Informing the Campfire Community every day

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Pete Lawrence - 20 Nov 2016
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The Campfire community idea is about much more than providing a service or product. 

Rallying call

A belief that the Campfire concept has to be born around a membership model was an obvious starting point.

There seemed to be so many frustrations amongst friends exasperated with the type of free model espoused by Facebook, where their data was mined, algorithmed and regurgitated back at them, along with adverts. It felt outmoded and annoying, a commercial compromise, an impertinent imposition. What had at one point, in the first flushes of social media discovery, seemed like a good idea as a ‘free’ service was revealing itself as not being 'free' in so many respects. Given the result of the US elections and the fact that many are attributing the last swing of the result to the ‘fake news’ output that Facebook propagated, we may come over time to substantially regret the journey that that ‘freedom’ choice has taken us on and its inherent, hidden cost.

The Observer web guru John Naughton has an uncanny habit of nailing it "There is, alas, no such thing as a free lunch. What’s even more depressing is that there is no such thing as a free internet service. Most people nowadays probably understand that in relation to, say, social networking services, if the service is “free” then the users (or, more precisely, their personal data) are the product. But this also applies to stuff that you haven’t signed up for – websites that you browse, for example. The site may be free to view, but there’s often a hidden cost.”

Club together

The word 'service' may be a misnomer. Campfire aims to provide some useful 'services' but it may be more useful to think of its potential as along the lines of a membership club. Were you to join Home House, Soho House or any number of private members clubs in London, you’d expect to pay a membership fee for its social benefits as much as anything.  

Though Campfire aims to avoid any notions of exclusivity or closed membership once it launches, it has the potential to offer as rich an experience (although a very different one!) as any private members club, but shared over the real and virtual worlds, multi-faceted, multi-usability. It's fair to say that you will probably meet more people and a wider demographic than you might at Soho House, but you will also have the tools made available to present yourself and your skills and work Projects, to plan and collaborate, to build that most valuable of resources, collective wisdom, to join like-minds in groups (Guilds), to meet new and diverse minds, and to contribute to and consume news from sources that can trusted. 

As to any suggestion that members are contributing “ paid work” perhaps a comparison with Facebook is worth making. There’s no denying that more than ever, people want and need to get their ideas out there, discuss, debate, try to make sense of the rapid and cataclysmic ever-changing mad world around us. Posting and contributing via Twitter or Facebook wouldn’t usually be seen as ‘work’, nor should it via Campfire. Though the former is limiting in its Twitter character limit, Facebook now attracts extended blog-style postings from the likes of Robert Peston and Paul Mason as well as most major political players. These writers and similar might come to value Campfire equally as a platform worthy of spending time on, a place which is rewarding to hang out in, certainly once the size and demographic grows, if not already in its formative days.

Brian Eno and Scilla Elworthy, our two keynote speakers at CC001.UK recognised the early potential of Campfire and were prepared to support it, given many hours of their time to prepare their speeches, so there is no reason to think anyone else would view this as giving away ‘work'. Both enjoyed the event and the ethos resonated to the extent that they stayed on site for the whole weekend. If there is work involved, the overriding feeling that we have to all work for the good of all, for the good of society. This clarion call brought both Eno and Elworthy, plus a host of respected panellists and thinkshop practitioners to the Campfire.

Building value

The value of Campfire Convention will reveal itself in unconventional ways. Eno mentioned that he'd been exposed to any number of fascinating and original ways of thinking, ways of approaching our changing world, which he wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. The Campfire Circle March 2016 meeting included discussions about how much free services were valued against services they paid for and the agreement at the end of the meeting was that people did place greater value and were less cynical and liable to be disrespectful in a community where there was a membership charge. This too confirmed pre-Campfire research – that the right people believe in the vision and the possibilities for Campfire that we can make a difference, that we together can build a community of true social value, one that can remain independent and doesn’t have to compromise its integrity.

The overriding feeling after the meeting was that a membership level of under £100 a year for the social network sounded about right, a level that would allow us to cover essential costs and keep research and development work going to make it a truly valuable community resource and environment in which members have the tools and the relationships to compete and develop their own work and interests. For our alpha launch in 2017 we offered the opportunity to support Campfire via membership from £1.66 per month (£20 per year).

