From LinkedIn, 14 June 2008, an exchange that includes a statement that is worth looking at, as we think about what creates viable, vibrant communities:

“anything that reduces participation in the network (such as… see more charging a subscription fee) is unlikely to add value.”

I realize that that’s a common position in the online world: the more, the merrier. The wisdom of crowds and all that.

But think of human history. Haven’t we been forming guilds and clubs that are exclusive, and isn’t there something special about small groups with common bonds? Don’t we tend to value things more if they are rare, limited in supply? It can be argued that paying a small subscription is hardly a sufficient value enhancer. (Right, I just want to hang out with people who don’t mind forking over $19.95 a month, because they’ll necessarily be more interesting, brilliant, and beautiful that those who stick with the free service). But that doesn’t mean I enjoy scrolling through the comments posted by friends of friends about indistinguishable Facebook photos (“Awesome!” “Go you!”).

The LinkedIn discussion is about what it takes to create a “social network” — but where’s the community? What more would we get out of a network by making it more exclusive?

Here’s the text of the exchange I picked up at LinkedIn:

Would you pay a small monthly fee for a ‘social network’ – using the term broadly – if it provided you with a service or information that was really useful in your work or hobby?

Asked by Ralph Talmont | 8 days ago in Blogging, Web Development | Closed
Barry’s answer:

As others have pointed out, the value of a social network is in the network itself. So, anything that reduces participation in the network (such as… see more charging a subscription fee) is unlikely to add value. A freemium approach, where the network is free, but you can provide substantial value beyond the network for a fee, might be feasible. LinkedIn does this, though it’s a very small segment of their audience (mostly recruiters) who pay for the premium service. I could see a service like Twitter, which is struggling to handle its growth, looking to charge a premium for users who wish to follow more than say 500 people, though this topic has caused much debate in the Twitter community already. The key question I would ask is why you are proposing this business model. Is there a specific reason to make the network fee-based (for example, to limit participation to those who would pay?) or is it simply because that’s the way you see to monetize the network? In other words, would charging be to the benefit of the participants or solely to the benefit of the developer? The social media model has been pretty clearly established with ad revenue; it would be incredibly difficult to generate enough interest and participation in a paid social network service at this point.