Winter 2004-2005

Putting Community Technology Tools to Work in Support of American Values and American Innovation
The Power of All of Us? The eBay Lesson for Community Development
by Frank Odasz

Leveraging the Public Good Electronically

Assessing the power-of-all-of-us begins with the fact that one person's ability can be leveraged via the Internet to have a positive impact on thousands of other lives on a scale unprecedented in human history. If all of us were to learn how to leverage our own talents in this way, and to work together, the overall local, national, and global impacts would be tremendous. The true "promise of broadband" is for all eyes and ears to be working together for the common good in order to produce exponentially greater positive outcomes than all-of-us working separately.

Top-Down Control vs. Bottom-Up Innovation

If we truly value American innovation we'd be celebrating our innovators and would be vigorously gathering and sharing innovations broadly. The honest truth is that we tend to shun and ignore innovators both locally and nationally, due primarily to the politics of control. The top-down builders of Internet infrastructure need to partner effectively with the bottom-up intended users of these networks.

There are two recent books out, The Rise of the Creative Class and The Rise of Global Corporate Dominance, that represent the duality of the power of the Internet: the bright promise to liberate the creativity of individuals and their potential global impacts, and the gloomy risk of increasing corporate and governmental domination of the global economy, politics, media, and ultimately our individual lives and life choices.

Inherent in this phrase “The Power of All of Us” is the echo of democracy and the long-standing question of how best to leverage the public good electronically. There is certainly far greater potential than has yet been demonstrated for eBay or any corporation to serve as a catalyst for global change developing both social and economic value.

A Guide for Web-Based Self-Employment and Community Development

The latest eBay television commercial promotes the theme “The Power of All of Us.”  The rapid growth of eBay has definitely raised important questions about how best to leverage “The Power of All of Us” and eBay has demonstrated a very successful model for entry-level web-based self-employment—and more.

eBay has demonstrated effective entry-level ecommerce education opportunities with individuals using eBay now numbering 114 million, too many to ignore. There are 430,000 full-time self-employed eBay entrepreneurs, and 150,000 online eBay stores. As one of the fastest growing companies in the world, eBay has expanded into 28 countries and last year exchanged 28 billion dollars. eBay may be a logical first step for entry level ecommerce education, and it has the potential to lead to successively more powerful and inclusive models. As a guide to educating people for web-based self-employment building up from basic eBay skills, see “A Beginner’s Guide to Profiting from the Internet (Rural Ecommerce and Telework Strategies),” a non-credit online course sponsored by the Idaho State University College of Technology Workforce Training Office.

Integrating Community Technology Centers and eBay Drop Off Centers

Over 1,000 eBay Drop Off centers have appeared in just the last year, presenting a sustainable community training center model worthy of careful study. Any rural community can pilot a demonstration project whereby an empty storefront on any main street becomes an eBay Drop Off center that also serves as a community e-commerce training center, creating the foundation for expanding local web-based self-employment. By developing for-profit local peer mentoring services, the economy of the entire community can be reversed from serious decline to serving as the new model for rural retail and community self-empowerment.  An “Introduction to Online Auctions like eBay” provides a useful overview of what can be done, starting with eBay’s self-tour, finding best lessons and books, becoming an authorized eBay trainer, determining products and services to market, growing a business, establishing a store and Drop Off Center.

If each American suddenly became aware of a wide range of doable options, and each was given whatever mentoring support was necessary to guide self-directed learning to successive next steps, wide-spread skills transfer within any community can becomes possible even within a three-to-six month timeframe. Not unlike a Kinko’s, a community cooperative service center could easily be raising awareness as to how eBay skills can serve as entry-level ecommerce training—and more.

A Case Study and Other Examples

Donnie Morrison, a grassroots champion of the Outer Hebrides Islands in Northern Scotland, saw dwindling populations in his regional communities. Young people were moving away, schools were losing students, the local economies were dying. Donnie was successful bringing high speed Internet to his communities and high-paying telework jobs, and today the communities are once again healthy and growing. By Donnie's own report, his most successful innovation and key to his success was his creation of a community skills registry database.

While we initially may learn best in a face-to-face setting, the real power for ongoing learning and collaboration is learning to use the online tools which offer convenience and dramatic advantages for gathering and sharing knowledge. Inexpensive open source content management systems (CMSs) can streamline the flow of essential information in communities and serve as the public hub for skills mentoring and the proliferation of fast-track web-based self-employment businesses. Among the many CMS formats, the robust content of the Lone Eagle Self-Employment Incubator is demonstrated through the photogallery for slideshows of co-op crafters in Idaho, aboriginal artists in Australia, Jamaican visionaries, Alaskan Natives and others.

Producing Fast-Track Exponential Growth with Measurable Benefits

Exponential benefits will be realized as more citizens and communities make their skills available and make their successful innovations known to all. Recognizing the exponential extensibility of impact that one talented individual's collected resources and online self-directed lessons can make will be a revelation on the future potential for scalable benefits as citizen participation increases. As communities of communities naturally evolve for ongoing sharing of new innovations, the benefits to participating communities will also grow exponentially.

Sustainable Ecommerce Entrepreneurship Development Strategies (SEEDS), written with the encouragement of the NTIA/TOP program officers, defines an intergenerational short-term community web-raising initiative. Within a three-six month period the challenge is to create the most significant measurable outcomes possible regarding new skills imparted to a specific number of citizens, new self-employment businesses, new web sites for existing business, and a community co-marketing initiative of all businesses plus a rapidly growing skills registry of the citizen’s new skills to be co-marketed regarding telework jobs.

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Sharing the grassroots sparks of innovation among rural communities on an ongoing basis is fundamental to fueling the home fires of innovation simultaneously in all rural communities. Several communities simultaneously conducting this “process” would create a positive competitive “Chautauqua” spirit with the theme: “We’re Limited Only By Our Imaginations. And Tenacity!”

The time has come to acknowledge and share American community technology innovations as if our future depends on it.

Frank Odasz is President of Lone Eagle Consulting and board member of AFCN. A different version of the article “The Power of All of Us?” is available.

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