Avoiding Walled Gardens on the Internet

I occasionally get requests to join private social networking sites, like LinkedIn or Facebook. I always politely decline. I understand the appeal of private social networking, and I mean no disrespect to the people who send invites. But it's just not for me.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/06/avoiding-walled-gardens-on-the-internet.html

I’m kinda glad I’ve Inever looked at/i Facebook.

Hell, I’ve never used twitter, or looked at someone’s twitter stuff, except glancing over a coworker’s shoulder.

(I avoid MySpace like the plague it is, but that’s mostly because of the quality of the content and the unavoidable music spew from every page. And yes, I know there’s a pref to turn it off. No, it doesn’t work for me. Anywhere.)

People are interested in this stuff, though, right?

Thing is, LinkedIn is not meant to be a social networking tool so far as I can tell. It’s meant to be a professional networking tool. Which means the open internet argument is not applicable, because you don’t want too much openness (if you’ll pardon the rather underhanded sound to that expression). Otherwise, you spend all your time acting as a filter trying to tell genuine job offers and resumes from spam. In fact, it’s that spam that’s driving the rush towards those walled garden models - it’s not the garden people are interested in, it’s the walls.

I do see what you guys are saying. But even though “using a loose coalition of blogging software… anyone can participate”, the majority of people haven’t.

When I say “the majority of people”, I mean people who don’t generally think of computers as fun machines. People who just aren’t particularly interested in computers.

And I’m also totally guessing - it could be that more people have a blog/a Flickr account/a Twitter account than don’t.

But I doubt it. Most of the people who’ve contacted me through Facebook would never have set up a blog. Most of them would think Flickr horribly limited because they can’t tag their friends in photos. Of course, technically they can, because Flickr lets you tag any photo with any string, so you can tag it with someone else’s Flickr username or some other commonly-used identifier, and it’s pretty much the same thing. But Flickr doesn’t provide the little box to indicate who’s who, and it doesn’t have a drop-down prompting users to pick out one of their friends to tag.

I’m not saying Facebook’s going to be more successful than a loosely-joined collection of more open small pieces, but I think it’s genuinely meeting the needs of people who aren’t geeky, i.e. most people.

This is one of the reasons that I’ve always avoided Facebook and MySpace. I always said that the real internet is better, and that I can do anything there that I can do on those sites.

I think the popularity of Facebook is, as previously alluded to, that it allows you to do things, create content and generally put stuff out there without needing to commit to a regular blog (twitter), though if you want to you can create more meaty content (blogs), it allows you to tell the world about yourself (bio pages), message people (email), manage your contacts (contact book) and find old friends (friendsreunited). It combines so many services into one easy to use place. It allows people to easily create content and share information. However, because it is in a centralise place the individual components don’t appear to be so lost (people are bad at updating content that feels lost to them).

However, I don’t think Jeff was really questioning the merits of centralising the components. It’s more that, in order to see anyone’s random comments, blogs and messages you have to sign up. Even if you just want to read something someone wrote that someone said was interesting. Once.

Myself, I can’t decide what is best. The problem is that for the sort of content that goes on Facebook the closed model works well. There are far too many privicy and consential issues otherwise. However, many people use Facebook far beyond the mundane such that it is their primary presence on the Internet. You ask for someone’s website, they’ll give you their Facebook (or MySpace or Beebo address).

I myself have a split. I have my public blog that anyone can read and (I think) participate. And then I have my Facebook for handling the social aspects of the Internet (messaging friends, organising events etc.) The two do meet, but their roles are clearly defined. If you ask for my website, I would point you to my blog. That is my primary presence on the Internet.

However, as previously mentioned, for most people Facebook or similar is. For a lot of them this is because they do not have the time or inclination to put together a more structured public presence. They don’t necessarily want to. They want to muck around with their friends, they want to moan to them about their terrible day or share their latest conquests. They want to poke them incessantly and throw sheep at them. They don’t need to have a public presence with thought provoking posts that everyone can read.

