Hundreds of years ago in England, when real property changed hands, it changed hands through a ceremony called the livery of seisin. The ceremony was necessary for its evidentiary value. Before the existence of written title and recording offices, disputes over ownership were settled by eyewitness testimony. Incidentally, this is probably also why you hear the minister ask the crowd whether there is anyone present who has reason to the object to a marriage -- there were no marriage certificates until relatively recently. Similarly, until the resume came into common use (probably within the last 100 years), work experience was based almost entirely on eyewitness testimony (i.e., references). In general, one had to talk to the people who had known a person to learn even basic information about that person's status (property ownership, marital status, employment). Even after the paper recording systems had been established, the non-trivial costs of the system were born by the searchers, so most searchers were businesses that could estimate in dollars and cents how much that information was worth. Socially, it is still the case (except in extreme circumstances) that nobody is going to do a marriage certificate search to determine whether someone is married, much less if someone owns property.
The way in which status information is stored and made available within a community has social consequences. One such consequence is the relative flatness of hierarchies in large (offline) social communities. Think of the difference between how you pick your friends and how you hire people. In choosing who to hang out with, decisions are made almost entirely through references within your network. The balance of information comes through the external status signals that someone sends (the first impressions). But external signals are often unreliable ("don't judge a book by its cover"). There simply isn't enough information for strangers to be placed within any hierarchy. As a result, social hierarchies are flatter in large (e.g., urban) communities in which people move around often and are constantly being exposed to new people.
Social hierarchies do exist, however, in smaller (e.g., rural or church) communities. And they exist also in corporations and government institutions. What these groups have in common is improved storage and availability of status information. Rural communities have no storage or availability advantages over urban communities (i.e., still memory and word of mouth). But they have the advantage of time. Corporations and government institutions have resumes and titles.
Until recently, the Internet has been more like a large urban community than a small town or a corporation. Social hierarchies, to the extent they exist, have developed organically from public-facing value. For example, active bloggers from relatively less well-known academic institutions have developed some of the largest followings.
But the Internet is changing in this regard. More and more offline status information is going online. The result is a de facto audit of personal status information. Already, some professional status information is available free. Eventually, title searching, birth, death, and marriage certificates will also be free.
The development of social hierarchies on the Internet looks, unfortunately, to be an inevitable result.