There is a scene in The Social Network when Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is laying into his then CFO, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), for freezing the company account of the then-neo-natal Facebook. It’s the best 30 seconds on the fragility of a company’s online profile that one can possibly find, and it goes something like this:
Do you realize that you jeopardized the entire company?…If the servers are down for even a day our reputation is damaged irreversibly. Users are fickle…Even a small exodus, even a few people leaving would reverberate through the whole user base. The users are interconnected, that’s the whole fucking point!
The VIP Art Fair is not Facebook. It’s not a social media platform and was never billed as one. Rather, it is the first successful attempt at bringing something like an Art Basel or Armory Show to your browser. But here’s the thing: “Users are fickle.” And VIP learned that lesson the hard way.
The scrutiny and criticism have been relentless: my colleagues at ArtReview questioned VIP’s default email sharing/privacy settings (another Facebook lesson), about which collectors were pissed; bloggers, as they do, have offered comment and cattiness, on everything from the experience to the idea; everyone I’ve spoken to trashes the interface, or has said the art looks “flat” (you are looking at it on a screen, I remind them); and rumors abound that exhibitors have been asking for refunds.
Barring those rumors, all of this confirms that VIP is indeed a success, a qualified one, but a success nevertheless. People logged on, looked, commented, contacted (too many it seems). This is what happens at an art fair. If the chat function didn’t work, or no one was manning the booth—well guess what? This happens at art fairs too. And if there was no “buy now” button on the screen, if you couldn’t give your credit card number and get an email confirmation of your purchase, then again—that doesn’t happen at an art fair either. Those transactions have always been “offline” so to speak, just as they were here.
The issue is that we expect more from the online environment, or rather we expect different. It simply isn’t enough to replicate the experience, it has to be remediated and enhanced. One thing that it absolutely must be, however, is seamless. VIP is a success, but its reputation is damaged. Irreversibly?