My Year In San Francisco's $2 Million Secret Society Startup
March 11, 2016 4:13 AM   Subscribe

 
[oh mods, please can you delete that dumb full stop?]

i don't know what to make of the article. on the one hand, it sounds intriguing, fun, different. on the other, i have this gut reaction to reject it as incestuous, rich-people, well, excuse my english, wankery (the same tension i find in gibson's books - i guess this is the near future).
posted by andrewcooke at 4:27 AM on March 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


The most interesting thing about this to me is how immediately some members of the society became passionate defenders of rituals that seem to have been made up as they went along (and which may have started as tongue-in-cheek traditions that they collectively agreed to treat as sacred to keep up verisimilitude). Treat something as revered, and you will come to revere it.
posted by duffell at 4:40 AM on March 11, 2016 [11 favorites]


Honestly, this sounds like a slightly dressed-up, adultified version of the ad hoc secret societies that we used to make up as kids, mostly as outsiders who wanted to be inside of something. That's cool, but if you want to be part of something where people assume new identities and play challenging, creative roles with complex and somewhat arbitrary rules involved, you don't have to be the friend of a friend of a rich guy in San Francisco; join your local RPG group.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:47 AM on March 11, 2016 [11 favorites]


tl;dr rich person invents fraternity.
posted by bassomatic at 4:48 AM on March 11, 2016 [39 favorites]


I had assumed the article was some kind of ironic fan fic meant as SF start-up mentality satire. That shit was actually true?
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:49 AM on March 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


The first rule of Secret Club is you don't write longform articles about Secret Club.
The second rule of Secret Club is you don't write longform articles about Secret Club.
posted by graymouser at 4:51 AM on March 11, 2016 [15 favorites]


Yeah, I was amazed and bemused throughout the article, but the inescapable conclusion you come to at the end is, "Man, this guy has too much money."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 AM on March 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


It is an interesting article, but I got the impression of something that took on cultish overtones for a lot of the participants, and was clearly providing meaning in their lives. But that created a collision course with the owner, who wanted to monetize things in a more traditional way.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:10 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought this was going to be more like The Game and less like a fake high school club you create when you're bored with your friends. A magic book that lights up, gee!
posted by sallybrown at 5:15 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member".

- Groucho Marx
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:36 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


“I was stunned, flabbergasted, to learn that a significant number of people don’t even bother taking that step. A friend sits you down, asks of you absolute discretion, and then gives you a mysterious card that, if activated, literally opens a door to a new world of adventure, and you DON’T EVEN USE IT? C’mon, people: Be better.”

Translation: "I'm finally in a secret club and nobody else thinks it's cool?!"
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:41 AM on March 11, 2016 [15 favorites]


Who controls SF start-ups?
Who keeps the housing prices up?
We do! We doooo!!!
posted by Behemoth at 5:47 AM on March 11, 2016 [43 favorites]


I wonder if the word "discretion" turned a lot of invitees off; it's so often used in the context of cheating. If someone handed me a vague invitation card emphasizing Absolute Discretion, I'd assume someone was inviting me to sleep with sleazy married people, and run the other way.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:50 AM on March 11, 2016 [27 favorites]


A friend sits you down, asks of you absolute discretion, and then gives you a mysterious card that, if activated, literally opens a door to a new world of adventure

My precise reaction to this would be to look my friend squarely in the eyes, and very exactingly say "how. fucking. old. are. you?" I would then slide the card back and wait for their response.
posted by Dark Messiah at 6:06 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Such an interesting story!

I think to the extent that this group was a valuable thing in people's lives, the flaw was having its governance in the hands of one rich asshole. Who was running it ultimately as a for-profit. If it had been more community-governed (maybe if they had forked somehow early on?), the response to the money problems - they were losing $4000 per day near the end - could have been, "We're going to need to raise more funds from members somehow, but maybe we can do that in a community-preserving way," or "Maybe we can try to keep this a cool secret club but lose the more expensive parts." Instead, we had this one guy decide: fuck it, I'm out. (While comparing himself to Sisyphus.) And leaving everyone who had participated in the community high and dry.

This pattern of monetizing is also so disgustingly familiar. Make something cool and social -> give it away for free or cheap -> get people to volunteer a lot of time and energy building a community for you -> cash in! (And in this case: -> fail to cash in -> unilaterally shut the whole thing down).

Everyone needs to wisen up about investing chunks of their life in "communities" that are run for someone else's benefit.
posted by gold-in-green at 6:07 AM on March 11, 2016 [11 favorites]


Everyone needs to wisen up about investing chunks of their life in "communities" that are run for someone else's benefit.

