July 5, 2007
Gated Content, Walled Gardens, and Social Networks

There are both positives and negatives to building walls around content and services. I often get caught up in the negative aspects, especially when thinking content that is locked down by service providers, which I find to be a particularly bad idea for the content brands.

For instance, if you are an ardent fan of a particular show that uses a transmedia storytelling campaign across multiple platforms, but that deal is locked down into only those who have Sprint mobile or Verizon for an online provider or Comcast as a cable provider, it can be a little hard to take for the fans most likely to take advantage of such transmedia stories. After all, if you follow three shows, but you must have Verizon mobile service for the extra content for one, AT&T for another, and T-Mobile for the third, it wouldn't really seem very worthwhile to have three cell phone contracts just for the extra mobile content.

That being said, though, it doesn't mean that walled gardens are not without their uses, and Steve Bryant has raised some good points in this regard in relation to the benefits of privacy, particularly in relation to Facebook's lack of searchability and accessibility from the Googles of the world.

He writes, "Facebook remains a walled garden because exclusivity creates demand. Privacy also creates demand, and privacy creates a sense of community."

I wrote about gated content in the past that "In the media world, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Considering the great number of choices out there, absence usually makes you forgotten."

But it's important to realize the difference between the walled gardens of which Steve is writing and gated media content. Steve is right that there are some benefits to having a club that feels somewhat exclusive and private, knowing that even if you are making your comments seen to all users of a certain site, that passersby from Google and outside the Facebook world won't be reading your comments.

It is those layers of accessibility that have contributed to making Facebook such a success as a social utility/network.

Speaking of social networks, be sure to check out the interesting post from Henry Jenkins' blog earlier this week about class issues in relation to social netwokring sites, built on the work of danah boyd. Henry writes, "These divisions reflect where these social networks started (MySpace's early users including rock bands and their fans; FaceBook starting at Harvard and radiating outward through other colleges) and what they have become. With social network sites, young people tend to go where their friends already are, using their face-to-face community as a starting point for connecting with like-minded others."

It's definitely worth a look.