[From an email sent on 24 March 2009]
Since this list began in 2002, almost 7 years ago, this is the first message I’ve sent out marked high priority. I feel it’s important, or at least the topics and issues are important. So, if you have time (about 4 minutes) please continue reading.
This is an open letter to everyone out there who has a small house movement forum, website, discussion list, or mailing list, or is thinking about starting one.
If that applies, read on, if not, you can feel free to ignore this email. However, everyone’s input on this topic is greatly appreciated and valuable. I believe this is an important topic for the small house movement right now (and perhaps any movement). There is a reward at the end of this email for those of you who take a few minutes to read it.
As you know, this forum started in 2002, and has (I hope) served the small house movement well. I hope there will continue to be activity here (I plan to keep this original Yahoo Group going in parallel to the new Small House Society Online Community I recently launched at the Small House Society website).
As the Small House Movement grows, some people have expressed concern that too many online forums, discussion lists, or mailing lists can hinder the movement and have negative results, such as:
- Too many forums out there could water things down.
- Important messages that need to reach the entire small house movement community will end up needing to be posted to multiple forums.
- Those who are signed up on multiple forums/lists will get fed up with receiving the same messages twice and unsubscribe from some forum lists.
- Innovative developments happening in one online discussion board won’t be known about in another.
- The movement becomes splintered.
- A sense of competitiveness could result, and rather than different forums promoting each other and cooperating, there could be an attempt to syphon members from one group to another.
- Given the feeling of scarcity and competitiveness, forum leaders would certainly not tell one’s own forum members about another forum offering nicer features or a wonderful initiative happening in another forum for fear that members might leave for the other forum.
The above list of problems are faced by many non-profit groups (such as churches) working toward common goals, but not wanting to lose membership. Money is needed for the new parking lot, building expansion, AV system, salaries, etc. Egos are involved. So, a spirit of competitiveness grows.
I’ve had mixed emotions over the past 8 years seeing other identical or similar groups break away from (and/or copy) this original small house discussion group that I started back in November 2002 and have worked hard to maintain. I’ve had the seven concerns listed above — thinking that it weakens and fragments the movement. I remember at the time, when these other groups were starting up, I felt a little hurt about it — but only for a short time.
Let me explain…
I think those of us who are interested in promoting online community building need to work together, collaboratively, cooperatively, and openly, with common goals in mind, to do what’s best for the movement. We should figure out some ways to overcome the potential limitations of the 7 items listed above. I strongly believe there is a way to have a cooperative collection of smaller forums and end up with better results than if there were just one unified Small House Movement Mega-Forum that beats out (or buys off) all the competition.
Eventually I think the movement would benefit from having hundreds of separate forums, and very likely not all under the same banner of management or vision. Each region is unique. Each city is unique. There’s a diversity of personalities and styles of building community. Different groups will have different priorities — priorities that might be drowned out by the interests of a larger group.
I know that for some, the thought of sharing the larger potential pool of forum members with more discussion boards means reduced revenue from the monetization of advertising. The reaction to this is fear — a difficult instinct to break away from. Yet, fear and competitiveness doesn’t produce the best results for anyone.
I’ll conclude with a simple story. You can follow the linked text for the expanded version of this story. When I began my computer consulting business about 30 years ago, I founded it upon the principles of cooperation. Those principles have served me well – considering that most small businesses fail in their first two years. Cooperation, not competition, has been the secret to my business success. On my business website, I list all of my “competitors” — all the people and businesses in my area who provide the same services I do. I even provide testimonials, from me, about them (for the people I know), offering positive remarks about how impressed I am with their professionalism and skill. I’ve volunteered to help several people start their own consulting business, and even given them a modified version of my own invoice templates to use. They are now successful consultants in my area. Some people would say that my approach to doing business is too Pollyannaish — like the Macy’s and Gimbels story of the movie Miracle on 34th Street. Yet, the fact is, that cooperation, collaboration, openness, transparency, and competing with each other rather than against each other produces the best results for everyone.
My technology consulting business isn’t a hobby for me. It’s a serious business and I really depend on it for my livelihood. It’s the primary source of funding for all of the activist work I’m engaged in (including the Small House Movement). Over the years, there have been times when I was tempted to adopt a more competitive mindset; to just give in and do what everyone else was doing: compete like angry dogs foaming at the mouth, biting and fighting over a single bone. Yet, I chose not to give in, and instead promoted cooperation among businesses (and organizations). It’s made all the difference — for me, and also, I think for the customers (mine and those who choose to go with someone else). Now, I get calls from my “competitors” when they are out of town, asking me to help their clients. Instead of fear, there is now trust. It’s better for everyone. Isn’t business ultimately about the needs of a customer being met and not who gets their money?
So, my inclination, with regard to forums (in particular), is to do my part to foster a healthy number of interdependently cooperative forums about small house living. This approach is similar to web rings — cooperative websites that promote each other.
At the outset of this email, I mentioned a reward. If you are interested in starting up a forum on Yahoo, or using any form of open source software such as phpBB, or a newsletter list, or a website, please let me know. I’ll be happy to volunteer my services, skills, and draw from over 30 years of technology experience to help you do so. Then, once it’s setup, I’ll announce your forum, newsletter, or website here to our list of over 700 people and in the Small House Society Newsletter that goes out to over 1000 people. I’ll even help you monetize (make money from) your newsletter, forum, or website if you don’t have the independent funding to keep it advertising free. In the coming months, I hope to offer some on-screen video tours showing how to do all this.
With cooperation, we move forward, and upward.
P.S. Thanks for taking time to read this email.
Gregory Paul Johnson, Director
Resources for Life.com
“Resources for Better Living”
Postal: PO Box 2717, Iowa City, IA 52244-2717 USA
Phone: (319) 621-4911