Quim Gil on Mon, 4 Jun 2001 23:07:45 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Business models for beloved projects

Some thoughts after the posts about the TAZ THING, beyond the TAZ THING
and the Mute statements (accessible here:
http://metamute.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=4&forum=2&5 ).

Yes, we need to develop independent media projects. And we have walked a
long way since all this paradigm of the networks started exciting our
minds. Great. Looking backwards, though, it's easy to get the impression
that such networked and hypertextual path has been walked in a very
sequential way.

When it came to define independent media projects first we put our
efforts to make them really independent. Proudly independent but poorly
media. Then we started investing more time interacting with the
users/readers, designing participative spaces, improving the
architecture, the usability, the interface and applying the principles
of the user-centered design. 

At the end we were producing very independent and very media projects.
Cool. And in the meantime the corporate world had landed everywhere
around us with their projects fuelled with all that money. Remember? We
were waiting for the bubble´s burst. Most of us sitting on projects that
maybe ourselves will remember in the future as bubbles that needed lots
of efforts for not being deflated.

Everyone knows how their own media projects have survived these years.
Sometimes the efforts were paid by simply volunteering. Sometimes we
assign the efforts to our personal R&D budget. Sometimes we combined the
independent project with not independent projects at all that paid the
independent bill. Sometimes we combined the media project with not media
projects that all that paid the media bill. Sometimes we got
institutional funding. Sometimes we got corporate sponsorship. Sometimes
we got money coming from the pre bursting bubble through the most
unexpected ways. Most of the times we simply slept less, went less out,
spent less money and lived less our lives out of our beloved projects.
Until today.

Of course this is not going to work forever, specially when your project
retains independence, your media increases complexity, the bubbles burst
and every 24 hours you become one day older.

At some point you realize that you have invested quite a few time about
the "project" side of your independent media project compared to the
time you have invested working the "independent" and the "media" sides.

"You journalists use to spend one month thinking the profile, structure
and contents of a website and then you think of the budget and how to
get the funding and the incomes the last afternoon", a presumably
investor told me in one of those early FirstTuesdays. I could answer him
that you corporate suits invest your month designing tools of income
generation and then the last afternoon you think who will be the
customer profile and what kind of created need are you going to satisfy.
Instead of trying to give lessons about media projects to an investor I
decided to keep and learn the (FREE!!!) lesson a business man had
offered to me.

Back to the present, there is probably no future for any independent
media project if it isn't as strong as a project as it is as an
independent media. For that we need the knowledge and the inspiration to
define business models for independent media. We need the skills to
develop these models in practice offering independent products and
independent services. And we need to become sustainable in a market
which is not independent at all. The only feasible way of doing this is 
finding the people and organizations interested in this kind of
products, services and economic systems, offering to them something that
they perceive as "better" than the rest.

A remarkable question for many of us is 'when are we going to get
there?'. It's not because we like bets or forecasts. It's because most
of us are approaching a critical stage in our projects, in which the
future is seen from a very digital point of view: we will be 'one' and
running or we will be 'zero' and gone. Gone to another projects, not so
independent, not so media but possibly more strong as projects. Hey, we
are human beings and first of all we are programmed to learn for

Some ideas/opinions that come up to the mind when thinking of catalysers
of this process:

- Our projects are not alternative. We are not defining ourselves as an
alternative to something else (the non-independent projects). We share
some principles, we have some objectives and we are trying to build
projects internally consistent and externally competent. Of course we
have to study the "competition" but as soon as we get constrained to and
obsessed by their agenda, their news, their shadows, their marketing,
their blablabla... we are virtually out of the game. Mostly because this
competition is possibly not about being the fittest but about setting
new clever principles and playing new clever games in the same

- Sustainability is not just about money and money is not just about
current currencies. From an economical point of view is very difficult
to find new business models within same old paradigms. A new generation
of economists is getting really excited about new economic models based
on money as we know it AND new currencies as concrete and as abstract as
money is nowadays AND a whole bunch of inputs/outputs that allow an
economic system become sustainable. Ducks organize transcontinental
trips, polyps build whole coral islands, bloody molecules design amazing
caverns. There must be something to learn from all this.

- Opening our sources. It's not clear at all that the open source
philosophy is good to become rich. But we are talking about becoming
sustainable, which is slightly different. The human history has lots of
examples that show how humans avoided death and poverty by opening their
sources and sharing their knowledge and efforts. OK, there are lots of
nice tales around this but, again, there must be something to learn.

- Decentralized means that we are not in the centre anymore. And peer to
peer means that all we are peers. Speaking of media projects, along the
history we have decentralized first the capability of writing and
reading, then of publishing and lately the capability for individuals to
produce textual and audio-visual information and distribute it. Most of
the business models remain centralized though. Closely related with the
economic structure and flux of a project, the structure and flux of
permissions and trust remains also highly centralized. 

Sorry dear promoters of project X, decentralized means that at some
point and under some circumstances I can be compensated with income if
the founders are being compensated with income. Means that at some point
and under some circumstances I may be granted to the highest level of
administration. Means that at some point and under some circumstances I
may build by my own the highest level of trust between my peers. It
should depend on how I am contributing to the maintenance, development
and sustainability of the project. Being a peer, from my very honest

We are still far from this. With the current centralized business models
ducks wouldn't cross continents, polyps wouldn't build islands and
bloody molecules wouldn't design amazing caverns. In my honest and
personal opinion independent humans are not going to build sustainable
independent projects without these decentralized business models. And
it's feasible to think that the more we cooperate researching,
discussing, experimenting, the less we will have to wait to see proper

Sorry, this long telegram wasn't intended to be so long. It will be good
to find at least a sustainable way to increase and combine thoughts and
actions between the independent media projects that are trying to tae
themsleves to the one instead to fall in the zero.

Quim Gil
"What he's said is not necessarily what Mute says" (A Flying Duck)

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