London Commons/The London Commons, a Media Free for All

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Document history

""version 0.2.1: November 17th, 2005""

Changes since 0.2 november 16th 2005

  • reworded some sentences in “Why the London Commons?” and elaborated for clarity based on suggestions from Jeff Pastorius
  • edited and expanded introduction to “Founding Services”
  • cleaned up some of the writing in “Founding Principles”
  • wrote some details for “Technology Services”

Changes since 0.1 november 3rd 2005

  • updated the planning section to describe the general direction of the Commons a little better
  • provided more details for some of the services
  • changed file name for easier linking and made minor edits in the planning section

""First draft written by Jeremy McNaughton, November 3rd, 2005""


Introduction

The London Commons is a media and communications cooperative organization that is currently in its planning stages. This document outlines the reasons for creating the London Commons and the core services that we will provide. It also suggests some founding principles for the organization, and finishes with a draft plan for sustainability.

As a cooperative, the London Commons will provide services to members and the general public. We will focus our efforts on collaborative media creation and distribution.

Why the London Commons?

Communication is elemental to a healthy and vibrant community. The way we communicate as a city plays a key role in our culture, economy, and the whole way we live our lives. Some media only allow or prefer one way communication, meant to be consumed by the masses and provide limited means for feedback. London's commercially dominated media is mostly a one way street. While the London Free Press and the New PL may offer a letters to the editor section and “Speaker's Corner,” regular Londoners have no control over what gets aired or printed.

Part 2.b. of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom guarantees us “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” The word freedom in this context only means there should be no rules against what gets said. It does not mean that common people will be able to afford to get their message out. People don't commonly own publishing companies because it's too expensive. Freedom of expression ends up being relatively worthless when very few people can afford it.

Fortunately Londoners are blessed with several avenues to get their ideas, opinions and creative works out to the rest of the community. Organizations like CHRW Radio Western 94.9, AltLondon.org, London Indie and the recently revived London Indymedia Collective open up new lanes to allow greater two way communication. Regular Londoners can easily play a part in these organizations and get mass distribution of their contributions to local culture and dialogue.

The London Commons wants to dramatically expand local grassroots media by organizing a cooperatively owned and run communications company. The mission of the London Commons Cooperative is to lower costs and eliminate other barriers to free and open communication. We will provide publishing, communication and collaboration services to make culture and dialogue more accessible to individuals, groups and the entire city. And we will do it all by working together.

Founding Services

LondonCommons.net is the founding effort of our nascent cooperative. The website will actually be three sites rolled into one common interface. It will be a constantly updated online magazine with articles, photographs, music files and video where anyone from London and area will be welcome to publish their creations. It will also be a free, permanent online archive of work contributed by community members and pieces from the public domain. And perhaps most exciting are the organic groups collaboration tools, that will make cooperation in the time between face to face meetings easier and more productive.

The site will never require a subscription cost, and its services will be available equally to members and the general public. Browsing the website and downloading content will not require any registration, but an account with a real name will be required for publishing to the site or using the collaboration tools. Our server will be powered by Free Software tools including Ubuntu Linux and Drupal. Ubuntu Linux is an operating system (alternative to Microsoft Windows or Mac OS) suitable for laptops, desktops and servers. Drupal is a content management system that acts like an engine for a community run website. Both Ubuntu Linux and Drupal are free to download, copy, change and redistribute. They are part of an intellectual property commons.

The London Commons on line magazine and archive

Account holders will be able to contribute any type of content that the site supports to any of the sections. For example, a budding journalists could publish stories covering the events at City Hall in the News section. A musician could upload her band's demo tracks to the Music section, and keep fans updated with a blog and the Calendar. Local nonprofit organizations and citizen groups will be able to promote their programs and campaigns, and solicit feedback and participation from other community members. A casual commoner might usually participate only in the forums, but occasionally vote on items in the submission queue.

The content in our magazine mediacast won't just be from community members, it will be managed by them. Once the site starts to get crowded, content will go to the submission queue before reaching the front page. Account holders will be able to vote contributions up to the front page, or down to the rejection bin. Decisions on what gets published will not be made by one small group of people. We want to create a media free for all that is for, about and by Londoners.