Uh, MetaFilter Network Inc. is a private, for-profit company.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:12 AM on March 11, 2016 [24 favorites]


Based just on the pictures in the article, I'm thinking the makers of the Myst games could sue them for copyright infringement.
posted by aught at 6:20 AM on March 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is one of those things that sounds like a good idea during a late night conversation, but shrivels pretty quickly in the light of day. Don't get me wrong, I would have signed up for this in a hot minute, but I would have been frustrated by the post-initial user experience. I'd want there to be more there there.

I'm thinking in terms of those Room Escape games that are popping up all over the place. They tend to be only an hour - perfect for people to ride that initial wave of enthusiasm. They tend to be managed well - there is usually someone in the room making sure players are having a good time, win or lose. They do this because they know the players will bring in other players, so the whole thing becomes a bit of a secret society writ small on its own. "Hey Bob, you got to try this room escape game. I can't spoil anything for you, but you'll like it." Unlike the Latitude thing, there's no promise of a lasting connection after the game is done, there is no need to put additional effort into sustaining the secret society.

It seems like that sustaining effort is what killed the company. When the guy holding the purse-strings decided he didn't want to make the effort any longer, it died, even though there had been a lot of effort from volunteers who had started to wake up to the fact that their sustaining effort wasn't worth much.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:24 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


There is already an open source secret society. Try and find it!
posted by srboisvert at 6:40 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


There are good things to scoff at in this story: the hazy top-down structure of this club, the casual treatment of members' privacy and confidentiality, the out-of-touch leader who assumed everyone in the club (or everyone who "mattered") could and would throw down several hundred dollars in membership dues.

But I'm not going to mock people for their enthusiasm, nor for the sense of belonging some of them clearly got from participating. Same goes for laughing at the little flourishes of ritual--the light-up books and so forth. That feels uncomfortably like "LOL NERDS" to me, and having been on the receiving end of that for much of my life, that's a super shitty thing to do.

For example, I feel a very real sense of belonging from playing D&D with my friends. I am also an enthusiastic and devoted Mefite, and some people think it's weird that I have strong feelings about a semi-anonymous web community that has its own strange customs and slang. But whatever! I like liking things! I like being a part of a community!

Can we rally around the idea that it's kind of shitty to hurf-durf at someone for liking things?
posted by duffell at 6:43 AM on March 11, 2016 [24 favorites]


metroid baby: that's the same reaction I had – “Absolute Discretion” sounds like a high-end escort service or at best a swingers’ club. It's very easy to imagine someone deciding not to learn more (“how would I convince my spouse / reporters that I didn't know?”) and giving a vague excuse if it came up again.
posted by adamsc at 6:47 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it only takes $5 and few minutes to become a MeFite and the rituals (gift exchanges, reoccurring jokes, etc.) aren't as elaborate, but I don't feel like I can look down on people for enjoying the secret society.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:50 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a alternative reality game (ARG). And a decent enough one at that. When people are playing it, and it is the most real thing in the world, ARGs are the best. That's how it was with Andre The Giant has a posse aka OBEY. OBEY is really just a really successful ARG.

When we did OBEY, under the auspice of a joke manifesto, we clandestinely put up meaningless propaganda in the form of stickers and wheat paste posters bearing obscure phrases in countless locations (both sublime and obvious) strictly for the delight in watching people's response. When we were not putting up the craft, we were making it to put up. The mystery of it drew in others who became converts, acolytes and feet on the ground to perpetuate the game. Simple!

Of course, OBEY has since turned into a multi-million dollar brand. The joke, however, is funnier than ever–all the way to the bank.

That's the rub about these things. Sometimes, the only winning move is not to play. And where would be the fun in that? After all, like the saying goes, you can't win if you don't play. Wink still just as good as a nudge.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:51 AM on March 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


(On the other hand, if anyone's interested in a decent book about secret clubs/IRL puzzles that take on too much meaning and become harmful, I recommend Wolf in White Van.)
posted by duffell at 6:52 AM on March 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


I was afraid this was going to be about a bunch of white dudes in a basement or penthouse, but instead it was a LARP run by burners.
posted by mikeh at 6:52 AM on March 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


Uh, MetaFilter Network Inc. is a private, for-profit company.

With a staggering amount of openness about its operations. In-jokes aside, there really is no cabal.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:57 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I too thought of LARP and role playing in general, but also The Egypt Game.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:00 AM on March 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


Uh, MetaFilter Network Inc. is a private, for-profit company.

That's odd, I've never given them a dime. ;-)
posted by humboldt32 at 7:03 AM on March 11, 2016


Enjoying nearly the total privacy of my home, I can just get robbed out on the street, then call the police, whose services I pay for, minimally. This seems a lot less hassle and more interesting, than The Latitude Society. I tend to stay near the same latitude for the most part and it has little to do with what's in my wallet.
posted by Oyéah at 7:05 AM on March 11, 2016


Metafilter: In-jokes aside, there really is no cabal.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:25 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Thursday is your turn in the barrel
posted by thelonius at 7:30 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


On one hand, real world games that encourage people to explore and reinterpret their environment are a very good thing. And I'd love it if there were a way for game designers to make a living building such things. (Even breaking even would be a significant improvement.) The idea of an ongoing experience like this that doesn't live on donations and free labor is pretty compelling.

