Patreon meltdown

Patreon just made one of those decisions that look good when explained to investors in the boardroom, but are utterly suicidal when rolled out.

Patreon image

They changed their fee structure, so that instead of the finance fees being charged to creators, they are now charged to patrons. The motivation is sound. Previously, the actual amount paid to a creator was not clear. The patron is charged whatever they pledged. Patreon takes 5%. And then whatever finance charges there were would be passed on to the creators. Patreon saved fees by only charging the patron once, for all of their pledges. So a single $1 pledge would see a chunk taken taken off, but if the patron makes, say, 10 $1 pledges, the fees would be relatively lower.

All of this means that creators were never sure what their income would be. Patrons would change other pledges, and this would affect the amount the creators made. All in all, a bit messy.

After the change, finance charges will be added to the patron’s account. So a single pledge of $1 will now have finance fees added on top of it. What really makes the whole idea a disaster is that the full finance charges are added on to EACH $1 pledge. For those making multiple small pledges, it’s a noticeable increase.

I am still following all the threads, but it appears Patreon are doing this, not to gouge extra money for themselves (by keeping the savings on the finance fees when they batch them), but so that creators no longer get ripped off, with patrons pledging money, getting access to various tiers of rewards that many creators offer, and then cancelling their pledge before it goes off.

I can see the motivation. But the result is that far more of my donations would go towards finance charges. I’m happy to support artists. I’m happy to support Patreon as a platform. But if there’s anyone I would not like to be offering needless money to, it’s multinational financial institutions.

The results have obviously come as a surprise to Patreon – huge numbers of pledges being cancelled, especially those, like myself, that make multiple small pledges, and now see more of this being gouged by a middleman.

Many artists are alarmed, reporting on disappearing patrons, anxious as they see incomes they’ve worked hard to build now under threat, disappointed that Patreon would do something like this.

In March 2015, I started a series 30 Artists in 30 Days, experimenting with Patreon. It was fairly new to me then, and I loved the concept, the ability to support artists almost directly, with the actual artist receiving most of the donations.

It’s sad to see Patreon going the other way, and to see artists losing out.

I had consolidated some of the list since March 2015, but after this recent announcement will cancel most, if not all, of my pledges. I like to see my donations being well-used.

But I’d still like to support many of the artists.

I’m probably not the average patron. I support multiple creators for small amounts simply to support them in their art. Many artists have complicated tiers offering all sorts of rewards. I understand why they do that, and I’m sure most people like to feel they are getting something extra for their support. I am just happy to contribute something to reward artists that I appreciate. I listen to their music on SoundCloud, watch videos on Youtube, all for free. In this way I can give a little bit back. I don’t particularly care that I get to listen to their new release a few days earlier, or have an opportunity to appear on their album.

So what are the alternatives? There are many Patreon-like platforms, but one that appeals is Liberapay. They’re a non-profit organization, and the code is entirely open source. They don’t take a cut of the pledges.

That’s right. Nothing. 0%.

So that leaves just the payment processing fees. These look a little higher than Patreon’s, at least for credit cards, but overall the cut is still far lower, and payments are batched like Patreon’s used to be. There’s also the advantage for artists of free withdrawals to a bank account in the Single Euro Payments Area. So overall, a far higher percentage of the donation goes to the artist.

With no commission, how does Liberapay sustain itself? Liberapay relies on donations, and one can support the Liberapay project through the Liberapay platform. I still have concerns about sustainability, as Liberapay currently earns very little, but hopefully it can build itself up to be sustainable.

Liberapay logo

Liberapay is not Patreon. It’s missing many features, has an interface that could be greatly improved, and is also set up as a donations platform, rather than one to provide rewards and tiers. So it may not appeal to all artists. But it’s open-source, meaning that you anyone can contribute to the development of the project.

It’s a distressing time for many artists as they lose substantial numbers of small-scale supporters.

But as I said, I’d still like to support some of the artists. So here’s my commitment. To any artists that I used to support on Patreon, if you come across to Liberapay, I’ll match my old pledge to you there.

Hope to see you on Liberapay!

Related posts:

Observatory energised

Democracy, ideally, represents rule by the people, but in a world with powerful centralised nation states, antiquated voting systems, and social media quickly spreading misinformation about remote events, in practice, it’s far from that. Just look at the state of most so-called democracies.

Obs Special General Meeting

But democracy in its current incarnation can work reasonably well at the local level. Individuals feel their participation is valued and makes a difference, and are mostly informed about the issues.

