Community is not clubs
Lately there seems to be examples everywhere of how we are segregating the internet into exclusive cliques and clubs instead of communities where we share real human moments. Statistics from the 2014 Employee Diversity Reports for our major networks show that online giants like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Ebay and Etsy all fail to hire employees or leadership that reflect the diversity of their users. With thousands of makers, artists, and creative types fleeing Facebook for the faceless Ello at the rate of 31,000 sign ups per hour alongside news of “The World’s Most Exclusive Online Community” Netropolitan with it’s $9000 buy-in and $3000 annual membership fresh in my mind, this post burned a hole through my head, into my heart, and out of my hands.
The problem with all our social networks, no matter how awesome they seem to be, is that we don’t own them or make them-we just use them. The people who do own them don’t speak for us or care about community, they represent private interests who commodify our lives for profit and have turned the promise of an open internet into a private gold mine. From where I sit it seems like most of us are okay with every social network from Facebook to the new Ello being owned and directed by the same tiny demographic. They are allowed to buy and sell our private lives because we’ve forgotten one important truth: we are not users or consumers, we are makers and all of this is ours.
Fellowship, union, shared responsibility and common ownership are community, anything else is just clubs.
Community is inclusive
You can see exclusion at work in any inner city playground where kids group up just like adults do. Sporty ones there, creative ones there, outcasts waaaay over there, while a tiny crew with the best toys, clothes, food and tools rules the whole yard. Unless it is a very good school, one that values inclusion and community, kids can easily forget they are all sharing the same playground and have equal rights. Our online and offline communities are no different-unless we constantly work to remember everything is a common resource we forget this playground is ours and that it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure we share it fairly and create a legacy for future generations. Otherwise we break up into tribes, bullies & hustlers take over leadership, and it’s all Lord of the Flies in no time. Our communities can be as exclusive and elitist or inclusive and diverse as we choose to make them, we’ve always had that power.
Community is and must be inclusive. The great enemy of community is exclusivity. Groups that exclude others because they are poor or doubters or divorced or sinners or of some different race or nationality are not communities; they are cliques – actually defensive bastions against community. M. Scott Peck, The True Meaning of Community
Clubs have a place on and offline-we need to meet up with people who share our interests and specific goals like running creative businesses, sharing pictures, getting crafty, changing the world or a million other things. The problem is when these clubs get confused for community or we allow cliques to buy and sell connection and loose our common spaces.
Citizenship is for everyone
It’s time to take back the internet as a community. As citizens of this shared global resource we have the right and responsibility to advocate for and create spaces that represent and respect our true diversity. In a world that is increasingly divided showing we can manage shared resources ethically has never been more important- or harder to do.
If we can’t create multigenerational, multicultural, & multigendered communities together online how can we ever hope to do so in our cities and streets?
We have the right to vote with our heads, hearts and hands for the kind of world we want to be part of on or offline-that is the beautiful difficult wonder that is citizenship. We can contribute to closed cliques and clubs or constantly do the work of asking how we can be good citizens if we exclude our neighbours. When we use our time to vote for another network like Facebook or Ello we help segregate the internet a little more by choosing a tiny minority to profit from all of us.
For years OMHG has been reaching out to make a stronger community for everyone together. On May 1st we held an Annual General Party to start the process of becoming a cooperative. In July we partnered with Communifire to give members a complete social networking platform limited only by our imaginations and effort. We offer ALL the features and then some that the exclusive Netropolitan charges it’s members $9000 to access or that Facebook and Ello appear to offer for free-if you don’t mind giving up your freedom (or your face). Unlike other networks the OMHG community meets up weekly on Twitter, stays in touch on Instagram, builds friendships on Facebook, visits on Skype or Google+, makes real tangible projects together, connects offline and has proven that people make communities, the platforms just host us. We are building a common space, made and owned by us, for everyone who wants to be a citizen of a community for the head, heart and hands.
We need thinkers, dreamers and makers of all abilities and ages to create a new community model that is diverse from the beginning. Elders, parents, adults, young people you are invited to become citizens and founders. Bring your ideas and skills to OMHG, help build our spaces, write our terms, lay a legal foundation, develop our democratic process and show that community is indeed possible. OMHG needs more variety in gender, ethnicity, age, talent, culture, and perspectives all willing to share a common space and some simple principles that we work on together.
So before You Sign Up for Ello…
Or the next big thing online, ask yourself if you want another online empire where the founders profit from you as a user or if you want to be a maker creating warm, supportive communities where you are citizens with rights and responsibilities. Whether you become a citizen of OMHG, support or start a different network I hope this post will be part of a larger conversation about the difference between cliques, clubs and communities. At the very least maybe it will get us to take a closer look at who runs our networks and stands to profit from them. For the last 4 years the vast majority of OMHG profits have been invested into the site or community projects like our community art prints, Maker Mail and our Maker’s Retreat this October where we are gathering to make a movement. I’ve drawn a small salary from OMHG in order to continue our simple life raising children in a 200 year old house in rural Canada while travelling North America to find ways for us to connect in person. There is nothing faceless or mysterious about OMHG, we are regular, exceptional people who are making a community and want your help.
Social network founders can look like me (and you)
I don’t look like a social network founder and that is a problem, we need to see founders that look like me and you. I’m a 31 year old African American, Cherokee Indian, Jewish, Scottish, Canadian mother of two. I am a high school drop out, grew up in the inner city with few resources except for my single visibly diverse mother and survived addiction, multiple kinds of abuse and extreme losses before my 17th birthday. I dedicated my life to children and communities when I was 18 and have never looked back, I came to tech from offline cooperative, non-profit + community making and a lifetime spent including people everyone else left out. I know nothing about building a corporation but I have time to help our community find houses, learn to breastfeed, talk about suicide and support their projects- these are the only qualifications that really matter to me. What qualifications matter to you in our social network founders?
Share your thoughts on how we can have more communities and less cliques + clubs by talking about this post, leaving comments, starting conversations using #communityisnotclubs on any of the networks or becoming part of the OMHG community. Anyone can register for OMHG for free or pay a small monthly or annual fee to become a citizen, learn more about joining our community here: