I jsut sent the following letter to people who have signed up for ZSocial, but in many cases not yet begun using it, or paying for it. The content, however, is equally relevant for all ZCom users…
Bringing ZSocial and the encompassing FaceLeft system up to speed is not going to be easy – but it will be worthwhile.
In this update, first we have some important news, then some clarification, including of the above prognosis, and then a final request. I really do hope you will read it through when you have time. There is a lot at stake.
You will remember, I hope, that the overarching project is to be a compendium of social systems, all federated. Thus ZSocial is just the first. UTNESocial, DollarsandSenseSocial, and SyrizaSocial, the next three. The whole system becomes a combination of all the subsystems. A member/user of any subsystem – such as you, using ZSocial – will also have full access, just by clicking an toggle, to the groups and events and blogs and other contents and to the members of all the other subsystems. Being on one system – such as ZSocial – gives the user, if he or she wishes, means to relate to only people and content on that one system (by the toggle) and to have their revenues help that one system's host, but a quick toggle also accesses the full content of all systems.
The idea is pretty simple. The overarching system, by its approach to finances and by its services, creates ties among all the hosts, lets each share with the rest, and gives users a steadily innovating social networking system geared in all respects to progressive values and activities.
First, we have as hosts, now: Z Communications, Utne Reader (a U.S. bi monthly periodical), Syriza (the left party in Greece), and Dollars and Sense (a U.S. economic monthly). The latter three are now coming online, and, as you know, ZSocial has been operating for some time. We are also talking with a good number of other potential hosts and should have new announcements soon.
Second, we have a new idea regarding revenues. The aim regarding revenues is to come up with means to make the whole system (a) highly conducive to organizational solidarity among all participants, and (b) as receptive to leadership coming from its users as possible.
By analogy, regarding innovations, once we are able to pursue them, we already have a good plan, we think. Users or hosts present ideas for innovations -whether policy or features. These go before all users for constantly updated voting. Programmers implement those innovations which are possible and consistent with the overall values and a aims of the project, in order of user preferences. All subsystems receive all innovations. This way the development of WorldSocial's features is driven by user and host preferences, and the benefits accrue to all systems.
So what about dealing with money? Is there a way to do that which is comparably consistent with user influence and also with mutual, shared, benefit?
The fee for the site is $3 per month, per user. $1 of that goes straight to the user's host. So, for all of you who are on ZSocial, $1 goes to Z. A second $1 goes to the overarching system, let's now call it WorldSocial, for hosting, maintanence, innovations, etc. But what about the third $1 (or, if a user decides to pay more per month – the third, third)?
At first we thought let's have that last third go into a kitty, and at the end of each month it would be dispersed to the hosts, but in some manner preferencing small hosts somewhat over larger ones. Thinking about putting this into practice, however, made us wonder about how desirable it was. If you think it through you will see it is very mechanical, would be quite arbitrary or could lead to disputes, and perhaps worst, would give existing hosts a material reason to not want smaller hosts added, only hosts larger than themselves.
In a discussion with a likely new host, a new idea was proposed, and we like it. Why not have users vote on what to do with revenues, too, just like they vote on innovations? So, users or hosts would nominate projects which would then be voted on, each month, by the whole user membership, and the funds would be dispersed to the projects in proportion to their support.
With that system in place users would be paying $3 a month, or more if someone chooses to. They would each individually be earmarking one third to their host – the one they chose to join. They would collectively, with other users, be earmarking another third to worthy projects and endeavors they and others would be proposing and all would be able to vote on. And the last third would go to WorldSocial itself.
So with this in place we would have a system with excellent internal financing, and with two thirds of revenues benefiting progressive projects and institutions, all under the auspices of the members/users, and with innovations also driven by members/users. Not bad!
Third, we are probably going to have to change the name of the overarching system, up to now called FaceLeft. This obviously requires some explanation.
The name change is because if the overarching system was called FaceLeft, then Facebook would be able to legally crush us – or so we are told. Apparently, not only size but also the law would be on their side. If this assessment proves to be true, which I believe it will, we have no choice but to change. This is not so bad, however, because in fact many people have said they don't like that name much. They see that it is saying we are a left alternative, for progressive activity, etc., but they feel the name also implies we are otherwise like Facebook, which they feel is false and degrades our efforts. Regardless of where one stands on that, the current front runner for a new name is WorldSocial – which would be composed of ZSocial, D&SSocial, UtneSocial, SyrizaSocial – and so on. This name WorldSocial is viable, and also connotes a bit more about what we are.
Fourth, we are working on a new feature that we call Flows.
The idea is familiar. People can easily and freely establish a Flow, for example, call one JoeFlow, that Joe establishes. Other users, in the system Joe is in, or in any other subsystem of WorldSocial, can click to follow JoeFlow, just like you can now follow some media source, say. It is quite analogous. Joe then puts in his flow content, whenever he chooses. Those following see it, as content in JoeFlow – which they can view by itself or in their wall along with all other content they are receiving.
So what is the big deal? Think ChomskyFlow, as but one example – and then think about lots of progressive host systems, and thus lots of Flows for writers in media hosts, for critical actors in activist organizational hosts. Some Flows would have few followers, but others might have almost every person in the whole of WorldSocial following – like ChomskyFlow. And yes, this would be a bit like following someone's tweets on a regular basis – but with a wrinkle. There is no length limit. And given the overarching venue, one can anticipate amusement, engagement, but, also, serious substance.
Why in the opening sentence did I write: "Bringing ZSocial and the encompassing FaceLeft system up to speed is not going to be easy – but it will be worthwhile."
First, why would it be worthwhile?