Whenever content is uploaded to the site, the contributor will be asked to choose a license for their work. That license will let others know what freedoms and restrictions are attached to using the content. It sounds complicated, but is really very simple. The options will include the Creative Commons (CC) licenses that allow “some rights reserved” distribution of creative works.

Creative Commons is an organization that develops and maintains a free collection of licenses that content creators can apply to their works. With a CC license authors and artists can allow their creations to be copied and shared, as long as certain rules are followed. For exampel a visual artist could release some of his work under the Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license. That license allows people to copy and redistribute the work only for noncommercial uses, and create derivative works as long as the new creations are released with the same freedoms.

Using CC licenses is one way that the London Commons will foster a shift in freedom of expression. Creative Commons licenses encourage remixing culture, and allow for new levels of creative collaboration. Support for the Creative Commons licensing will be integrated seamlessly into the website.

Organic Groups Collaboration Tools

Account holders will also be provided with tools designed to make group work easier. Commoners will be able to join and create “organic groups” that are either open to the public or by invitation only. Members of a group will share private and public folders for content that belongs to the group, a calendar and a task list. These collaboration tools might be best illustrated by some examples:

A local activist group could have each of its members create a Commons account and join their organic group. They could use the private group folder to store documents that are being collaborated on so that all members would be able to see changes in real time between meetings. Minutes could get posted to the folder, and the tasks assigned at meetings entered into the task list and checked off as they are completed by members. The private calendar would let them keep track of their meetings, and they could publish events so that other groups and individuals will see them on the site's public calendar.

An artist collective could establish a group and use the tools to give each other previews of what they're working on, schedule jam sessions, and promote shows in the public calendar as a collective unit. Neighbours could subscribe to neighbourhood group calendars. A group of writers could prepare a zine, and publish the contents on line and in print. Ad hoc groups will be able to prepare for large events like conferences or festivals, respond to crises, and coordinate community action.

It is the goal of the London Commons to make our collaboration tools simple for everyone by integrating them into to architecture of the site. We want to provide intuitive, accessible tools that can supplement the mailing lists that groups usually use for on line collaboration. These services for groups will be provided with hopes of stimulating collaboration and a more connected community

The website will lay foundations that we can built on later to provide other services. It will give us a framework to organize projects large and small, and make running the cooperative a lot easier. It will be a place to connect, find out what's going on and access local culture and art. But most of all it's going to be a lot of fun.


Founding Principles

Starting with a solid foundation of core values is critical to the longevity of any organization. If the the founding principles are not stated clearly in the beginning, the organization will waste a lot of time in the future with conflicts over values, direction and goals. Those conflicts will arise even with a solid foundation of core principles, but we should do our best to avoid them with careful planning.

The founding principles outlined here are not ready to be set in stone. In practice it may be better to never set them in stone, so that the London Commons can periodically reevaluate and expand its mission. As this document is only the first of many drafts, the principles outlined here are suggestions for a starting point. Feedback on this section and the entire document is welcomed and requested.

The London Commons is founded with the principles of freedom, respect, accessibility, and grassroots collaboration. These principles are the pillars that will hold the London Commons up, so they need to be strong. The shadow of each principle is visible in all of the other principles because they are interdependent.

Freedom

Freedom is elemental to a democratic society. Freedom of expression allows us a rich and diverse culture and lets ideas old and new be debated openly. Without freedom of expression, our society would stagnate without the evolution that is driven by controversial ideas and bold new artistic statements.

For the London Commons to belong to everybody and serve the whole community, we must guarantee genuine and robust freedom of expression to every participant. The London Commons is founded with the belief that censoring unpopular expressions does nothing to resolve conflict. Instead the London Commons will encourage dialogue, and provide equal access for all participants to respond to content they disagree with.

The London Commons will work to further expand our collective freedom of expression in these critical ways:

  • Working together to lower the costs that inhibit the freedom to publish and access information.
  • Facilitating dialogue and conflict resolution instead of resorting to censorship
  • Providing tools such as the Creative Commons licenses, that allow a new flexible spectrum of rights to share and remix culture. The content available from the London Commons will be free as in cost, and free as in freedom.

Respect

Grassroots collaboration requires that we treat each other with respect. We must always remember that we are working with and talking to our neighbours, even when we disagree. Contributors to the London Commons will be expected not to publish lies, direct personal attacks, or inappropriate offensive language while using the services. The London Commons belongs to all members, and no member should use its services in ways that could get it shutdown.

