There's a good bit of hubbub about Google News offering comments from story subjects and then walling them off. But is this walled garden approach really all that shocking?
What's shocking is that Google hasn't tried to wall everything off yet. Michael Arrington calls Google News' latest experiment hypocrisy. And he's right. Techmeme has more on the topic.
But walled gardens are a necessary evil in capitalism. Everyone bitches about them yet everyone wants one. Why? It's profitable. We all want walled gardens.
There's a reason Facebook won't let you take your information elsewhere. Ditto for MySpace. Ditto for nearly all social sites. The reason: They want your page views, which they can turn into ad revenue. Allow user information to leave readily and the ad revenue may follow.
And who wouldn't want to run the biggest walled garden of them all--the Apple iPod-iTunes juggernaut.
A stupid saying like: "If you love your users set them free" is easier said than done when money is on the line.
The natural inclination for any company large or small is to grab what it can and if it's lucky become a monopoly. Yes, folks we all want to be Microsoft deep down. Go ahead, admit it.
That's why Google's "don't be evil" slogan was baloney from day one. AOL was lambasted for years, but its walled garden worked--until it didn't. But AOL's walled garden worked well enough to merge with Time Warner before the floor fell out. I'd take that.
Overall, consumers don't necessarily care if they are in a walled garden until the experience stinks. Ask a kid what he thinks about not being able to take his information out of Facebook and you'll get a blank stare. Does the average MySpace user look around and say: "Damn, I'm in a walled garden this just isn't right!" Of course not, he's eyeballing girls and finding his favorite band. That fact works out well for MySpace.
So if you're Facebook why wouldn't you keep a walled garden? Trying something else hurts your valuation yet makes a few talking tech heads happy. Some trade.
Back to Google it's clear that it wants some element of a walled garden and Google News is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Google wants you using its apps, wants you to hop around through its properties and wants your ad profile. So does Yahoo. So does every other Web company out there.
This walled garden thing may become doubly important for Google if time spent becomes the metric of choice over page views.
In the end, the goal is to have a walled garden. That's where the money is.