About those velvet ropes

A post about Google Wave.

Back at the turn of the year, Peter Kim launched his ‘social media predictions for 2009‘. The paper, downloadable in PDF format, featured forward thinking insights from such social web luminaries as Jason Falls, Charlene Li and one of my favourite players in this space, Chris Brogan.

The predictions themselves make for interesting reading and I would (even now), recommend going back and taking a look if you have the opportunity. To cut to the chase though, it was the thoughts from Mr Brogan that stood out the most for me, mainly around his notion of the ‘velvet-rope social network’.

“I believe we’ll have more focused velvet-rope social networks in 2009 where the tools and the goals match verticals instead of the general commons of Facebook.”

Nicely put. At the time I remember agreeing with the idea, but I wasn’t entirely sure about the execution. Chris himself has returned to the subject a number of times on his own blog (often with examples). However, the reason this particular thought came back to me recently was in large part, thanks to Google Wave.

Google Wave is currently in private beta and the invites only started pouring out into the web just under a fortnight ago. With them came the promise of a new dawn in co-working, a new way of true collaboration on a global scale…  A brand new vision of the future.

Except that so far, based on at least 99% of my own experiences at least, no one has found any real use for it.

Well that is until I realised exactly what it is.


Google Wave is, to my mind at least, one of Brogan’s new velvet roped social networks.

You open your Wave (this is your network) and invite in whoever you like to join you (as long as they are on Wave). This is, of course absolutely by invitation only. One inside you can chat, share and exchange.. basically do anything you would do normally just within the comfort of the Wave.

As Brogan said: “…the tools and the goals match verticals…”

But there’s more.

The answer? They’re both velvet-rope social networks. Why? Allow me to explain.

Not soon after I started thinking about Google Wave, I realised that another service from the big G shares the same commonalities as the velvet-rope social network: Google Reader.

Google Reader is not too dissimilar. The sharing functionality ‘baked in’ to the UI of the RSS service allows me to one-click push the stories that I’m reading out to my buddies on Google Talk (Google’s Instant Messenger service, aka ‘GTalk’). These stories then appear in my contact’s own Greader – sometimes with an added note from me – and that, is my choice.

I like sharing. I also like, occasionally picking and choosing with whom I share.

Is this the way forward?

Maybe. The point is, Google Reader is cool. I like it. I like sharing stories with my friends and I like them sharing with me. It’s closed (to a point) and I know who I’m sharing with.

Google Wave, while being no replacement for email or IM, is actually really quite useful for actually doing some work. Of the 36 ‘waves’ I have going on at the moment; one is for a specific project, a handful of massive group chats – the IM equivalent of an MMORPG (eesh), – and the rest are along the lines of ‘Is this thing on?’, ‘testing’ and my own favourite, ‘is this actually the future?’

It’s closed, for now. If you have an invite, find the people you want to work with and start a new collaborative project.

Treat it right, and you’ll yield results.
Don’t, and you’ll never see the benefit.

Thanks for stopping by.

Additional reading: “What problems does Google Wave solve?” (via Renate Nyborg)

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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

13 thoughts on “About those velvet ropes”

  1. I wrote something about this velvet rope approach sometime ago based on something Jyri (from Jaiku) once said about social objects and managing our own social graphs. In some respects, Google is enabling this management of such a graph all the more, and Reader points the way how and why this is relevant. Wave takes that sharing idea, and throws it into that unified communications bubble. In many respects, it makes sense, and in others, it will fracture the web.

    The question is whether people will care for 3rd parties to remain the controller/broker of the rope once Wave or whatever is next takes major roots. Should be an interesting show regardless.

  2. I don’t know if I agree or disagree with you on Google Reader being a velvet rope app (the new VR?!) as I don’t use it that way.

    It is mainly an RSS feed aggregator for me. Sure, I mark some posts as ones I like and also to share them (mainly my own posts!) but I have never read a post or blog because someone shared it with me.

    I did not read this initial report, but I will. I have never paid much attention to the term VR before, so I think I will explore it some more – thanks once agin for enlightening me!


  3. Interesting revisit on the idea. Ironically Facebook could be viewed as velvet-rope today; perhaps the only social network that isn’t would be email. The rope is certainly a strategy that helps build public interest while keeping things manageable on the inside as service details get worked out.

  4. I have to admit to being a bit lost in Google Wave – I got my invite this morning and am still on the “is this thing on” kind of posts! 🙂

    But I do realise the potential, and when I have some invites to give out I’m looking forward to inviting people I can collaborate with on a few projects. I think it’s one of those things that I’ll eventually wonder how I did without, but at the moment it’s still a bit of a novelty.

  5. @ARJWright – That’s what I enjoy about Google Wave: Yes the ropes are Google branded but ultimately, it is you that controls who’s in and who’s out.

    @Mike Maddaloni – I get as much enjoyment from reading the contents of the Google Reader as I do sharing them and when I share, I always try to add a comment to lend context to the original reason for sharing. That part – that personal recommendation to my circle of friends – is what makes it so powerful for me. Give it a whirl 😉

    @Peter Kim – First, thank you very much for commenting! 🙂 Second, I see what you mean by the rope strategy when applying it to apps in private-beta. However, I think in this instance, even when the Wave opens to the public – users will still be able to create *private* Waves that they can build out with or without select members of their private network.

    @Chris – You’ll get past the novelty aspect soon, I promise! 😉

    (Do see that ‘additional reading’ link above, well worth a look)

  6. I’m still finding my way around Google Wave and I think it’ll still be a while before I find out what I want to use it for. Before Wave there wasn’t a tool out there where I easily switch between work mode and personal mode, that I wanted to use.

    Google wave could be just that. I have a few different waves going on at the moment and I can easily dip into each one and know the kind of people I’m talking to and what the purpose of it is. There are those that are more ‘professionally’ focused and those that are purely social. I find this incredibly useful and a way of intergrating my contacts from different platforms into one dashboard.

    It is the ability to tailor and create your own mini social networks within wave that is the big plus for me. In this respect, it might even be a competitor to sites like ning. We are no longer happy to just participate in social media, we want to be creators and this is where the Velvet Rope theory plays its part (I think!). 🙂

  7. Is that not roughly what people were saying about Twitter about 12 months ago – understand it and it’s great, don’t and it’s broadcasting in the dark, with the fuse set to “off”?

    I have no invite by the way. Will someone turn the freakin’ lights on please?

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