Social Walls: the new Paywall

by Jon on February 18, 2012

Once upon a time there was a World Wide Web where the information was free and people interacted with each other without needing to fill out forms, register or install new software.

But this Web was too simple for the applications that needed to know who you are. And thus, user registration spread across the Web.

Walled Garden by Gerry Balding (Flickr)

Then, people realized that you couldn’t simply run all these sites for free. Now that we could identify you, we ought to be able to get you to pay. And thus, the paywall was born. But all these walled gardens behind tall paywalls tended to wither–too much information simply yearned to be free. And so advertising, transactions and virtual goods grew.

A few years ago, a few sites realized that even user registation was too much of a barrier. Only a few sites like Facebook could get away with it. Otherwise, most people couldn’t be bothered–and most of the content was freely searchable through Google anyway.

One of the amazing things with “social applications” — be they on Facebook or through mobile apps on Android or iPhone–is that they decreased the barrier for accessing interesting content. Games and applications simply appear on my device or my web browser without all the hoop-jumping of the past…

But I’ve sensed another shift underway. I’m going to call them social walls. These are the social apps you’re asked to install that don’t do anything new that the Web didn’t already do–and may even take away from the interconnections of the Web. You know, the “social news readers” that get in my way every time I just want to follow a link to view news on Facebook.

When you add new steps or complexity, there’s got to be a good reason for it: like a genuine need to differentiate identities. But I do not need an app for the equivalent of every website on the Internet. Savvy?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

AnonNo Gravatar February 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

Replace “too simple for the applications” with “too simple for the marketers”.

There, fixed that for you.

The “applications” did not “need” to know who you are. It is the marketers who want to advertise to you or sell your habits to other marketers who “need” to know who you are.

JonNo Gravatar February 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

@Anon – you’re probably right about a large number of applications, although I do think that many applications need a way to differentiate between users (e.g., games) although it is certainly possible that it can often be done anonymously.

Michael HartmanNo Gravatar May 8, 2012 at 11:17 am


We didn’t need this social app reader wall. It adds NOTHING for the user, which means at the end they are destined to fail.

People with a clue understand that we aren’t Facebook’s customer. But we are the user. At least Facebook adds some value to the user so they are willing to use the site and be cattle rounded up to view ads.

But with these social app readers they add nothing. They expect us to benefit them without delivering ANYTHING worthwhile in return.

That is destined to fail, imho.

BusinessWebsiteDev.comNo Gravatar August 27, 2012 at 5:30 am

Hello and thank you for a great article. We have been working on a social wall which allows access to selected content in exchange for a like, tweet or mention on google+ or linkedin. This way, site owners can charge for larger items (like a paywall) and give away smaller items by using our social wall, which we have called Social Gateway and is available as a plugin for WordPress.
Site owners can then mix and match the options so that they get the best results. You could even provide the user with an option such as “pay or mention” so that the user can pay for access or mention you on a social network to obtain access.
With the recent changes in google algorithm, mentions on social networks can help to obtain a higher search engine ranking, giving them more value than they had in the past.

Thanks again

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