On the other hand, every serious attempt to monetize such games so far as been a real disappointment. This has the same top-down, scripted, Disney feel of the Jejune Institute, or the many product marketing ARGs that have come and gone and wasted thousands of player-hours uncovering stories that were never very interesting to begin with. I've no objection to people enjoying this stuff, but there's no way I'd be willing to spend time and effort engaging with them. The world is too full of fun things that *I* can create to bother jumping through hoops arranged by marketing professionals.

Someday, someone will figure out how to build a liberating, user-driven, smart real world game without going bankrupt or selling out to boring people with big wallets. I hope I live long enough to play it.
posted by eotvos at 7:42 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I love the idea of a secret society designed for the modern world (A friend and I have idly talked for years about forming one for tech nerds, so this article struck a lot of nerves for us) but I'm not sure what Jeff Hull expected to happen when he gave people this unique, intriguing experience for free with no details up front, got them to invest their time, money, and energy growing it for him, and then announced membership plans that cost hundreds of dollars a year. Also, a for-profit secret society that grows itself by selling its members cards so they can invite new members is one jar of vitamins away from being an MLM company. Hiding your secret society's mission and organizational structure from its own members is also maybe not the best long term strategy.

Membership dues are an interesting problem; fraternal organizations like the Masons and Odd Fellows used to charge much higher dues (adjusted for inflation) than they do now, at least in the US; if you've ever seen some of the magnificent buildings they constructed in the late 19th/early 20th century and wondered how they ever managed to afford them, it's because there were a lot more members, and they paid a lot more for the privilege. And they got a lot out of it in a pre-internet/radio/television world; lodge buildings tended to be social gathering places, and a key tenet of many of those societies was benevolence for members - before medical and homeowners insurance were widespread, belonging to a friendly society gave members a safety net that was an understood part of the cost of membership. (If you've ever seen an older grave marker shaped like a tree stump, that person was probably a member of Woodmen of the World, which provided those stones as a death benefit. They've since evolved into an actual insurance company.)

When the generation that grew up in the depression assumed leadership of these organizations, they had a tendency to stop raising dues, and to skimp on upkeep of their buildings. Baby boomers never joined in the numbers their parents did, so you have this vicious cycle of lodges not being able to maintain their buildings anymore because their dues aren't high enough because they don't want to spend money because people don't join because "isn't that a just a club for old people" because the buildings look shabby because they can't afford to maintain them anymore. It's not that you can't charge hundreds of dollars per year to non-millionaires for membership in a secret society (hell, plenty of people will spend $600+/year on a gym membership without blinking an eye) it's just that the value proposition had better be there.

Initiations and rituals, even ones that have been invented out of whole cloth, can be powerful shared experiences. We could use more of them these days - just not for unsustainable for-profit clubs run by pouty millionaires.
posted by usonian at 7:44 AM on March 11, 2016 [31 favorites]


Myself and some friends of mine were contacted by these guys a while ago to design and fabricate some interactive art stuff. They were super mysterious about everything and wouldn't actually give us any real details about what they were looking for until after we went through like the day one stuff with the chute and the crawling and all that jazz. It was pretty neat but it was also kind of a pain in the ass.
posted by Television Name at 7:52 AM on March 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


That was a fascinating read and made me think of some parallels with Adventurer's Club at Disney World. It was wildly popular and had rituals and many devoted fans. Of course at its heart it was meant to be a bar that sold alcohol and food and that didn't seem to jive with the people the place attracted. They would just come for the show, the characters, the rituals, the theater of it all and rejected the profit making/sustaining aspects of the establishment. It's not surprising that it too closed.
posted by mmascolino at 7:54 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


> I think to the extent that this group was a valuable thing
> in people's lives, the flaw was having its governance
> in the hands of one rich asshole.


Shine, Perishing Republic
by Robinson Jeffers


While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence;
and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly
long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening
center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there
are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught – they say –
God, when he walked on earth.

posted by hank at 7:57 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Initiations and rituals, even ones that have been invented out of whole cloth, can be powerful shared experiences. We could use more of them these days - just not for unsustainable for-profit clubs run by pouty millionaires.

The US Military being the one shining exception.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:40 AM on March 11, 2016


Based just on the pictures in the article, I'm thinking the makers of the Myst games could sue them for copyright infringement.

Actually, oddly enough I was just corresponding with Rand Miller about possibly meeting at the upcoming Game Developers Conference (I worked with the Myst community a lot, back in the day, and he's a really great and very gracious guy. And brilliant.) I may mention this to him, it's such a great observation (and odd timing).
posted by emmet at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2016


On the one hand, I like these people's enthusiasm and am happy they found an art form that did something for them, even if it was only temporary.