I lived in Observatory, a suburb of Cape Town, for much of my adult life, only moving out late last year to be closer to my son’s high school.

Named after the location of the astronomical observatory built there in 1820, Observatory was at the time a distant outpost, remote from the bright lights of Cape Town. As the city grew, Observatory become an urban suburb, close to the city centre. During the apartheid era it remained one of the few ‘grey’ (mixed race) areas to survive the ravages of the Group Areas Act, which ripped up much of the fabric of the city and divided people by race.

The turbulent end of apartheid saw the Heidelberg Massacre, when a number of APLA operatives opened fire in the packed Heidelberg tavern. A few years later, I was sitting in Diva’s in Lower Main Road as a bomb went off just down the road, courtesy of PAGAD (an anti-gangster and drug vigilante group), who presumably targeted Obs thanks to the then-constant cloud of marijuana smoke usually hanging above the suburb. And of course, Observatory has had its fair share of crime and grime.

Like much of Cape Town, the area has been changing, more high-rises have been making their appearance, and all sorts of developments have been proposed, leading to scraps between developers and community groups.

And so we come to the present.

The Observatory Civic Association (a body open to all that reside in Obs, and which has been a thorn in the sides of many developers wanting to rush their plans through) recently held their AGM. Attendance was surprisingly high, and a number of new faces were elected onto the committee. But all was not as it seemed. A large block of new members signed up on the day, voting en masse for a number of candidates, including a new chairman, who turned out to be an architect with interests in a number of developments in the area. It turned out that many of the new members were ineligible, having given false phone numbers, fake addresses, and in one case, listing their residence as a vacant development owned by the new chairman. So, results of the AGM were annulled, and a new AGM called.

Immediately, the management committee member sending the correspondence was sent a threatening legal letter. The usual bullying, lots of dubious legalese, followed by a threat that if she didn’t back down, the costs of any further actions would be for her account.

This kind of intimidation is nothing new to citizens groups across the world. Individuals often don’t have the resources to stand up to the threats, and the intimidatory tactics work. In this case, the person stood down, handing over to an interim chair, who the next day received the same threatening letter.

However, Observatory is not easily intimidated. Old members rushed to renew their memberships, new members rushed to sign up, and word of the attempted takeover spread quickly. A special general meeting, held under the thread of an interdict, saw a record attendance, and the community voted to render the previous election null and void, that the previous OCA management committee continue to hold their posts until a new election is held, and that a new AGM be called within two months.

It’s great to see the Observatory community energised and working together. Hopefully it won’t take another attempted takeover to see this happen again.

Articles and Videos

Image courtesy of Maxwell Roeland and GroundUp

Before the Flood

Today I watched Before the Flood with Dorje. The film is currently freely available on National Geographic’s Youtube channel. Of course I’ve talked to him about climate change, meat eating, pollution etc, but it’s different seeing it presented visually, and it seemed to have much more of an impact on him. Words alone will struggle to convey the scale of fossil fuel-related destruction of the tar sands, tropical forests, coral reefs.

The documentary has attracted some criticism from those who feel it didn’t go far enough (see this review on Treehugger), that Di Caprio was too deferential as he met various political and other leaders, that his criticism should have been stronger.

But I think he got the balance right between laying out how critical the situation is, and optimism that there’s still hope to turn things around. Without that optimism, there will be no personal action.

Outrage and personal attacks are never persuasive. All they do is posture for those already in the in-group, pushing away everyone else.

As Dorje jokingly said, “it’s your [adults] fault everything is messed up”. Sadly it’s no joke, and the consequences fall on his generation.

Related posts:
Global warming and the sun
Climate change: am I a sheeple?
Technology and the environtment
Ignorance
Climate change

Learning Man and the Talent Exchange

I’ve just come back from Learning Man festival, held on a farm just outside Riviersonderend.

The festival describes itself as a call to co-create a great social experiment in community resilience, focusing on Experimenting with Off Grid Living, Adventures in Freedom, Learning skills for an empowered life and Using Our own Economy.

Learning Man continues until after New Year, and I’m back early, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but mainly because it was too hot. If anything will make me emigrate to New Zealand, it’s not to see hobbits, it’s because (for now at least) it’s usually a lot cooler there. There was a river to swim in, and ample showers, but mostly I spent the time feeling too hot. Since today was 40° in Cape Town, I’m very happy not to have been roasting out there today.

