Another Non-Existent Non-Profit, the Open Web Foundation, Launches

Posted on July 25, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

Back in April, I criticized DataPortability for presenting itself (and allowing others to present it) as a legitimate non-profit organization when, in fact, DataPortability does not exist as a legal entity.

With “open” everything being in vogue, it’s no surprise that another “organization” has launched to make sure the web becomes a more “open” place.

This “organization” is the . It describes itself as “an independent non-profit dedicated to the development and protection of open, non-proprietary specifications for web technologies.”

There’s only one problem - the Open Web Foundation does not exist as a legal entity.

Upon reading the announcement of the Open Web Foundation’s launch, I checked the obvious Secretary of State databases and was unable to find any information related to an entity called the “Open Web Foundation.”

The fact that the “foundation” has not been organized as a non-profit corporation is admitted by one of its “official reps”:

…we don’t currently have a way to handle donations to the OWF at this time but you will be able to in the near future. We’re in the midst of spinning up the non-profit and other mechanics like bank account, PO Box, etc to help make this organization go.

Interestingly, I was sent a cached version of the original Open Web Foundation website (which was password protected when word of its pending launch was leaked) and this contained some interesting text that is no longer on the website:

The Open Web Foundation (OWF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization incorporated in the United States of America…

Clearly, the “organizers” of this “foundation” are aware of the need to form a legal entity but apparently chose to launch the Open Web Foundation and to classify it as a non-profit before paperwork had even been filed and approval of non-profit status had been received by the IRS.

This seems to be yet another example of how business is conducted in the world of Web 2.0.

Call me anal or call me a downright asshole, but quite honestly, I can’t fathom telling others that I have some sort of legitimate business when it doesn’t actually exist (i.e. telling somebody I’m, say, the chairman of a non-existent non-profit called DataPortability would be embarrassing to me).

And when I conduct business with others for the first time, I usually check to see if they have a legitimate business set up. After all, if somebody informs me that he runs a business called Shitty Blog Network, Inc. or somebody informs me that she runs an investment fund called Stupid Internet Investments LLP and I can’t find any evidence that these legal entities exist, it raises red flags and tells me a lot about the ways in which these people conduct business.

Given the significant legal and tax issues related to non-profits, in particular, I can only wonder why somebody would want to present some initiative as a legitimate “non-profit” before actually having one.

But apparently common business practices (and common business sense) are out of fashion when it comes to the “open” Internet.

“Organizations” like the Open Web Foundation that are, ironically, supposed to deal with legal issues such as intellectual property rights, seem to work in reverse when it comes to establishing their legal standing.

Instead of forming a legitimate entity and then launching, there’s apparently a tendency to launch and worry about the important details later.

Not only is this amateurish and downright stupid from a legal standpoint, it’s also stupid from a fundraising standpoint. The Open Web Foundation’s launch announcement was made at OSCON and has attracted attention from the “community.”

This attention would all normally serve as an ideal means to generate the early donations that can often be crucial to getting a young non-profit off the ground. Yet because the Open Web Foundation doesn’t yet exist as a non-profit, it can’t even take real “donations” (legally at least).

Frankly, it all boils down to this for me: the pros (the people you want to be involved with) always have their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed; the amateurs (the people you don’t want to be involved with) always put the cart before the horse.

While the Open Web Foundation appears to be one step ahead of DataPortability in that it at least knows it can’t accept donations before actually forming a non-profit corporation, make no mistake about it: both are playing ball at the amateur level.

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2 Responses to “Another Non-Existent Non-Profit, the Open Web Foundation, Launches”

  1. antje wilsch on July 30th, 2008 1:13 pm

    It bothers me as well, because there are just so many wonderful non-profits that first of all worked to fulfill their 501c3 status after getting it with the regulations and so forth (the application alone for example), and then struggle to stay afloat in their razor thin profit margins. Most non-profits go under within 5 years because they cna’t generate enough money to stay afloat. Because they also get a tax break it’s important that all non-profits follow the rules.

  2. Drama 2.0 on July 30th, 2008 7:55 pm

    Antje: what’s especially worrisome about the way “organizations” such as DataPortability and the Open Web Foundation are conducting business is that not only have they not received 501(c)3 status from the IRS, they haven’t even incorporated as legal entities.

    In other words, they simply don’t exist.

    As I said, this is about as amateur as it can get and the Web 2.0 “community” shows just how inane it is by actually taking these non-existent “organizations” seriously.

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