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Summary:

Towards the end of my last post, I talked about some of the potential advantages there could be in web workers getting together online to create local networks. In my view, since we’re still a marginal group in society, nobody’s going to go out of their […]

Towards the end of my last post, I talked about some of the potential advantages there could be in web workers getting together online to create local networks. In my view, since we’re still a marginal group in society, nobody’s going to go out of their way to help us, so we have to help ourselves. I’ve recently discovered a group of web workers in rural northern France who are doing just that.

Xavier Mazenod launched ZeVillage (pronounce it like Inspector Clouseau would) with the goal of creating a local community of web workers in Normandy. The ZeVillage website provides tech news of local and regional interest. It also covers issues related to web working in rural settings, such as whether or not it’s practical to bring fiber optic networks to rural areas. There’s a Google map showing where members are and a Flickr group with photos of village life—real villages, that is.

The ZeVillage community actively encourages other web workers to pick up and move to their neck of Normandy. If you were to do that, a ZeVillage sponsor would help you get situated. They’ll help you get acquainted with local resources and organizations such as entrepreneurial groups. They’ll even help you find housing. They’re planning to open a co-working center with high-speed Internet and shared secretarial support and material resources that would be free to their members and available for a fee to visitors. They’re also thinking of making part of the space available to the public to provide Internet access and training sessions.

Let me tell you about rural France. It pretty much looks like the postcards; cute little villages perched on hilltops enclosed by medieval walls, or in the middle of a serene valley surrounded by fields (with the occasional nuclear power plant in the background). But the thing is, nearly 20 percent of the population of France lives in or around Paris, and about 95 percent live in metropolitan areas. The little postcard villages are half empty. And cheap. And you can get affordable, reliable high-speed Internet in almost all of them. I’m in Paris now, but I’ll be working from a little cottage next to a babbling brook the minute the kids are out of school, you can count on it.

I like to think that web working might eventually be the key to revitalizing small towns in developed countries. But the ZeVillage model would be great in big cities too. We live side by side or stacked up in our little boxes and may never even know that there are people like us right around the corner.

As I suggested in that earlier post, a social network for web workers might be the answer. If you’re picturing that BIG social network, which just seems to me like one big virtual food fight, or the other BIG one where teenieboppers write in txtspk, stop. What I have in mind is something that would have real value.

Now, granted, a lot of us work the way we do because we’re loners. I generally am. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to have a network of sympathetic souls I could turn to in times of need, whether the need were tech advice or dog sitting.

I’d like to hear about any web-worker cooperatives or networks, virtual or otherwise, in your area. What works and what doesn’t? Do you think you could benefit from such a network if you don’t currently have access to one?

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  1. This has crossed my mind several times because while there’s a large community of web-workers in the Boston area, where I live, there’s no one collective online community for “us”. At least nothing that’s highly interactive or communicative outside of maybe a facebook group or something. I’d like to be proven wrong though!

  2. Ben Overmyer Thursday, May 29, 2008

    There are a handful of web workers in the Sioux Falls, SD region. We don’t communicate with each other and we don’t interact even on a competitive level. A network of web workers like ZeVillage would do shockingly well here….and with the amount of government funding available for any organization that can bring and keep knowledge workers in South Dakota, it’s an entrepreneurial no-brainer.

    With that said, I just don’t have the capital (either temporal or monetary) to start it. Anyone interested?

  3. I think it would be a great idea. . .gears are turning. . .I live and work in South Florida and I can only imagine that there are a lot of “detached” workers that would find such a thing useful.

  4. What if one were done in a “craigslist” kind of fashion where you could have multiple regions in one place. . .not just a bunch of disassociated “local” ones. . .I would be interested in having a more serious discussion about it with other interested parties. Maybe together we can cobble something up. . .

  5. Forget talking about “web-worker cooperatives or networks, virtual or otherwise, in your area” I want to move to France. :-)

    Currently I’m in little Columbia, Missouri. Right smack in the middle of the US. My wife loves French and the French culture, and neither of us has traveled outside of the country.

    I am seriously considering getting in touch with these people. I can do web site design anywhere in the world!

  6. Xavier de Mazenod Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Thanks Pamela.

    Yes, you will have to pronounce Zevillage like Inspector Clouzeau : I would like a rhume… ;-)

    Talking about social network, I have opened a group in Facebook for people interested in teleworking called “Télétravail et campagne” (Telework and countryside). You are welcome.

  7. I think ZeVillage offers valuable help to people who want to settle in their neck of the woods. But the teleworking angle? It’s a nice way to evangelize teleworking, but in reality, all you need is an Internet connection (cheap and fast and France).

    If you already have clients and work, I don’t really need the distractions and the overhead that comes from working in a shared space. After all, one of the greatest benefits of teleworking, is not being bound by anybody else’s physical location, being able to blast your music or work in your jammies (or wearing a silly hat or nothing at all).

    The situation might be different if you’re an employee or an employer considering some intermediate form of teleworking…

    As for social networking with fellow teleworkers, on the face of it, it’s a nice idea. Except that 99% of the issues I might need help with (or that I could help with or otherwise discuss) are related to my particular profession (translation) and to administrative matters (that my accountant deals with for me). If it’s about dog-sitting, and you’re living in a tiny village in France, you might have better odds asking the neighbors.

  8. Xavier de Mazenod Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Vincent, you talk about your experience and as an individual quite autonomous.

    In reality, the candidates are often afraid to leave the big cities to be alone in a rural area or a small village. You don’t imagine how many mail I receive each week saying : I want to change my life but I don’t dare to telework.

    That’s why we started Zevillage. We help those people to settle and we give them connections in networks. And, eventually, we help them to telework. Particulary when they are employees.

    We have here around experienced teleworkers and beginners who ask for advices and help.

    Some work together, some don’t. Some are friends, some live their lifes alone ;-)
    And some of them don’t have any dog, do you believe it ?

  9. Susan Doran recently started Maine UX, which is the first thing approaching a social network I’ve seen in these parts. There have been a few real-life meetings, tons of local event and lecture postings, and some good dialogue on our google group.

    I feel that there’s cooperative energy going on, versus competitive energy which is more of what I felt in urban environments.

  10. Also: a friend of mine had an idea, years ago, for Sad Boyfriend Telecommuter Relocation Service, which just shifts groups of hipsters pining over their girlfriends into urban areas needing revitalization. He also had the “buy a town” idea wherein we’d all move to rural Ohio (or anywhere along a major internet backbone, really).

    Sadly, neither happened!

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