The internet and convergence are driving many positive changes, but suppressing people’s fragile ego isn’t one of them.
1. The internet has brought great value as a democratiser of information and a debatable flattening of associated social advantage.
People anywhere in the world can produce words and images and publish them on their own or associated with anybody else’s content, regardless of who they are.
People can all walk down the street and talk to each other as well, regardless of social rank. However, this hasn’t satisfied humans. We’ve created places, products and services that only people ‘like us’ can go and use so we avoid such mixing.
2. Our cities are full of exclusivity. They are dripping in the nuance of economic class and all its signifiers (clothes, body shape, accent, volume) and many places and much business is based on excluding one group of people from another. This is not a top / down phenomenon. Though the "velvet rope" is useful shorthand, there are as many places with an equal and opposing exclusivity to anyone wearing pinstripes or pearls.
The velvet rope is alive and well in the physical world so why not our parallel digital existence?
3. On the internet, the primary business model we’ve managed to come up with is mass display advertising. Eyeballs are what matter. They are the primary metric against which all is judged. This has had significant impacts on products and services where distribution was the limiting factor and cost (i.e. news media).
When eyeballs are the primary score, having a velvet rope keeping some people out isn’t a very good business tactic.
On the street, its a valid business model to have something that is exclusive with high barrier to entry for only a small subset of the population. Many places, products and services maintain their high value primarily due to manufactured exclusivity.
4. Of course the accumulation of eyeballs and connections is in itself a social dissector, Klout for example, engineered to be so to feed to top line metrics of more people from more target groups to sell to advertisers.
It is admirable how, do date, digital people have viewed attempts for exclusivity as unseemly. Also the general backlash against Klout's attempts at spotlighting social classes based on noisiness (truly a parable of our age).
For many commentators, they are sharp enough to see this as the thin edge of the wedge. For others they look like they don’t want their position of top of the digital heap to be eroded by all the assholes with money and looks yet again.
5. So how will exclusivity be recreated online? True exclusivity where it explicitly exists to ensure vast groups of people cannot participate.
Either people will have to start paying real money for such exclusivity, rather than paying in social sharing, or advertisers are going to have to see real advantages (revenues and brand value) from talking to only those people and those people only. Or other business models will arise to bring this most base human impulses.
It seems hard to believe that people have simply decided that they are all happy to play together in the same sandbox online, while never entertain the idea of a similar coming together in the cities they live in.
Perhaps this was tolerable when digital was something separate, only accessed from a desktop in text and non-realtime imagery. However, in the converged environment we all live in, there is no practical separation.
How many places do people not share on Foursquare because they don’t actually want other people there? Social bragging of where you are somewhere quickly erodes the value of the visit.
Sharing something cool, precipitates its uncooling. Truly a modern dilemma.