The Hospital's mashup of real and virtual networks

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The Hospital private members club in London is not the first place you might look for a new kind of web model. It’s a private members club, afterall. This sort of thing does not scale in the same way that, say, a web app might. Every new member must be vetted by hand. Problem.

However, increasingly you see that VCs are quite interested in sites that makes things happen in the real world, not just online. An easy example of this is the amount of investment that went into dating sites a few years ago. More recently Twitter has lead to real-world meetups being organised, as people realise that the kinds of conversations they have via Twitter show that have something in common.

Interestingly, a European VC has been blogging about this very effect. Paul Jozefak, with Neuhaus in Hamburg has written extensively about this subject. In particular:

I’ve been astonished at how quickly the merger of the online and offline world has taken place. I blogged a while back about how social communities online need to pull their people together in the real world. Well, I’ve been living this phenomenon for a while without really comprehending it. I’ve actually already met a bunch of people via Twitter who simply happened to be in the same place as I. It’s been a great experience and I made friends with at least five pretty cool people if not more. I have also been realizing how common it’s now to hear a couple openly admit that they met via online dating. At dinner last night a business acquaintance practically was a poster child. He met his partner via FriendScout24 and they are already awaiting their second child. He couldn’t be more positive and open about it. Only a couple years back you wouldn’t dare admit you were dating online. I bet now every third or fourth couple gets together this way. This is why I am so optimistic about the mash-ups happening right now in the online world to facilitate real world interaction be it for fun, for business, or for love. Add location based services to Twitter with a bit of Facebook thrown in as well as FriendScout or, put it on the mobile and we’re rockin’. There is still so much which can be done here and I look forward to all the opportunities out there. Just think how powerful a platform could emerge if someone truly cracks this nut!

So the question is, how do social networks become truly useful?

Now, I don’t think that The Hospital is going to necessarily take this issue to the edge.

However, how they plan to go about it is interesting, according to the Club’s David Marrinan-Hayes who oversaw the new network. They are starting as social network for members, which anyone can apply to join online. Why is it interesting? Because a) it fits strategically into their business, b) it creates a launchpad for them to scale in the real world, wherever they find potential members and c) it could eventually scale if the network they created started vetting the members themselves.

Here’s how they’ll do it.

They’ve built an internal social network for members which will be opened up for anyone to join, so long as they meet the criteria of membership. The site recently came out of closed beta. A few other private members clubs have social networks: The Core Club in New York and Adam Street in London. But these are closed networks. The Hospital plans something different.

They will allow anyone to register on their site. Anyone. That’s a big leap for a private members club.

Obviously where it doesn’t scale is that each new registrant will have to be vetted by a human being. They have to go through applications to see if the person is suitable. It’s Mahalo (the human powered search engine) for members clubs.

But what this will do is act as an early warning signal about where the club should set up a site next. So for instance, they plan to set up a new club in Berlin. One way of crowd-sourcing new members is to see how many members they get registering online. That will then feed into the plans for the new club (how it operates, who it targets etc).

They plan to do this – open the electronic clubs first before the real-world ones – for other sites like New York or Shang Hai. If they got a lot of people registering in Singapore, that may mean they start a new location there.

This really works. Even before a club has opened, members could start to socially network online before meeting face to face. The social capital that is built is therefore much stronger. One of The Hospital’s niche’s is aimed at freelancers – if they can collaborate via the site, that’s a win for both sides.

The building blocks of the network are there. Right now the social network is relatively basic, but if the Club is smart, they could really leverage this into something pretty good. RSS, Multilingual supprt, Group functionality, are all planned, as well as “Hospital TV”.

Meanwhile they are launching something called “Hospital Cub 100” a multi industry listing of key players for each city they’ll be in, starting with London.

The real world and virtual world mashup is a great model. The question is, which sites out there could flip in the other direction, into the “real”?

  • Geoff Wright

    The Hospital is co-founded by one of the senior Microsoft guys if I remember rightly…

  • Craig McGinty

    Has a similar set-up to InterNations which I’m slowly exploring:

  • rtrthrthhrth

    seems retarded given the ability to create groups on any of the billions of existing socnets . why re-invent the wheel?

  • paul fisher

    I love this idea. One of the challenges of getting ANY fledging social network is getting that early traction, and this seems like a great way of getting a small active and meaningful user base. Not a bad springboard for a business….

  • Ian Delaney

    Isn’t this a tad naive? Surely, the way all the original social networks operate is to mirror classroom/social group relationships out here in the real world?

    Can’t see anything new here. Sorry. And worse, they are reinventing the wheel by creating their own social networking software. What’s wrong with a ning or FB group?

  • Mike Butcher

    Ian (and others). I know I know, it’s a good point. Why invent the wheel. But then the point here is that a club has control. What’s Facebook, right? A closed club. If he Hospital is smart, from here on they make their network interoperable with others, get distribution, and retain that level of control for actual members of the physical club. But also – and I think this is really they key and something anyone else could maybe think about – their members could vet other members for eventually approval – think Digg, with the guys who make it to the front page then let through the front door…maybe…

  • Rune

    At we stayed away from making a community site online, we decided to use facebook and where-ever else the users are rather then build or use ning, it was a concious decision to only let members be offline, as when there they will hook up on FB or similar afterwards anyway.

    We looked at The Hospital’s model, It’s rather expensive to get to a level of social networking that works, and have all the features required and I still don’t think their site works.

    I have been on the hospitals networking site since it started but haven’t logged in more than twice.

    European Young Professionals are now 3000 members in London, and 6000 globally, and have monthly events every second Wednesday.

    The reason an open social network with closed groups and open groups is more popular is that you can do and add the networks you like, and we are all members of more than one network, Swedish Beers, Chinwag, EYP, The Hospital, momolondon, Ecademy, Tuttle club just to name a few. If you have to log into every single one and also keep an active profile and spend time on them to find friends and collegues, can you imagine any work being done, and more importantly any real life social networking being done?
    Open and member profile updates across several sites is and idea, like when twitter updates on facebook etc. Status messages on Msn Gtalk, Skype, etc have now become twitter’s

    On another note EYP is open to suggestions from companies wanting to test location based applications with our members so get in touch..

  • Asif Ifteakhar Ridoy

    Dentist Tarzana, Encino,Woodland Hills, Irvine,Implant,Braces

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