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?