Why is it that, when your editor posts something to the Times’s website, he gets paid for it, but if the typical member of the general public posts something on social media, he or she gets nothing?
Your editor doesn’t get paid very much, mind you, but it does help illustrate an important issue that’s been identified by thinkers such as Jaron Lanier in his book, “Who Owns the Future?”
Lanier’s central thesis appears to be that Internet companies tend to become monopolies, and on a global scale. The companies provide the framework, but the users provide the content – and the companies’ shareholders collect the profits.
Take Facebook as an example (and much the same thing could be said about Google, LinkedIn, etc.). Thousands of North Thompson Valley residents belong to one or more local Facebook sites. Many are regular contributors, providing the content that makes the sites interesting.
It is all paid for through advertising. Facebook has relatively few employees and so the company is amazingly profitable.
However, the users who provide the content that make the sites worth visiting receive nothing for their efforts.
Occasionally, one of the users will post something that goes viral, and many thousands or even millions of people will look at it. Again, that user will receive nothing for his or her efforts.
There is an alternative, however.
Recently, a group of Twitter enthusiasts started a petition to have the company investigate selling itself to its users.
It would, in effect, become a huge cooperative.
At the urging of the company’s board, the proposition was voted down by shareholders at Twitter’s annual general meeting this past spring. However, those favoring the initiative say they intend to keep trying.
The process would be called “mutualization.”
It would be kind of like taking a bank that hasn’t been too successful but with plenty of potential, and turning it into a credit union.
It seems unlikely to happen, but in some ways Twitter appears to be a good candidate for the process.
The most important of these is that it’s struggling to find a niche for itself. Its share price has dropped from over $60 a few years ago to less than $20 today.
Twitter presently has 319 million users, only slightly smaller in population than the United States at 321 million.
If the proposition goes ahead, Twitter would become the largest cooperative in the world by population.
Its revenue in 2016 was $2.53 billion.
In 2013, France’s Credit Agricole, the world’s largest cooperative by revenue, had revenues of about $30 billion – so Twitter would be big, but not the biggest by that measure.
Those advocating to mutualize Twitter say, “A community-owned Twitter could result in new and reliable revenue streams, since we, as users, could buy in as co-owners, with a stake in the platform’s success. Without the short-term pressure of the stock markets, we can realize Twitter’s potential value, which the current business model has struggled to do for many years.
“We could set more transparent accountable rules for handling abuse. We could re-open the platform’s data to spur innovation. Overall, we’d all be invested in Twitter’s success and sustainability. Such a conversion could also ensure a fairer return for the company’s existing investors than other options.”
There would be opportunities for small, community journalism on such a platform, and for large scale news reporting as well.
This appears to be a proposition that warrants further investigation.