You might recall a social network for professional women, 85Broads, which I critiqued a while ago. The good news first: the ugly green-and-orange color scheme has finally gone, in favor of a less garish burgundy livery. (I still have reservations about the typograhic design and the mishmash of fonts on the site, but let’s consider that minor for now).
The more important news, however, is that the network has ditched free membership in favor of a paid model, as I discovered today – not because I visited the site, but because I read their email. And I would probably even sign up if, in the years I’ve been a member of the free site, I had had an inkling of a sense that there could be something in it for me. There may be a wonderful community of people in the real-life-based 85Broads network – I just never felt that, whatever that was, any of it was spilling over into the site. If a user has hardly ever had any use for your site in the last two or three years, to the point that your address has ended up in the cemetery of unused browser bookmarks, trying to upgrade that user from a free to a paid membership probably isn’t going to get you an enthusiastically paying user.
So, I’m OK with being booted out. Maybe there are tons of elite or niche communities that are traying to charge for even basic access, and some are even – who knows? – pulling it off. But for a Web community, or a Web extension of a real-life community, putting monetization before engagement, or trying to get people to pay fees before they have experienced anything of value or meaning to them, seems to me like the final nail in the coffin.