Tuesday 20 May 2008

Luxury and Social Networks

Luxury and Social Networks, by Alexander Gallé, was originally published in Luxury Briefing magazine in May 2008.


I wrote a piece about Web 2.0 a while ago, which received quite a lot of good feedback. The central premise of the column was that - just like in the early days of the web - the luxury industry was simply not taking web 2.0 seriously, when closer analysis revealed that web 2.0 and luxury were actually a match made in heaven.

It led to a few discussions about exactly how the luxury industry should take web 2.0 seriously, so I thought I’d focus the next few articles on different aspects of web 2.0, the first one being the act of sharing on social networks.

The standard way of visualizing a social network is as a mesh, where the nodes in the mesh are people and the lines in the mesh are the connections between them.

This model has proved useful in some ways, because it’s helped us to really understand that the value of a space such as aSmallWorld, Artipolis or Facebook is determined by the people in it, and that you can no longer think of it as a one-to-many information channel, but as a many-to-many information space. It has also led a few people in luxury - myself included - to think of social networks as the online equivalent of members clubs.

However, while it is good to place people at the centre of the information space, this model overlooks the core reason why people connect in the first place: objects.

I’m talking about objects in the physical and abstract sense of the word. For instance, a hobby and a job will connect me to very different sets of people. Neither of these are ‘objects’ in the everyday sense of the word but, in an information space, they become objects: the things that connect me to these different sets of people. You could say that a large part of the objects’ information value is in their intensity as vectors to connect me to other people.

This overlap between physical and abstract objects becomes most interesting when it is the overlap itself that creates meaningful connections in a network.

On Artipolis, for example, we have recently sponsored a member’s gallery exhibition of photographs in which many of the models were other members of Artipolis (interestingly, they were nudes wearing animal masks…).

Here, the objects – the photographs - serve as a vector not only to create connections between people, but to create new objects of expression, new photographs. The artworks would literally not have existed, were it not for the act of sharing in the network itself: a true example of sharing as a measure of value. In web 1.0, the importance was on the ability for a web user to find what they were looking for, through search engines like Google. In web 2.0, the importance is on the user’s ability to share what they have found in a meaningful way, which turns social networks, effectively, into ‘share engines’.

I believe this is where social networks become interesting for the luxury industry. It is through objects that luxury speaks, creating meaningful ideological bonds between people. Luxury objects can be very physical: a finely crafted watch by Corum, an intricately designed pen by Montegrappa. More often than not, however, the objects’ physicality is irrelevant, serving merely as a ticket into an ideological space where their true value is measured by their ability to be shared and communicated as objects of information.
www.luxury-briefing.com   |   www.galle.com