Accessibility

Membership to the London Commons Cooperative and access to our services will be open to every Londoner regardless of income, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or ability. Our mission is lowering the cost of and removing other barriers media creation, collaboration and distribution. We will reach out to isolated groups, expand into different media and adapt to special needs by involving as many Londoners as possible.

Grassroots Collaboration

As an organization, the London Commons Cooperative will be built and run from the bottom up. Our primary asset is each other and the resources we already have. Decisions on how the cooperative is run, what services will be available, and what directions should be taken will always be made by the membership. Meetings will be run by consensus, and will be open to all members of the cooperative. The projects we undertake will always be community action.

The nature of our work is collaborative. Our services will function by bringing people together for cooperation instead of competition. We will provide tools that facilitate working together as individuals and groups and make it easier for people to build on the work of others. The London Commons will reach out to organizations with similar goals to prevent unnecessary redundancy, and help build a vibrant network of interdependency.

Rough plan and time line

The internet still has vast untapped potential as a medium for communication. Data transfer on the internet is cheaper than printing and broadcasting. The internet's versatility makes it fast and easy to distribute text, images, audio and video. On the network we can communicate in real time, and keep a library of content that is available on demand.

The London Commons wants to harness the potential of the internet and use it to open mass media and communication to all Londoners. Because so many still have limited access to the internet, the London Commons will work collectively to make internet access cheaper and easier. At the same time we will branch out into other media. Printed pages, discs, tapes, telephones and broadcasting still have lots of life left in them. As the London Commons matures, it will offer a broad set of media services. Cheap printing, professional audio recording, even phone services can all be offered under the cooperative model.


Revenue Sources

To be sustainable the London Commons must find revenue streams to pay workers and build capital for starting new programs. Running the website will be cheap. For it's launch in November 2005, the cost of the website will be approximately $20/month. To support programs like Computer Recycling, Conflict Resolution or the print service we will need to pay workers to put the necessary hours in.

For revenue we have several options to explore. A minimum annual dues of two dollars will be required for membership in the coop. Once we are incorporated as a coop we will be able to recieve donations and apply for grants.

Dues and donations will be payable by cash or cheque, or by credit card through the services of Donorge. Donorge is a non-profit organization that provides free online donation services to other non-profits and individuals. Their current payment options include international bank transfers and PayPal, and they do not charge donation fees. Donorge is also working on local payment portals. On their website, you can donate to non-profit organizations, and free software projects including the Drupal software used by LondonCommons.net.

For some of the coop's services we can have a flexible pricing schedule. Prices could range from bartering work hours or supplies to market competive cash prices. Our prices can be lower for people living on small incomes, and slightly higher for nonmembers.

Grants are another possible source of funding. There is plenty of money offered by governments and foundations for programs within our scope. The Government of Canada's Cooperative Secretariat runs and Coop Development Initiative that provides up to $75000 per program per year to innovative uses of the coop model. We can also look at the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and many others.

Recursive by Nature

The London Commons will succeed because it's nature is recursive. The more we put in, the more we'll get out. Our website might start out with few contributors and visitors. But every new visitor is a potential contributor, and every contribution makes the site more compelling to new visitors. Our coop might start out with just a few members and limited services, but we'll be able to provide more reasons to join as we grow.

To survive, the London Commons must be run like a business fueled by entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of getting rich we will reinvest into building the Commons. Revenue from services will go towards paying coop workers, paying bills, and purchasing property and equipment. After our costs are covered, we will reinvest back into the community by starting new programs and services. New initiatives will be judged on their feasibility and benefit to the community.

Community reinvestment will not be limited to media and communications. The London Commons Coop can be an incubator for new coops focused on energy, housing, food or any other community need. The London Commons is planting seeds that will revitalize the grassroots culture and economy. We may be starting small, but with good planning and a clear direction we can become a household name and be well on our way to a thriving cooperative community in just a few years.

Five Year Plan

The plan outlined below is still vague and open to new ideas. Our top priority is solidifying plans for the first two years, but we should also look further ahead right from the beginning. LondonCommons.net is the first step. The website lays a foundation that we can build on, and provides a forum for future planning. Some of the services listed below can be started within months, like the Computer Recycling program and Technology Services. Other services might take longer to get started, but can happen sooner if an individual or group takes responsibility for creating and implementing a sustainable plan. If you would like to take on one of the tasks below, come to a meeting and see who else wants to help.

