A surprising — but long overdue — condemnation of censorship by the press from The Guardian … and summer sign-watching

- postgutenberg [at] gmail.com


‘Comment is free’, 30 June 2014

Let us hope that the admirably honest George Monbiot, with his huge following, can get this subject the attention it deserves. Regular readers have seen almost everything in his Guardian blog post on Monday here on post-Gutenberg.com — and his concluding sentence, two years ago, in ‘Censorship by the Press‘. We wrote that after some frustrating months of drawing attention to this problem:

Why is The Guardian censoring debate about press reform and ignoring the Lord Chief Justice’s endorsement of citizen journalism?

The solution proposed by the commenter ‘Natacha’ in her reaction beneath the Monbiot piece defines this blog’s very raison d’être: censors IN the press - NATACHA See:

Loomio: open-source tools from young New Zealand techies to make the dream of practical, efficient, sexy cooperatives come true

Just a short post, for today. We have been on the road, watching for signs – and here is one of our rewards: SIGN w freeway postgutenberg@gmail.com get happy 3

- photographs: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

– photographs: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

The components of the next media ‘business model’ are ready: dewy-eyed newcomers, not media’s Old Guard, will do the essential assembly and testing

august 2013 lolling nymphs circular balcony DSCF1026

The old classic forms for media are broken: their replacements are coming from young explorers open to the magic of possibility and experimentation - photographs of the Villa Borromeo: MIL22

The old classic forms for media are broken: their replacements are coming from young explorers open to the magic of possibility and experimentation
– photographs of the Villa Borromeo: MIL22

Though Larry Page, the Google co-founder, has a thatch of grey hair, we know he is still only forty-one. His baby face reminds us that he was twenty-five in 1998, when he hatched a search engine with Sergey Brin. We also know that Jimmy Wales was thirty-five when he launched the Wikipedia in 2001, and Jeff Bezos a mere thirty at the founding of Amazon.com in 1994.

So, why are we looking to today’s old media leaders to reshape the way we get news and commentary through them? Google, Wikipedia and Amazon — three inventions that have made done more than any others to re-shape the habits of those of us who used to be called bookworms — should have made it pointless for anyone to expect the big names in print media, whose chiefs are nearly all middle-aged or old, to build the bridge to future economic survival for their enterprises.

Three identifiers of the most promising scheme for publishing – called a ‘business model’ – look more practical and likely than ever:

Some form of collective ownership and management – which, for some new publishing groups, would mean replacing the old idea of ‘reader subscriptions’ with small ownership stakes for audience members who want a say in drafting rules and setting policy.

Consultative decision-making on strategic and policy matters helped by free, ‘sharable’ software tools designed to streamline collaboration — the kind being developed by New Zealand’s Loomio cooperative (the most sophisticated of which might include software tailored to deal with particular kinds of conflict).

Vast aggregations of micropayments making up the financial lifeblood of media collectives – from selling access to certain kinds of information or entertainment (though most of this would be free); or in-payments for the privilege of stakeholding, and outpayments when there are profits to be distributed.

Most of the worker-bees driving the creativity at Loomio and the micropayments innovator Flattr are decades younger than the old media leaders in continental Europe interviewed last week by The Guardian about their struggle to adapt for digitisation. The limit of bold and adventurous thinking by these appears to be a subscription club – similar to the plan described by Mario Calabresi, editor-in-chief of Italy’s La Stampa , in which most of its offerings would continue to be free …

… while holding back some premium content in order to be able to offer more in-depth information to those who want it. Around this premium content we are building a club-like structure, which brings together our keenest readers and offers them exclusive tools with which to understand the world.

Club, yes; but stake, no – and that is surely a mistake. Giving readers the chance to own a financial stake, even a small one, in drawing more traffic to a media site would encourage more of them to linger to chat with other readers – regularly log on to comments sections, treating them like virtual pubs or coffee-shops for relaxing sessions of teasing, information-sharing, debating and flirting anonymously and pseudonymously as well as in the prosaic guise of being, as on Facebook, simply themselves. One commenter on the Guardian survey of European papers had the media enterprise of the future exactly right:


13 June 2014 11:03am

… Newspapers, tv etc have to accept that media is now two-way.

So Guardian etc should become more like a social media site?

To an extent they already involve the readers with the comment threads.