But sometimes they do. Sometimes they do have good things to share, but because they are so used to the culture of Facebook it never sees light outside the walls of the garden. And that’s a shame.

I agree with Mark in the first response.

“Google doesn’t index any user-created information on Facebook.”

I don’t really want google indexing personal information about me, my friends or any of the rubbish we talk to each other on social networking sites… Call it tin-foil hat if you like, but privacy on t’internet is increasingly difficult to find. And im sure you’ve all read about Facebooks searching problems…

I’m sure there will be an open alternative within a few years. but currently there isn’t. There’s no point missing out just because it won’t last. With that kind of philosophy you’ll never try out anything. Sure, don’t invest too much into these walled-gardens, but you may as well see what all the fuss is about.

Anyway these kinds of services often pioneer, and then later get cloned into more open services. I think frankly, we need them.

Don’t know if you’ve heard of mugshot, but it’s exactly what you’re describing. It aggregates information from any number of social-networking-esque sites. It was started by a bunch of smart hackers from Red Hat (Havoc Pennington has been an outspoken voice on the project). Anyways, check it out, mugshot.org. :slight_smile:

I think when it comes right down to it, most people want a measure of privacy.

Plus, the majority of people like having all their tools in one single place. That’s why people are addicted to MySpace and Facebook… you really don’t need to learn anything else to share your life with your friends.

Personally I abhor all social networking sites… but then, I’m a geek.

I am not so worried about walled gardens on the internet in general, it’s the mobile carriers that worry me. The charge per KB, filter per port, and make their own walled gardens free. People are just blindly walking into it. And within a few years, most people will be using some sort of portable device for internet access, maybe as their primary device.

I have avoided social networks for a while too, finding they didn’t offer much - that was until I checked out Facebook.

There is much merit in what you have said but are you comparing apples with apples. Online cultures have changed since 1994. 1994 was early-days for social networking. Today there are many and this choice is beneficial. While some are happy to publically network others may be tired of the online instrusion and prefer a more closed personal network with just your family and friends. Loic Le Meur claims there is a shift in the way we interact with others online. In the beginning there was a rush to publically network, now there is more of a trend to hide and only netowrk with a smaller network of people. People are different and have different networking needs.

So if there are “public parks” or “walled gardens”, it doesn’t matter. There are enough users online to make either flourish. What’s more immportant is there are the choices.

You’ve got an interesting opinion, but for those who are in college, it’s the best way to keep in touch with friends and have a bit of fun while doing it. Yeah, it might be a walled garden, but if all of your friends are there collaborating, and it’s free, does it really matter?

I think I see a failure in Jeff’s argument in principle, rather than based on any particular instance. Walled gardens, such as Facebook or LinkedIn provide essential mechanisms that the broader internet lacks.

Each networking site provides a contract of what I will find there. For example, I know I can go to LinkedIn to find jobs as a job-seeker or employees as an employee. I will not go to linkedIn to find dates… If I go to a photo-rating site such as hotornot.com (not that I endorse that type entertainment), I know exactly what I will and will not find there. And may go to find former classmates and exchange photos with my friends. Thus, by accessing a specific site, I specifically choose which domain of information I want to deal with.

What I will not do in any of the above scenarios is a Google search, because Google will inevitably return the information I do not want. Why would I go looking through blogs if I want to find employees, when there is no clear, fast way to determine from a blog what specialty you’re in, what your experience is like, and even if you are looking for a job - to find any information of that sort, visual parsing would be involved. And if I’m a bored high-schooler who just wants to rate photos, I just don’t see how a broadly-defined search, such as one that Google offers could crawl the internet for all photo postings that invite ratings. Simply put, different domains of information require specific semantics for dealing with that information, and the broader internet has not been designed to provide them.

