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Big Chill founder launches a members' social network

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Sick of creepy, unaccountable social networks that are little more than hoarders and traders of personal information? Pete Lawrence, founder of the Big Chill Festival is too, and will today unveil his plans a member-supported service.

Now you might expect a new "crowdfunding" initiative to get the usual short and brutal Reg treatment - but this one deserves to be taken seriously.

'We're a democratic member-owned co-op, bitch'

Firstly, because it's backed by Pete Lawrence, whose reputation as one of the most principled (and nicest) music entrepreneurs potentially brings a core audience. And secondly, because the time is right - with frustration at Facebook and the faceless data hoarders now quite palpable. Someone has to try something different - and a subscription model with voting rights means members actually care about the service.

Pic-Nic Village sounds like a cross between MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, with affinity groups or Village "guilds". But the unique proposition is that if you want to play, you'll have to pay. The target is to reach £700,000 from public supporters. Members will pay a tenner a month. But for this they'll be sure that their privacy is preserved. The pressure on free ad-supported services such as Facebook, with hundreds of millions of users but no reliable revenue stream, has seen them whittle away at users' privacy. But then you get what you pay for.

Lawrence aims to launch in a year's time. For now, £100 buys a two-year membership and one share in the company, while £300 can get you lifetime membership and three shares. If the Village fails to meet its £700,000 the money will be returned. If successful, a Foundation will automatically keep between 10 to 15 per cent of revenue, elected by members, to reinvest in deserving projects and startups.

Lawrence co-founded the Cooking Vinyl label in the mid-80s, and the Big Chill events in 1994. The first festival took place the following year. But he severed all links with it three years ago.

"Small intimate events are where my heart is. The Big Chill has become something else totally," he told us. Festival Republic, which also produces Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds and Latitude and is owned by the giant US group Live Nation, bought out the brand name last year.

The Village social network will eschew corporate sponsorship and banner ads, but is considering charging for commercial classified job listings. But where it goes next is up to the members.

The received wisdom in web circles is that crowdsourced funding doesn't usually work. But web wisdom is anything but wise. For example, two popular community sites which broke the taboo against subscriptions years ago have been proved right. At both - Something Awful and MetaFilter - users pay to comment. Elsewhere discussion forums such as the Guardian's CIF drown under the weight of couldn't-care-less commentards and drive-by trolls. ®

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