Invitations as Group Conversation

As I was RSVP’ing to a Facebook event invitation today, it occurred to me that the rise of online invite services is fundamentally changing the dynamic of party invitations.  In particular, it turns the invitation process itself into a rough and ready group conversation.

Consider: a traditional snail-mail invitation is mostly between each individual inviter and invitee.  Sure, the invitees might talk among themselves a bit — but often, they don’t even know who else has been invited.  So any conversation that happens is one-to-one and private.

In most of the online services, though, whether it be Evite or Facebook or whatever, there’s a lot more group knowledge and interaction.  By default, you can usually see everyone else who has been invited.  You can usually see who has accepted or declined — in many cases, you can even see why they did so.

This, in turn, has knock-on effects on the party, because the process is self-reinforcing.  If I see a lot of people who I like going to the party, I’m more likely to attend.  Contrariwise, if it’s been two days and nobody has RSVP’ed in the affirmative, I’m likely to pause and think about it myself — an intended 20-person party is less fun if only three people are going to show up.

The result is that the invitation mechanism becomes a simple dynamic system, with feedback loops driving it up or down.  That can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances, but it certainly changes the nature of the beast a little.  Statistically, it seems likely to make events a little more likely to succeed or fail big, rather than being simply “okay” in the middle.

Effectively speaking, the invitation becomes a conversation.  (Sometimes explicitly, as in the case of the Wall for a Facebook Event.)  Instead of being a purely individual decision, the group interacts more to decide whether this is something that “we” are going to do.

Opinions?  This is purely anecdotal, and I can’t say I’ve tried to gather concrete evidence for it, but it’s the way I react at a gut level: who else is coming does influence my decision a bit.  Do you find the same?  Are there countervailing forces in this little dynamic system?  Are we going to see new rules of etiquette, as Emily Post confronts these effects?

4 Responses to “Invitations as Group Conversation”

  1. dsr Says:

    Miss Conduct in the Glob wrote a column on a matter of similar import, not too long ago — in which the ease of interactivity between the invitee and the inviter was leading to some etiquette problems.

    IIRC, there was to be a dinner party for several couples. One invitee wrote back saying that that night was not good for them — howzabout [a specific other night]?

    The answer, of course, depends on the nature of the event. If reconfiguration is easy, simple and casual, then it might be polite to mention your preference or availability. But when it is difficult, complex or formal, it’s less polite.

    Of course, computers eliminate the “difficult” objection, and can make the simple/complex rule more transparent. It’s still going to be hard to reschedule your Fourth of July party to the seventh…

  2. Justin Says:

    Yes, I was thinking about that. One aspect of the new dynamic is that the entire group seems to get a little bit more say in the nature of the party itself — at least, people often treat it that way. Finding the balance of how much say they get can be tricky…

  3. metahacker Says:

    I think the default locus of control has changed, but that you can pull the interaction in one direction or another. The group, as it were, gets a vote, but the hosts have the final say on how the party is being organized. (After the group shows up, of course, different rules apply; vis every “house party” movie ever made.)

    In short, technology eases, but does not enforce, decentralization of decision-making.

  4. serakit Says:

    I still have trouble accepting even the mailing list or announced at dance practice invites as invites, because I was brought up to believe that you just don’t do that. So I often wind up spending a lot of time thinking about “Well, yes, they invited everyone, but do they really want me there or do they want all the other people and simply found it easier to risk having me come too?” (But I think that’s probably a pretty individual issue, too- most people were not brought up to fear being rude on the same level I was.) I still write formal, written invitations for anything I’m going to host, not that I host much, and make out a guest list of “these people are invited”.

    On the whole, I think it’s a negative trend, at least the way you’re describing it. The email blasts are less so, but what you seem to be describing is everyone seeing who else is coming. This means that the first people who RSVP have a big effect on the party, and I think some parties might fail just because everyone is waiting around to see who else is coming. If it has an effect- for me, if I know and enjoy the company of the hosts, it won’t- on the majority of people coming who else is coming, you’ll end up with a kind of “who blinks first” thing, and possibly some people getting frustrated with the waiting for everyone else to reply, take it as everyone else not coming, and saying no, which pushes it into the feedback loop of no’s, when with paper invitations they might have said “oh, that sounds fun!” and actually gone and had a fairly decent party. Maybe not a huge one, but decent.

    The other thing this will change is that a number of hosts plan on a certain percentage of no’s for some events, just because everyone has time conflicts sometimes, and this seems like it will skew what that percentage is greatly.

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