The early years

The early years of the internet, after its military origins, were largely about academics and experts sharing information in closed groups. The IP protocol was open but the groups that collaborated and shared were mostly closed or at least curated and controlled access.

The internet then entered an era of more open publishing, and commerce, before “Web 2.0”, the social internet, boomed and platforms like Facebook, Twitter and, in the professional space, LinkedIn established themselves.

The evolution of social/professional networking online

Previously, online networks and communities had run on email lists and threaded discussion forums and bulletin boards.

Content sites had active commenting and communities on their own sites. But these mostly withered with the advent of the large social networking platforms to which a lot of the activity migrated.

The false promise of social media

The likes of Facebook promised to ‘make the world more connected’ and bring us closer together. However, it seems we have mostly become less connected to more people rather than deepening our connection with people we actually care about.

Research points to the fact that this social media has often driven an obsession with ourselves rather than a connection with others. And the ad-funded business model demands a focus on addiction-levels of usage rather than quality or value in connections made.

The way forwards is backwards

As the levels of digital overload increase to toxic levels, we are now seeking to control our usage, ‘detox’ or disconnect to regain control, and retreat back to more private digital spaces which are curated or controlled by individuals, or brands, we trust.

The Dunbar number says that we cannot really know more than around 150 people. This has not changed with the advent of digital even though we can have many more weak ties. Just because we might have thousands of LinkedIn connections, Twitter or Instagram followers, does not mean we really know them. These are not people we trust or feel any sense of community with.

We are now realising this truth and starting to reconstruct our social networks, both personal and professional, around greater intimacy and privacy. The groups are smaller, more curated and controlled like they were in the early years of the internet.

Even Mark Zuckerberg has realised that the future of digital networking is not like a ‘marketplace’, which is impersonal and noisy, but more like your living room which can be fun and social but is a private space into which you invite only those you trust.

The Guild difference

Professor Robin Dunbar is on the Guild Advisory Board because we always believed in the power of small, the importance of keeping things intimate to build trust and real relationships, albeit in a professional context.

But despite Facebook’s claims that they are focusing more in privacy, they are also committed to advertising and moving towards greater degrees of secrecy, ephemerality and anonymity which we believe are damaging to building true connections and community.

Guild’s approach is very different in 7 key ways:

1.      We don’t focus on ephemeral chat. Guild is about meaningful conversations and adding value.

2.      We don't promote secrecy. Guild believes in transparency and trust.

3.      We're not after huge user numbers. Guild believes in nurturing your most valued relationships.

4.      We don't promote anonymity. Guild users have professional profiles and most meet in person.

5.      We think you should be able to switch off from work.  Guild means you can keep work separate to your personal life.

6.      We care about our brand but this is about you.  Guild gives you customised branding.

7.      We believe in proper privacy, so Guild will never have advertising and you own your data, not us.

How will these online communities be different this time?

Compared to the early years of the internet, this new phase will have many similarities in its principals and underlying behaviours and motivations but will differ as follows:

  • Mobile– the experience will be mobile-first, including messaging.
  • Less mediated by brands – for better or worse the levels of trust in brands and institutions has reduced so future communities are more likely to be lead by individuals, or groups of individuals, than brands. We are seeing this already with the rise of ‘influencers’ and the struggles of media brands and legacy institutions.

We believe this return to “micro communities” – both personal and professional – is a positive development and in line with the vision for the world wide web that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor, always held.

Try Guild now for free 🙂

Guild is free to use up to 30 members, across as many groups as you want. Just click on 'Start Free' on the Basic Plan on our pricing page now to set up your free account and start inviting people in. Contact us if you want to know more or have questions.