Many have made the point that it is important not to undervalue a community that respects privacy in a non-commercial environment and is working to offer a wide range of benefits to all - events and connections, like minded groups (Guilds which can grow into magazines in their own right), a Library where we intend to build resources, a blogging and PR platform for members' work and leisure interests, collaborative tools and a potential broadcasting and news channel, as well as a marketplace on the doorstep for creative endeavours. 

And getting value as a member? 

Campfire team member @Michelle Spriddell, nails it eloquently :

"If you are looking to earn some money or already have a business - being involved in this environment puts you in touch with people that get to know and trust you - people you would like to be around - therefore your added reward which requires no extra work to the above socialising aspect - is that the people you mix with are more likely to hire you, work with you or recommend you - they are also people you genuinely would be happy working for - win/win, no selling involved."

Dare to dream

We have to ask ourselves some serious questions about what we want to build. Seeing Campfire as as being about "working for free" is not in any sense any more accurate than the actions of regular posting on Facebook or profiling yourself on Linkedin is "working". Let’s reach for the skies, indulge in a little dreaming and conceptualization for a moment – this can do a whole lot more - sharing, creating and building a community that can change the world around us, campaigning and building a meaningful ethos and constitution, a support mechanism, an inspiration, something meaningful that brings people together, finds common ground and can also give back to its members. Does that sound more attractive? And while we're at it, let's add in creating magic. A utopian viewpoint has often been my starting point and it's stood me in good stead so far! 

Taking a more pragmatic angle, a cursory gander around the marketplace on a like-for-like basis is missing the point but still gives pointers. LinkedIn, not known as a vibrant social network, has starter monthly ‘job seeker’ subscriptions at $29.95, rising to $119.95 for their ‘recruiter lite’ package.

Music services such as Spotify, Soundcloud are around the €10/£10 mark, the same rate as proposed for Campfire membership. An iPad subscription to the ‘i’ newspaper comes in at around the same rate as Campfire whereas a newspaper website such as The Times / Sunday Times comes in at £30 per month

Donations? Well, they help and we’ve already had a few, even prior to launch, but it’s impossible to build a sustainable business model around them. And, as all charities know, donations can go down as well as up.

Ad free

From a business standpoint, monetising advertising is fraught with issues, particularly as it requires huge scale to generate significant revenue. Ads for many are corrupting. As I found that when I tried to view four UK mainstream media papers a month ago, incredibly the front page sponsorship presence spoke louder than the newspaper and its headlines. This to me, is an aberration, a corrupting influence that is symptomatic of a media that has lost its way, that is dependent on and led by the capitalist logic of advertising and the agendas that come packaged with that ethos (the darker side of targeted advertising and its implications has been the focus of the high profile of the ’Stop Funding Hate’ campaign and its vitriolic backlash from the far right press).

I learnt a sharp business lesson during my Big Chill years about just how much people value an ad-free, sponsorship-free, vested-interests-free environment. Once sponsorship and advertising was let in, the event lost its integrity and the original Big Chillers deserted it in droves, leading to its eventual bankruptcy only two years after I left the organisation. 

Sustainable

Today's vital trajectory is more about making the transition from mass to niche and how to make it work as a sustainable economic model in a rapidly changing world. Whereas Google and Facebook created a new way for advertisers to reach highly targetted audiences as they search for and read relevant content, there is an alternative way of viewing this - that formal advertising is outmoded, intrusive and even corrupting in the context of community networks. The same results can be achieved via nurturing personal relationships, dialogue, interaction and endorsement, empowering others by giving them a collaborative platform from which to do business.

As Dmitri Leonov argues in Mashable "There’s a lot to be said for creating something of real value and charging money for it. If you’re not charging for your product, then your users are the product. By charging nothing for your service you’re actually anchoring that value in your customer’s mind, making it harder to raise the price later.” What I’m proposing is to go a step further and not even think of this project as a ‘product’, a ‘service’, but a membership, where ‘users’ are more valuable, they are ‘members’, involved and guiding the Project with an outcome to reward all.

