* The Debatewise Blog

Giving it all away

01 Aug 08 | Dave
I get quite a few blank stares when I go to a networking event and explain to people that Debatewise is a not-for-profit. The conversation continues politely for a minute or so afterwards but it's clear they've become disinterested and are looking for someone more rewarding to talk to.

I try not to take this personally, after all I'm relatively clean and reasonably polite. I'm not too offended either, they're just trying to make the most of their time. However, I do wonder what it is that's so unattractive about this approach. Originally I thought it was because they're so focussed on making money the idea of a non-profit doesn’t compute. But now I think it's because they're very ambitious and assume we're not.

Thing is, I am ambitious. I want Debatewise to be the Wikipedia of debate. I want us to be the first place people think of when they want to make up their mind. And I think the best way to do this is to become a non-profit. I mean, it's not impossible people would contribute their time and knowledge to a profit-making enterprise, just that they're more likely to do so if the entity isn't trying to make money off them.

Let's say this works and we get loads of traffic. Dan Malvern argued that such sites have a moral responsibility to generate revenue and give it away to good causes. His belief is that not only would they be able to do an enormous amount of good, but also that this would encourage even more people to get involved and thus make the site even more valuable.

So this is the Debatewise grand plan. Build the site, earn money, give it away. The big difference between us and Wikipedia (Dan's example site) is that we're going to involve you in determining which good causes we support.

Here's how it works. Debatewise gives a certain percentage of its shares to staff and investors. The remaining shares (minimum 30%) will be held in trust for site members. You can then collectively decide what to do with the 30% of the profits we've generated. You can choose the charities and the amounts. You can decide if it's a one-off or recurring payment. You can decide just about everything actually.

The fine details of this approach are yet to be worked out, but clearly it will involve debate. It needs to be complex enough so you can have all the control you want, but simple enough so it doesn't take an age to administer. We do have plans for a Governing Body (of which more later) and it may be that's the mechanism we use.

Regardless of how it functions I think this idea is absolutely brilliant (which I can say with all due modesty since it is not my own). I know there are other sites which work on a profit-sharing basis. But none I know of gives all their profits away, nor do they involve their members in deciding how the profits are distributed.

This approach also ties in with dreams I have about the opportunity with Debatewise to model new forms of democracy. But those ideas are too grand even for me to say out loud just yet.

Posted by: Dave, 01 Aug 08, 12:01pm

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Debatwise update

31 Jul 08 | Sophie
Well, it's been another exciting week here at Debatewise! I've been (crouched, touched, paused) engaged in an interesting debate on the role of the scrum in Rugby Union and as a bit of a Big Brother fan was intrigued by the question of whether reality TV shows benefit their participants.

In an attempt to escape the rising temperatures in Central London I wandered into the British Museum the other afternoon for a look round the exhibits. While they're undeniably impressive, this debate made me wonder whether we really have the right to keep them here in the UK.

While I'm thinking about all these issues, I've also been whizzing round the site eradicating misspellings, errant commas and crimes against the semi-colon. If you're much better at debating than you are at spelling then running your points through a spell check before you post them can really help get your point across clearly.

Don't let anything stop you getting stuck in to the debates though; if you have an issue you're passionate about then this is the place to air your views! Also, remember to check out the sponsored debates that are coming your way; they're a great opportunity to see experts on their topic go head to head. Happy debating...

Sophie

Posted by: Sophie, 31 Jul 08, 12:22pm

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Our first proper bit of funding comes in…

30 Jul 08 | Dave
imageThanks to the wonderful (and clearly very smart) people at UnLtd we've just been granted our first bit of money. Hoorah!

The £5,000 they've given us will be used to market the site – and maybe tweak the functionality a little. At the very least it will mean Betony can stop begging for favours and will be able to implement some of her ideas. Plus we'll be able to get the blooming leaderboard working again, or at least I hope so anyway.

So thank you UnLtd, your generosity is most kind and will come in very useful.

And if there are any other budding entrepreneurs out there I highly recommend applying for one of their Stage One grants – the money they give can be used to really test whether your idea has legs.

Posted by: Dave, 30 Jul 08, 2:18pm

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Happy Monday

28 Jul 08 | Betony
Morning everyone! The sun is shining here at debatewise HQ and we're preparing for another week of debating fun. Last week our debate on Global warming got some press coverage for being an outlet for otherwise censored views. We think this is great as debating is all about giving people the chance to be heard and their argument voiced, so keep up the good work smile

This week I'll be focussing a bit more on less general, more 'local' issues, and Greenpeace have kindly sponsored a debate on the expansion of Heathrow airport.I'll be contacting groups that oppose Greenpeace on this issue and will hopefully get a good discussion going.

If you have any local issues that are affecting you that you would like to see a debate on, please get in touch - the debatewise fairy will grant all your wishes!

Bx

Posted by: Betony, 28 Jul 08, 9:23am

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Money makes the site stay up

24 Jul 08 | Dave
I thought I'd explain more about how we hope the revenue model will work.

The first thing to say is it wont be turned on until we've reached critical mass. What critical mass is is yet to be decided, but it's not something we'll get for a good year or two. The idea is to have enough content so the site has intrinsic value and people aren't turned off if they see ads.

