Coop based social network - startup advice?
March 14, 2008 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking into starting a co-op based model of a social network site. Any tips? Organization, legal incorporation, possible code-base to start from, how much would hosting/coding such a site cost?

I'm a user of LJ, and I think most of us on MeFi know of the 6A fiasco. Recently SUP (the new owners) decided to stop free accounts. They are making many people upset, in their disregard of their advisory board, in the way they announced this (unofficially, hidden in a FAQ, not a news announcment), and in their apparently serious attempt at explaining that they were "streamlining" the process (cuz people are apparently too stupid to understand free vs ad-supported vs paid accounts). Many are insulted by the attitude of SUP towards the user base.

This has led me to realize that people really want community empowerment. A profit-based corporation is not conducive to helping the users of the site. Nor does not having an effective mechanism to empower users.

Hence my idea to start a co-op based site. I was thinking of using LJ code, since most people are familiar with how LJ works. There is (admittedly sparse, AFAICT) documentation, and their are other spinoffs of LJ who have experience, so I believe there's not a shortage of people to help us learn the technical side. On the other hand, the LJ code is a large Perl hack, and that intimidates me. I'd be more comfy with Python or something of that nature. But nothing else offers the same features as LJ. Do we build from the ground up?

What kinds of costs for hosting might accrue? Anybody have experience with creating a co-op? Is a non-profit a good idea, or would the restrictions placed on non-profit create difficult conditions to flourish? Run the site like a non-profit, while still being technically a profit? So many questions, but I feel this is really important. Paying members should have a voice, and they aren't getting that at LJ.
posted by symbioid to Technology (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean "co-op" as something like "everyone works here", e.g. you have to write X blog entries per week/month to generate enough ad revenue to support the site? Or just something that everyone buys into (I'm assuming not this, since part of your beef is 6A wanting your cash)? Or do you just want a system in which members have essentially voting shares in the larger body?

The problem I anticipate you're going to run into is this- any kind of system that gives users an actual stake in the product (through votes, hosting for services, etc.) requires rules that you must stick to. Are you prepared for the first whiny blogger who can't get his shit together to post this month but howdareyoutakehisblogdown? Or losing control to a vocal-but-organized bloc who wants to undermine you? These are not far-fetched scenarios.

My advice, if you're looking to set up some kind of alterna-LJ: Just do it. Get a few close friends together on a solid hosting plan and set up some WP blogs. You'll figure out the rest as you go.

BTW, your questions is very rambling an axe-grindy.
posted by mkultra at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2008

You might want to get professional advice on what types of legal entities are available. There is probably an organization that supports/promotes co-ops in your area (e.g. here in Ontario, Canada, there's the Ontario Co-operative Association). Here in Ontario, you can form co-operative corporation, which is something different than a for-profit or a non-profit.
posted by winston at 7:10 PM on March 14, 2008

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