This is actually somewhat reminiscent of the WS-* vs. REST debates. Yes, the latter is more open, and can be accessible to non-specialized clients. But the former enforces stronger contracts that allow you to derive more value by specializing your semantics to the domain you’re dealing with. So as far as facebook and linkedIn are concerned, perhaps if all these sights were to collaborate on creating a common “schema”, for lack of a better word, for social networking entries including domain information (i.e. is this a looking-for-a-job entry, a rate-my-photo entry, a looking-for-alumni entry), then a mega-mashup service could be created to search for information on all the sites with virtually zero irrelevant information or noise. But plain-old openness and Googles searches just aren’t that useful.

For most people, creating a page on a social network is much easier than, and very different from, creating a blog or a site. Relationships are explicit, so you can see chains of relationships between people. What you also get is a kind of auto-updating address book…

Maybe there’s room here for a system that defines relationships between blogs (foaf, microformats?), but currently, a blog/website serves a different purpose than an entry on a social network.

well its clear that you havnt joined any social networking sites :slight_smile:

first, they dont serve the same purpose as blogs or websites. its not really a question about open or closed.

secondly, i use these (as do most people) to keep in touch with friends i already know, but who for various reasons i am no longer able to meet personally. the idea is not really to meet new people (at least not for me). in this sense i want the closedness (thts not a real word is it?)

Send me an email or an instant message. I’ll even collaborate with you, as long as it results in a public artifact of some kind.

Your emails and IMs are public artifacts? ORLY?

There are certain facts about that I don’t want to be public, but am quite happy to share with my friends. Facebook allows me to do this efficiently. The wider internet loses nothing, because I was never going to post there anyway.

I guess time will tell whether Facebook will outlast the internet (my money’s on the net), but I really doubt the AOL analogy applies for a couple of important reasons:

  1. It’s not trying to be what AOL was trying to be, namely an alternate internet. It’s focus is specific, even though it can be used for many things, including blogging.

  2. As for being walled, please keep in mind that it is (at this time) free to join and the value inside is considered higher than your usual one-off Times article.

I recommend, just for laughs an giggles, that you open an account just to see for yourself what the heck the appeal might be. Warning, the app’s pretty slick (as far as these things go); highly addictive.

See you on the inside.

Jeff, I have to disagree with your viewpoint this time. When I sign into google, or iGoogle or whatever, I see it as a tool. A tool to search, to send emails, participate in groups, read blogs and so forth. I use it only when I need to. Every time I sign into facebook, I see new events such as my friends having gotten married. I feel like I’m part of a community, not some abstract internet. This is very addictive, and it creates a whole new level of “visitor loyalty” that sites like Google simply don’t have.

This is a psychological phenomenon. A game site that just lets you play against other people is OK, but you don’t use it too much unless you’re addicted to the game. A game site where you can join a community has you wasting hours and hours on it.

I think you should try the experience, then you’d appreciate the addictiveness that “social networks” have. You can’t really have a complete opinion of it solely from the outside, if you’ve never taken part. But be warned – once you do, we may see a slightly less blogs from you :slight_smile:

That said, having any kind of signup creates a “walled garden”… why do I have to sign up with every single freakin’ site? It’s annoying to keep track of all those signups and password combinations… which can lead to a nice blog entry in itself :slight_smile:

At what point can you break down the social networking walls to nothing? Wouldn’t the only way be if we all had our own customly created websites, rather than through some 3rd party? So we could make everything public all in one package without being bounded by the creative restrictions on all blogging apps?

I’ve always declined invitations as well but at this point of time I feel social networking sites in general are a good thing, because really the internet is a unorganised mess. Staying connected can be hard, and remember… people are idiots. Facebook just makes it easy to connect. The problem I now find is that there are too many Facebook’s, to connect you’ve got to have accounts in Facebook, Bebo, WAYN, Friendster…

I’ve seen websites like Mugshot come and go, but the early sites were technical to set up and unknown to the masses. Though it is a step in the right direction, it just needs to be easy enough to use for the simple minded masses.