The future is all about sustainable business models for web democratisation, communities founded around a de-centralised network, equitable post-capitalist models rather than shareholder profit-maximising top-down elites.  John Naughton recently looked into his crystal ball and predicts "The rise of ad-blocking will force us to confront the fact that the free lunch provided by advertising is not long for this world. The good news is that the ensuing crisis will compel us finally to look for what we should have invented decades ago, namely sustainable business models for the web. For example, it’s possible that cryptocurrencies might enable the ‘micro-payments' that would make users pay for any article they read. We need more ideas like that, and I’m sure we’ll get them. Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Why not go a stage further - it's one thing to look at micropayment for articles, a wider vision altogether to promote the idea of an ecosystem that creates and defines its own news agenda, becomes a publisher and a broadcaster with a social network at its core, retaining its integrity and working for the benefit of all. That requires belief, trust and love. After all is said and done, that word 'love' has to be on the agenda. It was a comment from my friend Mark Offord “The love factor is missing from social networking” that convinced me, as much as anything, that the time was right to have a stab at creating a social network with that love factor at its heart, one that worked for the good of all and was built on an affordable, sustainable model. 

 

14 Comments

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Ruth Wallsgrove

I had come to think paid for journalism was dying - but these last few months I think we need to know that we can find truthful, open, caring writing, and we may only get this when we pay. As well as trusting the provenance, of course, knowing where something is coming from. There was so much untrue stuff around the USA election, and a bit of it was on the side of the angels (but still not true!)

I think especially if we encourage those who have to pay support subscriptions, we can make this work.

PS anyone seen Captain Fantastic? It's a cute film where the small children are brought up to 'stick it to the Man'. Paid advertising from big corporations is the Man, not sticking it to him!

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Colin Consterdine

I have two children, for the last decade, on our mantelpiece, we have had a sign saying "Advertisers Think You're Stupid". If we teach the children...

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Colin Consterdine

I second that emotion. Building something of worth , without ulterior or pernicious motives, is the imperative for Campfire Convention.

This is an innovation that is absolutely on the curve of current understanding of Social Media. We learnt what online communities could be, we've seen what they shouldn't be and now we need to build what they ought to be.

We now understand that Free is not Free, whether it be money or speech.

Campfire Convention isn't a wanabee FB, it's a concept developed through experience of, contemplation of, and a desire to advance, the possibilities of actually Social networks. A dream made real about how we as caring, engaged people, can use technology to communicate, inspire and engage with ourselves.

I understand that we have to confront 'User's' expectations of how a Social Media 'Service' functions, but much more importantly than that, we have to show everyone what a Social Network can BE. What the good is, after you strip out the Control and Marketing cynicism and actually let humans communicate freely with each other.

I believe in Campfire Convention because I can see that it's at the vanguard. It's an attempt to do something that, in the future, others will attempt. When they realise what Pete , and many of us have already realised, that, just because Social Networks aren't working, it doesn't mean that they can't work.

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Kimm Fearnley

Perfectly put. I think the case for a subscription is well and truly rested. I would also add to those who believe content should be paid for then how would they feel about paying for everything they read online - every re-post, blog, link, photo they use or view or they are adding from places like the Guardian, You Tube etc? X

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Eileen Inglis

I feel privileged to be in at the start of Campfire and agree with Colin that it's at the vanguard. It's great to be part of something new and exciting - even thought I've not met any of you in person yet! This is the first time I've used an online platform to connect with people I don't know in the real world and I like it! It feels very real - which I maybe didn't expect and that motivates me to contribute. I only use Facebook to connect with people I know and LinkedIn is an extension of my professional contacts - but not very personal or friendly and I rarely engage with people on it. Campfire is somehow different ..... I'd definitely pay to continue my membership and if other members truly value what's on offer I think they'll pay too - so long as the fee structure is set up to include those on low or no income (which I have no doubt it will be). And ... I have my first real life Campfire connection meet up in a few weeks. Member Anne who's moving from Hove to Glasgow got in touch and we're meeting for a coffee in early Dec! That's never happened on LinkedIn but it didn't feel in any way strange and I didn't even think twice about agreeing to meet up! x

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Sandra Ashford

As the saying goes - "There is no such thing as a free lunch". Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn have become paying platforms if you want your content to be seen by anybody of any significance. The free side of it is almost worthless as posts are not shown to most of your audience. I work in social media all day and have seen how it has declined over the last three years. I hate the way that something I have looked at online, then suddenly appears in my Facebook newsfeed. Big Brother is definitely watching you!

It is the same with anything in life, you get what you pay for. I find this true of service that I use myself. However paying large amounts of money does not necessarily mean a better service or product. I have come across services with a very reasonable fee and had a terrific service.

I think what Pete has done here is great. It has provided a platform for people to air their views without recrimination. You can have a debate and not be slagged off for your opinion. It also provides valuable information on all sorts of subjects and I can only see this growing.

