Walled Cities

The walled garden is growing into a walled city.

Today's technology ecosystems have everything you need (music, movies, messages, photos, and apps!) available from a single provider. Life in the city can be good, even amazing at times. It's easy to access everything on numerous devices and to share with friends in the same city.

But what happens when you want to leave the city? Well, in most cases you are heading out with just the shirt on your back, all your data left on the servers of the city you just vacated. Sure, getting a place in a new city is easy enough, but without any of your possessions, it's almost like building a life from scratch.

It's hard to feel ownership over your data when a third party is managing everything. In fact, you are putting this third party into an incredible position of power. They get to decide what can be done with "your" data and what rights you have to access it. If they decide to cut you off, well you are left wondering no-mans land, dataless and alone. 

I happen to have taken residence in the City of Apple. I could move elsewhere, but it'd be at some personal expense in terms of time, lost access to data, and software that I've purchased. And who is to say that the place I move to would be any better? Most modern tech companies trend toward this walled city approach: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter all have ecosystems that you can describe in this way.

Mostly these ecosystems target mobile computing. iOS is certainly a leader in the walled city approach. Thankfully, desktop computing is less walled off. Most of the files that I value are stored as plain text or in a standard format that I can easily move to another platform. Sure, it's more complicated to manage this, but in the end I own this data. I think there's value in that. 

I hope this is something that we can remember as mobile computing continues to gain popularity. For some,  mobile computing is the only computing they will know. I can only hope they are happy with the cities they choose to live in.