Cross-pollinating walled gardens

Walled Gardens are the future of consumer AI, but their isolated ecosystems limit growth. To cultivate a richer internet, we must cross-pollinate our walled gardens.

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We are exiting the era of implied identity.

In this era, identity was underwritten by cookies and IP address. Sites you never visited before could immediately infer who you are based on some data in your browser. These sites linked that identifying data to information "data brokers" you’ve never heard of collected about you.

How did they get the data? Some service you use gave them that data. That service can do that because their terms that you agreed to that one time said they could.

These sites then use this identity to track your behavior over time, even as you (still!) have never introduced yourself formally. Activity on one site could be readily linked to another. This implied identity infrastructure made possible the personalization and ads experiences on the internet we use today.

In this era, consumer enterprise regularly highlighted unauthenticated MAU growth to shareholders as a mark of growth. Later this year, though, those metrics will no longer cut it. Without identity, none of the internet flywheel of

more data ==> better UX


Big tech is killing implied identity. Browsers like Firefox, Safari, and Chrome are depreciating cookies and IP address.  No longer can sites readily identify you just based on the browser you use or where you access the internet from.

This has caused a rush to loyalty and scaling of loyal authenticated traffic, where activities can be tracked from session to session. This loyal attention is proving incredibly valuable to businesses, who use it to personalize their experiences and grow massive retail media ads business.

Everyone wants to become their very own Walled Garden.

What is a Walled Garden?

When we hear Walled Garden we think consumer social like Meta or Snap.  It’s important to be clear about what a Walled Garden is – many have explored the idea of digital gardens to gardens of adtech, but we say Walled Gardens have only two properties

  1. They command attention: consumers spend time engaging within them
  2. They know who users are: they wield authenticated Identity

Commanding attention makes the Walled Garden interesting. Without attention there’s no distribution and no business.  Knowing identity, on the other hand, underwrites the the longitudinal behavioral data that unlocks the flywheel of self-improving systems that make walled gardens better the more you use them – usually with machine learning or AI.

Walled Gardens have also implied a level of security and discretion. Though Apple’s gardens have rich customer data, Apple makes sure that the data they collect is only used within their controlled ecosystem. Gardens usually deliver alignment to users by making clear the context for data that's collected and used.

Digital gardens on the internet take a new form in the death of implied consent. Many platforms wield attention, but far fewer have scaled identified traffic – sessions among users who’ve logged in.

Walled Gardens are great businesses

Search and social have built among the internet’s largest and highest margin businesses from attentive identified (authenticated) traffic, pioneering the internet’s most engaging and largest ads businesses.

Businesses like Instacart, Uber, Walmart, and Lowes – folks we haven’t traditionally thought of as walled gardens, but who also have authenticated attentive traffic – are seeing massive rewards from selling ads.

The fruits of attentive identified traffic are too good to pass up.

Walled Gardens are great for AI

Walled Gardens are also great for AI. To power consumer experiences that command attention, AI needs to know who users are. Since implied identity is dead, the only pathway there is from building this context from authenticated traffic.

A challenge though is that authenticated traffic – even among the most engaging digital platforms like Google or Meta, and especially for smaller upstarts – only delivers so much information about consumers.

Walled Gardens with identity only know what users do on their platforms. That means, they know what users

  • Search for
  • Click on
  • Scroll past
  • Spend money on
  • Share to friends

but that’s it. In cases like Google or Apple, that’s quite a lot. But for most consumer businesses, that’s quite a bit less to go on. For instance, for Lowes’ users who are logged in, Lowes only knows what users have searched for, what they’ve bought in the past, and what they’ve scrolled through. They don’t know that it’s actually Greg’s grand-daughter’s birthday, and the family is set on building a swing set as a father-son activity. Lowes can monetize this traffic, sorting this user into loose audiences based on historical interactions, but Lowes doesn’t really know who Greg is. Not really anyway.

Lowes certainly doesn’t know Greg as well as TikTok does. Or Google does. Or Apple does.

Greg doesn’t really care about any of this, of course. He just wants a great user experience – one that anticipates his needs.

Lowes can’t really do that today. Even as it rises as a new Walled Garden, all it knows about Greg is what Greg has done at Lowes.

Make our garden grow

Vibrant gardens are cross-pollinated.

Today, the more time Greg spends in one garden, the better his experience gets in that garden alone. That helps that Garden, but it doesn’t fully help Greg. It’s true Greg gets a better user experience in the given Garden, but Greg’s usage gives rise to additional context that could make his experience better in every other Walled Garden he uses.

Greg benefits from cross pollinating Walled Gardens.

Users like Greg benefit from a means to go between walled gardens and take the behavioral data collected from wherever he’s been and use it wherever he’s going. Today, Walled Gardens are unable to truly serve all of Greg because Greg hasn’t happened to have shown them that particular data. Maybe he doesn’t want to.  Maybe it doesn’t exist yet!  Maybe Greg wants them to anticipate all of his needs without any extra work.

No surprise – Crosshatch unlocks cross-pollinating walled gardens. Crosshatch is an identity layer that allows people to safely share their data to apps they love to unlock this cross-pollinating context.  

Early design partners have asked us about cross-pollination – will this hurt their business? Our core belief is that cross-pollinating Walled Gardens actually makes the entire internet richer and more diverse. Users like Greg will spend more time within rising Walled Gardens because his experience is so much richer within them and because of them.

When Greg uses Gmail, new data reflecting his reservations and purchases are collected.

That’s then used by TripAdvisor, who can help Greg better plan trips by inferring the types of restaurants, hotels, and destinations he already likes to provide suggestions that resonate with his past trips.

These new trips cross pollinate to Greg’s Spotify, which now plays tunes in anticipation of his upcoming trip. Spotify knows that Greg recently booked a trip to Miami, and so it’s playing songs he loves but also tunes loved by the people in the neighborhoods he’s scheduled to visit.

This listening data cross pollinates to Greg’s Resy account, who anticipates his mood and suggests a night out with a friend he hadn’t reached out to in a while.

Cross pollinating walled gardens makes gardens more valuable, not less. Cross pollination is also useful to upstarts, who are just starting to build their own Walled Garden, and can deliver great new user experiences pollinated by context from the user’s past.

Cross pollination doesn’t mean giving up agency or security however.  Global privacy law encourages this cross pollination (“data portability”) but for reasons users agree to and with minimal data shared – only that required to provide value to users.  Cross pollination doesn’t have to cost user control.

Voltaire knew that the world isn't always the "best of all possible worlds" –  it's up to us to roll up our sleeves and make it better. We can't just sit back and expect everything to work out on its own. We have to take responsibility for our choices and actions, both as individuals and as an industry.

If you’re interested in how Crosshatch can help cross pollinate Walled Garden context: deliver hyper-personalized experiences on log-in and for loyal customers – we’re engaged with design partners building a new cross-pollinated internet with AI. Reach out – we’d love to hear about what you’re building.

And let us try before we die
To make some sense of life.
We're neither pure nor wise nor good;
We'll do the best we know;
We'll build our house, and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.

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