Difference between revisions of "Platform Co-ops Presentation"

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(Free / Libre Open Source Software and Platform Co-ops)
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# '''Hobbyists''', people scratching an itch, trying to fix something that bugged them, often in their spare time (the Linux kernel start like this).
# '''Hobbyists''', people scratching an itch, trying to fix something that bugged them, often in their spare time (the Linux kernel start like this).
# '''Conversions''' of large non-free software code bases into free software (LibreOffice, Star Office was open sourced and became OpenOffice and the project then forked to form LibreOffice).  
# '''Conversions''' of large non-free software code bases into free software (LibreOffice, [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarOffice StarOffice] was open sourced by Sun and became OpenOffice and the project then forked to form LibreOffice).  
# '''Capital''', using large amounts of money to build large projects from scratch (GitLab was funded by venture capitalists to compete with GitHub).
# '''Capital''', using large amounts of money to build large projects from scratch (GitLab was funded by venture capitalists to compete with GitHub).

Revision as of 18:18, 15 February 2018

Chris from Webarchitects Co-op and Graham from mc3 co-op will be running a workshop titled Beginners guide to tech and platform co-ops at 9:45am the Ways Forward 6 conference which is to be held on Friday 16th February 2018 at Central Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JQ. See the thread on the CoTech discussion forum.

PlanRough Notes

From Shaun Fensom: "Would be good if you could cover the spectrum of how the coop model works well with tech. Suggest three pillars:


Beginners guide to tech: possible points:

  • tech as a disruptive force
  • the rise of AI and automation
  • it's not going away. It's only going to accelerate.
  • tech is also a hugely empowering force for positive change.
  • the skills gap. the importance of developing a generation of people that are not just consumers of tech. Web 2.0 enabled the interactive web, and gave rise to The likes of YouTube and Facebook - now hugely powerful platforms where the consumer is also the product being sold. We need to give our children the skills to thrive in the digital landscape - to speak the languages of the digital space. They need fluency in Python, JavaScript, C# and whatever is coming down the road. Gove's single contribution was to bring in the much needed change in teaching IT, but the necessary investment has not followed behind. The quality of teaching and the resources simply aren't there. There are some great volunteer led projects like CoderDojo and Govt should be pouring resource into these as well to radically accelerate and broaden the skill base. Recent TechNorth report made clear the difficulty in recruiting skilled people, despite a near 50% higher earning potential for people with the right skill set. Importantly it's not just the hard tech skills that aren't there, it's also the social skills, the soft stuff that is missing.

Cooperatives and cooperative networks have a huge role to play. The internet is an inherently cooperative space. It is built on cooperation between networks, to move each other's traffic at no cost via peering agreements. The major internet connection points like LINX - the London Internet Exchange - are Mutuals. As the UKs digital infrastructure is going through a new shift - away from the Monopoly of BT/Openreach and towards a patchwork of providers - there is huge scope to develop hundreds of new digital exchanges, neutral cooperative connection points that ensure open access to that infrastructure.

The rise of the so-called sharing economy - massively successful platforms like Airbnb Facebook uber gave rise a few years ago to a backlash. These platforms are not in the sharing economy at all, they are examples of what Michel Bauwens calls net archival extractive hyper capitalism : uber is the worlds biggest taxi firm and owns no ca s, Facebook a global publisher that creates no content, Airbnb a massive accommodation business that owns no property for rent. Clearly the opportunity for cooperatives in these markets is significant - rather than concentrating power in Silicon Valley and the venture capitalists that bet on these platforms, we can have multi-stakeholder cooperative platforms where the rewards are equitably shared. Great idea, but some years down the road we aren't seeing much in terms of real platform cooperatives, and what there are tend to be small, localised and fairly fragile.

The need for mechanisms to get serious capital into cooperatives remains a major challenge. Until that is addressed we are not going to be able play in that space at any scale.

Second iteration:

This is a conference about the future - the clue is in the title - so lets talk about where we want to go and how we can get there.

We're here to talk specifically about the role of technology, and tech cooperatives, in that future. But it is important to remember that tech is all-pervasive, so whilst we may be focussing here on tech cooperatives, we are also thinking about the role of cooperative technology in other fields, be they social care cooperatives, housing cooperatives, consumer retail cooperatives, taxi cooperatives.

