Everything in the Garden…

When I was thinking about how the online world might change in the future, I suggested there may be some pressure for the resurrection of “walled gardens” – specialist areas of the internet where interactions happen behind password-protected access.

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When I first started using the internet, back in 1995, this was common. I signed up with Compuserve (which I am amazed to see still exists!), and there were specific areas of interest curated by the the organisation; to access the internet proper, you had to click an icon to leave the walled garden. There were other, similar services, too – AOL, for instance.

Accessible browsers like Internet Explorer and Netscape – and, later, Firefox, Chrome et al – freed up the internet and enabled non-technically savvy users (like me) to get around. The walled gardens more or less died: users didn’t like being walled in, and had no reason to be so.

My reasoning for thinking walled gardens might make a return was a commercial one: suppliers of content – like Facebook, Twitter, Apple or Google – want to keep you on their site as long as possible, to sell your eyeballs to advertisers and others willing to pay them. That’s how they make their money. Part of the bargain is that we get to look at the content they provide (albeit, if they’re Facebook or Twitter, that it is created by other users). In a more competitive environment, they will set up walls to keep you there.

(A corollary was that there would also be a move to more openness, driven an increasing awareness and technical know-how.)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a demonstration of what this might be like, and I’ll admit I didn’t really get it. Kiltr is

the largest social media platform focused on connecting Scottish interests globally to create economic, cultural and social value for its members

and, believing that the only way to understand new networks is to play around with them, I signed up to join last September.

I made some connections, mostly with people I follow on other networks, looked at some brands (most of which I follow on other networks…), and I don’t think I have been back in the last three months (until just now!). The reason for my resistance is that the “exclusive” nature of Kiltr doesn’t really make sense to me: if I want to share stuff, I want to share it with my friends and contacts pretty much anywhere – many of whom may be on Kiltr, but most are not.

A couple of guys from Kiltr were demonstrating their new platform at the University business school’s Entrepreneurship Club; they are rolling it out in June, I think. It was very, very snazzy – a whole world away from the current experience. But I am not sure that an excellent new interface will make a difference to me. I think that Flipboard is an excellent app – it looks great, works very well, does what I might want. But I hardly ever use it: however good it looks, it didn’t actually add anything to my use of social media.

(They will be developing the interface for other enterprises as part of their business model.)

Similarly, I am not sure what more I will get from Kiltr that I can’t get from my existing social networks. To connect with people  and content I want, I would need to go to Kiltr in addition to the other networks. I assume that I can connect to the same people and brands elsewhere that I can on Kiltr – all it gives me, aside from a superb experience after the relaunch, is the walled garden of Scottishness.

I can see what brands and advertisers – they get access to consumers or businesses with less noise; there may be fewer eyeballs, but there will be more attention.

But for individuals, I’m not sure.

It may just be me. There are other networks I’m a member of which I rarely if ever visit. The ConnectingHR network (developed using Ning, I think) is full of interesting, like-minded people – most of whom I connect with in other ways, mostly Twitter. It is so long since I logged into the site that I have no idea what my password is; but I engaged with other members on Twitter just this morning.

I am not sure what it would take for me to use these walled gardens more effectively – what would make the loss of “shareability” with those not on a particular network worth paying.

I will certainly give Kiltr’s new site a go when it is launched in June – but I am doubtful it will be enough.

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