Besides the heat, I need to up my camping game. The tents next to me included such must-haves as:

  • misting spray to keep cool
  • outside lights to guide the way back at night (after my first after-dark return was spent bumbling around in the dark with all sense of direction gone)
  • blow-up mattress (I used the sleeping bag as a mattress)
  • camping chairs
  • food (I had the bright idea of fasting while I was there and taking only a box of chia meal along for emergencies. Not so easy when all around are cooking and inviting you to eat with them)
  • bug repellent (I’ve come back having provided much sustenance for the local insects)

So, I was hot, not particularly comfortable, and missing Dorje who didn’t come with.

The festival is highly child-friendly. Dorje has many advantages over my childhood, but one of the ways he’s worse off is in rarely experiencing the freedom to roam without supervision, and the festival would have been perfect for this.

As the name suggests, one of the main purposes of the festival was learning, and there were numerous interesting talks and demonstrations on offer, such as How to build a compost-heated water system, Fire walking, Money alternatives – crypto-currencies and community exchanges, Sacred economy: The re-emergence of the collaborative commons and peer production as a viable economical model, Conduism and Channeling with the Ancient Shamanic Plant Medicine Iboga. There’s a longer list at Learning Man website, and there were also a number of spontaneous offerings, such as a couple’s discussion on their experiences with polyamory.

The festival was used as an opportunity to boost the Talent Exchange – all offerings at the festival needed to be either gifted, exchanged, or exchanged for Talents. There’s been a burst of new offerings as a result, but the concept was also challenged, as some of the participants objected to being “forced to join a website”, or “expected to sell things in order to earn Talents”. The discussions were animated, some misunderstandings were cleared up, and once again the Talent Exchanged proved a great way to introduce many financial concepts to people.

The festival is still ongoing, but it’s been an interesting experiment in bringing different communities together. Many of the people that attend the Space of Love events, based on the Anastasia books, were there. Those gatherings are usually much more contained and intimate, and there seemed to be differing expectations of the levels of participation, volunteering, and so on. Similarly, it’s likely there’ll be a big influx just for the New Years party,which may change the dynamic some more.

There was a police visit during the festival. I’m not sure if it was for a drugs raid, but they would have been highly disappointed at the findings (I didn’t even see any alcohol while I was there), and seeing child-friendly areas of the festival where not even smoking cigarettes was permitted.

It’s been a worthwhile experiment, and hopefully will continue to develop in future years.

Related posts

Le Chocolatier and the chocolate scam

When I was involved in Ethical Co-op (from its startup in 2005, until April 2014), there was a remarkable stream of dubious products presenting themselves for potential sale, trying to market themselves as organic in order to charge higher prices. One of my favourite tasks was investigating and rejecting a product due to not meeting our criteria. Many times it was simply ignorance on the part of the supplier, but quite often the information was intentionally misleading. Sometimes there would be a genuine attempt to correct things, in other cases the guilty would quietly skulk away.

My son and I have great fun looking at product labels. Recently we saw a mango juice that, on the front, boldly proclaimed that “mangos are a good source of vitamin C”. Looking at the ingredients on the back, the juice contained 0% vitamin C. I don’t know the updated legislation well enough to know whether this is illegal, but it’s clearly unethical, and meant to mislead people into thinking the artificial “juice” in the bottle is a good source of vitamin C, is “healthy”.

Reading between the lines of a misleading label is one thing. Then there’s Le Chocolatier.

This month, someone created a Facebook group, Le Chocolatier South Africa scam. According to the documents on the Facebook page (all well-documented, so go take a look), their 70% bar at the time claimed to be:
* Sugar-free
* Fat-free
* Organic
* Raw

A true wonder bar! Everyone loves chocolate, and just about every health-conscious person out there would be attracted to a chocolate like this. Except that every one of these claims appears to be false.

First, the sugar. According to the two tests listed on the page, the product contained 30.89% sucrose, and 27.9% sucrose. Sucrose, in case you’re not clear, is plain old sugar.

The fat content turned out to be 40% (and on one of Le Chocolatier’s own labels, 39g/100g (39%). There also appears to have been a change of label, where the fat-free claim was removed, and replaced with “banting and paleo”, two other health buzzwords.

The organic certificate holder, Pronatec AG, stated they don’t sell to any South African companies. That left the possibility of them buying from a wholesaler, but Le Chocolatier never responded to the organic certifier.