But then I hit

A friend sits you down, asks of you absolute discretion, and then gives you a mysterious card that, if activated, literally opens a door to a new world of adventure, and you DON’T EVEN USE IT? C’mon, people: Be better.”

and the whole thing sours for me. Because I get the feeling that the people who were into this were also into the idea that they were better -- more creative, more artistic, more alive -- than the mundanes who aren't attracted to this kind of project.
posted by escabeche at 9:08 AM on March 11, 2016 [12 favorites]


I got four paragraphs into the write-up and thought, "This sounds a lot like it exists in the same universe as the Jejeune Institute." Yup.

More on Nonchalance and Jejeune by MeFi's own user92371.
posted by Hogshead at 9:45 AM on March 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


In most large cities there are a bunch of old-school fancy-pants private social clubs that actually have weird things like on-staff mustache barbers and smoking rooms full of stuffed big game animals that members personally murdered on safari a hundred years ago. And similarly, you often need to be invited by other members to join, etc. On the other hand they will tell you the fee structure, etc. right up front.

The idea of a "secret society" is fun, but as individual members got to induct people willy-nilly the biggest secret in this case was the business model.

I'm really curious how organizations like this appear and evolve over time. I'm starting to see parallels between the longer-lived modern hackerspaces and these older social clubs, especially in the way successive cohorts join over time and the history of the space becomes mythologized.
posted by phooky at 9:46 AM on March 11, 2016


Because I get the feeling that the people who were into this were also into the idea that they were better -- more creative, more artistic, more alive -- than the mundanes who aren't attracted to this kind of project.
I didn't really read it as a sense of superiority, more like "Man, I love being part of this and think it's really awesome, why wouldn't everyone want to be a part of this?!" which is a thing you see in any group of people with a shared passion; For a number of guys I know, being a Mason is their "thing" the way other peoples' "thing" might be fantasy football, or knitting, or whatever, and they're out multiple nights a week at rehearsals, visiting other lodges, generally Doing Mason Stuff... and they always seem sort of disappointed in members who just want to show up for one meeting a month. When you're super into a thing and spend a lot of time with other people who are super into that same thing, it's easy to forget that other people may have only a casual interest or no interest at all. Especially when your invite uses the word 'discretion' like it's an invite to an L.A. Confidential Fleur de Lis party.
posted by usonian at 10:01 AM on March 11, 2016


If it was really cool, it would take place in a treehouse.

(Let me be honest, I could only get through a third of the article. I got disappointed when there was no mention of snacks. Specifically when there was that photo of a tray and it didn't look like snacks. I felt deflated. I think there should have been snacks, really good ones. Please let me know if they mention special snacks later in the article, then I can finish reading it. I'm so hungry, you guys.)
posted by discopolo at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


HEY WHERE'S THE OLD RICH DUDES IN VENETIAN MASKS GETTIN' THEIR BONE ON

WHAT THE HELL KIND OF SECRET SOCIETY IS THIS ANYWAY
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2016 [15 favorites]


I was a member, it was lots of fun, I met some warm & fascinating people I wouldn't have encountered otherwise, I paid in some money to be able to invite a few friends, I contributed member dues, and I was disappointed when it shut down. I'm sorry everyone snarking here didn't get the chance to have some fun with the experience(s).
posted by twsf at 11:06 AM on March 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm surprised that people were surprised at the cost. Your garden-variety private club has a hefty initiation fee (often five figures) and requires an annual commitment of thousands in drinks/food. And this is for your basic lounge + restaurant club. There's a reason that "private club" is associated in people's minds with "rich old people", maintaining a building and providing staff for a limited clientele is very expensive. When you add in all the fancy tech, art, and storytelling and put the thing in San Francisco, that is going to be very expensive, more like a private country club. Criminy, look at the Magic Castle in LA, that's $1000 per year for non-magicians, and you're required to dine at the pricey restaurant, and they are struggling.
posted by wnissen at 11:13 AM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


This pattern of monetizing is also so disgustingly familiar. Make something cool and social -> give it away for free or cheap -> get people to volunteer a lot of time and energy building a community for you -> cash in!

Like Burning Man!
posted by Catblack at 11:21 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


This would have been better had the writer been drugged and then awakened to find herself buried alive in a Mexican cemetery.
posted by Lyme Drop at 11:22 AM on March 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


I love the beginning of this, it pushes my buttons. But I would have stopped right when they said to put my wallet and stuff in the box. Really, I probably wouldn’t have gone down the slide. I have done enough research to know that shortly someone will be trying to kill Mrs. Peel.

