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Qirqle is a new social media platform for the Pioneer Valley. We are excited that after twenty years of study and five years of development, we are in open beta (working but still ironing out issues) for a community platform designed to enhance our connections to each other and to our community.
What makes this a different kind of social media platform? Qirqle:
- Combines multiple social media technologies to make a sum greater than the parts.
- Is designed to serve and be responsive to the members’ needs, not advertisers. We don’t accept advertising.
- Is centered around the arts and creatives.
- Focuses on, and is guided by, you and your local community.
- Strives to be inclusive, safe and respectful and to support the best in people.
“Qirqle” is based on the word circle. We all live in different social circles – relationships, friends, family, jobs, hobbies, art and entertainment, and our community. Qirqle is about making it easier to connect, share and communicate within each of our circles.
How does it work?
Qirqle is a platform including a website and apps for iOS (Apple iPhone and iPad) and Android. While the platform is designed to focus on your local county, you can search for listings in another area and some content and groups can include other counties or be “universal”, seen by anyone.
Qirqle includes both a public side and a members side. The public website includes posts of events, places, blogs, providers, public conversations and some groups.
The members side of Qirqle allows each member to have their own site within Qirqle that we call a portal. A portal is customizable, and is the launch pad from where you can see all of your friends’ and groups’ activities, get messages and choose what you want to do next, and where others can see what’s going on for you. For example, you might talk to one or many people over text, audio and video chat, create calendar listings, favorite places, and blog posts on your portal and also include them on the main site if you wish, list your business or organization in the Providers listings, create a gallery of images, videos, and documents, set up meetings, buy people’s creations and sell your own, or create or respond to classifieds and job listings.
You can also create or join qirqles which are our unique way of organizing groups of people for posting thoughts and information on your own portal or also on the main site, and facilitating private or public conversations over text, audio and video, along with collaboration tools such as shared documents, screens and whiteboards — kind of chat meets forums meets microblogging meets collaboration tools.
How is it different?
Most social sites are organized around one central idea, like yours and your friends’ pages on Facebook or your photos on Instagram or conversations on Skype. Qirqle is the next step, combining many popular social technologies into a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. You end up being able to do things that would be very difficult or impossible on separate social sites. We call it the “iPhone moment” for social technologies — the iPhone combined a cell phone, a portable computer with an internet connection, a camera, a GPS, and some sensors and suddenly we didn’t have to carry around five appliances, and we could do all kinds of things no one ever thought of before.
Another difference that in Qirqle, the members are the customers rather than the “product” that the advertisers are purchasing access to. There are no advertisers, and we strictly protect your private information – it is not sold or given to any third party. We’re really just here to improve your life by connecting you with your local community.
The subject of most of the media we see and hear is the “world at large”, the world outside of our direct experience, and the focus is largely on the negative because that’s what attracts and keeps people’s attention which is what advertisers are paying for. We live during what is arguably the safest time in our society’s history, but you’d never know it from the information you get online or through media. On Qirqle, the focus is on your local community, we call it “the world at small”. You get to find all the amazing people, things and activities going on in your community that were never visible before, all on one site or app designed to bring you into your community.
How do we make it safe and respectful?
Our greatest challenge with Qirqle is not just creating a sustainable platform for enriching community, it is ensuring that all members of our community are welcome, are heard, and most importantly know that they are equal participants. It’s not enough to put up a welcome sign, we need to actively examine the obstacles to full and equal community membership and work to clear them. Race, ethnicity and culture, gender and sexuality, disability, class, age, ethnicity, personal history and beliefs, etc., can all affect how we are perceived and how we interact. How can we use this web platform to create an environment that promotes full and equal membership?
Much of social media invites dissing and flaming – one sure way to get attention and responses is to be highly aggressive, disrespectful or mean. Just like road rage, not being face to face with the people around you encourages rage and abusive behavior. How can we create a social media platform that does the opposite?