Pronatec also rubbished Le Chocolatier’s claim to be raw, saying they they don’t sell raw chocolate.

If all of these claims are true, then it’s very unlikely that Le Chocolatier has just made a few mistakes on their labels, and more likely that they’re just another in the long line of fraudsters attempting to make a quick buck.

The people behind the Facebook group initially (and may still be – I haven’t followed the thousands of posts!) opted to remain anonymous, which aroused suspicion. Why remain anonymous if you are sure of your facts? In their statement, they said that it was the “practical reality of dealing with a human being who has a reputation of trying to legally bully those who expose him” and that “just because something is easily defendable in Court does not mean that you still won’t have to spend R100k+ doing that. Whether it is true or not we have been warned by more than one person that this is the kind of thing that Daniel is liable to do.”

And that’s just what Daniel Waldis has been doing. As a result of the exposure, a host of people have publicly and often at their own expense tested the products. Some were ardent supporters of the chocolate until their suspicions were raised. To my knowledge, all of these people have been threatened.

His marketing leaves a little to be desired if, as a supposedly organic chocolate, he’s threatening legal action against a whole bunch of organic retailers.

It might sound trivial, but sugar for many is a poison. There have been diabetics and cancer patients, whose health is at serious risk if they consume sugar, happily buying his products and putting their health at risk (read one account here). Some had even expressed their doubts to him, only to be personally assured of the product’s integrity.

Daniel Waldis seems to have had an interesting past. He is (or was) also, according to a press release, an “acclaimed dermatologist” who owned the company Swiss Dermal Technology, which performed “skin rejuvenation without plastic surgery”.

An anonymous blog comment, in response to a review, asked:

Can you please investigate this “doctor” further? He has a hell of a past.
He has been in the hunting business, he has been in jail in Switzerland several times.
Didn’t pay his rent in Willowbridge for the clinic etc etc etc. The list is endless!

So, a fun story for an investigative reporter to enjoy getting stuck into.

But it’s been interesting to see the positive coming out of the process. There’s a growing commitment to taking personal responsibility, especially in the shark-infested health food waters. And some collective action. Besides the growing likelihood of legal action against Daniel Waldis, there’s the potential formation of something so far dubbed CERA – the Conscious & Ethical Retailers & Consumer Alliance, co-ordinated by Debbie Logan from Organic Emporium (read the details on her blog).

My gratitude to everyone who helped expose this. It’s wonderful to see people caring and taking action.

In the meantime, there are more than enough great chocolates out there, so I’m happy to pass on Le Chocolatier’s, and on any retailer lacking integrity enough to still be stocking them.

October 2014 African language Wikipedia and Wiktionary update

It’s only been a few months since my last update on the state of the Wikimedia projects in Africa, but seeing as the Wiki Indaba was held since then, and this weekend is Wikimedia South Africa’s AGM, it’s a good excuse to take another look.

First, the Wiktionaries. Wiktionary is a much less well-known set of projects compared to Wikipedia, and aims to have a dictionary definition for each word in every language.

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Malagasy 142 4,253 3,191,393 3,599,084
Afrikaans 14,128 14,669 14,731 15,792 15,794
Swahili 12,956 13,000 13,027 13,885 13,903
Wolof 2,675 2,689 2,693 2,310 2,310
Sotho 1,387 1,389 1,398 1,343 1,343
Zulu 127 131 510 586 587
Rwandi 306 306 306 366 367
Oromo 186 218 264 269 322
Swati 31 371 377 290 290
Amharic 311 319 377 204 206
Tsonga 358 359 363 92 92

In short, besides the Malagasy bot activity that’s creating up a storm, and some flickers in Oromo, spoken mostly in Ethiopia and parts of Kenya and Somalia, not much activity at all. Even, the Afrikaans Wiktionary, which has shown steady, organic, growth in the past, had little activity.

What about the Wikipedias?

African Language Wikipedias

10,3792,757
Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144 47,061
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756 33,392
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910 30,989
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349 27,021
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968 16,229
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 12,440 12,934
Somali 1,639 2,354 3,646 3,680
Shona     1,421 2,077 2,091
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077 2,087
Kabyle     1,503 1,876 1,967
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832 1,834
Hausa 1,386
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201 1,148
Igbo 1,017

Two new languages have joined the 1000 club. Hausa, spoken natively in Niger, Nigeria and Chad, but also as a trade language across numerous others, and Igbo, spoken mostly in Nigeria.

