The walled garden debate is back in Silicon Valley. What is a walled garden you ask? It’s a closed ecosystem in which your entry, exit and experience in the garden are controlled by a central entity. While modern social media has very centralized ownership structures, we’ve basically aligned on allowing sharing of content and interactions across and between platforms. We’ve homestead the modern social internet by tilling our profiles and tending our communities.
But people are straining at the compromises we’ve made over the years. Elon Musk is attempting a rather heavy handed walled garden strategy on Twitter by banning linking and promotion of competing websites.
It’s unclear if it will last at the moment as within hours Elon apologized for making a massive change without a vote. Whatever that means. It’s been six hours of chaos as people reactively extremely negative to being told you cannot link to your Instagram or Facebook accounts. A few dickriders attempted to defend it by saying it was freeloading but it isn’t really tragedy of the commons that Twitter can’t make money off my hard work.
I’m old enough to remember the sheer indignation of Linux dorks had for the all encompassing closed systems that is Apple. Jailbreaking was a pastime for a whole generation of nerds. Sure the money folks kept trying to contain their ecosystems giving us nonsense like America Online, but information wanted to be free right? Well Stewart Brand fans know that isn’t the whole quote
Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.Stewart Brand Whole Earth Catalog
Whatever is going on inside Twitter and Elon Musk’s mind is unclear. But the basic tension of the internet has not changed. We built tools to network together whole worlds and that has been fucking with ideas of ownership and who gets paid since day one. Capitalism usually finds a way to ride on top of these issues of ownership and value but the technological progress came out space old norms quite quickly.
And we are in a moment where skepticism of these norms is being challenged. Why shouldn’t we get to chose how we engage with our own property online? Maybe we don’t own the land but we definitely homestead our little plots of internet land.
Because the nature of the internet is wild and untamed. It takes work to make it usable. And most of us don’t mind paying a fee to keep the grass trimmed. A few of us might even prefer a country club experience. But the trouble with any commons starts when enclosure starts.
And Elon seems to be going for something that’s more heavy handed HOA than parcel of land outside of county lines. And like your average president of the homeowners association, he seems to be taking concerns and criticisms quite personally.