I would be happy to pay a monthly subscription as long as the cost is not too prohibitive.

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Michelle Spriddell

Completely agree with you Colin and Pete - stretching the ideas to the next level - breaking the habits and expectations to create something new. There are a lot of people particularly in new generations rejecting the ad culture - refusing to engage with it - and are leaving the big platforms because of it - some platforms actually have less functionality - on the belief that the 'limitations inspire creativity' some are providing ways for the viewers to pay the creators directly for content during creation.

Campfire is beginning with the benefit of hindsight - and people who have stepped off a runaway train, meeting up whilst they walk & possibly working out a more pleasurable/suitable mode of transport for them ....

So far (with relatively little involvement) - I feel that the starting point here seems to be one where individuals - skills - ideas for a more collaborative future meet
It is a space for exchange - discussion - growth - evolution.

For me this by its very nature makes the Campfire a virtual (and physical) meeting place / it is a club/ coffee house /front room attracting like minded yet diverse body of people to basically socialise with.
Yet because of what Campfire's core ethos is - it looks set to encourage people to express themselves, discover & share their voice/skills, explore possibility and find power to action/try.

Nurturing - Maintaining and ensuring that the atmosphere / facilities continue to meet the needs and create more possibilities does require some expertise/time/money. As it grows it will need more of these elements in one form or another.

The membership fee helps to maintain that space - it demonstrates that we the members, value the platform and would like to contribute to the physical functioning of it.
If Tasks that require time / expertise can be divided up so that they help to oversee smooth running and growth in line with the ethos -that's brilliant.

This is where I suppose we really start to look at reward - money - doing for free 'paid work' and where we need to ensure that involvement in tasks to oversee/maintain don't impact on individuals in a negative way and where campfire may need to pay for time/expertise?? .

For the majority, the involvement in the site is the human aspect of socialising, of doing what you would naturally do when meeting new people - when networking to find the right people for self development or to work alongside - this style of networking has always existed and successfully takes place within FB groups - LinkedIn - blogging-discussion platforms despite the flaws of the platforms (although genuine spaces within each do seem harder to find)
Within Campfire, Posting-writing articles-coordinating etc has reward in the growth, the trust, the safety, the demonstration of your own expertise/creativity/opinion ,the raising of awareness, the contribution in the growth of self & others - of systems that will benefit future generations - maybe solve problems in the world etc

if you are looking to earn some money or already have a business - being involved in this environment puts you in touch with people that get to know and trust you - people you would like to be around - therefore your added reward which requires no extra work to the above socialising aspect - is that the people you mix with are more likely to hire you, work with you or recommend you - they are also people you genuinely would be happy working for - win/win no selling involved.
The platform design also allows us to explore and begin projects that potentially could make money outside of Campfire.

So the 'payment' or reward for the'work' or effort that you put in - can come in all sorts of guises.

I guess the tricky bit is that At the beginning there may be more requests for help from the same people to get it moving - to try and prevent problems occurring - the same people may be the ones repeatedly offering their time and experience .....these same people possibly have a lot of other demands on their time and/or need to balance that with earning in order to live, to maintain balance in their personal lives. The belief in the concept and the desire to help it succeed for the greater good - can easily create commitment/work load which is more than is reasonable and it is very difficult to then back away. As numbers grow the overseeing/admin/editor/moderator roles etc will all increase -

A question -that arises for me is not so much in now - where the pool of people is small and have come to know each-other - it is in when this opens up to a wider membership -- ensuring we keep communication going, knowing when to share work loads - ensuring systems are easy to relay and pass on to new willing members and presumably at some stage some aspects of this may need to become part of the general running of the site and be paid for - who will be discussing and deciding these aspects once there are so many more people providing opinions ???

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Pete Lawrence

Great posts and input - thanks
@SoGoMichelle, you nail it here very eloquently here

"if you are looking to earn some money or already have a business - being involved in this environment puts you in touch with people that get to know and trust you - people you would like to be around - therefore your added reward which requires no extra work to the above socialising aspect - is that the people you mix with are more likely to hire you, work with you or recommend you - they are also people you genuinely would be happy working for - win/win no selling involved."