To begin with, the first group we are forming is a diversity, inclusion, equality, respect and safety group, in order to examine what types of issues can and should be addressed and how to address them in our guidelines, in the user interface, and with member interactions. In parallel, there are several approaches Qirqle is examining for insuring it is a safe place where people are respected. We need to identify the issues we face and come up with our best solutions.
First, it is a core mission of Qirqle for every member to have a sense of ownership. I’ve expanded a little on Verna Meyers’ quote from her TED talk:
Diversity is being invited to the party.
Inclusion is being asked to dance.
Equality is having a say in the playlist.
Ownership is being on the party planning committee.
Obviously we can’t put everyone on committees, but we can create ways for people to be heard and responded to, to have some control over their experience, and thereby to feel that they are safe and that they are valued and contributing members, which engenders a more positive experience and engagement. Some of the ideas we are evaluating include:
- Forming local committees that oversee abuse issues, how to best reduce them as well as deal with them as they come up.
- Group leaders will receive clear guidance on what constitutes negative behavior and how to deal with it.
- When someone signs up, we are very clear that we have a zero tolerance policy for abusive, aggressive or discriminatory behavior in any form. Depending on the severity of the issue and the member’s history, the member will either be warned, suspended or removed.
- Everyone who signs up has their phone number and email address verified. This makes it much more difficult to sign up under false pretenses or to try to sign up again if they have been removed.
- Qirqle will be including a reputation system where you build your reputation through the interactions you have with other people and the platform.
- We will be implementing ways for members to rate posts they consider disrespectful or abusive. Having a low rating lowers your overall reputation.
- Any member may report another member for abuse.
- Members will be able to block other members, preventing contact and as much as possible “erasing” that person from their experience.
This will be an ongoing task.
How do we make it sustainable?
There are two ways that Qirqle needs to be sustainable. It needs to be “popular” which means it needs to be something people find valuable and engaging and that lots of people know about it, and it needs to have enough income to cover its expenses.
While we can’t guarantee that the platform will be valuable and engaging, a great deal of research has gone into this:
- We’re combining the four most popular models on the Web – relevant searchable information, social interaction, entertainment/education/news, and e-commerce.
- Everything is based around the member’s local community which makes it extremely relevant.
- We are giving artists and creators a place where members and visitors to the site can find their creative efforts. It is no accident that many towns and cities owe their growth or recovery to artists. Artists are essential to a healthy community.
- We are supplying businesses, organizations and groups with a public forum as well as tools for communication between businesses/organizations/groups and with the public, and for collaboration.
- Right now, more than 60% of all human-based US Internet traffic is on mobile devices and it’s growing, and in 2018 87% of that activity was on apps as opposed to a mobile browser. Qirqle is available both on a website and on apps for iOS and Android.
We have planned several sources of income, while still insuring that the vast majority of members will pay nothing (called the freemium model):
- Premium memberships for businesses and organizations that include more features
- Additional storage space for members
- A percentage of e-commerce sales in the Creators Marketplace
- A percentage of event ticket sales
- Other services to be offered in the future
About the Founder
Sam McClellan is an alternative health practitioner, author, teacher, musician and president of Itabix, Inc, a web development and hosting company in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. He became concerned at how malls and big box stores, and then the Web, have separated us from our communities. Since 2000, he began planning the development of a platform for a community based website, waiting for the social technologies of the Web to mature enough to match his vision. In 2014, seeing where trends were moving with social media, he began development of what would become Qirqle – a local community platform that combines the many popular technologies of the Web – and that development accelerated in late 2018 when Qirqle was awarded additional funding by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts through a grant from the Barr Foundation.
At Qirqle, our belief in community, inclusion, diversity and positive creation extends to our wish to develop partnerships in the community. We are excited to share our partnerships in the months to come, and invite like minded organizations and businesses to contact us.
The Qirqle platform is a different approach to social interaction on multiple levels – locally focused, serving members rather than advertisers, socially conscious and inclusive, supporting artists and creators, combining multiple web and social media technologies that together are greater than the sum of the parts, and designed to enhance your local community rather than replace it.
Please join us in creating something that seeks to positively enhance our lives and our community.