I attended a Zoom talk today on the history of formal communities in America. Think the Junto, the Saturday Club, The Metaphysical Club, Augusta National, etc.
My biggest takeaway was that there are two necessary ingredients to a healthy community:
- Shared participation. Everyone needs to be involved in the action of the community, whatever that may be. Additionally everyone needs to be aligned on what participation looks like and how to bring value to the table.
- Barriers to entry. This was an uncomfortable one to accept, but I've decided that I agree with the sentiment. The communities that last the longest are those with relatively high barriers to entry, whether they be financial, meritocratic, social, or something else entirely.
I could write a whole essay about each of these, but I want to dig into this idea of barriers to entry for community.
The social media platforms we all use most — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. — have essentially removed any barrier to entry in joining a community. There are various "sub-cultures" across Twitter: Muslim Twitter, Startup Twitter, Harry Styles Stan Twitter... but there's nothing formal about these communities. They're simply loosely connected groups of people who are tweeting about the same things.
High barriers to entry create a sense of collective identity amongst a community. As Nadia Eghbal points out, though, "Platforms accelerated this transition by making it easier for people to move between communities, which made collective identity more porous."
Now, anyone can hop from community to community without having to do much at all.
The exclusivity created by high barriers to entry are often problematic. For example, rich people in a country club will simply look out for their own, getting richer in the process and leaving the rest behind.
However, figuring out ways to create high barriers to entry through means that anyone can reach with enough effort/thought/intention/etc. could be the key to revitalizing communities, both online and off.