Or, as the 2010 paper that this post-Gutenberg blog extends said, if we may be forgiven for the unpardonable sin of quoting ourselves:

New communication technologies have created a karaoke world. … Practically no one is content any more to be just a spectator, reader, passive listener or viewer. Audience participation as well as the right to talk back – which includes non-expert reviewing of works or performances by trained and seasoned professionals — have become absolutely essential.

That La Stampa understands this is clear. Calabresi said:

We are drawing on user-generated content, seeking to unite and integrate it with our quality journalism. On social networks we are working to increase reader engagement in order to make them key players in the debate on our content.

He sounds remarkably like The Guardian’s own editor, Alan Rusbridger, telling an American interviewer that

We are putting our commentators in the same space as all our readers and letting them fight it out. … [R]eally, in this community of Guardian readers, there are a lot of intelligent, well-versed people actually traveling. So let’s open it up to them.

But those are just words, mere sentiments, at present. Until they are offered a financial stake and the possibility, some day, of sharing in any profits, those readers contributing comments and reporting to ‘opened up’ papers are simply supplying unpaid labour. Not, in our view, an operating scheme with much of a future.

When will some newspaper like La Stampa or The Guardian test the idea of sharing ownership and decision-making on a strictly experimental section of its site – as this blog has suggested before, more than once? They might take a cue from the adventurous ‘skunk works’ at the Harvard Business School testing online education.

One European interviewed by the London newspaper about the digital future, Stefan Niggemeier – an ex-Spiegel staffer who has worked both as an editor and publishing innovator — is part of a group of twenty-five German investigative journalists playing with financial schemes that do not rely on advertising: ‘We want to see if there’s a way of establishing a non-advertising-based model. Whether it will work, I don’t know, but I know it’s right to try it, even if it fails.’

Rusbridger is sixty. Niggemeier and Calabresi are both in their mid-forties. Even they might not be young enough to translate proposals and hypotheses into media’s clicking and whirring fully operational future.

21st-century cooperatives, again: can tools like Loomio’s de-fang hostile, squabbling members – becoming digital go-betweens for conflict resolution?

Cooperating and conferring can be effortless and delightful … or … - photograph by MIL22

Cooperating and conferring can be effortless and delightful … or …
– photograph by MIL22

… cooperating can try cooperators’ patience and goodwill  - photograph: Biocentre-building, Kenya: Nordic FolkeCenter for Renewable Energy

… cooperating can try cooperators’ patience and goodwill
– photograph: Biocentre-building, Kenya: Nordic FolkeCenter for Renewable Energy

Loomio — fashioning software aids to joint decision-making that any group, anywhere, can use for free – was born from the collective activism we know as the Occupy movement. Its founders know that defusing the conflicts inevitable in almost any cooperative is the trickiest part of running one. An excellent encapsulation of its history by Hamish McKenzie in Pando Daily says:

Like their peers at Occupy Wall Street, and at other Occupy camps around the world, the Wellington demonstrators would make group decisions through an inclusive process in which anyone who wanted a say got one. The group would then vote on which proposals to adopt.

…[T]he model … would come to form the basis of Loomio, a Web app that facilitates collaborative decision-making – but the process had a dark side. For a start, the people with the loudest voices and the most confident speakers eventually came to dominate the discussion; even simple decisions could become long, drawn out, highly argumentative ordeals. Meanwhile, as the camp ran its course and people started to leave, the only people left were the hardcore occupiers and the homeless people who had come in search of social support and meals. It got to a point where the group discussion was lopsided in favor of male, white voices, and not particularly inclusive after all. Occupy eventually ended its presence in the square, and people moved on.

However [the software’s designers] didn’t want to give up on the idea of spreading Occupy’s brand of participatory democracy to wider society …

The job of wresting peace and concord from the jaws of animosity and resentment has never been one for the impatient or faint of heart – as long as there have been human beings. If post-Gutenberg is optimistic about organisations run on the net being more successful at managing conflict than the cooperatives of the 1970s it is because …

  • the discussions and arguments are transparent – viewable by everyone
  • there are records of who said what that make lying, manipulation, scheming and every form of slipperiness and bullying more difficult

The larger the audience for scrapping antagonists, the more people there are to punish bullies (as in imposing penalties on or sanctions against them), and the harder it is to resist peace-brokering efforts without looking deranged, stupid, or evil.