I don’t really understand the ongoing involvement part, nor do I understand the long term plan, or why there was one. This could not possibly scale up and maintain anything that made it worthwhile.
I don’t see how it could possibly have made it’s money back.

The way to do it would have been to shut it down without any announcement and clear everything out and remove all traces of it ever having existed.
posted by bongo_x at 11:46 AM on March 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


This little nugget leaped out at me:

"I felt scared and exhilarated, like I was falling down a rabbit hole. I drew a deep breath, then another one—and I surrendered both my phone and my wallet. The figure behind the ticket window seemed to watch me, unmoving."

Why did they ask her to give up her wallet? Seriously though, what the fuck?

Would someone who would have been eager to be a part of this please explain to me why surrendering your phone and wallet to a stranger in this situation is perfectly acceptable and a good idea? I don't get it. It feels uncomfortably like a compliance test. "C'mon people, be better" indeed.

For more information on the psychology of secret societies and being a joiner, see also CS Lewis: The Inner Ring.
posted by Bassariscus at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Because you were banging around in the dark. Things get lost; it happened at least once during a Games of Nonchalance outing. You could put your things in the box, or you didn't have to put your things in the box. I did not put my things in the box.
posted by user92371 at 12:36 PM on March 11, 2016


hydropsyche: “I too thought of LARP and role playing in general, but also The Egypt Game.”
This quote from the article immediately made me think of the Atlanta LARP scene, “It will be an enduring and inescapable mystery how a game built to offer shared whimsy, inspiration, and play can result in trauma for the people most closely involved.”

escabeche: “I get the feeling that the people who were into this were also into the idea that they were better -- more creative, more artistic, more alive -- than the mundanes who aren't attracted to this kind of project.”
bongo_x: “I love the beginning of this, it pushes my buttons. But I would have stopped right when they said to put my wallet and stuff in the box.”
I had the same reaction as escabeche. It's not a lack of sense of adventure or whatever. It's about trust. I know perhaps a handful of people I trust enough to even go through the door of the place if they gave me an invitation. Even then, maybe I'd play along as far as the slide, but there's no way I'm giving up my wallet and phone. It's not just because I'm older and warier now. I wouldn't have at 25 either.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:36 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Would someone who would have been eager to be a part of this please explain to me why surrendering your phone and wallet to a stranger in this situation is perfectly acceptable and a good idea? I don't get it. It feels uncomfortably like a compliance test.
Any good initiation requires some kind of leap of faith.
posted by usonian at 12:58 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm really curious how organizations like this appear and evolve over time. .

I belong to the Junior League, which has never been a secret organization, but has until recently been invitation-only. It is interesting to me to see how different the organization that I have belonged to for the past decade is from what it was 50 or 100 years ago (And how much the groups differ by city.)

Most Junior Leagues charge members about $300/year in some combination of membership dues and fundraising requirements, but of course new members go into it knowing what those dues will be. And that pays for a primarily volunteer-driven organization with very minimal paid staffing and sometimes some very small office space. I can't even imagine an organization with such extensive and high-maintenance physical space being less than $800-$1000/year.
posted by antimony at 1:04 PM on March 11, 2016


Even signing our kids up for scouts costs a couple hundred a year, plus all the other fees for camping and events and other stuff along the way. We are probably out $500 per kid a year after you add it all up, even though the meetings are in a church basement that the scout group gets to use for free and all the leaders are volunteers. I don't know why anyone would balk at membership fees for such an elaborate set-up. I guess they just felt it was too bait-and-switch? What were they expecting, a magical free ride forever just because they were special?
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:14 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just don't tell them about our secret temples to Eleanor Roosevelt, antimony!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:14 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am a member of a private members' club in London that has been organising large games for the entertainment of its members for something over three centuries. Its subscription fees are 200-300% higher than the Latitude Society's were, and it has 24,000 full and associate members. This kind of thing can be done sustainably, particularly if you like cricket.
posted by Hogshead at 1:17 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


And yet I've gotten all kinds of crap for "buying my friends" by participating in a sorority with dues around $700/year (which is admittedly low for greek life).

And almost all of the money that didn't go to snacks went straight to insurance. USA! USA!
posted by R a c h e l at 1:18 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


While I'm too much of a middle-aged dad to get involved with something like this now, there definitely was a time I would have been all over this kind of thing.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:18 PM on March 11, 2016


Interesting. It sounds like it was a fun time - a singular experience of that time and place.

While I haven't been involved in anything like this, I've certainly seen the "I created a big thing for you and you're not enjoying it like I want or giving me the emotional payoff I want (gratitude, etc), so I'm shutting it down" pattern with volunteer organizations and social events in other times/places. (It even reminds me of an article I read about being part of Oprah's circle and how weird the social dynamics of gift giving were)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:30 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the word "discretion" turned a lot of invitees off; it's so often used in the context of cheating. If someone handed me a vague invitation card emphasizing Absolute Discretion, I'd assume someone was inviting me to sleep with sleazy married people, and run the other way.