While most of the languages are showing some sort of activity, the article count in a couple of languages has dropped. This just means there’s been a cleanup of some articles that perhaps were never worthy of the name. Although there’s been little activity on either, Shona has passed Lingala, while Kabyle is catching up to both.

Afrikaans continues to be the fastest-growing African-language Wikipedia, with a healthy, active community.

Onto the South African languages specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756 33,392
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 966
Zulu 256 483 579 630 686
Tswana 240 490 495 510 513
Swati 359 361 364 400 408
Xhosa 125 136 148 333 380
Tsonga 192 193 240 303 309
Venda 193 190 204 209 208
Sotho 132 145 188 197 202

The pace on most of the South African languages has picked up slightly, with signs of life. Besides Afrikaans, mentioned above, Northern Sotho showed a burst of activity, mainly new date stub pages, but there are fairly regular edits.

Zulu has shown signs of stirring, mostly due to its healthy coverage of porn stars, and probably boasts the highest ratio of porn star to other articles of any Wikipedia language edition. The porn star articles also happen to be some of the most well-endowed compared to the usual stub pages found throughout the Zulu and most African-language editions.

I’m very happy to see that Xhosa continues to show good relative growth, and that it’s newfound life in June wasn’t just a reaction to Wikimedia ZA announcing in April that its attempts to activate it had been put on hold due to lack of success, but seems to be sustaining itself.

Otherwise, not too much to note, although Sotho is closing in on Venda as it tries to haul itself off the bottom spot.

As always, I should mention that article count is an imperfect metric. It’s possible to have higher article counts with not much activity (stubs or bot-creations), but the reverse isn’t possible, and it’s a reasonable indicator of the signs of life.

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Testing misleading organic and natural claims

I was excited this week to come across TOPIC, an organisation formed to test the authenticity of natural and organic product claims. I’ve had in mind forming an operation just like they have – there’s such a need for it – so I’m very happy someone else has done it and there’s no need for me to!

Organic food is just the way things should be. Food produced in a way that doesn’t harm, and doesn’t endanger farm and farm communities. Farmers, and particularly farmworkers, work in some of the most hazardous conditions, breathing in and spraying pesticides on crops, and it’s heartbreaking so that so many give their financial support to products that further marginalise, or that have caused such harm so they can look pretty on the supermarket shelves.

It’s an obvious choice.

So while organic is better for everyone involved, it’s unfortunately also seen as a luxury, as elitist, something that can be more profitable, so there’s the temptation for producers to mislabel in order to charge more.

It wasn’t uncommon, while I was at Ethical Co-op, to be approached by a supplier whose claims didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

TOPIC allows people to nominate products they’d like to see tested, and, after a voting process, the selected products will be bought from three different locations, and sent to the laboratory (or laboratories – this part isn’t clear yet) for testing.

This provides a great way for organic farmers and producers,especially those that are not certified, to prove that their products are actually organic, as well as to test out products that there are questions about.

I’m looking forward to contributing and seeing the first products coming through, and expect to see some embarrassed faces soon.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

You’re fat, and the 7-minute workout

You're fat?

I paid a visit to the Ethical Co-op warehouse the other day, and Thembi, one of the warehouse staff who’s been there from the very early days, greeted me with a loud “You’re fat!” as I walked in.

I was a little taken aback and didn’t have an immediate response, so she carried on “Yes! You were so skinny when you used to come to the warehouse, and now you’re fat. That’s good, you were too skinny. No stress anymore!”

I know she means “fat” as a compliment, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about her kind words.

Which brings me to the Seven-minute workout. This was a routine developed in 2013 by researchers in Orlando, using the latest research to design the best possible exercise routine, aimed in particular at office workers who don’t do enough exercise in general.

High-intensity interval training is today recognised as providing the most efficient returns for your time. Essentially, bursts of mayhem with brief rest periods between.

It’s claimed that just a few minutes of training at close to maximum capacity (that’s the high-intensity part) can produce molecular changes within muscles similar to those of several hours of running or bicycle riding.

The seven minute workout claims to work out all major muscle groups and give a combination of metabolic and resistance work. The exercises can all be performed from home, without any need for special equipment.

I was sold. Actually, it was the seven-minutes that did it. Egoscue involves long periods of lying in one position, and an abridged routine can easily be 30 minutes. Tai chi? Well, it’s wonderfully beneficial, but it doesn’t exactly build Hulk Hogan arm muscles (if it does, you’re doing it all wrong).

