Joho the Blog » [Berkman] Elizabeth Goodman on walled gardens

[Berkman] Elizabeth Goodman on walled gardens

Elizabeth Goodman of UC Berkeley is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk on a project she’s just now beginning. It is, she says, “half-baked.” She’s going to compare walled gardens in the computer sense to the original referent of “walled garden” and experiences of community gardens which often are fenced off. She says she comes to this from a design background, and has been looking at “how the metaphors we use shape the possibilities we imagine for them and how people can act in them.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

A walled garden was originally a commons, a common ground people can use. We use the term in tech talk because it is a common and concrete metaphor. But, “its salience relies on associations with imagined wall gardens.” Can we expand the “walled gardens” metaphor to make it a more useful tool for thought? Can we do so by looking at real walled gardens?

The initial uses of the term (first in 1680 and then in 1757) was very positive. But digital wall gardens lack openness, can’t share info across networks, that limits what you can look at, etc. Examples: Kindle, the AppStore, and Facebook. When people illustrate digital WGs, they tend to show beautiful, Victorian gardens…not at all like what you experience in your Facebook stream.

Elizabeth notes that walled gardens originally were created not to keep people about to create a microclimate. Fires could be set to raise the temperature. This should help us to see WGs as places of work and production. “So, is it useful to compare how we think about digital walled garden social network sites to how urban gardeners think about members-only community gardens?”

She studied community gardeners and park volunteers in the SF area for two years, because she was interested in shared management. She points out two things about the community garden photo she’s showing: Only members get in, and they’re not collectively cultivated. Each person gets her own small plot. “It is kind of like MySpace”: You can make your own plot as hideously designed as you want and no one will bother you, although if you don’t maintain your site, you get kicked out. (She notes that someone has insisted on distinguishing gardening from landscaping, a distinction she does not much care about.)

Q: [me] Does “gardening” vs “maintaining” when applied to digital realms imply gender? Were gender implications driving its adoption?
A: Probably yes.

Q: How about farming vs. gardening?

[Discussion has become quite conversational, which is wonderful for everyone except the liveblogger.]

Q: Walled gardens keep people out. Digital WPs keep people in.

Q: People in digital WGs have no sense of shared maintenance/management.

WGs are actually less communitarian than I had thought.

Q: First time I heard something called a WG on the Net was AOL.

Q: Is using Flickr, Facebook, or MySpace a faustian bargain?

Q: Urban dwellers really like living near a community garden even if they don’t garden in it. The walls are fences so you can see what’s there.

EG: And that’s a bit like Flickr: People can see much of what you post there.

EG: Here’s a photo of an unwalled garden by a master grower who is going something like a social display of his skill/artistry. But here’s a photo of community garden where a bean plot is next to a mixed flower plot.

Q: [me, summarizing the back channel] The first use of “WG” was for AOL, where the pitch was the order and safety of AOL vs. the wildness of the Web. Now WG seems to refer to locked places. I.e., garden vs. wild becomes walled vs. unwalled.

Q: WGs demarcate space for special creative uses.

[I am doing a completely lousy job here. The conversation is too interesting, plus there's the backchannel. I give up. Sorry. You'll be able to find the webcast at the Berkman site.]

2 Responses to “[Berkman] Elizabeth Goodman on walled gardens”

  1. [...] http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2009/10/27/berkman-elizabeth-goodman-on-walled-gardens/ [...]

  2. Video and audio were made available earlier this week via Berkman.

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