There’s little in the way of infrastructure for freelancers, distributed workers, knowledge workers or digital nomads today. As these types of work grow, we’ll need new institutions to support people: to develop and accredit their skills, to provide a collective voice and to build valuable professional standards and networks.

That brings me to this week’s big idea: guilds for the internet era.

Guilds were an association of artisans or merchants who oversaw the practice of their craft or trade within a set geographic location. They date back to the Roman Empire, and they resembled many things: trade unions, cartels, professional associations and even secret societies. Part of their lasting legacy is guildhalls—the historic meeting places still found in most British towns and cities.

Guilds fell out of favour around the 18th century. The people running them chose greed, corruption and racketeering, and so the guild system was eventually abandoned. Conceptually, though, guilds seem like a good idea. So:

  • What would it take to create the modern, digital equivalent of a guild?
  • What lessons can we take from what already exists?
  • What does a guild imagined from scratch look like now, with the power of the internet at our fingertips?

I’d love to hear what “infrastructure” you need or already use in your professional life, or whether something like modern guilds already exists in your part of the world. I’m always fascinated by putting old ideas into new contexts like this.

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