At least this is what we have long suspected at post-Gutenberg. When we set off in search of other people’s ideas about defusing hostility, we came upon the conclusion in a 2000 paper on the subject – ‘Conflict prevention and conflict resolution: limits of multilateralism’ — by Fred Tanner, a top-ranking Red Cross (ICRC) expert in Geneva, that ‘conflict prevention remains an enigma’.

Of course his subject was the prevention of war and butchery between countries and tribes. And of course digital transparency and communication, now part of the fabric of daily life and negotiation, were far less developed fourteen years ago.

That there might be reason to hope for change through digital go-betweens – software tools used by groups to manage conflict – was confirmed in a surprising article by Albert Sun in The New York Times about applying mathematical modelling to a specific problem. We leave you to this excerpt from it, and strongly recommend following the link to the rest of the piece:

Every month, unrelated people move into apartments together to save on rent. Many decide to simply divide the rent evenly, or to base it on bedrooms’ square footage or perhaps even on each resident’s income.

But as it turns out, a field of academics is dedicated to studying the subject of fair division, or how to divide good and bad things fairly among groups of people. To the researchers, none of the typical methods are satisfactory. They have better ways.

The problem is that individuals evaluate a room differently. I care a lot about natural light, but not everyone does. Is it worth not having a closet? Or one might care more about the shape of the room, or its proximity to the bathroom.

A division of rent based on square feet or any fixed list of elements can’t take every individual preference into account. And negotiation without a method may lead to conflict and resentment.

… I came across a paper by Francis Su, a math professor at Harvey Mudd College in California, about a mathematical proposition discovered in 1928 by the German mathematician Emanuel Sperner. It is called Sperner’s lemma.

The connection between Sperner’s lemma and rent division was first published by Dr. Su in a 1999 paper titled “Rental Harmony: Sperner’s Lemma in Fair Division.”


Dr. Su realized that it might be related to another problem he had heard about, in which a group has to divide a theoretical cake when some want frosted flowers or an edge with more frosting.

“The trick is to design a procedure to have everyone act in their own self-interest and have an outcome that’s fair,” he said in an interview.


To promote the use of the new methods being invented, Ariel D. Procaccia, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has been working on a website, Spliddit, to help people use these methods to fairly divide things like the order of names of co-authors on a scientific paper or prized possessions in a divorce.

“There are all these examples of really nice ways to solve the problem,” he said, “but nobody’s using them.”

[ continues … ]


Loomio: open-source tools from young New Zealand techies to make the dream of practical, efficient, sexy cooperatives come true

Bricks for building a working model for cooperatives are being conjured out of the ether – in prototypes by young New Zealand techies - photograph by MIL 22

Bricks for building a working model for cooperatives are being conjured out of the ether – in prototypes by young New Zealand techies
– photograph via MIL 22

Can a group of young New Zealand revolutionaries save the world – by rescuing cooperatives from the taint of failed hippie idealism and accusations of underestimating the selfishness of human beings?

We discovered Loomio, founded in Wellington this year, in thinking about Thomas Piketty’s mountainously substantiated belief, in his world champion bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, that unchecked capitalism has signed its own death warrant — by ignoring the tidal wave of anger and outrage about increasingly dire and shocking social inequality.

This blog, post-Gutenberg, is founded on the conviction justified in a paper for the Oxford Internet Institute in 2010 that organisations owned by their contributors are the key to levelling the playing field in the media – that this is essential, if we want the form of government by the people we call ‘democracy’ to work properly. So of course we’re wondering when Piketty will come to the same conclusion – like Pope Francis, as we reported last year in ‘Could a pope getting respect on atheist blogs make co-operatives his weapon for fighting poverty?’.

Googling ‘Piketty’ and ‘cooperatives’ did not only produce Shaila Dewan, also making this connection, in ‘Who Needs a Boss?’ in The New York Times. It led to an excellent discussion on the Hacker News site last month.

We were close to ecstatic to learn on that forum about the birth of Loomio – a group of young software designers with exactly the right skills to support the point made on this blog in February of 2012, that the lightning digital communication we have now means that cooperatives no longer have to be bogged down by endless meetings and chronic bickering and power-mongering. We said, then, in ‘A better Facebook — or why cooperatives run on the web should work better than the old hippie kind’:

Lots of us had our first encounters with cooperatives in the 1970s — as places owned and run by early evangelists for whole-grain and organic foods […] Many such organisations disintegrated because of warring and secretive factions that did not always share what they knew; slow communication between members; the logistical difficulties that meeting in person often entailed, and confusion about aims and aspirations.