The first thing to say is that the cooperative model is a great fit with tech:

  • Worker cooperatives in areas like digital design and software work brilliantly in an industry where collaboration and flat structures are accepted, where all workers can have creative input. Bit about CoTech here - basic fact and figures. Through Cotech we're seeing a steady trickle of interest not only in new co-op start-ups, but also in conversions.
  • Business and consortium coops - already fundamental to the structure of the Internet in Internet exchanges and the potential answer to the false choice between digital infrastructure monopoly and infrastructure competition. Bit more about this: LINX, open infrastructure, new thin layer mutuals and digital exchanges. Why is it that Loomio, probably the best example of a cooperative tech product globally - uses Amazon for it's hosting? In case you missed it, Amazon's Jeff Bezos is now the richest person on the planet.
  • Open source: the biggest missed opportunity for cooperatives? Open source has won the argument. The world runs on open source software. It's a runaway success. A huge global phenomenon. The cooperative model offers a fantastic fit in terms of the ownership and governance of open source software projects. Values are broadly aligned, especially in more mature projects, and yet almost without exception these organisations are structured as foundations, charities, not-for-profit companies, but not cooperatives. I see this purely as a lack of awareness, and in terms of the cooperative sector it shines a light on our inability to spot an opportunity and marshall our resources to grow our share of the market. (I'm reminded of Ted Graham, Lord Graham of Edmonton - the only peer in house of lords to speak against section 28 back in the 80s, who was known to state that the "Cooperative Movement" was known for not being very cooperative or dynamic). At the same time, the open source licences that have led to such success and created this massive global commons, have also enabled the big extractive tech firms and hypercapitalist so-called sharing economy platforms, leveraging the millions of hours of labour given freely by idealist open source programmers, paying nothing for that expertise. Sure, they helped to sustain projects like Linux, and perhaps have been vital in the survival and success of some, but nonetheless it would take a very generous interpretation to see this anything other than exploitation. The digital equivalent of open cast mining. Work has been done on licensing models that require reciprocity or make the code available freely to only certain types of organisations, but these are in their infancy. Perhaps if we can make inroads into the adoption of cooperative governance models for open source projects then we may begin to make ground on the licensing issue.
  • User coops and user/producer coops - a better form of intermediation than platform capitalism - hardwired to disrupt the disruptors. Lots of talk about platform cooperatives, but as yet we're seeing precious few really achieving significant scale, and certainly nothing to challenge the dominance of the big extractive platforms.

At the same time as we see these huge opportunities for cooperatives, here in the UK we are facing a major challenge. The cooperative sector here is tiny, really tiny. There's been a lot of talk about doubling the size of the cooperative economy in the UK. If we achieved that, it would take us from tiny to tiny x 2, which is - while of course very welcome - still pretty tiny. I'm curious as to why we aren't being more ambitious. Instead of creating perhaps 300 or 400 new cooperatives in a year, why aren't we aiming to create 30-40,000? If we achieved that, then we'd still be be achieving something less than 10% of the total number of start-ups in the UK. Nationally our economy is very much the poorer for its lack of diversity in terms of the business ecology. It's no accident that those nations with high percentages of cooperatives tend also to have high social wellbeing stats.

So, what's holding us back?:

Our pool of cooperative development specialists - the people helping cooperatives to start up - is very tiny, and ageing. It needs substantial investment if we are to see a sustainable rise in new cooperative formation.

In tech, which is of course a massive growth area, the number of cooperative devt specialists with knowledge of tech and the tech sector is so tiny that you can't really see it with the naked eye.

We need better tools. A lot of cooperative start-ups tend to happen where other cooperatives, and where cooperative devt people are located. Clustering has always been an effective mechanism. But tech start-ups are often geographically dispersed. I'm involved in a new tech cooperative with co-founders in Yorkshire, London, Cambridge, New York and San Francisco. This is normal. But we lack the digital spaces and tools where these new entities can be effectively supported and nurtured.

We need to be thinking beyond borders, and beyond traditional Victorian ideas of the firm. For followers of Ronald Coase, the internet - the digital networks that connect us all - has drastically reduced transaction costs, which means that we can have and do now increasingly have far more fluid notions of what/who constitutes an enterprise.

We're now seeing some efforts to develop solutions in this space, and I would urge everyone involved in these projects to collaborate openly with each other, and to bring our ideas and our resources together so that we can innovate cooperatively and develop better solutions.

Cooperative Networks, one of the organisations that I'm part of, has done a lot of work on this issue - we call our project the Innovation Cooperative. But it could equally be called an Open Cooperative Development Agency, or a Platform Cooperative Incubator. Imagine a place where new co-op business ideas can be developed, challenged and honed, where diverse specialist skills - from accounting to coding to product design - can be readily accessed, where financing is available, where cooperative development expertise is available and is itself sustained and enhanced, where customers and collaborators can be found, where new cooperatives can be nurtured and where they can not just survive but thrive, and where supporters of the cooperative model can make a real contribution. That's what we're creating. We would love to cooperate with others who are planning or building similar digital tools to support cooperatives.

Together we are stronger.

And of course if anyone here

1 Like

Free / Libre Open Source Software and Platform Co-ops

Free / Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), like the concept of Platform Co-operatives, started as an idea.

