An online public commons for small communities

Gwilym :: March 19th, 2019
An online public commons for small communities

My main beef with Facebook as a community tool is its ability to distract people who have good community intentions with commercial and political messages. A platform that has hosted the system that swayed and arguably resulted in the votes for Brexit and Trump should not be the one I have to visit to check the time of my children's after school activities or my communities vigil after a national disaster.

I worked in a successful community enterprise several years ago, Wanaka Wastebusters, which runs a recycling shop local environmental education, and stands as a bulwark against the idea that things need to grow exponentially and be bigger, bigger, bigger. It works, people flock to the site and it is one of the most visited destinations in a popular mountain tourist town. At Wastebusters I witnessed how an organisation can deliver a common good while retaining it's singular purpose and, in a way, it's soul.

With this in mind, with Lloyd Weehuizen, we launched an exploratory project in mid 2018 with the following goals:

  • To provide a community software platform that filled the Community Classified Advertising niche that used to be provided by newspapers and newsletters and recently has migrated to Gum Tree, Facebook Marketplace et al.

  • It needs to be cheap to deploy and run, with this in mind we'll offer it as a service with no capital investment up front and hope to pay for its ongoing development by having several communities use it.

  • While ideally there would be no need to have a revenue model for each community we realise that if they grow revenue will be required to maintain quality and we aim to build in the idea of local advertising within the feed. We do not see this is hypocrisy as anybody advertising would be within the social reach of the people viewing the ads.

  • The platform will adhere to a localist ideal in that we will seek community organisations as owners who are embedded in the community and have a vested interest in maintaining the quality and spirit of the platform.

Proposed MarketSquares feed

After an initial failed partnership with The Wanaka App, a closed eco-system news app in the Wanaka area (they decided they'd rather build their own than use our SASS offering) in late 2018 we started a demo with Spoke Magazine which can be seen here, we've also started talking to The Hawea Community Association and reaching out to communities around the South Island. We have learnt a lot in this process:

  • Community organisations are looking to unify local news, their communication with their members and the lifeblood classified ads that bring people back to their web properties. With this in mind we propose to combine featured links importing Open Graph data into the feed.

  • After initially imagining the platform would appeal equally to commercial and community organisations I think that if we can lower the bar enough for community organisations to get established that would be a far more powerful direction to go. Community organisations have volunteers, governance structures and increasingly a real desire to be at the centre and not forced to the margins in the way the internet is tending to distil things.

Proposed MarketSquares feed