Not that they should be of course, even though advertising is a bit of a dirty word on the internet right now. Many budding entrepreneurs (myself included) want their site to be funded by it. But many internet users hate seeing it. So how to resolve the two?

One way seems to be with targeted ads. People don't seem to mind Google Adwords (http://tinyurl.com/5j6zwq). That's certainly true for me, if I'm looking to buy something I often prefer Google's ads to its natural search.

But there are least two key differences between what people do on Debatewise and Google. Firstly, people on search engines are on a different kind of quest to our visitors. Secondly, on Google you voluntarily declare your interest in something, many other types of targeted ads depend upon spying on you.

So we have a challenge. Perhaps we'll put Google ads on the site (though its ads on other sites aren't as good as the ads you see when searching). Perhaps we'll find a way of including targeted ads that don't make you feel intruded upon. Perhaps a whole new form of advertising will emerge.

If you think this sounds like typical woolly thinking from someone more interested in building a good site than earning money off it, you'd be right. I am of the firm belief that if we create something people love we'll find a way of keeping it alive.

I also believe we're a little bit different to most other sites. As a not-for-profit we can rely upon other sources of funding – ie from foundations, philanthropists and government or European money. Secondly, because all our profits go to good causes we hope people wont be as resistant to ads as they are on other sites.

More on how that works in my next post…

Posted by: Dave, 24 Jul 08, 11:42am

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Hi

17 Jul 08 | Sophie
Hi everyone, I'm Sophie, your friendly Editor! I spend my days cruising around the site making sure that your brilliant arguments are conveyed in the best possible way. Obviously it's ideas that really count, but you'd be surprised how much difference good grammar and punctuation can make to the way those ideas are received.

I do my best when editing to keep your debates intact, just tidying things up where needed, but if you have any queries (or complaints...) about changes I've made, please get in touch! Equally, if you spot a debate that has real potential but needs a bit of work, drop me a line on

I really enjoy reading all your contributions and feel much better informed already, so keep them coming!

Sophie x

Posted by: Sophie, 17 Jul 08, 9:09pm

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Hello

11 Jul 08 | Betony
With the all new not-for-profit site comes...an all new team member!

My name is Betony and i'm the new Head of PR and Marketing for the site. This means i'll be doing all I can to persuade you lovely people to contribute to it through starting new debates, creating new points, and strengthening old ones.

The more considered arguments we have, the better the site will be smile Then those poor indecisive people out there will be able to make up their minds, having read and weighed up all your passionate and insightful opinions.Or at least that's what we're hoping for anyway...

I'll also be trying to get experts and clever people who specialise in the area of each debate to get involved, that way we can all be better informed on the topic we're arguing about. So if you are an expert or have a 'specialist subject' (think mastermind here people!) feel free to get in touch.

Any other ideas, comments, criticisms, media enquiries etc. can be directed to betony[customary sign]debatewise.com (die spambots die!) and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

*dramatic music* So it's all hands-on-deck at Debatewise, for a new era of collective intelligence...and we'll keep you all updated here on the blog. *music fades*

B x

Posted by: Betony, 11 Jul 08, 3:39pm

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Welcome to the new Debatewise

09 Jul 08 | Dave
So as I’m sure you all know (you mean you don’t read the About Us page daily?), Debatewise has a new form. No longer are we greedy capitalist pigs looking to make money off the poor worker. Oh no. We’re now a social enterprise here to make the world a better place.

Essentially this means we’ve turned into a not-for-profit. It happened, I will admit, partly because people weren’t willing to fund us. Investors couldn’t see they’d get a return for their money and were worried the idea wasn’t protectable. Unpleasant truths both.

But the real change took place when I read a blog post arguing Wikipedia could be an incredible force for good if it started taking advertising and donated all its profits to charity. And not only would Wikipedia generate large amounts of money, but the approach would also encourage more people to get involved with the project.

I’ve often struggled with the idea that people would want to donate their time and knowledge to a profit-making enterprise. I resolved it by believing the desire to reach a large audience of neutrals would be so attractive to debaters that they’d get over the fact someone was making money off them.

However, I think it’s pretty obvious that an organisation set-up in the way Dan Malvern outlined would be a far better mechanism for encouraging contributions, and since the number of contributions is absolutely essential to our success, making the change wasn’t a difficult decision.

It did mean I have had to give up on the idea of a Bentley and a big house in Hampstead, but hey, doing good is far more satisfying isn’t it? Tell me it is.

I am a bit of a hippy at heart so the decision was confirmed as wise when, in one of those wonderful moments of serendipity, Noel Selegzi from the Open Society got in touch asking if we needed any help literally a week after I’d read Dan’s blog post. They’re now contributing some money and lots of expertise

So this is the new Debatewise. We are a not-for-profit and if we ever reach critical mass every penny not used to run the organisation will be donated to charity. And moreover, we’ll allow you, dear readers, to decide which good causes we support.

Now if that isn’t a good enough reason to get involved I don’t know what is.

Posted by: Dave, 09 Jul 08, 4:53pm

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