I joined the OpenWine Consortium when its membership numbered only a few hundred. I saw the OWC as something with potential to help the industry: it could organize bloggers, raise the bar for online wine publishing, create some educational programs and help wine producers and budding wine commentators build their brands. As I write this, the OWC boasts 4,613 members.
Other than organizing the Wine Bloggers Conferences, the OWC offers a forum for discussions. However, it has been months since I last saw any active efforts to organize members or truly accomplish something of impact for the wine industry. Certainly, the WBC is the most successful effort of the OWC, but as some have commented, rather than helping the industry learn how to harness the Internet and Social Media, these events have been criticized as being primarily press junkets for wine bloggers.
To be clear: I am not declaring OWC’s demise. Nor do I desire it. I continue to benefit from membership in varying ways (primarily networking).
I am, however pointing out that it appears to be adrift – without clear purpose, direction or strong leadership. While some discussion and networking takes place, OWC membership has not established any formative, transformational or revolutionary standards, programs, agendas, action committees, official position statements or reference publications which could serve as useful resources:
No educational programs or curricula have been created for bloggers, writers, people already in the industry (tasting room or wine store staff) or those wanting to enter the business.
No certification programs for writers, bloggers, tasting room or wine store staff have been created.
Although the American Wine Awards were formally and officially handed over to the OWC at the last Wine Bloggers Conference, in March of 2009, there has been nothing said about the program since.
No wine education programs or curricula have been created to educate non-industry enthusiasts.
Neither has the OWC has taken the point on critical issues which recently arose in the world of wine:
No organized effort is being made to challenge the recent FTC regulations regarding endorsements of products in social media.
Nobody has challenged the recent CA ABC ruling on affiliate advertising or attempted to change compensation schemes to allow California-based bloggers to participate without exposing themselves (and the online retailers) to legal liability.
There is no apparent interest in banding together to overcome limitations on DTC wine shipping.
All these are things the OWC and its membership could and should be doing.
When I joined the OWC, I invited a few friends. One of them responded with: “Y.A.W.N. – yet another wine network”. It was perhaps a certain naivete or idealism on my part that led me to reject this notion. However, it seems the person who said this about the OWC at the time of its inception may have been right.
It is debatable if the OWC has the critical mass to achieve any of the things I list. I am also willing to accept the argument that times are tough right now and members are focusing on issues closer to home for the time being.
Certainly, my proposed tasks and goals are lofty. I cannot, however, ignore the fact that far greater things have been accomplished by far fewer people in far more adverse circumstances.
(OWC creator, Joel Vincent, was contacted regarding this post yesterday but has not yet responded.)
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