The extremely erratic exercises I would do before involved much pausing to admire the dust mites on the floor between repetitions, so perhaps not as intense as required.

A walk in the forest or on the mountains? Great, but, as well-served as Cape Town is, it takes me more than seven minutes just to get there, and a bit longer to get to the top (unless I’m ‘walking’ with Craig, in which case seven minutes to the top is about right).

So, how does it work?

Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, as intensely as possible, followed by a ten-second rest. The exercises are:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Wall sit
  • Push-up
  • Abdominal crunch
  • Step-up onto chair
  • Squat
  • Triceps dip on chair
  • Plank
  • High knees/running in place
  • Lunge
  • Push-up and rotation
  • Side plank

You can download an app on your phone to help keep track of the order and timings, and go to the New York Times article to read more.

So, how has the routine been for me? Well, I’m convinced that what Thembi saw as “fat” is simply the buildup of lean muscle around my stomach, so I’d say it’s working out quite well. Though I have upped the frequency and occasionally doubled up on abdominal crunches. Just in case.

Related posts:

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Leaving the Ethical Co-op

Ethical veggies
Way back in April, a lifetime ago that seems like yesterday, I stepped down from the Ethical Co-op, which I’d been involved with from the very beginning in 2005.

There were about 10 founders, mostly drawn from two communities. Permacore, the Permaculture Foundation of South Africa, which is no longer running, and the Community Exchange System, a system designed to do away with the need for banks and central currency, which still is.

The vision was to source and support ethical produce. Organic food was hard to come by, and much of it organic in name only. Many of us used to visit the same places to get the best food, so pooling our efforts and getting them to bring it to us made sense.

The founding members all paid for their first orders, about R200 on average, and so, with a massive startup capital of R2000, it all began. To date, except for a loan from myself to purchase a vehicle, that was the only financial investment it ever had.

Yet, somehow, it’s still going 9 years later. Many other businesses, sometimes with huge financial investment and far greater financial resources, have splashed, crashed and burned.

What was lacking in money was made up for in time, however, with many people making hefty contributions.

From the beginning, and over most of its existence, there was a great team of people involved, feeding off each other’s energy. The skillset was diverse – I had an IT background and built the systems it runs on, and everybody dived in where they could.

Over time, the original members left. Some were no longer able to commit so much time for so little money or better and more interesting opportunities came along. Until, eventually, of the original members, it was just me left. It became a drain on my energy, most of my involvement was spent doing things I don’t enjoy: HR, finances, driving trucks (ok, that one is quite fun, but not so much unexpectedly at 7am after 4 hours sleep), packing boxes, customer service. I think over the years I’ve performed every role there was to perform.

The drain on my time meant I was missing other opportunities, saying no to friend’s invitations, missing my son Dorje’s school activities. And finally, when my mother was dying, it became something I resented, not allowing me the energy or time to share the process with her as I would have liked.

With my father ill at the beginning of this year, I’d finally had enough, and it was time to move on. There was only one viable person to hand it over to at the time, which was Anique, Dorje’s mom, who was involved at the time. At first she wasn’t keen to continue without me, so out went the closure letters to suppliers and customers.

But after an outpouring of support (people usually only say what things mean when it’s too late), she decided to continue it, and I was happy that something I’d put so much love and sweat into would be continuing.

Leaving was hard. I’d put so much energy into it, and the vision many of us had for it, although never actualised, always felt just around the corner.

But I was happy to leave, and have been enjoying a resurgence in energy and the time to explore new things.

When the site launched, in September 2005 if I remember (so this month is its 9th birthday), the code I wrote was already a jumbled mush of spaghetti, thanks to scope creep of the sort comparable to driving to the shops for milk turning into a 3-week trip across Namibia. Eventually it turned into what’s there today, with an automated backend that allows a tiny team to keep things running.

Still today, all the products are listed on one page, a legacy of its original conception as a ‘box scheme’, where a customer would choose from 15 or so items to put in a box. Now there are hundreds of items. Some people hate the long page, but I love it as a customer. It makes searching for items instantaneous, and placing an order very quick.

There were lots of things to enjoy. Being the kind of business it was, designed to do good rather than make its shareholders or founders rich, it attracted lots of inspiring people, who worked for very little reward. Inspiring is not a word I use loosely – I really was inspired and energised by the people I worked with.

