We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
I thought of that last night as I listened to an excellent discussion of Google+ and Facebook at the tech meet-up I attend monthly. What does one have to do with the other?
When the digital revolution began, it started within walled gardens like AOL and Prodigy. The content was distributed only to users within the walls, you could find people only if they too were “members”, and searching only generated results for the garden’s content. That changed rather quickly, and the open internet of web sites became the focal point. Companies and individuals focused their efforts on build great sites that were open to all and the content was discoverable via search engines and links.
With the growth of Facebook, and now Google+, it feels as if the pendulum is swinging back the other way. To some people, Facebook is the internet – the people and brands with which one might want to interact are building up presences that are not open. No Facebook or G+ account, no access. While a lot of the content is discoverable through search engines, the use of “social signals” to prioritize the results might mean the content out there on the open web is less visible.
So this is the question on my mind this morning: are we headed back to the walled gardens of the early digital age? Moreover, even if we’re not, is the fact that a business needs to maintain multiple pieces of digital real estate – a Facebook page, a Google+ page, a Twitter feed, a LinkedIn page along with a web site – becoming more costly than it is valuable? I spend a fair amount of time discussing ROI in these spaces with clients and in all candor there is no single right answer I’ve found. It’s hard to ignore the almost billion folks who are on Facebook, and Google+ is adding tens of millions of users every month. How can one NOT be there? On the other hand, they’re closed systems and imperfect technologies – Facebook keeps changing its basic terminology and data presentation; Google+ gives users a ton of control, but doesn’t permit (yet) the kind of innovative, exciting presentation a brand might want.
What do you think? How are you using these services both as a consumer and as a business? How does that compare with the open web, and do you think the walled garden approach is back from the digital dead? Let me know!