June 15, 2010
Cultivating a ‘nice’ experience in the anonymous Web
Christopher Poole, the founder of the controversial website 4chan, argues that online anonymity empowers people to achieve unfiltered self-expression. Poole, aka moot, spoke in defense of online anonymity at a recent TED conference, and the video’s release last week prompted debate around free speech.
4chan is part of a Web landscape where, in many places, unsavory elements run rampant: distasteful content, spammers, hecklers, malware and shoddy design. Then there are the discussion boards that look like barroom brawls. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and some other news sites are moving away from allowing anonymous comments, which often spurs hateful ranting, the Times recently reported. “The Internet is growing up, [and] the trend is away from anonymity,” Ariana Huffington told the Times.
When the Web feels too uncivilized, people can seek refuge in “walled gardens,” which function like the gated communities of suburbia by virtue of password-protected social networks or subscription-only paywalls. The New York Times recently wrote about “The Death of the Open Web,” pointing out that the 50 million users of the iPhone and iPad rely on Apple-vetted apps, with the App Store promising a more exclusive and higher-quality experience than the free, open Web.
Are we trading the open Web for a more closed, curated one? If we gain a “nicer” experience, what do we lose in the process? As opinions of online privacy evolve, look for changes reflected in new online architectures. For marketers, this means considering what consumers want from an online experience that includes tiered levels of access. Does your branding or campaign content belong in the free, open Web or will it command a premium as a secluded app with perks?
Photo credit: Manish Bansal