Maintain Medium as a collaborative commons

Keith Parkins
Mar 21, 2017 · 6 min read
South Common

We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. — Ev Williams

When Ev Williams and a bunch of vulture capitalists founded Medium, the last thing on their minds would have been to create a collaborative commons.

For Ev Williams, it was establishing a platform for writers, for the vulture capitalists, it would have been artificially inflate the value, sell out whilst the going is good, make a fast buck, yet another Ponzi scam.

As Charles Eisenstein discusses in Sacred Economics, few make money from the internet.

It is an attempt to create a platform for advertising revenue, the users are the mugs who create the content, it is their externalities that adds value, and they hate the adverts. Or, inflate the value of something completely worthless, such as Uber, and hope can sell before found out.

Whether intentionally or not, with Medium a collaborative commons has been created.

Writers create a common wealth, upon which others draw, often the writers and readers are one and the same, or, as we see here, one article spawns another article in response to the first.

Of the responses that followed, of which this is but one, the entire emphasis, to the exclusion of all else, was how do we make money, how do we make Medium generate a revenue stream? This may have something to do with legacy issues, many of the early Mediums articles were repetitive how I started my start up, ad nauseam. None asked, how do we maintain Medium as a collaborative commons from which we all benefit?

None appreciate Medium for what it is, a collaborative commons, let alone discuss how do we maintain Medium as a collaborative commons. If this means vulture capitalists getting burnt, I am fine with that indeed could even be viewed as beneficial collateral damage.

To create fenced off ghettos where readers have to pay, is to enclose the commons. It fails to recognise we are now post-capitalism, the cost of information products has fallen to zero.

Writers are not writing for money, they are writing because they have something to say.

Ev Williams recognises this:

2016 was our best year yet. Key metrics, such as readers and published posts were up approximately 300% year on year. And we witnessed important stories published on Medium — from world-famous leaders to unknown individuals — on a daily basis. We’re proud of Medium’s role in promoting intelligent viewpoints and new ideas no matter who they’re from, becoming the default outlet for thoughtful people who have something to say about the world.

If being paid was not the motivation, that led ‘from world-famous leaders to unknown individuals to write on Medium ‘on a daily basis’, then why is Ev Williams recommending a change that contributors be paid, enclosure of the commons which destroys Medium as a collaborate commons?

Those who contribute and interact, are creating a common wealth, something that is not for sale.

Let us assume I wish to read Think Like a Commoner. I could borrow from a library. I could buy from a bookshop. What if the library charged for entering, or charged each time a book was borrowed. We know the result, fewer books would be borrowed. And yet that is what Medium are proposing, to charge for reading an article.

Writers not only write because they have something to say, they write to be read.

The question Ev Williams should have posed, and the responses addressed, was how do we maintain Medium as a collaborative commons, and secure its financial viability?

A commons is the public resource and the social interactions that maintain the commons, self-regulating, adaptive.

It is now for the commons that is Medium, to self-regulate and adapt.

We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention.

The question has to be why? Ev Williams has already said how successful is Medium without the need to pay writers.

If it is to generate a revenue stream, we have to turn this around, position as to how we do it without enclosing the commons?

As an initial starting point:

  • no sale to Wall Street
  • no advertising
  • no enclosures

Bandcamp has shown steady growth, a virtual team, no vulture capitalists, not losing money. With bandcamp, upload music for free, can download music for free, limit of 200 free downloads per month, listen on-line for free, can pay the artist if choose to do so.

fairpay card / https://fair.coop/order-the-fairpay-card-now-and-start-2017-by-committing-yourself-to-another-economy-for-the-whole-year/

Therefore retain all articles free, but, a mechanism whereby writers can be paid if readers so choose. And choose faircoin or fairpay card as the payment method.

If funds are required, and currently they are not, crowdfund or launch an appeal.

The platform to be open source software.

Consider the possibility of turning into an open coop.

Medium could launch a parallel venture Medium Books, open source books.

Book publishing is a risky businesses, most go to be pulped, some go as remainders, a few find their way onto book shelves in bookshops and a few actually get sold.

Crowdfund the book, only publish when a minimum number to break even has been reached. Print at local nodes. The e-book, in all formats, pdf, epub, kindle, available as free download but can choose to pay. The book distributed to bookshops in the usual way. The platform open source.

Pensar desde los comunes, the Spanish edition of Think Like a Commoner, was published in this manner, crowdfunded, then printed locally, with free e-book, translation from English to Spanish by Guerrilla Translation, a P2P translation collective and cooperative founded in Spain.

Charles Eisenstein, in keeping with his idea of a Gift Economy, gift to others with no expectation of return, you can purchase Sacred Economics from a bookshop (if you can find), download as an e-book (pay what you wish), or download for free. I downloaded for free, paid him back by recommending to others, and more recently, have purchased two copies, one for myself, one to be given to a friend as a gift.

If Medium is to survive as a collaborative commons, there needs to be some radical thinking, charging for access is not the answer, it would be a retrograde step. Ev Williams may well say, someone has to provide the land, in this case the platform, on which the commoners exercise their commoners rights.

This may be true, in the past a lord or maybe held in common by the community, but think of innovative ways to provide the platform, open source software to which all can contribute, crowdfund to raise the funds, make an appeal, organise as an open coop, enable payment if readers wish to pay, but always retain free access.

Linux and its associated suite of programs runs the internet. Developers freely contribute, the software is free to use.

Post-capitalism, we are moving away from failed neo-liberalism, towards open coops, collaborative commons. Medium are going against the trend. It as though post-capitalism does not exist.

Ev Williams needs to think again.

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

Keith Parkins

Written by

Writer, thinker, deep ecologist, social commentator, activist, enjoys music, literature and good food.

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

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