Will Social Media Enable a Web Without Walls?

A key question that remains to be answered in the social media battle is the interconnectivity of all the pieces. Carmakers don’t use the same supplier for all of their various parts; rather, they select a specialized manufacturer for each component (e.g., headlights, sun roof, seats). Similarly, social media providers can’t be the best at every functionality (social network, social bookmarks, wikis, video sharing, photo sharing, etc.).

However, users like the simplicity of one stop shopping. This isn’t a new concept. We’ll see whether convenience (one stop shop) or best-of-breed functionality wins out over time.

Walled Gardens

Corporations that supply the content/technology have historically acted like walled gardens, with a “these are my toys and nobody else can play” mentality. A walled garden with regards to media content, refers to a closed or exclusive set of information services provided for users (a method of creating a monopoly or securing an information system). This is in contrast to providing consumers’ access to the open Internet for content and e-commerce.

This is primarily due to the providing companies desire to capture as much revenue as possible. Some easy to grasp examples of “walled gardens” are:

  • AOL’s original strategy of containing all of its content exclusively for its Internet subscribers.
  • The ability to only get the NFL Game Day package if you have DirecTV vs. regular cable.
  • Apple — pick your example.

“It’s a race to see who will work better and faster with everyone else,” said Charlene Li, founder of consulting company Altimeter Group. “It’s recognition that you can’t be an island of yourself.”

How Microsoft Outlook brought together contacts, calendar, and e-mail in one application is a good model for how someone will eventually tie up the loose ends of Web services. We’ve seen this constantly over time, whether it was VHS vs. Betamax, CDMA vs. GSM, European outlet plugs vs. Asian outlets, or American doctor offices not having a universal form (a personal pet peeve of President Obama).

One parallel example in the social media world is Facebook and Open Social (i.e., MySpace, Hi5, iLike, LinkedIn, Google, etc.). The hope is that, due to the open reliance and nature of social media, this boils down to one seamless connectivity platform.

Companies are Opening Up

Facebook, MySpace, and even Apple are allowing programmers access to their systems (via Application Program Interfaces) to make cool applications and tools that consumers enjoy (e.g. Google Maps on the iPhone, Music I Like on MySpace, etc.). If this type of cooperation persists, it will only help continue the adoption of social media as there will be more relevant offerings for more people and it keeps things simple.

The social media power user will relish this openness because it will enable easier access to the best of each type of tool rather than watered down versions (analogous to having all of your clothes, shoes, and glasses from one brand versus getting your sunglasses from Oakley, watch from Rolex, and your jacket from L.L. Bean; although one can counter argue with a department store analogy — but those aren’t doing so hot these days are they?).


Just like in all booms, we’ll see consolidation. However, will the consolidation be less than we’ve seen historically as a result of the inherent openness of social tools, or will there be more consolidation than usual, due to the reliance of making certain you’re connected to everyone in your network?

Imagine the ability to only have one log-in — this dream has come a lot further in the last few years with social media being the driver. Also, this type of openness will allow for everything to be “pushed” to us rather than us hunting and gathering and putting into one basket. We would have the basket being constantly filled with “information goodies” from the best and brightest suppliers — think a step beyond RSS.

“I have stated all along that I truly feel that in the end game, Facebook and the like will be less of a destination and more of a tool that you use wherever you may happen to be and that it will connect you to other portions of the Web,” said Natalie Del Conte of CNET TV.

You can already see this with the new thinking that has been put forth by Facebook. In particular, their Facebook Connect product is all about openness.

Open Thinking is Truly Radical

The thought of Facebook Connect and other such platforms is to allow you to take your friends with you, and is what will result in the emergence of the “social Web.” Instead of trying to hoard all of a user’s data, it will be shared on the Discovery Channel Site, San Francisco Chronicle, Hulu, Digg, etc. You also see it with TripAdvisor. allowing other travel sites to tap into their API and pull ratings and reviews of hotels and travel destinations from TripAdvisor.

“Everyone is looking for ways to make their Web sites more social,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “They can build their own social capabilities, but what will be more useful for them is building on top of a social system that people are already wedded to.”

