Good post. Those are important and difficult questions to ask, which is why I've side-stepped them most of them with http://folyo.me by only charging a one-time fee, not a percentage of the project.
Sadly, from a business point of view it's very hard to be profitable this way for two reasons. First, you're generally earning less with a fixed fee than a percentage (especially on big projects).
Second, paying a fixed fee feels more expensive than the hidden cost of percentage-based fees. After all clients might not realize right away that designers will raise their rates to make up for the lost fee.
One thing I disagree with though is this:
"when the admin feel as though they should cull designers that have been invited in because they deem them not good enough, I think is shady and unethical."
Being part of an online community is not a god-given right. It's not "unethical" for me to decide I don't want your profile on the site that I created myself, just like it's not unethical for a forum to ban someone because they feel that they're not contributing quality content.
Every time somebody tries to create a higher-quality community by filtering members, accusations of elitism start flying as soon as that community gets popular and everybody wants in. Well yes, elitism is the whole point!
After all, we're fine with elitism in sports, work, and music. So why should online communities be open to everybody?
I'm sorry, but I whole-heartedly disagree with your attitude regarding elitism.
Trying to compare the web/design world to top of the tree sections of sports, work and music is a lame attempt at covering up one of the biggest issues online. As groups and petitions are appearing everywhere to deny governments from passing legislation that bans content on the internet, you yourself are agreeing with closing sections of the internet because only the "elite" should be able to access it.
The whole point of the internet is that it's an open, free source of information, inspiration and community, and yet we have closed off communities who seemingly laugh behind their closed doors at "inferior" people. Sure, by all means, close your doors to the majority and do whatever you do behind those doors, but when the sniggers and the elitism escapes through the crack of that door, it becomes an issue for the whole.
By filtering members, admins and site owners come across as the upper class of society, looking down on those who they think are inferior to them. This class system was abolished long ago, so why does the same attitude apply now to other areas? Who's to say that the "inferior" don't look at you and consider you to be the inferior ones?
I consider myself very lucky and privileged that I'm in a lot of private sites including Dunked, Dribbble and Juiiicy. However, despite my memberships in these, I don't feel as though I should lord it over other people and strut around screaming, "I'm elite!!" so why should others?
It might be prudent to add that if you insist on personally vetting every applicant on your site, then don't allow invites where the community decides who they should bring in or allow a community vote, instead of instances like Juiiicy.
Who said all content on the internet should be open? Do you want me to give you access to my Gmail account too, just because it's on the internet? ;)
I don't get how design is so different from sports/music/etc. You wouldn't expect to be picked for the US olympic track team unless you're an extremely good athlete, or get a record deal unless you're a great musician. So what's wrong with not being picked for Juiiicy unless you're an extremely good designer?
I do agree that once you get in, being banned because you're not good enough sucks. But it's more an issue of tact and politeness in my opinion, not something I'd call "unethical".
And one last thing about Folyo: I go through every application myself, and whenever someone emails back asking why they were rejected I try to explain and help them improve. So elitism can sometimes be helpful for everybody, even the ones that don't benefit from it directly :)
I tend to agree on the comment of elitism. All to often you see web communities become watered down by members joining too early.
Elitism has become a negative, when in reality, offering the best designers does come at a cost. It may seem tough, and it may seem like circle-jerking, but in theory it is correct.
The issue arises, in particular with design, over the measurement of skill. Not the easiest to quantify, we must rely on personal opinion. If one is to disagree with that opinion is that to say they have a superior one than the other? Thus the dirtier side of elitism arises.
Vicious circles, but let "bygones be bygones and we can go get the hell on."
I do agree there sometimes has be a level of ability or similar to get into certain sites, just like you wouldn't rock up to a VIP bar in trainers and shorts. With this level of security though, a certain level of tact is needed. Instead, like bouncers on nightclubs throwing their weight around, instead of politely declining and offering words of wisdom to improving, instead you get a barrage of elitist attitude and a "you're not good enough, buh-bye."
As mentioned in my post, this could potentially be ego-destroying for a young designer and not exactly something I would like the design community to be known for. Instead, it seems, that people are fine with the bullish attitude to elitism, and have accepted that's it's just there when it doesn't have to be.
The original point that I chose to make, also, was not about closed communities. It was closed communities that allow already accepted designers to invite other designers, only to have their invites revoked and replied to with, "You're not good enough." Why allow for people to be invited, if the end decision rests with the admin anyway? The above site mentioned - Folyo - has the right idea, but could still explore the attitude of elitism a little better.
It is not always about elitism, it certainly isn't in ours (http://onsite.io) and I doubt very much it is in Sacha's either. Sometimes it's about solving a problem.
I was previously CD at a medium sized digital agency and I had to find quality freelancers quickly and on a regular basis. Short of filtering them myself from the masses of members on sites like oDesk and Freelancer there was nothing out there. So we used expensive, dishonest recruitment consultants. But at least they did the filtering for me.
I wanted somewhere I could list my requirements and get a list of quality talent that were available, lived where they said they lived and could do what they said they could.
So I quit my job and built it.
If I had quit my job and started a photography agency would I be accused of elitism for not letting any photographer that asked join? I doubt it.