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Media, Open Hardware, Social & New Media, Technology

21st Century Co-op

I was writing a piece on innovation today for a US-based publisher and it got me thinking about digital innovation.

There was a time when I thought of digital as solely applying only to the creative industries – film-making, journalism, TV, advertising. The whole media merry-go-round.

We all know how the web and social media has impacted on traditional media businesses and journalism (I speak from painful firsthand experience). but one of the plus points has been making those involved re-evaluate how to best serve their communities. This has led to the flowering of the hyperlocal movement, creating communities around content.

Now the web is beginning to have an impact on other areas too. Digital entrepreneurs are beginning to harness the power of web-based tools to do for manufacturing and design what web publishing did for newspapers.

What links them is a sense of localness, a sense of community. They’ve realised community isn’t just about geographic location, it’s about shared interests too.

That’s the core idea behind new web-based social ventures: Building a community of support behind a project, finding a group of like-minded people to back an idea, to be prepared to support it financially.

They’re building a social economy on the web – it’s the 21st century manifestation of the co-operative movement. Some of the best known illustrations of uniting community to make business social are of course Kickstarter, Local Motors, Etsy and Shapeways.

Terry Jones: One of Unbound's authors

But more sites are coming on stream all the time. Among them are Unbound – a new website aiming to do for publishing what Kickstarter did for creative projects.

The idea is to circumvent the traditional publishing business model by appealing directly to the reader. Getting them to back the author’s vision and directly fund the writing and publication of the book.

The site’s mission statement:

We think people who love books – primarily readers and writers – deserve a say in what does or doesn’t get published. You may not be aware of it, but even best-selling authors are beginning to have very restrictive parameters imposed on the kinds of books they get to write. Put simply, there are lots of potentially great books we’re not getting the opportunity to read.

The site’s model hopes to allow books to be published that simply wouldn’t see the light of day without a TV deal. It also promises a peek behind the curtain of the writing process. What it won’t be doing initially is to discover new writing – it’s using published authors, focusing on those who have a track record and an audience.

Another site based around community is GetitMade. Like Unbound its drawing on community but rather than books it’s creating new products. A kind of Britain’s next Big Thing for the web. I mentioned it here. The site allows any designer, inventor or creator with a product idea to use social networking to create a market, build sales and get the product made. It is now starting to build a portfolio.

Common is another variant of the concept – using communities to create social ventures, building (hopefully) sustainable business under a ‘common’ brand. Even the traditional co-operative has branched out into the digital space.

Community is the common thread which links these initiatives and it’s interesting to see the parallels between these digital ventures and the traditional co-operative movement.

The traditional co-operative wanted to broaden access to economic decision-making, take business out of the hands of the few and spread the wealth to the many.  These new ventures seemingly look to be doing the same.



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