It’s a sunny Monday, 9 May 2022 in Portland, Oregon. Today the little kid succumbed to fever, but it’s okay because our wagon made it all the way to the West Coast many years ago. Nobody has dysentery. Well, not yet, I suppose.
There’s three new options to support this newsletter if your boss will be paying:
Meanwhile, if your boss isn’t paying, then here’s the regular link to become a paid supporter.
Last Friday I held one of my 1:1 consulting sessions and there were a couple things that caught my attention.
I don’t particular care how these things get funded (why I don’t care might become apparent further down): I’ll just say that it strikes me there’s some interesting opportunities one one in particular is stuck in my head that I want to write about today.
let’s say you’ve got a bunch of people online who’re really good at producing valuable content. (Sigh. I hate that word. Content). I don’t know, maybe it’s a group of people who’re invested in personal finance. Maybe it’s a well-moderated mutual advice community. Maybe it’s a bunch of people who write recaps of television series.
Whatever. Or maybe it’s even some schmuck who writes silly fiction on Twitter.
But whatever it is, there’s like a smidgen of “value” in there, and by that I don’t mean the shitty hustle value thing. I mean the creative commons type value, whether it’s reputational or not. In the example of not-me writing silly fiction on Twitter, maybe it’s people saying “hey, person, if there were an anthology of that fiction, I would not be opposed to exchanging money for it!”
There are lots of things in the way of the person who values a thing getting that thing and providing the other person with value (let’s say cash). The examples I’ve listed above are mainly things like curation and editing and compilation and the exciting bucket of dealing with the submission of digital content to the various digital storefronts and meeting their exacting and slightly different criteria, or doing the research to figure out which intermediary layer that will then submit to the different storefronts is worth the cost/benefit of time versus monetary income.
I, for example, am tired, and it’s a non-trivial amount of work to collect all of that together. There might, for example, be a whole bunch of useful information and accessible advice in a personal finance community that someone else might be willing to pay for were it accessible in a different form. Say an epub or whatever. Or an app!
So you want a license to transform a bunch of content, you want that license to allow commercial use and if you’re a nice person, instead of a full buy-out it might even include royalty provisions for the licensors (the people who created the content and own the copyright in it).
You might be thinking: wait, this is what Creative Commons does, right? And I would be saying with my long-ago lawyer hat on, yes, you’re right, and yet also, kind of?
The CC licenses allow for commercial use, but you’ve still got to go and negotiate amongst yourselves the commercial times of use. CC lays out the intellectual property rights position, but not, you know, how much you, the copyright owner, might get paid. Or when. Or what happens if you don’t get paid. Or whether you get paid monthly. All of that stuff!
This stuff is complicated. It’s not impossible. It’s hard, though. There are lots of jurisdictions in the world. There’s lots of detail in law. But again, not impossible. Just complex. But you can cut through complexity and you can definitely make things clearer.
So, what if you were a member of a community and there were a one-click way to license your posts in a way that was generally agreed to be fair? Let me be clear that “generally agreed to be fair” is a human problem, one whose terms are set by people and recognizing the relationship between them. You could certainly have an inequitable, unfair relationship. Like, for example, a community where participation meant you had to agree to licensing use of your posts to the owner of the community for no remuneration whatsoever.
But say you did, and say you all produced a bunch of content and then someone said, hey: I’m totally up for spending some time with all the great stuff we’ve made and adapting it and making it available in new ways. I’ll do that and sell it, and I promise to give you the money I make from it.
Here’s the bit where I say I don’t particularly care how you do it, save that I think there are better and worse ways of putting this into practice.
Some of these, I think, are worse ways: from ecologically worse (say, burning more carbon and using more electricity than needed), to flat-out wasteful (say, proof of work, versus proof of stake), to inelegant (a distributed blockchain when one isn’t really required, what you need is A Database, Dummies — these communities work without distributed ownership and decision-making, which isn’t to say that I disagree with distributed ownership and decision-making in principle and that it shouldn’t exist as an accessible option, of course not).
What in essence this does is making it easier, I think, to license a community member’s content for use. You could easily do this by building on Creative Commons licenses, you could do it by purposefully creating a community built on principles like:
You might even build a platform (sigh) that purposefully hosts communities like these, and itself takes a little cut to provide common resources (say, “the community public good”) to those communities.
What would be best would be something like this, which is possible (see: Gumroad, Stripe) where those payouts are made every week and not, say, on a traditional publisher’s schedule of “once a year” or “once a year and a quarter, if it’s outside the USA”.
I mean, would I like an easy way to license my tweets so somebody else can do the hard work of collating and editing them into an anthology that a small number of people might buy in epub form? Probably! I don’t have the time for that! Would it be interesting if many people could license their tweets so enterprising people could collect and publish anthologies of This Month’s Best Twitter Fiction? I don’t know, but I’m certainly interested.
To be clear, there’s a bunch of things that aren’t solved by this, which makes me different from a bunch of web3 boosters:
But I think it’s an interesting, potential route. The part about funds going back into a community pot (if you want!) opens the avenue for purposefully compensating members of the community over and above the commercial use of their existing content. It could, for example, be a pot of money funding a bounty for content that isn’t covered but that would take time or resource to produce. It doesn’t need to, though! It could be for whatever! It could be a rainy day fund to provide assistance to community members as needed, if for example they happen to live in a country that inflicts cruel and capricious delivery of healthcare upon its residents!
One last, unverified, citation-needed thought: look, if you’re going to use inefficient ways to raise and allocate money, then perhaps one thing you might explore is the lack of a curated, public dataset for machine learning that compensates the people putting in the labour of managing that dataset. Just saying.
Could you do this with some web3 DAO type stuff? Sure. Do you need to? No. Do I think it’s an experiment worth doing? Yep.
Okay, that’s it for today. Tomorrow will be season 12!
How was your weekend?
The proper kind of football, not the kind where you have ad breaks every 3 minutes. ↩