Networks: Open or Gated?

I find it ironic that I disagree with Joseph’s post about gated communities.  He argues that, for the following reasons, the majority of online networks will be gated.

Gated communities have the following characteristics, making them
attractive incubators of ideas and knowledge sharing amongst
individuals that are otherwise skeptical about participating in open,
unfiltered networks:

  • Building Trust – closed networks, by
    definition, have some set of criteria or vetting process for granting
    membership. Because each member is guaranteed to be of a certain
    caliber, by virtue of this vetting process, each individual involved in
    the network is more likely to be engaged due to the heightened level of
  • Fostering Privacy – no external
    search engines, spammers, marketers, or competitors are allowed in,
    making it far less likely for a member’s contributions to be used
    maliciously against them.
  • Facilitating Quality Interactions
    – gated communities are usually formed around a common goal or
    affinity, giving participants a springboard for discussions and
    interactions that most members of the community will find interesting
    or have common views about. Recommendations or insights shared in this
    context are likely to be far higher in quality.
  • Connections to the Real World
    – again, closed networks form around a belief, affinity, or geographic
    area that affords meeting face to face or collaborating on projects
    offline as well as online. Connections formed in these networks have a
    greater opportunity for developing outside of the online network than
    do random connections formed on large scale open networks.

The irony of my disagreement lies in the fact that I worked with Joseph to create one of the mature and most successful examples of gated social communities at SelectMinds.  I now believe, that for information to flow freely, and for the network to start genuinely benefiting from Metcalfe’s law, the walls have to come down.  Tribe has learned this.  So has Friendster.  MySpace proves it to us every day we look at Alexa rankings.

At SelectMinds, we were required by our clients’ privacy and security concerns, to keep the walls up.  However, I continue to believe, that the greatest promise at SelectMinds would be realized if the client base would begin experimenting with the cross-pollination of their social networks.

Incidentally, Fred’s got a post about the same issue, targeting a small world.

One thought on “Networks: Open or Gated?

  1. Thanks for calling me on this one Cem ;-). I think it comes down to the goals of the network. I’m not saying that mass-market, open, unfettered networks don’t have utility or that they will cease to exist. One of my strongest supporting beliefs is that blogs are the best-positioned platform for truly open networking, and where the benefits of Metcalfe’s law can be realized.
    But certain aspects of knowledge sharing and collaboration are not meant to be public. They require heightened levels of trust, privacy, identity, comradery, and so on, and that requires adding filters, enclosing spaces, and making it easier for users to navigate the noise. The Dunbar number cannot be ignored.
    The most important point in all of this is that human behavior doesn’t change much between the real world and online. Exclusivity, fear, selfishness, and plenty of other human factors are not going away, and the tools that mediate these issues are the tools that will get adopted.
    I’m not saying this is ideal, just my take on how it will likely pan out.


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