The recent (6th December) Blipfuture message delivered through through Blip Central (not an easy arrangement) was a great improvement on the first (4th December).
In my experience, user and community-owned initiatives can rarely have too much information. It's vital that people who have pledged, might pledge, are waiting to pledge and those not in position to pledge are kept informed and involved. Anticipating and monitoring information flows and user feedback is vital to keep people on board, to maintain unity and to build a sense of ownership. This is particularly the case when Blipfoto members have been left in the dark for nearly nine months and when promises made by the previous company of involvement and information have been broken.
My sense is that the disquiet and doubts that are expressed by the community and the thirst for information and involvement that is clearly 'out there' is not to be dismissed as some
phenomenological 'froth' (or worse 'malcontentedness') that will disappear with the passing of days.
And it is important to remember that others will be looking on who may have left Blipfoto or who are thinking of joining the new venture. Their access to clean, updated and 'unfuzzy' information is important.
After all, the most important way of marketing Blipfuture’s offer and growing future member numbers may be by peer-to-peer (word-of-mouth) communication and recommendation (rather than by expensive advertising campaigns or general media exposure) and the profile the social media platform has in a relatively restricted market of photo-journaling offers.
The prospectus for the crowdfunding Blipfuture CIC – the pitch to investors (and donors) – sometimes feels as if it has been written in a sort of standard start-up language with little concession
to the specifics of the Blipfoto community. Yes, mention is made of the community and consultation and the role of shareholders. But the financial table at the end baffles me and I suspect
baffles many. (There is a very lively debate on the Blipfoto Friends Facebook page and in responses to Blip Central 6 December about the figures and user numbers).
No-one likes to be made to feel stupid or likes to feel they are being talked over or around. It can raise the suspicion that there is an inner core community – a group of mates even – who can understand this talk and who are its real audience. I don’t think this is the case (although the Blipfoto community is a community of many different communities over both space – 150 countries - and time – from the 8 year journals to the new members) but these impressions need to be guarded against.
The new Blipfuture adventure, which I think we have to assume will be successful, is a new phase in the development of the old Blipfoto community. In particular the rhetoric of community consultation and engagement now has to become a reality. It is literally written into the rules of the company as a Community Investment Company.
But how that consultation, engagement and control (through membership, shareholding and the unresolved issue of donors) happens is all to be played for. I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting for this to happen until the funding is secured and the Blipfoto assets are bought.
The new journey started back in October of this year and was made official by the public launch of Blipfuture this Friday last (4th December). Great strides have already been made: a company formed, Directors in place, negotiations with Blipfoto for the asset purchase at an advanced stage and a fundraising campaign underway.
No-one should underestimate the cost of the effort to get this far. But the process itself also begins to set the parameters for a new conversation and, if you like, the settlement (or a series of settlements) between ‘the company’ and ‘the community’. At the same time, we are not starting with a clean slate and a legacy of past troubles, hurts, financial losses and broken promises could all too easily be freighted onto the shoulders of the new company.
So maybe now is the time to begin to set the tone of the new enterprise and to create a culture of member engagement that was paid lip service to but neglected in the past. This may seem unfair to the Directors who are doing so much with so little under their own heroic voluntary efforts but I suspect that if the new company does not keep up and even stay in front of its investor/donor and membership base it will be forever struggling to catch up in the future.
As a minimum it would be useful if the Directors could state how often and through what means they will be communicating. It would also be useful to know the broad outlines of what they will be
communicating. What they can and cannot comment on.
Some things will be off limits. Outline what can’t be said and why this is the case (e.g. details of the current Blipfoto setup like member numbers, the cost of the deal, the cash to share to long-term payments mix). Let us know what will be revealed when the money is raised and the deal is done.
Others issues should be easier to communicate: the progress of the crowd funding appeal and the sorting out of ongoing issues like donations payments, clearing up misapprehensions and repeating
and developing core messages. And building or protecting a sense of united community rather than letting fissures open up between some stereotype of 'positive' and 'negative' members (something
we should perhaps all bear in mind).
This is a new initiative and to some extent a process of community re-building needs to take place. But let’s not build it on the tired rhetoric of a company that had different – often conflicting - objectives and that ultimately failed.
There are a lot of pissed off people out there as well as the unabashedly positive. It’s really important to bring along as many as possible. Acknowledge their hurt and suspicion. They were left in the dark for a long time and people felt and were unheard.
New members are going to be critical to mission success. Even now what is said and how it is said will help determine how people outside the community perceive the community and the possibilities for the future – particularly those ex-members who might return.
I do think Blipfoto has created something unique that no other photo-journaling site or photography social media platform replicates. That mix of words and single images, that commitment to a daily blip (for better or - at least in my case - sometimes worse) and a particular spirit of community, reciprocity and even courtesy marks it out in a crowded marketplace. And the bold Blipfuture proposal to take the platform into community ownership and put it on a realistic and achievable road to long-term financial sustainability only adds to its uniqueness.
And the community, in all its different aspects and in its old treasured and hopefully new guises will be critical to making it work. Getting the communications right it not an option for later.