Specifically, this allows for someone to post a restaurant review on OpenTable.com and easily share it with their Facebook, Twitter, etc. social graph. Now, if only hospitals and dentists could figure out a way we could only fill out one form.

Just look at the broadcast networks, if they had this type of “open” thinking, all shows would be available on demand on YouTube and Hulu. This hasn’t occurred because the revenue streams haven’t been properly figured out, so it is still the scenario of “these are my toys and you can’t play with them.”

This begs the question: in the near future, does it matter more where the content is viewed or is it more important that it is viewed at all?

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5 responses to “Will Social Media Enable a Web Without Walls?

  1. I think that social media has knocked down a lot of barriers and pre-conceived notions on how to market not just your business, but your own personal brand. Also, I think sites like Twitter have ushered in the oncoming reality of “real-time” search.

  2. This begs the question…

    Begging the question is a type of logical fallacy. You probably meant “raises the question” or something like that.

    It’s nice that you acknowledge walled gardens, but then you go on to write that companies are opening up. Perhaps. But it seems to me that we are moving away from whatever existing openness we already have, especially with the rise of digital content delivery and consumers’ expanding notion of their purchases as disposable. You point at Apple as a walled garden. Okay, good; nice. Only, then you cite perhaps their most walled-y garden-y undertakings (iTunes/iPhone) as shining examples of openness.

    I don’t think consumers even want openness or are attached to the sentiment in any form. Try explaining why investing hundreds of dollars in something as ephemeral as DRM’d apps and songs is a bad thing, and you’ll get no response. Or worse, you’ll get a rebuttal from a blog author in the comments section claiming that these things are, in fact, wonderful and not volatile.

  3. This is a great post and I fundamentally agree with the claim that open thinking is truly radical.

    I think it is intereting to integrate this new thinking into an integral philosophical system such as Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and realise that advances in technology are signposts of advances in consciousness and in culture.

    In other words: socialnomics, open thinking and the Web 2.0 are going to bring about changes in the ways we do politics and ultimately relate to one another and to ourselves. In Ken Wilber’s language: the ‘I’, the ‘We’, the ‘It’ and the ‘Its’.

    Let us hope that the social web contributes to that better, more transparent and democratic world we want to leave behind us.

    • Oscar:

      That is the hope – the global sharing could make the world a much better place. It’s nice to see that “Causes” is one of the more popular applications on Facebook.

  4. Hi Erik

    This is a timely topic.

    I think we have been moving in this direction for some time, even before social became the focus of so many things. One of the effects of Web 2.0 making the web a platform was this untethering of content from its dependency on specific locations. RSS readers were just the start. Youtube became Youtube in large part because they were embeddable on MySpace (and everywhere else too). Other content providers soon realized that if they wanted to reach as many people as possible it made more sense to let them consume the content where they lived and where they wanted to consume it. We did this in my last company by creating all sorts of content consumption widgets and social applications to let people consume the content where they wanted it.

    Steve Rubel has talked about this being a move away from the destination web and John Borthwick has called this a movement toward social distribution in streams. And it makes sense…if web 2.0 is in large part about transferring power from the publisher to the community, why shouldn’t they be able to consume things where and how they like?

    Twitter and Facebook are the next step in the evolution from publishing to participation, subscription, and now pointing to content in the status stream…

    The big remaining question is the one you highlight at the end of your article: how do you monetize content when you don’t own the environment in which it is consumed? That’s the $64,000 question…

    Of course, even on-site publishers are having trouble monetizing the on-site eyeballs they have today. Heck, even the traditional content broadcasters are having a harder and harder time justifying advertising fees in the age of Tivo and Hulu. At the end of the day, it could be that content providers will need to find a way to make their money on other things. The content will be free but drive merchandise or consulting or the book on the same topic…Or product placements within the content itself may be a good path, as long as it adds value to the content.

    One thing I am sure about though: those who see a wider platform will prevail over those who see things as their own closed space.

    Thanks for provoking more thoughts.


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