This is a tentative response to your question If you had access to this domain name, and the large—if slightly disconnected and maybe slightly disintegrating—community of people who have been here over the years, what would you want to do with it?
Given all the experience you have accrued in interweb-related issues in the past years, please take a look at what's laid out below and tell me if you think it has any potential in it.
This is old history, but for a short period of time there was a Barbelith branch which was quite the cool thing: It was called Barbelith Globalwatch. It was basically a collective blog where 'lithers could upload text & pictures. It didn't last long, and the only traces it left are this thread (please forgive the excess of exclamation marks: We were young & full of beans), and this wiki page. (btw, grant, are you still out here?).
I remember exchanging some PMs with you at the time. You oversaw the development of the thing and was always supportive of it. Good times were had by all.
Now, the talk in the last days converged more and more to focus on the possibilities of making Barbelith an actually profitable venture, at least profitable enough to justify the amount of time that you would have to invest in it. Ideally it would have to be something that would not de-characterize Barbelith to the extent that it could not be recognized as such anymore. With this model I'm sketching, the board would still survive and people would continue to enjoy it. But at the same time we would have an external monetizable framework, which would be something along the lines of Barbelith Globalwatch:
The site's front page, the feature that from now on people (who didn't know about Barbelith previsouly) would associate with it, would be of a news site. Of course all the old fogeys would laugh secretly knowing that the forum is really where all the fun & the learning is at. Think of it as if the whole endeavour were a train: The forum would be the dining car where people go to chat, while the locomotive - the news site, where work is done and bills are paid - keeps chugging along, dragging the dining car behind it.
At this point, three questions arise:
a) What is the distinguishable feature that Barbelith-flavored news would need to have in order to be deemed interesting/relevant enough to interest someone to invest in it;
b) How can this concept be sold to someone who might be able to fund this; and
c) How can we obtain a reliable input of material from the members
A) Countercultural news, mostly - stories with social interest. In theory, almost each forum would be able to provide related stories: Laboratory -> Science news, Switchboard -> political news etc. I'll expand on b), below:
B) I'd try and look for partnerships with NGOs.
There's some lists of worldwide NGOs here and here. Lack of time prevents me from going through the whole list, but you will notice that the following (incomplete) list of NGO areas of interest (which I found in one of the links) overlaps nicely with some themes that were very dear to Barbelith:
Children & Youth / Communications / Disaster Relief / Drug Abuse / Education / Environment / Human Rights / Race Relations / Natural Resources & Energy / Peace & Security / Religion / Refugees / Science & Technology / Status of Women.
NGOs get serious money from stinking rich organizations, and they're always trying to expand their networks. I know about them only tangentially, but I also know that Coca-Cola would be willing to shill out US$50.000/year to sponsor an NGO that... picks up empty soda cans and gives them proper disposal, something like that (a friend of mine is working with that). That's not a lot of money, but ideally we could pool some NGOs together for this, and thus increase revenue.
This is just a hasty example of something that, on first look, you wouldn't think someone would be willing to give that type of money to. And yet it happens. I think Barbelith has way more goods to offer than that. Do you think that it would be possible to pool some interested NGOS into this deal, and so to get some money to trickle down this way?
I'm talking about seeing if here's an intersection of interests here, and whether certain fora could provide reporters for topics that certain NGOs would like to get access to/see publicized.
If certain members of the Switchboard have a passion for gender-related issues - say, violence against women - it would only come naturally that in their normal lives they would already be aware of developments/news in their little corners of the world pertaining to those matters. From that to posting about that on Barbelith wouldn't be too much trouble. We had geeks from an ample spectrum of colors, which could be quite vocal with their interests/points of view. This leads to the last question:
C) Barbelith members didn't need to be goaded into creating things. We have a whole forum where people used to flex their creative muscles in writing, photography, drawing. They used to do that for free, but times have changed, there was a war, all that sour businees with the buffalos etc.- things are different now.
While I think that there's no real money for the individuals who would be providing the content, maybe there are other incentives. Contribute with a story and, if it is rated good enough, if it generates a certain amount of clicks, you get a book, or some sort of small, but tangible token of appreciation (booksbooksbooks; ok, tickets for stuffs, go crazy). Of course it's prety cool to be featured prominently in the first page of the site with your story - do you remember when we used to have Barbelith Reviews on the front page? There was some good content right there.
I also think there's some accessory money to be made if we can get some of the brilliant artists that have populated the board to come up with designs for apparel, also (Where's Nelson Evergreen these days?). All the proceeds would go towards funding Barbelith.
(Or, fuck me, I could have saved all the above and just said "We would be like Disinfo.com, which is a news site, which has a board, and which sells apparel. Only, you know, sexier. (Their "about us" info is very interesting in this regard)
That's all I got. It's sketchy, it has a ton of issues to be resolved, but I think that's how it would have to begin anyway, right? Only thing I need is the perspective of someone who really works with this type of thing - you, Tom - to see if this is even remotely feasible/interesting, because I don't really know much about that end.
The thread is not intended to be answered by Tom only, of course. The input of concerned/knowledgeable members is highly sought.
I hope that, if none of the above is what Barbelith needs, this post can clarify this issue, if only by providing a good idea of where *not* to go.