WorldSocial, operating successfully, would be an amazingly beneficial endeavor. Imagine 50 host organizations – and thus 50 component sites – or, if you wish, imagine many more, because if we get to fifty, my guess is getting to 100, or even 250, will be pretty easy. Suppose the average number of users per system is 5,000 – which is a very low estimate, again, if the system is succeeding and has time to develop.
So in this eventuality we would have from 250,000 to over a million users, total for WordlSocial. Why is this good? Seriously? The left would be collectively operating our own social networking, overseen by 50 – 250 progressive institutions, with the operation's facilities and finances under the auspices of its membership, and with all of it oriented to enhancing social communications and activism and not to profiting owners, selling users information, spying, and so on. Plus, we would have from $500,000 to $2,000,000 a month flowing into left activist and media and other endeavors and organizations. If I have to argue that that kind success would be wonderful, then I just have to throw up my hands….
Second, why would it be hard to succeed?
This is a serious question and the answer is probably in many respects unknown, and maybe unknowable. Here are just three possible reasons.
Many people are highly skeptical that socially concerned activists can do anything competently, much less on such a scale. If you doubt this, examine your own expectations. If Apple said it was going into social networking would you react differently in your expectations than when Z and other left operations say they are? Of course some of the reasons you would react differently – and I would too – are totally sensible, like the resources Apple would command, its likely treatment in the press, and so on, compared to left resources, left treatment in the press, and so on. But other reasons are not so sensible, a feeling that they are competent, and can get things done, but that leftists aren't.
People fear internal dissension will ruin it. This, given history, is a reasonable worry.
People doubt others will participate, so doubt it will grow. This turns out to be paramount, I think…
The first reason, what can I say? If it holds for you, get over it. This view, if correct, would consign the future to hideous domination by corporations – and I most certainly would include Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple, high on the list of those corporations.
The second reason, we who are trying to bring you this have to overcome past history saying this will occur. We have two ways of doing that. One, WorldSocial is conceived in a way that leaves hosts nothing to argue about, nothing to split over. They agree to the structure and policies at the outset, and those don't change unless there is unanimity of hosts about a change, and then also user support. Two, unlike many situations of infighting, there is something very real, very large, and very beneficial for everyone at stake – and in such a situation the pressure to relate positively so that everyone benefits will be enormous. This system is designed to create and foster mutual ties and even mutual aid, nothing competitive.
Third, this is the really hard one, I think. Social networking is not valuable just because there are networking tools, even if they are stupendously good – as WorldSocial's will be if it gains sufficient scale to upgrade. The Social part has to be there, too – meaning large numbers of people have to be highly active. How many people have to be ACTIVE on ZSocial for it to be real attractive to Z users? How many have to be ACTIVE on WorldSocial for that to be something we all desire to relate to, frequently? I don't know for sure – no one does – but I suspect the answer to the former is likely at least 5,000 and to the latter, perhaps 50,000 or more.
So how do you get from a handful of active users to 10,000 or 50,000 when until you do, the system isn't worth all that much and thus won't retain those who try it out – because it isn't yet delivering the "social" aspect – and, as well, because in the absence of sufficient revenues, it is too slow, a little buggy, and so on?
One answer is people will see the future value. They will realize the future benefits and will join and participate at the outset even though it isn't yet delivering for them. They will do this not for immediate benefit, but to build the system. We thought that motivation might be sufficient. So far, it hasn't been. So while we hope that motivation might kick in, soon, for example, as there are more hosts, we also have to think about whether some other step, from us, can help. Given paltry resources and nearly no revenues so far, what could that be?
So that is why we are working hard to provide what we call Flows.
This is a feature (like the media feature) which can deliver benefits even without lots of users. As soon as there is a flow that you want to follow – say ChomskyFlow – that will give you accessible and engaging content, say a few nights each week, you have direct benefit from your membership – which is simply not available by other means.
Consider SyrizaSocial – suppose Alexis Tsipras decides to do TsiprasFlow. For Z, and others, imagine along with ChomskyFlow, PilgerFlow, and RoyFlow, and so on. Imagine the PSUV in Venezuela comes on board, and there is MaduroFlow. Imagine, less famous folks, but highly capable and involved in all kinds of pursuits. The idea is, even before there are tens of thousands of users, and even before you can join in groups and relate to events and have contacts with lots of people, you can follow flows.
Imagine Democracy Now, or Red Pepper, Di Linke in Germany or the PT in Brazil, Greenpeace, the Greens, and in the U.S. the Green Shadow Government – women's groups, immigrant groups, LGBT groups, labor groups, anti war groups, all, and many more, and diverse media, become hosts. Even as we are trying to ramp up user involvement in all the subsystems, imagine folks associated with each host are doing Flows. Now there is not just a long term reason for users to join, there is immediate benefit. That is the idea of doing Flows now – plus, of course, it is another means for cross fertilizing lessons and ideas from different parts of the world, different types of activists, and so on.
A Final Entreaty
Innovating, speeding up the site, signing on hosts, finishing developing Flows, signing on folks to generate Flows, and much else all depend on lots of effort from us. But we need those folks who are onboard to sign up to pay the $3 each month, and to begin using facilities. The programmers need this, honestly, for motivation. We need it to pay bills.
WorldSocial can be a major creation helping solve progressive financial problems all around the world, generating organizational mutual aid, as well as personal mutual aid, enacting a huge system on democratic and self managing principles, and of course reducing dependence on multinational, tax robbing, spying, profit seeking, corporations. Are we up to do this?
Please visit ZSocial.
Please make your account live, and paying, if it isn't.
Please start to use some facilities.
Please promote the ideas and project to others.