There were some tough times too. As with any group of people, there were personal conflicts, differences of opinion. An early test was asking a key founding member to leave. The other members all agreed that this was needed, and it fell to me to tell the person who’d brought me into the project, and was responsible for so much of the early energy, to leave. The person wasn’t happy, and spread all sorts of rumours afterwards, but it was the right thing to do, and the rest of us continued with a new lightness and purpose.

I lost count of the number of times it was called the ‘unethical’ co-op, often for the most trivial of reasons (“My carrots had their tops chopped off this week! I like to use them, and now you’ve chopped them off! How can you call yourselves ethical, you should be called unethical!)

But the accusation never hit home, as the the name always reflected an intention that we did our best to live up to. It saddens me to see something that should be the norm, healthy, organic food, where animals roam free and are well-treated, becoming a marketing slogan, an excuse to price gouge, a race to meet the lowest standard that meets the term. Supermarkets offering free range and organic produce that meets the letter (and sometimes not even that), but is far from the spirit of the term. Food at markets that claims or is assumed to be organic, beautifully displayed, but that I know is simply the conventional food being resold at an expensive price. The prevalence of pesticide-laden farms, with workers facing higher rates of asthma and other health conditions, all while the pesticide fumes they live in are claimed to be ‘safe’.

I still buy almost all my food from the Ethical Co-op. It’s clear where the food is grown, I still know many of the farms where the food is grown, and they’re of a scale that can support small producers, a dire need in a country with so many small suppliers all at the mercy of giant chains squeezing them for every cent.

It was a fun eight and a half years that I’m already looking at through rose-tinted glasses. Thanks to everyone who was part of the journey. Good luck to Anique and all the remaining staff, I hope you can make a thriving success of it.

June 2014 African Wikipedia and Wiktionary update


This weekend sees the first Wiki Indaba, a gathering of African Wikimedians. Since my last look at the state of African language Wikimedia projects was in May 2013, and my last look at Wiktionary (the dictionary project, not as widely-known as its more popular sister, Wikipedia) was way back in 2011, it’s time for an update.

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 17/6/2014
Malagasy 142 4,253 3,191,393
Afrikaans 14,128 14,669 14,731 15,792
Swahili 12,956 13,000 13,027 13,885
Wolof 2,675 2,689 2,693 2,310
Sotho 1,387 1,389 1,398 1,343
Zulu 127 131 510 586
Rwandi 306 306 306 366
Swati 31 371 377 290
Oromo 186 218 264 269
Amharic 311 319 377 204
Tsonga 358 359 363 92

The startling progress of Malagasy is most notable, and here it seems bot activity is primarily responsible. Malagasy is one of the more interesting languages linguistically, so it’s not surprising it’s attracting interest. Afrikaans and Swahili also showed some activity in the last year, while other languages are static, with many showing a reduction in the number of articles due to cleanups.

What about the Wikipedias?

African Language Wikipedias

10,3792,757
Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 12,440
Somali 1,639 2,354 3,646
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077
Shona     1,421 2,077
Kabyle     1,503 1,876
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201

Afrikaans continues to show the most consistent growth and the healthiest community. Yoruba overtook Afrikaans thanks mostly to a burst of bot activity, but Afrikaans has now once again overtaken it. Malagasy, again thanks to bot activity, is well ahead, but the consistent growth in Afrikaans means it is closing the gap, and has higher quality articles.

Of the other African languages, Amharic, Egyptian Amharic, Somali and Shona are all showing reasonable activity, so the signs are good.

Focusing on South Africa specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691
Zulu 256 483 579 630
Tswana 240 490 495 510
Swati 359 361 364 400
Xhosa 125 136 148 333
Tsonga 192 193 240 303
Venda 193 190 204 209
Sotho 132 145 188 197

I’ve discussed the success of the Afrikaans Wikipedia above, and the other language showing good progress has been Xhosa, which survived the proposal to close it in 2013. Wikimedia ZA announced in their April newsletter that they were diverting resources away from Xhosa, after numerous failed attempts to activate the language.

However, in March, the Xhosa Wikipedia started to show signs of life. For a small Wikipedia, all it takes is one or two active editors, and Xhosa has found one, so the article count, as well as the article quality, has jumped noticeably. Xhosa has leapt from last place (excluding Ndebele, which is the only South Africa official language not to have its own Wikipedia) to sixth, above Tsonga, Venda and Sotho.

The other Wikipedias are still only showing flickering signs of interest, and have only a small number of new articles.

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons