Mike *Fang* Seyfang asked an interesting question on Facebook a month or so ago, and got some diverse answers. “Is FaceBook a Walled Garden“. I want to ramble on a lot longer than Facebook let’s me, so am going to think out loud on here.

Short Answer: Walled Garden – the host or service provider restricts access to content (e.g. mobile phone content providers), products and services, other members and tends to control navigation. Gated Community – the members restrict or open access to their private profiles, private groups and private products and services by choosing themselves who gets access and when. The host simply provides a ‘checkpoint’ as a barrier of entry – keep out the rabble!

Long Answer: WARNING: rambling and half thought out opinions ahead. Navigate at Your Own Risk. Also if you aren’t familiar with social network structural fundamentals of Purpose, Place, Profiles, Roles, Etiquette, Privacy, Rules and so on, you might struggle a bit. Feel free to ask questions in email or comments.

I’ve worked in a couple of walled gardens, in fact I’ve helped set them up. Most of my work is in gated communities, which if we take the strictest definition, is most online social networks. So definitions:

Walled Garden.
This is defined by the business setting it up as to who has what sort of access (profiles), what they have access to (products and services) and how they navigate the site (restricted useability). In particular, (the walled part) what services they are denied. Most walled gardens have an active policy on how to keep the member locked within the community and, in fact, may guide you through the site by means of navigational options that are locked down. Ever been to one of those sites that is completely Flash and gives you an option of back and forward and nothing else? Think of that sort of restriction and you get a sense of a walled garden community.

Gated Community.
The members decides who joins. One of the fundamentals of a social network is Purpose and a part of Purpose is called Barrier to Entry. Barrier to entries are good things. They make the community desirable and keep (most) of the spammers out. Many gated communities are like LinkedIn – you can only join if a friend invites you. Or like Facebook – there’s no point joining if you don’t have a friend on there.

What does this mean? Walled Gardens mean that you can only join if the business says you can. For example if you are an Optus customer, you have access to the walled garden of WAP. If you aren’t an Optus customer, ‘please see your service provider for other options’. Oh ok, there’s ways around that but you get my drift. Want to see Big Brother 24×7? Better get a 3 SIM card, Telstra has different content again. At a content level, you are restricted by Membership levels which are not defined by the community members but by the host (service provider). Gated Community, on the other hand, means you can join if the community says you can. Members inviting members. Members approving other members having full or partial access to property (profiles and applications), profiles and areas.

Earlier in the month I wrote:

Sort of the opposite of a walled garden. FaceBook keeps people in, by providing the services they need including customer service and technical support for third party services, rather than by locking them in so they can’t use said third party services. I wonder how much money those developers make everytime someone clicks on a book in Visual Bookshelf and buys the book from their Amazon links? It’s currently one of the smaller apps – 51,000 members – but should still be a nice little earner. I’ve got a tonne of books I want to read by perusing friends bookshelves. Affiliates undoubtedly go social-network-mad in Facebook but isn’t it nice to have advertising that is also useful and collaborative? Yum.

So is Facebook a walled garden or a gated community? Well, at this point in time it’s a gated community. You can have an open public profile or a semi-private one for friends. You have to join the community to see profiles – the “checkpoint” or barrier to entry – which removes the lurking aspect of Visitor status on forums and the like. This is always risky – 90% of people prefer to lurk on a community for a while, sort of ‘try before you buy’. In fact I recommend lurking for a while before diving in. But simply because Facebook requires registration as a barrier to entry before doing anything meaningful does not make them a walled garden. Once inside you can subscribe to any content outside of Facebook that the external content provider allows you to. If they have APIs, RSS, a Facebook app, you are good to go. If they don’t, it’s not Facebook’s fault. Facebook doesn’t take away your Menu options, URL bar or lock out typing. And yes, I’ve seen all that tried before. Nor does it say “that page is not available on this service”, because the ISP or Telco has removed access to that site.

Theoretically, NewsCorp’s MySpace and Google’s YouTube could move towards a walled garden. Because they own all content posted on those sites, it’s possible that in the future they may refuse access to that information from outside of the service itself. Or refuse access if you aren’t with their preferred service provider e.g. BigPond or Telstra Mobile. If Facebook restricts apps later, to those who pay, then we are looking at a walled garden. Think of WAP services with content providers accepted or denied by the Telco and you see what I mean. Not that I think Facebook will evolve that way. There’s other business models open to them. I am concerned as to whether they will shut down sites that wish to pull in Facebook features – but given that Ning now integrates Facebook, and I think that Facebook email is now available outside of Facebook they are moving away from any tendency to be a walled garden.

For an ungated community check out 2CH in Japan. The largest online community in the world, with I forget how many million posts per day. All from some guy called Anonymous. Heh. Do you really want that? How much Viagra can you buy in one day anyway?

So that’s my spin on Walled Gardens vs Gated Community. You can post up a pithy saying on Mike’s wall – as long as you are his friend and meet the requisite barrier of entry – or you can post a comment here. Hell, I’ll accept anyone here, even that guy with the Viagra. šŸ˜› Feel free to disagree.

And to paraphrase Groucho Marx, why would you want to join any social network that would have you as a member? heh. BTW did you know that a walled garden is a hortus conclusus? Oh. *disappointed* you did?