Rob Katz

Artisans and Open Source: PeopLink and CatGen

PeopLink logoPEOPlink is a non-profit organization that trains and equips grassroots artisan organizations all over the world to market their goods directly to customers over the Internet–thereby minimizing the impact of middlemen and maximizing return to the artisan. CatGen is a related open-source software application that allows minimally-skilled artisans to create and maintain effective online stores.

PeopLink and CatGen are the brainchildren of Dan Salcedo, a Colombian-American aid worker who, during the 1970s and 1980s, started a hugely-successful mail order catalog featuring artisan crafts called Pueblo to People. In 1995, Dan realized the coming importance of e-commerce and shifted his efforts away from mail-order to the Internet.

Salcedo and his team have developed technology tools that connect artisans directly with buyers. The whole enterprise is predicated on keeping costs down and maximizing returns to the artisan. It uses XML-based catalog hosting, digital cameras, and sophisticated aggregated shipping policies to keep costs down and environmental impact to a minimum. CatGen’s software even aggregates individual catalogs into powerful metamarkets that improve search engine results. The software was recently featured as a good third-party solution that runs with PayPal by a developer web site.

Selling local handicrafts to first world consumers to generate income isn?t a new idea. Non-profit organizations and for-profit catalogs have been tapping into this market for years some have been suggested as alternatives to traditional models. What sets PeopLink and CatGen apart, however, is their bottom-up approach. Rather than continue to treat artisans simply as producers, these tools allow weavers, potters, painters, and sculptors to harness their entrepreneurial skills. It gives them a low-cost, easy to use window into the world of eBay and PayPal–without handing over control of their business to a middleman or accepting huge markups by catalog businesses. With PeopLink and CatGen, artisans receive fair compensation for their crafts while developing business skills.

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