Walled Gardens Are Everywhere

A post-worthy twitter exchange developed out of a Michael Jones talk at GeoWeb. I didn't attend the event so I'm at a bit of loss to develop my own position, but I trust what was tweeted. Apparently, Google's Map Maker is at odds with the open data democratic movement they profess to support. While it's possible to publish geodata into Google via their feature creation tools and map data API, it's not possible to extract the information back out. Once published, data becomes a Google asset. What I take away from this to mean is that once in, data can be 'seen' as long as it's used with Google Maps, but it's impossible to ask the data any questions or extract it back out for other GIS work beyond Google's processing. Here's the evidence (or opinion):

I'm not surprised, even though it doesn't jive with the geospatial data democracy philosophy said to be supported. I'm not surprised because I've been surrounded by walled gardens for years and I may have developed a knack for recognizing them. They are everywhere. Here are some examples:

Wireless Service Providers

I've worked with wireless carriers for years. For over a decade they've been the gatekeepers of mobile location data, and depending on how a developer was treated while engaging them often dictated a developers perception. With the exception of a few elite developer-winners, the majority held negative opinion towards the carriers. Despite that pressure, most haven't changed their stance and there are business reasons for this that most don't take time to learn to understand. That said, some are changing. Just this week (on Tuesday) at Verizon's innagural Developer Community event, the carrier announced a solid plan to open up more with a set of web services to valuable network assets that expose mobile presence, location, messaging capabilities, and billing/charging capabilities at nominal fees which only recover their costs. This represents a major shift in strategy for them away from a BREW model, and I believe those familiar with their approach to date are speechless. I'm stunned, and congratulate them on this significant step forward.

Smartphone Providers

It's funny. I've seen a direct correlation between developers who frown upon carriers for location API access while smiling on Smartphone providers for accessible GPS. But how is a Smartphone provider any different? They manage app stores that handle distribution, discovery, and billing directly. So does a carrier. For developers who have struggled to gain momentum on the carrier deck, it's easy to look upon Apple as a saving grace, but the fact of the matter is the app store is not a free for all open platform. It's a looser walled garden controlled by Apple and they equally have business justification for guarding it. Review the recent evidence.

Data Providers

Data. Ah, where to start... Data is now the intel-inside of services that get smarter by learning from more and more metadata. But before mobile and web technologies crowdsourced data and metadata, expert-edited commercial data was really the only option, and this option is expensive to produce and acquire. So, those that have taken the time to source it, guard it closely and charge premiums for it. Folks in the geo space know the usual suspects I'm referring to, and these providers are gatekeepers as well. They control a key asset and without access to it, we're all hostages. Of course, the situation is slowly changing as more open source data alternatives become available - but back to the main issue discovered at GeoWeb... Are these data sources really open source?  For Google, it appears they aren't. What is published can't come back out. What do you think will happen for ESRI? Will all their yet-to-be published ArcGIS Online data contributed by thousands of local governments become freely available and accessible by systems other than ArcGIS? Time will tell.

Walled gardens are everywhere. I stopped banging my head against them years ago. Trying to punch passages through cinder block just hurts. I learned the best thing to do is to try to better understand why they exist, understand the business rationale for them, and adapt to fit through their mold, or outdo them with disruptive business models offering the same value for 1/10th the price. Resistance or arguing doesn't work and won't change the situation. That's my experience anyway.