All may not be rosy if we put down roots in Facebook’s walled garden

Conventional wisdom has always been that your most valuable content should be on your website, where you have full control of it, yet major news organisations are apparently prepared to put some of the internet’s most valuable new content in Facebook’s hands.

Posted on 01 April 2015 - opinion
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The New York Times recently ran a story revealing that Facebook is brokering a deal with major news organisations to host their content within Facebook. In other words, you wouldn’t click a link to a story you spotted on Facebook; the full article or video would already be there for you to read or watch.

Conventional wisdom has always been that your most valuable content should be on your website, where you have full control of it, yet here are major news organisations apparently prepared to put some of the internet’s most valuable new content in Facebook’s hands.

So what’s changed?

Well, nothing as far as we can see. From ISP portals, such as and, during the internet’s infancy, through to Nokia pushing users towards their music service and MySpace trying to be all things to all people, online networks have always instinctively wanted to provide content within their walled garden. Give people the content they want… just don’t let them leave our site.

The first generation of apps achieved this really well. Their user experience on smart phones was so much better than browsers at the time. But once responsive design caught up, many people preferred to roam the world wide web as they had before.

That is always likely to be the case, because users want to discover interesting stuff rather than have content selected for them.

How has Facebook made the breakthrough?

The only difference between the likes of and Facebook is scale. Facebook boasts 600 million very active users - that’s obviously more enticing to content creators than reaching a few thousand early adopters on Vodafone live!, for instance.

That scale has probably made some publishers wary of being left behind, so there could be an element of suck-it-and-see at play here. It takes a lot for media owners to let their precious content go, so perhaps this is just seen as a trial exercise.

Another factor is user experience. Media organisations have probably noted that user experience is undoubtedly better when users are accessing video, audio, photos and text that are served within an app, rather than being linked to from an app.

If you manage a Facebook Page and have posted a YouTube video recently, you may have noticed an automated message from Facebook advising you to upload the video directly for better engagement, so they are really pushing this. 

Should we be worried?

Definitely. Unlike some of their rivals who have made being nice their schtick, Facebook doesn’t have a ‘don’t be the playground bully’ gene. Minor controversies over privacy issues in the past have demonstrated that they have no problem pushing the boundaries of digital ethics. A recent investigation by the Belgian privacy commission says Facebook’s privacy policy may be in breach of EU law (Facebook denies this), while the Dutch data protection authority is also conducting an investigation. 

What is good for Facebook is not necessarily the same as what is good for the digital community in general - and Facebook has demonstrated that it doesn’t necessarily care what other people think.

What’s the end game?

History tells us that walled gardens don’t survive in the long-term - the open web does. For that reason, businesses shouldn’t do away with their websites and rely on Facebook. Best practice is to continue to manage your own content and your own data on your own website.

Facebook and other channels can play a key part in sharing or promoting that content, but ownership of your own data is key.

As with log-in services, Facebook is not the only show in town so businesses should be wary of going all-in with them.

It will be interesting to see how Google responds. Facebook’s attempts to host the world’s media within its walled garden are bound to impact Google, which currently makes money from search when people are seeking that content and from advertising when users visit publishers’ websites. 

Perhaps the answer for Google lies in their Chrome browser. Continuing improvements in Chrome and other browsers on tablets and phones that make the web experience more seamless and further reduce the need for apps, even dominant apps like Facebook, Skype and SnapChat.

When freedom, diversity and general oddness have been cornerstones of the web’s success over the past 20 years, it would be a shame if the web was reduced to just Facebook for a generation.