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Paywalled, Datawalled, and...

Two walls do not a full room make. Two more '-walled' concepts to consider. (773 words / June 13, 2024)

Published onJun 13, 2024
Paywalled, Datawalled, and...

Paywalled is a widely-accepted term in the online lexicon and datawalled is also regularly used in more scholarly circles. Here, I argue that two more concepts (employing the ‘-wall’ structure) should enter the vocabulary to help describe digital content access. One concept is when a reader relies on the word of an author to honor their data accessibility statement. The other concept describes the circumstance when everything has been done to make content accessible, but no fish are biting.

Before detailing these newest entrants, let’s refresh on our incumbents.

Paywalled & Datawalled

A paywall is a mechanism that restricts access to online content like the news or academic articles to paying subscribers. Wikipedia refers to two different speeds of paywall: hard and soft. WSJ and The Times both use hard paywalls, meaning that their content cannot be accessed without first logging into a paid account. Other sites like the Financial Times and New York Times are examples of a soft paywall, meaning they will give you a few free tastes per month before requiring login (see also: freemium).

Wikipedia also describes a delicious sounding third category: cookie paywall. A cookie paywall requires users to pay up or accept third-party ads to access content.

A concept somewhat similar to the cookie paywall is the datawall. The datawall is a term that I believe was originally coined by Lisa Janicke Hinchcliffe to describe content which may be free “in the sense there is no monetary transaction. But, not free in the sense that I must trade my time and my personal information in exchange for the access.”

Paywalls and Datawalls are two “walls,” but as a fan of rooms I would like for there to be four walls that exist.


Many of you will be familiar with Data Availability Statements in academic articles. Often, rather than including a link to the repository in which the data is housed, there is message that the study’s underlying data is available upon request. Today, I came across an example of the results of a paper being available on a case by case basis. The results.

Inspired by research papers written by authors who may or may not provide you with some key element of their published research, I would like to formally enter into the canon Wonderwalled.

This phrase is inspired by the 1995 pop standard by Oasis. It can be used in a sentence like so: This study was so interesting. I have many follow-up questions. Let’s check if the data is available. Oh, no! The data is wonderwalled! I wonder if this author’s email still works. I wonder if they will approve my request. Oh oh.

Oasis - Wonderwall (Official Video)

The Fourth Wall

The phrase break the fourth wall refers to actors violating the invisible and imaginary wall separating stage from audience. In a twist, the fourth wall has broken me as I don’t have a name to go with this fourth and final -wall concept. Maybe one of you can think up a good one.

Let me explain the concept.

Today I quote-retweeted Sam Moore and both of our tweets were largely unengaged with. He replied: “We're just out there, posting to the void.” Our particular academic tweet-world is mostly a dead space now and when we make tweets for what feels like nobody, it brings to mind papers that never get read beyond the editor, peer-reviewers, and maybe a few bots.

Posting to the void doesn’t necessarily imply that the content is lacking, though if the content is substandard, that could certainly be a cause. Finding one’s self posting to the void could mean that the audience is not large enough (such as with a new sub-discipline) or conversely that the number of related papers published annually on the topic is far too voluminous for all but a few select examples to stand out.

With this in mind, what will be our “-wall” term for when papers, tweets, and other content are completely free and available to read, but simply aren’t?

Here’s two stabs:

  • Whitewalled occurred to me, but that evokes the white stripe on a tire more than the blank page I was hoping for.

  • Soundwalled? Double-nod to Nate Silver’s (crowd boos) The Signal and the Noise and Phil Spector’s (jury hisses) Wall of Sound production style.

Perhaps we return to Moore’s reply and just call this last one Voidwalled. As in, Oh boy, I just published my second peer-reviewed paper! Mom will be proud. [*18 months pass*] Huh. My paper has been downloaded 82 times and cited zero times. Can’t believe my baby got voidwalled.


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