The soapbox and the city
Cities work because they create collisions between and among diverse individuals. Ideas go to cities to be born and to be spread, and the chaos that bubbles just under the surface feeds those ideas. The web, at its most effective, is a digital city, a place where access is equal and ideas race and connect and morph.
If you want to find creative work, go to a city. If you want to find inspiration, expose yourself to diversity, not a bubble. The city is chaotic, without much of a filter.
The soapbox, on the other hand, is the amplified voice of a single speaker. The soapbox is the newspaper with subscribers, the Twitter account with followers, the blog with readers. A soapbox cannot ever scale to be like the city, because given the chance, the mob, attracted by the attention that comes with the soapbox, will grab the microphone and create nothing but noise. Open mic night is an interesting concept, but it never sells out Madison Square Garden.
Everyone deserves their own soapbox. The web has handed everyone a microphone and said, "here, speak up." But everyone doesn't deserve their own audience. That's something that's earned. Once you're on your soapbox, by all means take inspiration from the city. Learn from the diverse voices you hear. But your soapbox is yours, and the people who listen to you came to hear you, not everyone.
Access isn't really the issue when it comes to soapboxes. The issue is whether cultural and social forces will further push those with something to say (which is every resident of the city, which is all of us) to patiently and clearly say it, to build the audience that they are able to.
Your soapbox might be the reputation you have in the comments section of a favorite blog, or your page on a social networking site. It might be those that listen to you in the conference room of your organization. But it's yours.
For the first time in the history of media, those that are able to consume the media are also able to create it. That's a powerful (and thus frightening) choice.
One day soon, it's possible that corporate interests will impose barriers on soapbox access, all in an effort to reclaim power for themselves. Until then, the race is on to build your tribe, to tirelessly connect and to earn an audience that wants to hear from you.