On the Internet, a walled garden is an environment that controls the user's access to Web content and services. In effect, the walled garden directs the user's navigation within particular areas, to allow access to a selection of material, or prevent access to other material. An Internet service provider (ISP) may or may not allow users to select some of the Web sites contained or barred from the garden. Although the walled garden does not actually prevent users from navigating outside the walls, it makes it more difficult than staying within the environment. ISPs want to fence in users for a number of reasons. In 1999, for example, America Online (AOL) UK's Kid Channel established a walled garden to prevent access to inappropriate Web sites. However, a common reason for the construction of walled gardens is for the profits they generate: vendors collaborate to direct consumer's Internet navigation to each others' Web sites and to try to keep them from accessing the Web sites of competitors.
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Because wireless devices such as smartphones are often limited to the content provided by their carriers, the portion of the Web that is available to wireless users is frequently referred to as a walled garden. Speaking of the Web as a whole, AOL is generally considered the major - and most successful - practitioner of the walled garden approach. According to a spokesperson from Disney (arguing against the recent AOL - Time Warner merger), 85% of AOL users never leave AOL territory; according to The Economist, almost 40% of the time Americans spend on the Web is within the confines of AOL's walled garden.
The term's creation is attributed to John Malone, former owner of Tele-Communications Inc. AT&T, who purchased Malone's company, compares the walled garden to a magazine, in which a compilation of various types of content is made available to the reader. The walled garden concept is unpopular with many consumers. Although it offers an easy-to-navigate selection of services and content, that selection includes only a very small part of what the Web has to offer. Alternate names, such as "walled prison" and "walled desert" have been proposed by some as more reflective of the confinement and lack of diversity of the walled garden.