With its establishment of a members-only website (as we reported last week), London’s Hospital club exemplifies a trend towards invitation-only digital communities.
Whilst information may indeed want to be free, it seems increasingly clear to us that social networks often require boundaries for them to function effectively. Hardly surprising, really: offline, cliques, clubs and communities frequently entail nomination, rites-of-passage and other signs of commitment and shared values. Those gate-keeping processes have evolved for many reasons, and not all of them are about money and snobbery. Many of us, in many social settings, just need to get on with it, and not have to spend half of every meeting explaining the rules of order, dress code or music policy to the newbies.
In fact, at the risk of sounding tweedy in the extreme, we see the trend for online walled communities as a sign of a Very Good Thing: that people are starting to forget that they are interacting digitally, and simply getting on with interacting per se, in the ways that make sense to them — that are fit for their purpose — rather than feeling obliged to do things differently simply because ‘oh it’s on the internet so it has to be open to all comers’.
On reflection, it seems strange that this even feels controversial, and yet it does. We’ve spent ten years experiencing the revolution (and it is a revolution) that digital social media has brought to collaboration and innovation. We are there, people, we are with that worldview. But there’s a lot more to social activity, innovation and creation than access and open facilitation. Some things are still best done by small groups and kept that way until they’re ready for wider engagement or involvement.
It would, however, sadden us if the innovation and creativity engendered in those walled communities became trapped there. We think the outcome for which to push is not universal access to every online community, but openness as to their goals, and for the exploitation of their digital nature to — as and when appropriate — gift their insight, creativity and creations back to the digital commons. Hmm. We’ll see you the other side of the velvet rope.