And your question about how the work load will be shared when we grow.. that's one of the reasons I think that the formation of the Beacons is timely. Just thinking about potential for each group to grow. Of course then we have to look at which roles in the organisation will be the priorities for payment etc etc. With a project like this, everyone I've spoken tom about it agrees that a meaningful business plan is almost impossible.. it's an eco system that has to take shape of its own accord and is nigh-on impossible to predict with any accuracy, whether that's relating to number of members, what positions will need filling first, events and how they will evolve or any number of other facets...

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Ralph Pettingill

Thanks for this: I think it makes sense to pay membership 'dues'. There's so much that is bizarre in society as it is, regarding price/cost/value. I'm thinking about all the important work that is unpaid, unappreciated and unvalued. At mainstream British culture is really tainted by this, so I'm all for recognising work.( I also think volunteering is a good thing in itself). The idea of something being Free is strangely disconnected- look where that idea has got us, in the way that corporations use up resources, despoil the planet - behaving without any regard of consequences. Recognising the costs of things can be about reality, transparency and mindfulness e.g. having a proper appreciation for the work and resources needed to make an event happen- nothing takes place in a vacuum.
Having worked in various public services for many years I've noticed a problem; we have a culture of being a consumer/ service user, which has an element of entitlement but is also very passive and helpless- an expectation that there is a service/ system that just sorts things out. I suppose I'm hinting about the difficult question of re-making what we've always called public services/ the welfare state. ( A digression I know, maybe for another time - painful realisations about our quite paternalistic noble intentions behind our public services. Blair went for managerialism and 'third way' privatisation/ 'modernisation'. Tories go for slash and burn austerity, if not out-right destruction. This makes it hard to have real debate about the profound changes needed throughout our public services. What would have to happen, for us all to be living in real communities, where we had genuine ownership and engagement in the services that met our needs?
Here's an example of another 'magazine' that has a similar direction to Campfire..it's also an example of crossing boundaries, hybrids, sharing ideas and holding true to values..http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/about .

Please forgive the huge quote below, but another link with Pete's piece is love...

About Us
Tikkun is a magazine dedicated to healing and transforming the world. We seek writing that gives us insight on how to make that utopian vision a reality. We build bridges between religious and secular progressives by delivering a forceful critique of all forms of exploitation, oppression, and domination while nurturing an interfaith vision of a caring society — one whose institutions are reconstructed on the basis of love, generosity, nonviolence, social justice, caring for nature, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. To learn more, read our Core Vision statement.

Our founding editor, Rabbi Michael Lerner, also leads Beyt Tikkun, a Jewish Renewal synagogue in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tikkun brings together progressive Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, secular humanist, and agnostic/atheist voices to talk about social transformation and strategies for political and economic democratization. These authors discuss the best ways to support the evolution of consciousness needed to save our planet from environmental destruction and from the perversion of human relations generated by the globalization of selfishness and materialism popularly known as capitalist globalization. In this way, Tikkun creates space for the emergence of a Religious Left that can not only counter the power of the Religious Right, but can also cross certain Left/Right boundaries by speaking to the deepest needs of human beings—needs that are obscured by the “values-free” education and media discourse that predominates in contemporary Western societies.

Yes to love..and I think it's a radical, challenging, not-fluffy idea...

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Pete Lawrence

"What would have to happen, for us all to be living in real communities, where we had genuine ownership and engagement in the services that met our needs?"

Indeed...food for thought!

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Eugenie Arrowsmith-Pepper

Love what is happening here Pete paying is not an issue really for those that can afford it but perhaps student membership is also worth considering so you can then work powerfully with the next generation who quite frankly are not catching many breaks from the preceding ones

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Pete Lawrence

Very much so @Eugenie Arrowsmith Pepper (EugenieAP)@ - in fact I had a meeting at Warwick University this week about exactly that and it looks likely that we will be working with them on several initiatives this spring / summer which could provide a useful model for other student involvement and were also discussing staging a Campfire Conversation there. Watch this space..

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David Carter

I'd be quite happy to pay a monthly or annual subscription although it should not be prohibitively high (for example LinkedIn subs seem far too high to me) and there probably needs to be a substantial free taster period to attract new members. Another thought is how extensive could CC be? For example, if there is a international dimension would there be some requirement for flexibility/ variation.

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Pete Lawrence

We're planning to bring in a 'pay what you feel' initially so that membership is coming from a place where people fee they'd like to support the initiative, @David Carter but can still browse everything FOC.
And definitely aiming at an international membership as it rolls out...

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