Note — Jul 19, 2020

Come for the Network, Pay for the Tool

Great piece by Toby Shorin who makes a well argued case for paid communities sitting at the intersection of social networks, content, and commerce. He looks at the various ways the word “community” is used, at the evolution of those communities within or alongside social networks, large media outlets, brands, microbrands on Instagram, newsletters, streamers, Patreon, and a lot more besides. Shorin concludes that the time is ripe for tailored online platforms catering to the specific needs of communities, and supported by paying members. I also appreciated the conclusion where he states that “[m]ost business writing lacks a meaningful engagement with the question of whether the strategies, tactics, and trends on offer are good, in a larger and longer term sense. It is negligent not to address these questions.” He’s perfectly right, and goes on to consider how some future purveyors of “bespoke social networks” might consider and care for the communities they attract.

Sidenote → Just as bundles of paid newsletters are starting to pop up, I’m wondering if curators / aggregators / writers might regroup to bring their communities together (when compatible in interests and needs) in one place, instead of an ever expanding landscape of small custom social networks.

To me “community” implies users regularly engaging with each other, a criterion which indicates that the “regular crowd” at neighborhood joints or local skate shops are much truer communities than most online brands. […]

[F]undamentally, they are still based on chat, and chat simply isn’t the right core user experience for many other communities. Unique functionality and bespoke interfaces provide distinct advantages that off-the-shelf tooling can never achieve. […]

Because in a very real way, the financial and social sustainability of paid communities will depend on the degree to which the communities are recognized not as a monetizable resource but as a body of people with social needs, emotional lives, and practical concerns of livelihood. […]

Success here will come down to implementation details. The incentive structure, funding sources, size, goals, moderation approach, and community management philosophy of these networks will determine their long term viability as both businesses and communities. […]

We are transitioning from an era of centralized management of human development and financial capital into an era where both identity formation and resource allocation happens in decentralized, loosely-coordinated, and emergent ways.