“Walled Garden” is a term that’s been used to describe how tech companies tightly control the ways third party devices, software and systems can interact with their platforms, and there are both PROs and CONs to this business model:
PRO: Products “just work” for consumers, and the tight guidelines in place reduce the myriad of headaches seen in similar, less controlled, environments.
CON: Users become “locked” to that company’s products and services, and outsiders (third-party hardware, services or software developers) wanting to participate in the ecosystem can be forced to pay an arbitrary premium simply to be there.
There is another form of the Walled Garden that has gotten less attention – the one around user contributed data. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, or Yelp – they all benefit from user contributed data, and they all put it to work for themselves. Some vendors have nameless analysts in secret bunkers analyzing your data and offering up new ads or related content based on what you are sharing. Some use that data and turn you into the advertiser by promoting a product or event you’ve liked to the rest of your community. Ultimately, the data that helps and nourishes the business is trapped on their servers and properties. It is locked up inside their walled garden. And who ”owns” it is pretty clear (hint: it’s not the users).
We here at Swipp think something feels broken in that model. We have Google and Facebook, representing two of the most prolific data gatherers in human history, and it’s not particularly clear how the user or community benefit from that data. There is no question we benefit from using their services, but what about the DATA we all contribute via those services?
“Metcalfe’s Law”, which has evolved over time to keep pace with technological innovations, began as an expression around the value of a network being directly related to the number of users on it. As applied to social networks, the more data we put in, the more value it should represent to all of us – and the smarter we all (should) become. As we watch Facebook go from 250 million users to 500 million users to 900 million users, we’re pretty sure Facebook is getting a LOT smarter – however, we are not sure they are doing much to help the network or the users become smarter.
Time has shown society has gotten smarter the more liberated the information is. The Gutenberg Press brought printable books and an explosion of knowledge in 1436. The telegraph did the same in 1832. Then radio in 1895, television in 1936, PCs in 1981, the World Wide Web (the Mosaic browser in particular) in 1993, and the mobile web a few years later. With each of these technologies, knowledge was democratized, more accessible, more immediate, and easier to create – and we all got smarter. By some estimates, 2.7 zettabytes of data will be created in 2012 (that’s 10 with 21 zeros after it), which is 50% more than 2011. And yet, for some reason, we don’t feel 50% smarter than last year.
Aside from the hurdles of sifting, sorting and summarizing that massive set of data, we also see a new propensity to lock up this data, ration it out, and to force you to destinations to see the drips and drabs that you’re permitted to see. The destination model is how you are fed ads, how more information is siphoned from you, and how the destination host gets smarter. Given our history of more data, spreading wider, dispersing faster, and being ever-more democratized, doesn’t it feel like we are moving in reverse?
The current model is broken.
We, as users of these networks, need to demand more. We need to make it clear that while we appreciate the services we get and respect the need for a business to make a profit, we also want to see information freed up for the better good of all. At Swipp, we have a vision for how this could happen, and with your help we look forward to making it a reality.
What do you think? Do you have a sense that you’re giving more than you take from today’s social networks? Should we be demanding more? Do you feel uneasy with what they might be doing with your data? Or, have you gotten comfortable with it and just see it as the cost of partaking in services you appreciate?