It was good news then, when, not so long ago, I heard murmurings of the Campfire Convention that is going to be taking place in the Black Mountains this August. In fact, I was delighted at the prospect of a new, more intimate gathering/festival so close to home and in one of my most favourite places on the planet. I was also intrigued because I was told that Edward II (who perhaps surprisingly successfully meld traditional folk tunes with roots reggae) are going to be playing and everybody’s favourite music boffin/renaissance man, Brian Eno, is going to be talking at Campfire Convention.
So, thinking that I would like to be involved in some way, I did some research and found out that Campfire Convention is the brainchild of Pete Lawrence, the person responsible for setting up Cooking Vinyl and later The Big Chill, and that the Campfire Convention is one element of the much more ambitious Campfire project. Campfire is a new social network that will be launched in the near future that Pete hopes will serve as a kind of ‘digital campfire’, enabling people to come together to share ideas and have meaningful discussions and collaborate on projects.
But does the world really need another digital platform, what will Campfire add? Pete thinks yes and I am open to the idea. Here follows a piece by Andrew Cowen, a long-time friend and collaborator of Pete’s who sadly passed away very recently, which explains why he was backing and willing to put time into Campfire. I found this piece of writing compelling and think you might agree.
June 16, 2015
My name is Andrew Cowen, I’m 53 years old and a professional journalist, writer and musician with 30 years experience behind me. I have known Pete Lawrence for 20 years in a professional and personal capacity, initially as a young music writer excited by his Cooking Vinyl label, through the Big Chill years of club events, festivals and label and beyond through his smaller scale though no-less vibrant community-based projects.
Pete’s entrepreneurial track record speaks for itself, and I believe that Campfire Convention is his most exciting and vital project to date. Its potential is huge and the timing is just right.
It’s been a year since Pete first explained his concept to me and I immediately “got it”. This was not too long after the time when myself and 80 per cent of the other journalists were made redundant from the Birmingham Post, a daily paper where I had been chief arts sub editor for 15 years.
The massive drop in revenue when advertisers took their custom away from the print media and onto the internet has pretty much destroyed journalism in its traditional form. As traditional news-gathering and reporting declined, so we saw the concurrent rise of social media through Facebook and Twitter, new ways of sharing news and information.
The trouble with these giants, and the smaller social media sites which have grown in their shadow is that they are unregulated, unchecked and untrue, leading to a new world of media where a lie can be disseminated globally in less than a day. It is this reach and ease of sharing that are now threatening the delivery of real news.
I’m not alone in thinking this. Several media analysts have presented compelling cases to prove that Facebook’s dominance has peaked and is now in decline. The example of MySpace proves that ubiquity isn’t permanent and that there is an organic cycle of growth and decay in social media sites.
My patience with Facebook is wearing thin and so is the patience of many of the people I talk to on the site. Complaints include the issue of privacy and data-mining, the constant imposition of change that is unsolicited, the sheer complexity of privacy settings, its easy pickings for hackers, the amount of “noise” and lack of intelligent debate. For many, it’s just a platform to prove how clever they are. As a tool for social change, it’s terrible. There are too many petitions and too much misinformation to make it a reliable tool. If you’re looking for truth and unbiased opinion, the outlets are few and shrinking by the day.
One of the main reasons why Facebook is so popular is that it is free but many are starting to realise that freedom comes at a cost. Facebook is great at taking our information and content and only gives back a platform designed to harvest our data in a cynical and sinister way.
I have been excited about working on the beta version of the Campfire site for several months now, writing articles, testing the software and contributing to brain-storming sessions to help define the ethos and functionality of the site. I give my time freely and enthusiastically because, the more I consider the potential of the enterprise, the more excited I become.
For me, the watch-word of Campfire is “creative”. The whole navigation and ethos is designed to encourage and provide a platform for members’ creativity. It is geared towards collaboration, sharing and exhibiting the work of creators in a supportive and friendly environment. Because it was conceived by creatives it is best-placed to understand and serve their needs.
It is the respect for and track record of Pete Lawrence that has sealed my commitment for the Campfire cause. He changed peoples’ expectations of what a music festival could be with the Big Chill and I watched it grow from tiny beginnings in the Welsh Black Mountains to its peak in the mid-noughties. With success came interest from corporate and commercial forces and Pete had the courage of his convictions to step away when his baby became too big to handle.
The hardcore Big Chillers who had grown up with the club and festival were starting to move on, just as the festival was losing its charm, meaning that Pete has already got a large constituency to take onto the next big thing. Many of these people signed up to the forums at the old Big Chill website, creating an instant community of intelligent, creative and friendly allies. This community felt like an extended family, all holding sympathetic views.
The success or failure of any social group, be it online or in village halls, depends on its membership and I am certain that, once open, numbers will quickly grow. I also see no reason why, once established, users won’t be happy to pay a monthly subscription. Pete has been upfront about this charge from the beginning and the unique nature of Campfire should provide real value for money as relationships form and collaborations are launched.
I already pay a tenner each a month to Spotify and Netflix on the strength of content and see no reason why the palpable benefits of a Campfire membership shouldn’t be snapped up by its members who work in the creative industries.
For the rest, there will be plenty to see around the fire…
In conclusion, my vision of Campfire as the greatest social network is based on the following points:
· A reliable, moderated and edited source for news.
· A central meeting place for friends and source of meaningful new friendships.
· An online identity modelled on local community rather than multi-national greed.
· A proper manifestation of co-operative governance and equality where every member counts.
· A source for innovation and ground-breaking creative projects, collaboration and fair trade.
· A grown-up playground of fun and discovery.
· A site of unlimited potential which benefits all, becoming a source of income for both members and administrators.
I am sorry I won’t get to meet Andrew now or hear him play with his band The Knights of the Occasional Table, but am glad to be part the emergent Campfire project and strongly believe that good things will come from it. Come join us.
Best, Richard MC of the WHC