to be getting that way, as people lap up their products), they won't protest if (or when?) Apple fully erects its shiny white fence around the user's experience.

    1. Sorry, wrong. Why would I try to get more hits in this manner, when I have no advertising on the blog? If you take a look at my blogging history, you will notice that I never do that, this is a subject I've been covering for a while, amongst others.

      I'm just not an Apple fanboy.

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