I have been giving some thought about the future of this platform—Infinite Conversations, specifically—and how we can improve it.
To me this site has served as an intellectual garden, a source of collective intelligence and creative nourishment (with good measures of folly) over the years. I think it is awesome, and I love it. Of course the most important part of Infinite Conversations is the people, and many of the people who have participated here over the years have become some of my favorite, most inspiring people in the world.
So I feel painfully the downsides of this platform, too. More than once, I have received the feedback that the site is disorganized, confusing, or frustrating to use in various ways. Sometimes I wonder if we have created a labyrinth of channels and a tangle of topics, which don’t have obvious entry or exit points for most people—even the good, kind, interesting, intelligent, compassionate, and creative people we want here.
I do not think we need millions of people on Infinite Conversations—but I do think we need more than what we have now to sustain this community in the long run. That is why I am concerned. One indicator of the level of support is visible in the banner at the top of the page, which after a few weeks remains hovering at 16% funded. (Although, this number does not reflect a few privately mailed checks or contributions via the Metapsychosis website or our Open Collective page; nonetheless we are still not breaking even.)
Since it costs us $100 for hosting this site (not including other Cosmos sites), that means that if my personal funding of the site were to disappear (which might happen if I died, which I am not planning to do—but it’s not totally up to me, is it?)—then this site, with literally thousands upon thousands of hours of reading, writing, dialogue, thinking, learning, and co-creating invested into it, would also go offline. I don’t want that to happen.
That is why I am thinking about how we might restructure Infinite Conversations to make it more self-sustaining. One thought I’ve had comes from some feedback I’ve received recently around privacy, openness, and safety. The observation—which is an amalgam interpretation based on various data points—is that some people who would want to or might participate in conversations here are actually discouraged by the openness of it. They prefer to share their minds and bare their souls in a private group environment. This is why, for example, Facebooks groups are so popular. It is also why Facebook allows people to carefully curate their audiences to control who sees which of their posts.
Perhaps the open-air stage is only for the extroverted few. Closed and more intimate bubbles are important for people due to their particular careers and other relational sensitivities—even though I don’t believe we are talking about anything bad or wrong here! Nonetheless, it is a matter of fact and personal proclivity that we alter our mode of expression based on who we think is reading/listening. And for some people, in some places, it IS unacceptable and even dangerous to express some of the ideas we take for granted here in overtly public ways.
And besides all that, when I look at who is actively participating on this site—and our growth rate over time—I think, maybe we should treat it like the relatively small, intimate group it is? Is there any reason for so many of our conversations to be public? Who is actually reading these exchanges and why aren’t they chiming in? If it’s just us, maybe it would be a lot more fun to dispense with illusion of publicity and just keep doing our underground thing?
Since we have the journal and other websites (including Cosmos.Earth, where we could pick up development again) to provide a place for personal publishing that could be open and not forum-based, and we will eventually have a dedicated website for the Café—AND, we already have various private channels for reading and writing groups or internal Cosmos discussions—why not put all of Infinite Conversations behind a home page that gives the general idea of what the site and community are about, along with some samples of popular topics and available groups, but then requires a membership to see more?
That membership for individuals can and I believe should be free, and topics (for example, in the #commons channel), would still be open for all members to see. But the atmosphere would be cozier and less fully exposed. This could create more of a sense of safety, in that only mostly Cosmos-friendly people will see what we’re writing here. Of course, bad actors could get in, but we wouldn’t be actively advertising ourselves through exposure to Google’s search bots.
Would having more privacy encourage greater participation? Have I been wrong to assume that keeping things as open as possible would inspire more people to join?
My other thought is that if we restructure the forum, we could offer it as a service to individual authors, facilitators, and small groups who want a private group environment, but would prefer not to use Facebook or other commercial apps. Infinite Conversations rather would be a curated
meta- omni-environment that is completely oriented toward higher-order values (such as consciousness, coöperation, creativity, etc.), yet still radically open in the sense of beyond conventional ideologies and not centered around any one particular philosophical movement, teacher, or guru; rather a place of omni-community and friendly ecumenical interchange.
So: we would request a contribution (and probably partner/membership) in Cosmos to run a private group on Infinite Conversations, which we would provide with community-building and tech support—but it would continue to be free for any individual to participate. Our co-op then, as a source of revenue, would support these groups. However, we would also continue to encourage cross-pollination and collaboration amongst groups, and continue with our own groups and publishing initiatives, though in a more heterogeneous overall space.
Here is an example of the direction in which I could see the home page of Infinite Conversations evolving:
However, in our case, we would focus on what our particular cooperative specializes in—the kinds of dialogues and creative opportunities, etc. In fact, we might even engage with Pavilion co-op to help us redesign Infinite Conversations. Once a member is logged in, they would see something more like our current home page, except you would only see the group-channels you are a member of, along with a number of generally curated open topics.
I am hoping for some collaborative thinking on this—or at least validation of the direction I’ve been contemplating. Thoughts, questions, and/or feedback? Other contributive ideas?