Platforms Co-operatives as a concept is a little over 3 years old, 20 years ago this month Open Source Software was a new concept which was coined with the intention of making Free Software (which had been around for 15 years by then) a less ambiguous term (the free refers to freedom not gratis) and in order to make it appeal to and gain the support of corporations — it worked, these days most people interact with devices running FLOSS multiple times a day, probably without even realising it, routers, televisions, sat navs and more and more devices are running FLOSS as the Internet of Things proliferates.

Currently in the UK there are not any existing Platform Co-ops, it is just an idea, 35 years ago there wasn't a Free / Open Source operating system, it was just an idea.

There might be some lessons from the origins and the history of the FLOSS movement for the platform co-operative movement, there were broadly three ways in which FLOSS projects got off the ground:

  1. Hobbyists, people scratching an itch, trying to fix something that bugged them, often in their spare time (the Linux kernel start like this).
  2. Conversions of large non-free software code bases into free software (LibreOffice, StarOffice was open sourced by Sun and became OpenOffice and the project then forked to form LibreOffice).
  3. Capital, using large amounts of money to build large projects from scratch (GitLab was funded by venture capitalists to compete with GitHub).

There are many examples of all three approaches, and many projects have ended up using more than one approach — it appears that these three approaches might also apply to the creation of Platform Co-operatives.

TODO: Some examples of these approaches.

The concept of Platform Co-operatives was created in opposition to the domination of Corporate Internet Platforms and many of these, globally dominating corporations exploit the co-operative and sharing nature of people and were literally built using open source software, however these corporations generally oppose the ethics and software licenses that the Free Software Foundation promotes and in someways are consciously trying to directly undermine the work of the FSF — corporations like open source software that can be privatised, the Free Software Foundation promotes software that has to be shared.

The Free Software movement and the beginning of the GNU operating system pre-date the term open source by 15 years and although there is a great overlap between these things and these terms are often used interchangeably and much code that is Free Software is also Open Source Software at the same time, there is however Open Source Software which isn't Free Software.

The origin of the Free Software movement can be traced back to the 1970's with the co-operation between programmers and computer users through the sharing of source code, Richard Stallman, who was working at the MIT AI Lab was a part of this DIY community. In the 1980's as corporations started to assert their intellectual property rights, in order to make more money, access to source code started to be restricted, this resulted in Stallman not being able to get access to the source code for a printer that wasn't working properly, so he was unable to fix it — he wasn't happy with this situation as he believed that programs should be shared.

In 1985 Stallman wrote the GNU Manifesto, GNU standing for "GNU is not Unix" — UNIX is a trademark which can only be used by certified operating systems, the aim of the GNU project was to copy Unix functionality while rejecting the corporate restrictions on the distribution of the source code — the founding the GNU project was an ethical decision rooted in the belief that sharing and co-operation are good:

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.

So that I can continue to use computers without violating my principles, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free:

In 1989 Stallman released the first version of the GNU General Public License and this is the foundation of the Free Software movement and it embodies the revolutionary concept at the core of the movement — Stallman realised that copyright law could be used to enforce sharing and co-operation rather than restricting and limiting sharing — hence the term Copyleft — a key purpose of Copyright was turned on it's head.

The licenses for most software and other practical works are designed to take away your freedom to share and change the works. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program--to make sure it remains free software for all its users.

But this restriction of freedom — enforced sharing, was too much like socialism for many — it wasn't popular with people with a more libertarian and capitalist perspective — they wanted the freedom to be able to privatise code, so that they could profit from it. The FLOSS licenses that allow this are the Apache / MIT / BSD style ones and these are the ones that corporations promote and use — unlike the GPL they allow FLOSS code to be locked up, they allow the freedom to remove freedom, Free Software has four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.



  • Linus uses the GPL for Linux (by accident?)
  • "Open Source" coined
  • Linux takes over running the Internet
  • Corporates take over the Internet
  • Origins of FLOSS code:
    • Programming as a hobby, to scratch an itch, in ones spare time (Emacs, GCC)
    • Freeing non-free code (NetScape, StarOffice, Solaris)
    • Free code for profit (RedHat, GitLab)
  • Corporates love the Apache / BSD / MIT style licenses as they can privatise the code
    • Microsoft
    • Apple
    • Google
  • Possible lessons for the co-operative movement and Platform Co-operatives


Presentation Brief

From Jo:

It'll be at 9:45am. Probably 20-30 people. Definitely no death by power point. Live demonstrations and photos would be great. Please talk about the political and solidarity implications of private sector platforms and coop alternatives. The Labour leadership keep talking about democratic ownership of platforms, which is very interesting. Please mention relevant online Co-operation such as .coop and talk about Co-Tech network of co-operators.

Half the workshop time should be for questions, comments and discussion.