For cooperatives using these digital thingies we all have now, many of those problems would never arise. The new tools make it easy for everyone to see the same information, and to spell out goals and policies crisply. […] To run an organisation designed as a cooperative, everyone involved could study complex new information together online, and decide questions at the blinding speed that, … for instance, … The Guardian’s opinion polls work …

Someone especially brilliant behind the founding of Loomio grasped the idea all the way down to the mention in that second paragraph of The Guardian’s opinion polls – whose progress happens to be displayed in pie charts. The Wikipedia summary of Loomio’s mission explains: ‘Loomio is a libre software application for group decision-making and collaboration […] As discussions progress the group receives feedback on a proposal through an up-datable pie chart.’

We urge our readers to visit the Loomio.org site for further – erm – enlightenment (could this be a group who grew up reading about Harry Potter’s ‘Lumos!’ spell?). Its home page announces: ‘Loomio unleashes the internet’s potential to bring people towards consensus rather than polarized debate..’

In the meanwhile, here is a practical idealist at a startup in New York explaining how using Loomio’s toolkit fits the charter and modus operandi of his own organisation – the Colab Cooperative — ‘a worker-owned tech cooperative supporting startup social enterprises through agile development of … products that we hope will change the world for the better’. The upper-case letters are our own annotations — reactions and mental notes — reading his contribution to the Hacker News discussion:

PROGRESS! SOMEONE ARGUING FROM HANDS-ON EXPERIMENTATION …We have found the biggest plus of being a cooperative to be the sense of equality amongst our crew stemming from a democratic-based decision making process and a path to membership (as a co-owner) available to all (assuming performance and cultural standards are met).

THE BRIGHTEST SOCIALLY-AWARE TECHIES WILL IN FUTURE CHOOSE COOPS …Moving forward we are of the opinion that the many of the best and brightest in our industry who seek social and environmental change will choose to work in cooperatives rather than traditional corporations even if it means sacrificing some personal financial benefit to do so (although hopefully this will not be needed as more resources go to supporting cooperatives).

IDEALISM IS NOT THE DRUG OF FOOLS BUT THE WAY SOME THINGS IMPROVE IN THE WORLD, BIT BY BIT …The ‘meaning quotient’ of life generally trumps all for those we work with and those who support cooperatives.

RECOGNISES NEED FOR ‘EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE’ AND STRONGLY SHARED BELIEFS … In terms of keynotes, running a cooperative successfully requires: – emotional intelligence – operational processes that support intra-team communication and collaborative work – a willingness to put your trust in your co-workers – a strong sense of cultural identity – a mission that can be shared with members and partners.

LEARNING TO BALANCE LEADERSHIP FOR SPEED, WHEN THIS IS MISSION-CRITICAL, WITH CONSULTATION-AND-COLLABORATION, THE ORGANISATION’S CORE CULTURE … Given this is HN, I will say that there is some tension b/t the ‘lead by your gut’ – fast and furious – approach of most entrepreneurs and the emphasis in cooperatives on getting consensus from the team on big decisions. As a former ‘traditional’ entrepreneur with some VC / startup experience, I feel like we have found a nice balance b/t empowering our management team to lead with their ‘gut’ business instincts while also engaging in proactive communication with the team around key business decisions.

ADMITS MISTAKES …That said I have also at times stepped on some toes and gently bruised some egos with my former ways. So it is a learning process for sure…

EXPERIMENTING WITH COLLABORATIVE DECISION MAKING SOFTWARE … As part of our communications work, we have begun experimenting with using http://loomio.org as part of our discussion and decision-making process.

Best of luck, Loomio and Colab. It will be a dream come true to see you prove sour, embittered old pessimists — like this Thomas Howard Kunstler commenting on Piketty — utterly mistaken:

[T]he second leading delusion in our culture these days, after the wish for a something-for-nothing magic energy rescue remedy, is the idea that we can politically organize our way out of the epochal predicament of civilization that we face. Piketty just feeds that secondary delusion.