If ecosystems are the new walled gardens, customers won’t like that

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That strange grinding sound you hear is ecosystems closing around us. The race of the ecosystems seems to be on, and it is getting curiouser and curiouser, and more and more familiar.

Google is putting ordering and payments capability into Maps. You look for a restaurant, or Maps suggests one, or points to one near you, and when you click, you can look at a menu, order food, and pay for it.

Instagram meanwhile has signed up 20 US retailers where if you like something you see on the app, you can be transferred to the retailer’s site and purchase it. They are starting to test it very soon.

The explosion of payments solution, social search solutions, and every other technically sticky solution is slightly reminiscent of the move from four terrestrial TV channels to thousands. We thought we were entering a world of riches and a nirvana of content. But we ended up entering a world of mediocrity and confusion.

It is also, more importantly, reminiscent of the emergence of content on mobiles. Remember the walled garden approach? Most mobile operators thought they could keep their customers inside a walled garden, and this would solve churn, loyalty and world hunger in one fell swoop. Except they were not very good at content, so their customers found ways out into places where content was good. And they were happy.

The analogy, of course, is not exact. The relationship customers have with Facebook, Google, Instagram and the rest is not the same as with their telco, but you have to wonder if they are trying to do the same thing – keep customers inside their ecosystems – and whether it is wise.

It is far from certain whether this is feasible in any way. And it is even further from certain that customers will want this approach in any way, at all.

If you talk to customers (a.k.a. … er, anyone) they do not think like that. They are not loyal to digital service providers. Millennials will have three or four different chat apps, because their different groups of friends will use different ones, and they need to be onboard. Actually, this is becoming true amongst older groups too.

Customers do not particularly want to use Messenger for everything. They want, for want of a better phrase, a “best of breed” approach.

You want to search for something, you use Google. You want to buy something, you go to Amazon. You want to keep up with friends (or while away a lunch break watching sneezing cats) you go to Facebook. Share a picture, Instagram. Share a picture and delete it, Snapchat.

Of course, innovation is great, and it is right that technology companies endeavor to create great stuff.

But you have to wonder whether this over zealous integration of everything might, in the end, be self-defeating.

What we need is an integrator of the best of breed bits of ecosystems. And that could be a job for a telco.

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