Unpacking lock-in, silos and walled gardens

In the Linux and FOSS worlds we've been complaining for decades about vendor lock-in, platform and service silos, walled gardens and other annoyances. So now I'm wondering what scholarship has been devoted to these practices.

I ask because I'm trying to research these subjects at more than the usual depth, and I'm not getting as far as I'd like with the speed that I'd like. One reason is just me, of course. But I'm also coming to believe that silos, walled gardens and vendor lock-in simply haven't been subject to much academic scrutiny. You can see that to some degree in Wikipedia entries for vendor lock-in and information silos. At the top of both are boxes that say, "This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources."

I don't believe there aren't any. But I do believe there aren't many. So I'm hoping one or more of ya'll might be wiling to weigh in with some help. Put it directly in Wikipedia, if you like; or just put it below and I'll work the Wikipedia side. As well as my own. Or our own. Because that's what this is really about.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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I may have a bit...

G. Chomic's picture

Hey Doc,

I've been working with Adriana over here in London a bit. The silo effect and various other impacts have been quite a subject during my time at LSE. Let me see if I can dig around a bit and see what supports the discussion.

Digging around

Doc Searls's picture

Thanks G.

Feel free to contact me by email or by adding more here.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Natural monopoly

goblin's picture

Doc, the industries where you have found walled gardens, silos and vendor lock-in, are so called "Natural monopolies". IIRC, you have commented on software, broadcast, content, and ISP industries, and all of these have characteristics of a natural monopoly.

I don't think that walled gardens, silos and vendor lock-in are separate phenomena, but rather side effects of the surrounding industries being natural monopolies.

Maybe you can find lots of research papers and other info, if your searches go after the name of the root cause for the annoyances, instead of the ad hoc names of the annoyances/symptoms?

Monopoly behavior vs. reality

Doc Searls's picture

Even monopolies have choices about whether or not to silo their services or lock in their customers. Because of that, neither occur in all cases, or in uniform ways. Monopolies suffering what Clayton Christensen calls "innovators dilemma" suffer from silo's perceptions of competition from potentially disruptive technologies and changing market conditions.

In any case, root causes are interesting to me, no matter what their effects are called.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


Doc Searls's picture

Thanks, Ashley.

I'm surprised, as I look for sources, that the one most frequently cited — or so it seems — is myself.

One reason is that I've written often on the subject. Another is that I've been writing about it for a long time. (Like, since the mid-90s.) I doubt my views will change as I learn more; but I do expect to deepen my knowledge.

All minds need debugging, all the time. :-)

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Sounds great but you are still locked in.

Scott Wilson's picture

Watching a television program by broadband you are either locked in but the viewer requirements. American Broadcast Company requires Windows in order to watch full episodes. If you are watching a program that will work with Linux, you are still locked into the broadband connection controlled by the phone company, or cable company one one board room deal away of being locked out or trapped in a “silo” or “garden”. While your favorite on-line content has an exclusive deal with the other Internet provider and you just signed up for two year commitment (silo or garden) with your current Internet provider to get a special price break.

Of the “channel” providers that are allowing for streaming content of their programs have found a way to pay for a few shows, by having companies advertising and making you watch the add before the show continues, but would this be enough for production companies to pay for the production costs of a show or movie? Or to pay for the bandwidth of streaming the shows on-line. Then how would you group the channels you want to watch, Tier subscription prices? Our would we pay for monthly subscriptions like Netflix, say 10 to 15 dollars a month and you subscribe to say 5 or 6 channels well now you are over the bundled price with High Speed plus a satellite or cable TV prices. Not to mention that if you do not bundle the services you will pay more for the single service you now have.

I would guess that this

brian11's picture

I would guess that this comes from either business school or psychology. It's not that hard to see how the first reaction someone has to making something new or building and ecosystem is that they want to own it themselves. Total control gives total ability to have power and profit. That thinking may not fully stand up in the real world, but that's how most people's brains work. Vendor lockin is a manifestation of that impulse. Most of human history is based on that idea.

Keep up the work

Ashley Johnston's picture

Your writings on locks, gardens, and silos have had a big impact on me. I did'nt really realize that you were the only one writing about it. I don't have any sources, but I do hope that you find some and report on it.