shane's blog.

eco-systems

I've been pondering the concept of technological 'Eco-systems' lately. To clarify, I'm referring to the what tech commentators like MKBHD call "walled gardens" - whereby a technology company (such as Apple, Google, Microsoft or Samsung) provides a wide range of software and/or hardware solutions which, in order to create the most effective and seamless user experience possible, incentivises users from fragmentising their apps and services away from within one companies' or businesses' software and hardware services - creating implementing a closed user experience - resulting what can be referred to as an 'eco-system' or 'walled garden' and disincentivises the addition of other software and hardware services by third parties. (The short version being: Keeping your software and hardware with one company rather than sharing services with others = better user experience).

It's important to differentiate between first and third parties, as many of the aforementioned companies will create APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces) for other software to connect to apps and services within these eco-systems - arguably adding value to the walled garden. While MKBHD would argue that this is the 'paradox of choice' - allowing users to select third party software and hardware should they want to - they are correct in saying that the users of these closed eco-systems have little choice if they wish to maintain the best user experience. It can be a difficult pill to swallow when you realise you've inadvertently drifted towards one closed implementation or another; iCloud is a great example. If you have an iPhone and an iPad or Mac, you will - guaranteed, in my opinion - get the best user experience by exclusively using iCloud-based services. You can use OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox or other cloud storage services growing in popularity such as Proton Drive on all Apple-made devices, but you won't get the best user experience because Apple are able to optimise their software and hardware with precision not currently possible by third-parties - and to the extent at which Apple wish to allow their 'competitors' from using Apple's software and hardware in the first place.

To many, this is not even an issue - and I understand that point of view because everyone has differing opinions on the role of technology in their lives. But I feel that given technology, its rapidly evolving nature, and our imperative to evolve with it for compatibility and security reasons - eco-systems have the capability to drive (or hinder) the future of technology because the technological habits of the masses can influence how technology changes, if at all. Governments have attempted to regulate many of the companies and services which have (whether intentionally or inadvertently) permitted the invasion of privacy; you don't have to look much further than social media to see what I'm referring to. But other than the odd anti-competitive lawsuit, eco-systems and their closed nature both drive innovation (by having diverse groups of engineers and developers to innovate in closed, incubated teams), and hinder it (in reinforcing the walls of their gardens and disincentivising user choice) given that consumer choice has traditionally generated competition which consumers benefit from.

From my own experience, I have become a huge fan of the Proton suite of services. Although I'd deem it a tad expensive, I trust in their mission for private, end-to-end encrypted alternatives for digital communication and empower citizens of all jurisdictions with digital freedom. There is evidence of technological empowerment through robust collaboration between many of the large tech giants; one key example being Apple and Google's implementation of a contact tracing API to help governments identify COVID-19 close contacts and prevent the spread of the illness at an early stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic. What I'd argue we need is for more transparency and greater incentive for big technology companies to work together and build better and more forward-thinking global industry standards - Proton being a great example of what the future of digital communication should look like by not relying on communication protocols created in the 1990s for email.

If you're wondering if it's possible to use technology outside your walled garden - of course you can. In the case of security, it can be more secure to diversify your technological implementation than to keep everything together (since a bad actor could be one password or authentication step away from all of your data). Services like Bitwarden can structurally-seperate your digital security from your data in a way that makes it much harder to be 'hacked'. Hardware security keys are gaining in popularity as a way to end phishing, but these security implementations are yet to see mainstream external to enterprise, government and defence. Technology is rapidly changing, and as we become more reliant on apps and services, ask yourself: How am I using technology and protecting my digital self?