Walled Garden – My view!

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In 2012-13, “programmatic” was the buzz word in the online industry in India region. Everybody were talking about it, but very few exactly knew what it was. Even today there a lot of people who think that “programmatic” is totally different than traditional online media business and hence they resist it. For those who want to see a simplified view of what “programmatic” is and how it will affect us. Please read my previous post – “Where is India programmatically?”

Every few months the Ad-tech industry gets a new buzz word. In the last couple of months there was this word buzzing in many articles and interviews that I read – “Walled Garden.” What was this walled garden and where was it? Everyone had a different view about it. Some talked about data privacy, while some talked about it as an advantage to monetize better. Let me put down my view of the Walled Garden.

What is a Walled Garden?

  • Its any close or controlled environment.

Classic Example – the telecom companies back in the day, or before the android and apple OS came out. The telcos used to be the sole source of content, entertainment, and information on the phone. Hutch had Hutch plus, Reliance had R-Webworld, and Airtel had Airtel Live. I could be wrong here with names, but whenever we needed any wallpaper, ringtone, games, information on trains, astrology, movie info we had to rely on the feature of the telcos. That is nothing but a walled garden.

Today, when they talk about Walled Garden the only companies mentioned are –Google, Facebook, Apple (to some extent Amazon, Linkedin, Twitter).

Apple – Apple perhaps the only company which believed in owning everything from hardware to software and excelled at it. Today they have over 800 million iOS devices globally (iphone, ipod, ipad, macbook). The information they have about their users is – Name, Email, Location, User ID, Credit card, Apps installed, browsing behavior, Age, Gender. Its been over 2-3 years that they have been working on their own advertising eco-system – “iAd.” Nobody can reach the iOS users as precise and targeted as Apple itself, thanks to their walled garden. A small step towards extending this walled garden is that today Android users can also download imessage.

Facebook – FB which started as a social networking site is today no less than an eco-system. It did start as a platform for connecting with your friends, but today people also use it to consume their content. Many people even run their business on FB. Facebook has an entire profile level data of people – Name, Age, Location, Friends info, Interests, Apps & Content consumption. This data is used to their advantage for advertising purpose for better results.

Google – For obvious reasons is the biggest eco-sytem that exist digitally. Right from search engine, to OS, to phone, to ad-network, to content, to maps, everything. Google perhaps knows more about people than the Governments of their respective countries. Hence China which itself is the biggest walled garden doesn’t allow Google in China (also FB). Google with its move towards tech wearables (google glasses) and its acquisition of Nest which then acquired Dropcam, can know practically everything that goes around us at home. Google is one company which does not believe in the concept of walled garden but a walled galaxy 🙂

There is a reason why they call these companies – Google, Facebook, Apple – the East India Company of today’s time. But can only the East India Company create the walled garden.

What could be the other possible walled gardens?

1. Instant messaging Apps – Whatsapp, WeChat, Line, Viber, Skype

All of these apps have over several 100 million active users. They have either or all of these data points of the users – Name, Email, Location, Phone number, Contact list, etc. There is enough data and screen space to monetize for all of these apps. Some of them have started to monetize already. Plus its an add on when you have a multi-screen app.

2. Handset cos – Xiaomi, Samsung, Micromax

Again these cos have over several 100 million active users. With some basic re-alignment with the pre-installed apps these cos can create their own small/partial walled garden. Samsung tried to do that by creating their own OS. They say Xiaomi is also making its own OS.

3. Wi-Fi zones – Airports, Cafes, Stations, Colleges, Smart Cities

In the early days there were a few cos who were owning Cyber Cafe inventory and were monetizing with ads. That was nothing but their own walled garden. Today there are public places where there are cos which provide Wi-Fi. They collect basic information from the users – name, email, phone number. Now they know our location and internet usage pattern to an extent. Even this can be monetized if they want. When we plug in the Reliance Data cards, it automatically leads to a web page. For a long-time there used to be an in-footer ad appearing there. That was Reliance monetizing its small walled garden.

4. Browsers – Safari, Chrome, Mozilla

These companies know about browsing pattern and in some cases our web app usage. This can be used to create a walled garden which can be in turn monetized. Mozilla has already started doing it.

5. Interest Apps – Health, Music, Check-in’s

There are a plethora of interest based apps where one can track their health parametres, do physical check-in’s and create and share music playlists. Even they have our basic level info – name, email, location along with our interest level data as to what music we like, how much do we jog or run, where all do we hang out. These apps also have an opportunity to create their own walled garden and monetize it.

In one way Walled Garden is a modern day marketing word which is being used / will be used to sell one’s audience at a greater value.I am sure this is not at all “Walled Garden” is about. But this is just my point of view keeping monetization angle into consideration. Please do share your view/feedback. Would love to learn more about it.

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