Once upon a time services like AOL and CompuServe were the Internet for most people. Locking customers into their own heavily curated networks they held sway over the online world. There was no access to websites, just 'rooms' within the service and you couldn't send email to just anyone, only those who were on the same service as you.
The arrival of services like Internet Service Providers (primarily Demon in the UK) eroded the power of these giants and led to the internet as we know it. The last vestige of those bad old days died yesterday when Verizon announced that it would be acquiring AOL. The company which once bought Time-Warner for $180 billion is being sold for $4.4 billion.
The ideas behind AOL and its walled gardens aren't dead though. In a neat bit of symmetry Facebook chose the same day to launch is Instant Articles service, serving news from selected content providers directly from within its Facebook News Feed. Its a further attempt to keep users in the Facebook app and keep their eyes on content which earns Facebook a revenue stream. It also seeks to control user's messaging, with its Messenger app. By making it easier to communicate with other Facebook users it seeks to help you on the service whilst using your own presence to draw your friends online too.
Its not just Facebook. Apple and Google would both like to tie you into their content and messaging platforms to the exclusion of the wider internet. Apps which serve as clients to what would be browser content on the desktop are heavily promoted on the basis that apps need Google or Apple's ad platforms to monetise, whereas mobile websites can choose any ad platform.
Ultimately it will be the users who decide what the future of mobile looks like. Do we want an open standards based mobile internet, where everyone is included, or do we choose to jump from walled garden to walled garden interacting only with those aside the garden?
More than two decades from the rise and fall of AOL are we sleepwalking back into that kind of world again?