Below is a rough outline of a five year plan for the London Commons. Services are sorted into a roughly chronological order, but nothing is nailed down quite yet. I have more details than what's printed here, but I want to get this idea out so that more people can start working on it.

Magazine and Print Services

The internet cannot be the only medium we rely on to distribute creative works. Every month the London Commons will take the best content from the website and republish it into a magazine. Decisions on layout and what gets printed will be made by consensus of the magazine team. We can make copies on photocopiers and laser printers at first, and fundraise to buy the equipment necessary to operate a printing press.

Once we have a printing press, we will be able to offer low cost, professional printing services. We could offer cheap printing of zines, album covers, pamphlets, maybe even books.

Computer Recycling Program

We will solicit donations of unwanted computers and parts for refurbishment. The computers will have Ubuntu Linux installed with a collection of high quality software, and sold for a reasonable price. Families would be able to purchase internet ready computers for around $100. The features of the computer would include: web browser, email and communication tools, office suite, photo editing, audio and video production, educational tools and of course games. By using Linux and other Free Software, we can load the computers with as much functionality as people want. Technology Services

This is actually a collection of services that can be offered relatively quickly. Hopefully this part of the coop will be able to generative income to sustain other parts. The London Commons will assemble a team of workers with expertise in a broad set of skills. These workers will refurbish the computers for the recycling program, but will also be able to do computer repair, network design and administration, and web and software development. Our workers will all be Ubuntu Certified, on top of the experience they bring to the job.

The London Commons Coop will offer a broad range computer solutions based primarily on Ubuntu Linux. We will provide onsite repair for computers running Linux, Windows and Mac OS. We will design, upgrade and maintain custom computers and heterogenous networks for individuals and organizations. This includes developing websites that can be maintained without a professional webmaster. London Commons will specialize in Ubuntu Linux and Drupal. Ubuntu Linux will run our webserver, and power the computers sold in the Computer Recycling Program. Drupal will manage all of the content on our webserver. From the experience gained by putting LondonCommons.net, our workers will be able to develop custom web content management systems for coop members and clients. We will extend Free Software to meet any special needs , and always release the source code. If something can be done with computers, we will help our members and customers do it safer and cheaper with Free Software.

Other ideas for services

Computers aren't very useful to people who don't understand how to use them. Education will be an important part of our technology services. We will teach free or inexpensive classes on computer fundamentals, usage of Linux, the internet, and creative tools. While fixing people's computers, we'll show them what we're doing so they can learn how to fix problems on their own. Other Services

  • open a professional audio recording and mastering studio for local musicians
  • community development services (partner with other local community developers; provide resources to help Londoners start new coops in other areas: housing, food production, bikes, energy etc.;
  • public swap meets / bazaar market
    • start with a small regular barter style swap meet in a public place
    • once enough people are coming out to the swap meet, we can invite local farmers to sell produce
  • offer internet access
    • start with just a small area: East London Village?
    • offer wireless access on a flexible “pay what you can” fee schedule
    • taking what we learn in one neighbourhood, and start rolling into other areas with wireless access points
    • expand our network capacity gradually as demand rises, with the goal of having network capacity to spare and sustainability in mind
  • leverage our network capacity to provide Voice-over-IP local phone service

Links for more information

  • LondonCommons.net - the website.
  • CreativeCommons.org has movies and comic books that demostrate how their licenses work. You can use their website to license your creations, or find content that is free to download and share
  • London Commons uses open source software. Open source software is free to download, modify and extend: just like Creative Commons licensed work. The prototype webserver (and the laptop this document was typed on) run Ubuntu Linux instead of Microsoft Windows. The website is managed by Drupal.
    • Ubuntu is an African word that means “towards humanity”, or more specifically “I am because we all are.” Ubuntu Linux is a free operating system for computers that includes access to a free universe of software to meet all kinds of needs. Ubuntu.com
    • Drupal is a powerful content management system promoted by its open source developers as “community plumbing.” It was used by Howard Dean to create DeanSpace during his bid for the U.S. presidency. Learn more at Drupal.org

Document license

This document is released under both the GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 and the Creative Commons By-ShareAlike 2.0 (CA) license.