There is an increasing tendency among trade unions to “outsource” certain parts of our websites — and this is going to cause problems for us even in the short run.
More and more unions are creating groups for themselves on the social networking site Facebook. For example, the NUJ’s group on Facebook has over 1,800 members.
Other have taken a keen interest in the online virtual world “Second Life” — going so far as to create a permanent “Union Island” there. The TUC, Unison, Prospect and Connect are all backing that initiative, which was launched by UNI Global Union.
Yahoo Groups have long been used by unions large and small to serve as mailing lists. Many small unions use free blogs such as Blogger to host their sites. Nearly 400 trade union photographers have created a group on the free photo-sharing website Flickr. Many unions now host their videos on YouTube. And others have promoted union use of Twitter, a service that offers platform-independent messaging and micro-blogs.
The problem with all these free services in addition to their inherent unreliability is the fact that they can be so easily taken away. As Twitter has just proven.
A few weeks ago, Twitter announced that it was suspending its service, which allowed residents of the UK and other countries to receive the short messages known as “Tweets” to their mobile phones. Twitter claimed that sending out SMS messages was costing the company too much money.
For LabourStart, which was sending out daily “Tweets” to more than 500 followers, this came as a disappointment. Fortunately, we have other ways (email, a website, RSS) to communicate with our constituency. But what happens when Second Life shuts down, or starts to charge for what was previously free? What if Facebook, Flickr, YouTube or Yahoo do the same?
We’re all tempted by free services on the net. I can understand that. But next time your union decides to outsource one its online activities, remember Twitter.