But surely the prospect of sleeping with sleazy married people sounds a lot more fun than this? What's the point of a secret club if there's no sleazy sex involved?

(yeah I know I clearly don't understand the SF startup culture)
posted by bitteschoen at 1:34 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


What's the point of a secret club if there's no sleazy sex involved?

Yeah, I was totally thrown at the beginning when there were no naked people at the bottom of the slide.
posted by bongo_x at 1:44 PM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]




If a man I 'didn't know very well' asked me if I could keep a secret and told me he was thinking of giving me a gift, I'd probably say, 'no' and 'I don't think that would be appropriate'.

This must be why I never get invited to secret societies.
posted by bq at 2:41 PM on March 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


I wonder if the word "discretion" turned a lot of invitees off; it's so often used in the context of cheating. If someone handed me a vague invitation card emphasizing Absolute Discretion, I'd assume someone was inviting me to sleep with sleazy married people, and run the other way.

Seriously, the first thing you hear about the website is "after I logged in, the site showed me two definitions of the word “discretion (noun).” One defined “discretion” as freedom of choice, while the other emphasized subtlety and secrecy."

Everything about this screams "sex club".
posted by Itaxpica at 2:41 PM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Everything about this screams "sex club".

Nope.

I participated, I have friends who worked for the Jejune Institute. It was a lot of fun, I was looking forward to Book 2 being open to the public and my only disappointment is I have a stack of entry level invites in my desk I hadn't had the time to dole out to the more fun people in my life. Also the message boards became a hive of other folks pitching meetups and building their own events related or otherwise. It became quite a community.

This must be why I never get invited to secret societies.

To all the Judgey McJudgersons in this thread, you are all downers and I doubt you would have been given the opportunity to decline an invitation. You all come off as a bunch gits parroting 3-rd hand criticism of Burning Man while never actually going to see for yourselves.

Yeesh, sorry all our joy and fun literally ruined your America.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:32 PM on March 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


Dude, OK, it’s not a sex club (wink!)

And it’s a little late to apologize for ruining America now.
posted by bongo_x at 3:36 PM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


What my friend Lydia doesn't go into in the article is that our SF friend circle does lots of volunteer-labor 'art'/amateur interactive theater projects like this (the more publicly-visible things have been stuff along the lines of All Worlds Fair and it's successor project- http://laughingsquid.com/photos-all-worlds-fair-art-experience-in-san-francisco/, along with smaller individual installations that make their appearance at various festivals and parties, such as Figment Oakland).

These events aren't exactly LARP and they're not exactly theater and they're not exactly games and because they assume that the participants are likely your extended friend circle, they're also not exactly the sort of 'art' you do for drunken strangers at Burning Man for the most part. It's it's own Weirdo San Francisco social scene.

For those wondering how someone didn't balk at surrendering their wallet, this is a group of people who have "2 degrees of separation" from anyone who's worked on a similar 'interactive theater' event at one point or another- or at least you would have heard about the existence of these sorts of curated 'theatrical' experiences. It wouldn't be so weird to comply with requests like that, because you pretty much can trust that the experience you're having is probably being put on by someone you know or someone in your extended friends circle.
posted by girl Mark at 3:43 PM on March 11, 2016 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter Network Inc. is a private, for-profit company.
And just a few days ago, its founder wrote: I saw a therapist for the better part of a year, and he taught me how to cope with anxiety and keep it from running over me. He also told me I was a terrible entrepreneur and that I was in the wrong business. In his eyes, I worried about everyone working for me too much and I was so risk-adverse I shouldn’t be running a lemonade stand much less a company. And the 'terrible entrepreneur' is the only kind of person who can do something like this right. The Internet (and, in fact, the world) would be so much better off with a lot more 'terrible entrepreneurs' like that.

If someone handed me a vague invitation card emphasizing Absolute Discretion, I'd assume someone was inviting me to sleep with sleazy married people
And I thought Ashley Madison (and its data breach) had made that obsolete if not impossible. On the other hand, this would be a terrifyingly good medium for making business deals, and could have made the founder an obscene profit if he'd just collected a 1% commission on all deals made there. They obviously had no clue how to run a Secret Society in San Francisco.

Instead, the 'slide show' in the article included among its projected "multiple revenue streams": "Reality TV Series in talks with Bunim-Murray" (producers of "The Real World" and "Project Runway"). At which point it fails miserably as both Reality AND Fantasy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:47 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dude, OK, it’s not a sex club (wink!)

You don't need secret invitation to a sex club in SF. You just take the 14 or 49 or a Lyft to Otis street.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:49 PM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


"It is an interesting article, but I got the impression of something that took on cultish overtones for a lot of the participants, and was clearly providing meaning in their lives. But that created a collision course with the owner, who wanted to monetize things in a more traditional way."

"Lemme have two of those crucifixes."
"What? You mean the back-scratchers?"
"Yeah, with the guy on 'em. Jesus."
"Gestas? Oh yeah, he's our mascot. Spent the whole time up there complaining he couldn't reach his itchy back."
"How much you selling those ichthes for?"
"You mean the flipper sandals? Lepton each. Great for the beach."
"Brother, I am about to make you rich."

I love mystery religions and cults and secret societies, and it's kinda weird to see some of the things that have historically made them successful being criticized here — part of the problem was the underlying capitalist start-up theory, but other parts were treated too loosely to be anything else. Like, of course you'd want to test people's faith by having them put all their possessions in a box to pass through cleanly — you don't want them taking a cell phone in, etc. But to get to the point where they're ready to do that, they should already know enough about the organization to trust you, and having ordeals is pretty much required for any secret society worth its salt. And any place that sells invites like that is counting on a growth strategy to make money, rather than a retention. They also missed out, apparently, on both a transcendent rebirth ritual ("Hey, take a little acid with us/smell the mists of the oracle") and on segregating internal knowledge of the cult through initiation hierarchies. Oh, and probably should have had someone thinking through the symbolism and historicity of their backstory… I guess I'm just a little disappointed by things like this that invent a semi-occult past rather than recognizing that you can totally start a new secret society that doesn't have any past behind it and have it be just as much fun. I guess it's the difference between seeking a secret society and seeking a secret history — I find the former a lot more compelling, even though I often enjoy the latter.

It's also kinda a shame that the founder didn't see this as an actual secret society but as a business — if you're forming a secret society, the general concerns should be about longevity, not immediate gain. Instead of creating a failed art experience start up (which, honestly, is still a pretty cool thing to do), being remembered in a hundred years by new members as the deranged millionaire who endowed the society is way cooler.
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


While it may sound like richguy wankery and wannabe Eyes Wide Shut, I went to Nonchalance's other environmental piece, The Jejune Institute and it fucking rocked. They got the cult/scientology/pseudoscience tone so right, so pitch-perfect you had to ask yourself if it was sincere or not. They have enough irony to spare, so I doubt this piece was meant to be taken seriously. I think all the stuff about community & ritual was mostly some exagerrated PR smoke blown up investor's asses to fund a really cool art piece/game. I would've loved it. This looks like some pseudo-Illuminati/Skull & Bones silliness and I wish it were still around.

The confusing space between really well-executed parody and reality can be a beautiful and magical place, just like the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 4:54 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


As someone who spent three years of his life making an ARG that wasn't advertising or promotion for a film/TV show/car/game/toy, I have a lot of sympathy for the struggles faced by the Latitude. It is very hard to make a new story work, especially when it's in an area that doesn't already have an established market and audience (in contrast to, say, match-3 puzzlers or MOBAs).

Having said that, three things strike me as being foolhardy about this project:

1) The business plan was insane. Either you go full non-profit, or you go full commercial. This was neither. No investor in their right mind would have put any money into this.

2) Yes, San Francisco is chock full of millionaires who like LARPs and weird art/tech mashups, so you might think it's a perfect place to launch the Latitude - but what works in SF may well not work in the rest of the world. It would've been better to try in a smaller, more challenging location.

3) They needed to be upfront about the cost, for all the reasons mentioned above plus the fact that you need to say "this is a thing worth paying for." Yes, it's hard to get people to pay for new things, but it is possible if you can demonstrate quality and commitment.
posted by adrianhon at 4:54 PM on March 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


See, like, this is tons of fun with games/interactives like The Witness or Device 6, but the second you're asking me to actually put forth effort and you're not giving me the up-front on how the thing works and what my input will achieve, I'm out. I'll do LARPing all day, but there I get to see the rules of the game, I get to make a character, and I get to participate in creating a joint narrative. I'm not going to crawl into a fireplace as myself without a darn good reason.
posted by Scattercat at 6:26 PM on March 11, 2016


As someone who loved Myst, loves immersive theatre, loves fantasy and saw all kinds of weird installation work before during and after my MFA I was thinking oh hell yes. So if there are any other million/billionaires out there who want to spend money making real life art/theatre games that I can play instead of watching too much Netflix please sign me up.
posted by Cuke at 6:55 PM on March 11, 2016


MiltonRandKalman: “To all the Judgey McJudgersons in this thread, you are all downers and I doubt you would have been given the opportunity to decline an invitation. ”
I want you to think — really think — about why people might be wary and what you're really criticizing.

girl Mark: “For those wondering how someone didn't balk at surrendering their wallet, this is a group of people who have "2 degrees of separation" from anyone who's worked on a similar 'interactive theater' event at one point or another- or at least you would have heard about the existence of these sorts of curated 'theatrical' experiences.”
Thank you. That makes it make more sense to me.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:08 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Everything about this screams "sex club".

Nope


Look, I'm not saying this was a sex club. Just that they should have been more careful with their branding. I literally can't think of the last time I heard the word "discretion" used to refer to anything other than boning. Maybe the phrase "viewer discretion is advised"... which even then generally implies boning.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:28 PM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Was nobody else bothered by the "Island, village, port" thing? That's not San Francisco! You're describing Manhattan, which is literally an island with a village on it that has a port. Sheesh, people!
posted by Ndwright at 9:09 PM on March 11, 2016


My husband has worked in the ARG space for a few years at this point and it's been really interesting to attend player events as a disinterested observer. I've tried to get into the games but it's just not my cup of tea. It's amazing how quickly a community springs up full of people willing to do Real Work, For Free, in order to make the game more fun. (I keep busy enough doing Real Work, For Free answering AskMes, so.)

But the drawback there is that once they give of their time and effort, you're not selling a product anymore. You're facilitating an experience and providing the interaction space for a real-world community of actual humans, and if you don't pretty quickly get into the mindset that your players are collaborators rather than customers, you are going to wind up with a bunch of pissed-off players and no game to speak of in short order.

Monetizing is hard. No doubt about it. If you have a big enough player base you can spread the costs around better. But if you're trying to maintain an exclusive, clubby feel I'm not sure how to work it. Elaborately themed spaces are expensive no matter where you are, and even shittily themed spaces are expensive in SF.
posted by town of cats at 9:12 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm rather bummed that I didn't get an invite to this when I was living in the Bay Area, since this scratches so many of my itches (secret societies! ARGs! Immersive theater! weirdo performance art! puzzles! community! aaahhh) and I LOVED All Worlds' Fair, that was incredible and life-changing. Though I suppose I dodged a bullet, because there was no way in hell I would have been able to afford hundreds of dollars in fees.

I'll join Cuke in requesting that people invite me to this kind of thing more often if you hear about them.
posted by divabat at 9:27 PM on March 11, 2016


You don't need secret invitation to a sex club in SF.

You don’t know what I need.
posted by bongo_x at 9:29 PM on March 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


Guys...
In San Francisco, sex clubs are not particularly novel nor secretive. 'Discretion' doesn't imply sexual indiscretion in this scene.
posted by girl Mark at 11:18 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


"But the drawback there is that once they give of their time and effort, you're not selling a product anymore. You're facilitating an experience and providing the interaction space for a real-world community of actual humans, and if you don't pretty quickly get into the mindset that your players are collaborators rather than customers, you are going to wind up with a bunch of pissed-off players and no game to speak of in short order. "

Or Scientology.
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 PM on March 11, 2016


My reactions to this are part "oooh, my Hogwarts letter, adventure awaits" and "I've read the Magicians, no good will come of this; it appeals to my elitism and narcissism and I really shouldn't cultivate that."
posted by eyeofthetiger at 7:53 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was a member of this thing. It was most definitely not a sex club (I guess everything about this screams sex club except that there was no sex). It was elaborate and immersive, meticulously crafted with love of art and experience. To those who've been to Burning Man, Latitude captured a sense of wonder in line with and even surpassing the best experiences on the playa. It was incredible and I feel lucky to have been invited.

That said, there is so much in this story that typifies the ugliest parts of SF, primarily that people feel entitled to their high end lifestyle and find it insulting to have to pay for it. Unbelievably bratty. In speaking personally to some people from the Vice piece, it sounds like there is more anger about how people were treated in the process of the dissolution and less about membership dues exclusively. Fair enough, but whatever small anger there is about the latter is unacceptable.
posted by namesarehard at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2016


I think it may say more about you if you associate secrecy with sex then it says about the Latitude Society. I was not a member; It looks like I moved to San Francisco after it had shut down, but I'd have loved an invite/mefi mail to this, or something like it. And if anybody is interested in the "secret" things I've found, I'm happy to get a mefi mail.

the intimacy of a shared experience is informed by the participants (and again intimacy != sex). I think the Latitude Society should be happy people didn't go, enthusiasm of people in a shared headspace makes things a lot better then if they had large group of people who don't give a shit mixed in. Though I can see how being out the money for the invite might make some people peeved.

This is a form of art, and there is this idea that art is less meaningful if it's commercialized, as if spending money on something meaningful makes it less valuable. I don't know if that's right or wrong, but it's certainly an interesting concept, that art is only meaningful when it's free. I think you could argue that art is only meaningful when it costs you something, vs art being only meaningful when it's free, and that would be an interesting debate indeed.
posted by gryftir at 4:39 PM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Needs more Daniel Schorr."
posted by headless at 12:47 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Mikhail Lesin was bludgeoned to death.   |   Hello, Cleveland! Rock 'n Roll! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments