mfioretti: platform cooperativism*

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  1. Popular internet platforms that currently mediate our everyday communications become more and more efficient in managing vast amounts of information, rendering their users more and more addicted and dependent on them. Alternative, more organic options like community networks do exist and they can empower citizens to build their own local networks from the bottom up. This chapter explores such technological options together with the adoption of a healthier internet diet in the context of a wider vision of sustainable living in an energy-limited world.


    The popular Internet platforms that mediate a significant portion of our everyday communications become thus more and more efficient in managing vast amounts of information. In turn, they also become more and more knowledgeable about designing user interaction design techniques that increase addiction, or “stickiness” when described as a performance metric, and dependency. This renders their users more and more addicted and dependent on them, subject to manipulation and exploitation for commercial and political objectives. This could be characterized as the second watershed of the Internet in the context of Illich’s analysis on the lifecycle of tools. As in the case of medicine and education, the Internet at its early stages was extremely useful. It dramatically increased our access to knowledge and to people all over the world. However, to achieve this, it relied on big organizations offering efficient and reliable services. These services now depend more and more on the participation of people and on the exploitation of the corresponding data produced for platforms to survive. This creates a vicious cycle between addictive design practices and unfair competition which breach the principle of net neutrality, and unethical uses of privately owned knowledge on human behavior which are generated through analyses of the data produced from our everyday online activities.

    In addition to the tremendous social, political, and economic implications of centralizing power on the Internet, there are also significant ecological consequences. At first glance, these seem to be positive. The centralization of online platforms has allowed their owners to build huge data centers in cold climates and invest in technologies that keep servers cool with lower energy costs. However, at the same time, the main aim of online platforms is to maximize the total time spent online as much as possible and to maximize the amount of information exchanged, not only between people but also between “things!” Their profitability depends on the processing of huge amounts of information that produces knowledge which can be sold to advertisers and politicians. Like the pharmaceutical companies, they create and maintain a world in which they are very much needed. This also explains why corporations like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are at the forefront of the efforts to provide “Internet access to all” and why at the same time local communities face so many economic, political, and legal hurdles that encumber them to build, maintain, and control their own infrastructures.


    To achieve a sustainable level of Internet usage, one needs to provide the appropriate tools and processes for local communities to make decisions on the design of their ICT tools, including appropriate alternative and/or complementary design of places, institutions, and rituals that can impose certain constraints and replace online communications when these are not really necessary. To answer this demand, one should first answer a more fundamental question: How much online communication is needed in an energy-restricted world? In the case of food and housing, there are some reasonable basic needs. For example, each person should consume 2000 calories per day or 35 m2 of habitat (see P.M., 2014). But, how many Mbs does someone need to consume to sustain a good quality of life? What would be the analogy for a restricted vegetarian or even vegan Internet diet?
    The answer might differ depending on the services considered (social activities, collaborative work, or media) and the type of access to the network discussed above. For example, is it really necessary to have wireless connectivity “everywhere, anytime” using expensive mobile devices, or is it enough to have old-fashioned Internet cafes and only wired connections at home? Would it make sense to have Internet-free zones in cities? Can we imagine “shared” Internet usage in public spaces—a group of people interacting together in front of a screen and alternating in showing their favorite YouTube videos (a sort of an Internet jukebox)? There is a variety of more or less novel constraints which could be imposed on different dimensions:

    Time and Volume: A communications network owned by a local community, instead of a global or local corporation, could shut down for certain period of time each day if this is what the community decides. Or community members could agree to have certain time quotas for using the network (e.g., not more than 4 hours per day or 150 hours per month). Such constraints would not only reduce energy consumption; they would also enforce a healthier lifestyle and encourage face-to-face interactions.

    Reducing quotas on the speed (bandwidth) and volume (MB) that each person consumes is another way to restrict Internet consumption. Actually people are already used to such limits especially for 3G/4G connectivity. The difference is that a volume constraint does not necessarily translate to time constraints (if someone uses low volume services such as e-mail). So, volume constraints could encourage the use of less voluminous services (e.g., downloading a movie with low instead of High Definition resolution if this is to be watched in a low definition screen anyway) while time constraints might have the opposite effect (people using as much bandwidth as possible in their available time).

    However, to enforce such constraints, both time and volume based, on an individual basis, the network needs to know who is connecting to it and keep track of the overall usage. This raises the question of privacy and identification online and again the trade-off of trusting local vs. global institutions to take this role. Enforcing time or volume constraints for groups of people (e.g., the residents of a cooperative housing complex) is an interesting option to be considered when privacy is considered important.

    Devices: Energy consumption depends on the type of equipment used to access the Internet. For example, if access to the Internet happens only through desktop computers or laptops using ethernet cables instead of mobile smartphones, then the total energy consumed for a given service would be significantly reduced. Usage would also be dramatically affected: On the positive side, many people would spend less time online and use the Internet only for important tasks. On the negative side, others might stay at home more often and sacrifice outdoors activities in favor of Internet communications.
    https://rd.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-66592-4_13
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  2. You are a supporter of a universal basic income. How would it be able to protect the workforce engaged in digital labour, as intermittent and precarious as it is?

    AC: By recognizing the data labour that goes through the platforms. This has already been argued by a report by the French Ministry of Finance in 2013, and in a report by the Rockefeller Foundation last year. The digital giants should not be taxed on the basis of how many data centers or offices they have in a country, but on the basis of the data produced by the users of the platforms. If there are 30 million Google users in Italy, it is fair to tax Google based on the profits they made from these users’ activities. In this way, one could fund a basic income, arising from the digital labour that each of us carries out on the internet or on the mobile apps we use. •
    https://socialistproject.ca/2017/12/workers-heart-algorithm
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  3. A platform cooperative ride-sharing service sounds like an attempt to form a cooperative and compete with Uber by recycling profits and remunerating workers better. Its not a very convincing business plan if only because Uber has resources to undercut its competition until they choke and allegedly acts illegally to sabotage its enemies.

    But a protocol for ride-sharing changes the game completely. Anyone could sign up to the network and announce their intention to travel or willingness to chauffeur. A simple algorithm would connect them and at journey's end they might remunerate each other in cash, Bitcoin, home-brewed cider or anything; the line between giving a friend a favour and earning a crust would be very grey. There would be no middle men collecting rent or dictating how drivers should behave as representatives of the company. The protocol might be extended to support long distance travel, hitch-hiking, pick-up points, packages or even cargo. The open protocol creates a free market - not in the neoliberal sense of Wall Street being able to flush out the economy of any country it likes with imaginary dollars, but in the sense that suppliers and customers can meet with the minimal of mediation and restrictions. This might not be optimal for collecting taxes, but is optimal for granting everyone access to the economy, and probably much more efficient in terms of using our existing transport infrastructure.

    So where is the 'cooperative' in 'protocol cooperatives'? In my view such protocols are are fundamentally cooperative, but there is room for any kind of institutional structures on the next layer. Institutions (like co-ops) are not needed to crunch algorithms and own infrastructure that should be public, but to manage trust and social relations. Transport service providers could aggregate to offer services that individuals could not. For example a group might form to co-own a coach, helicopter, or fleet of electric cars. A co-op might provide a 24/7 private ambulance service, or a house removal service complete with furniture-carriers.

    Likely such a protocol widely deployed would render our transport ecosystem unrecognisable. It might obviate most full time driver jobs in favour of hitch-hiking 2.0 approach. The free market would level out the full time driving jobs and the unemployment of drivers and costs and revenues, leading presumably to a more equal society (at least until driver-less cars took over!)

    The blockchains are already making this happen because blockchains are basically protocols which allow open participation. This article about Arcade City makes it clear:

    In the end, Arcade City will be a protocol composed of Ethereum smart contracts supporting a global logistics network with an entire ecosystem of apps and businesses running on top of our infrastructure. What SMTP is to email, Arcade City will become for distributed logistics.

    For all the bluster about Arcade City being an upcoming platform coop, to me it seems there is no platform in the sense of a thing which can be owned & sold. What then does the brochure site mean when it claims to be owned and operated by its members? It seems to me that the language is wrong.

    The benefits and challenges of co-owning and operating a legal entity such a cooperative within a legal jurisdiction, are quite different to the benefits and challenges of using, governing and stewarding a universal protocol. Regrettably Arcade City has now forked after a disagreement in the board, which poses serious questions about the claim that its members were in control. Technology alone will not create the society we want; at a more fundamental level, we have to learn to work together.

    Professor Jem Bendell and I have explored these ideas further in our new paper Thwarting an Uber Future for Complementary Currencies: Open Protocols for a Credit Commons especially as they relate to payment systems, which we argue is the ultimate Death Star platform.
    http://matslats.net/protocol-cooperativism-platform-cooperativism
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  4. Abstract: This article explores how autonomous workers/contributors, involved in peer-to-peer relations, can organise their productive efforts so that they have sustainable livelihoods. The discussion is guided by the concept of ‘open cooperativism’, which argues for a synergy between the commons-based peer production movement and elements of the cooperative and solidarity economy movements. To this end, we review the case of Enspiral, a network of professionals and companies that empowers and supports social entrepreneurship. We explore its values, operation and governance as well as the chosen strategies for autonomy and sustainability. Finally, some lessons are summarised for the cooperative and union movement, which point to open cooperativism as an integrated vision.
    https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/digita...3A+P2pFoundation+%28P2P+Foundation%29
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  5. Through the geographical focus of the platform, users are encouraged to find other conscious, awakened individuals in their local area and, via the messaging tools provided, connect and form empowering, offline connections which in turn will enable collaboration and positive community action.
    An online space for discussion and collaboration

    Coeō is a unique platform for topic focused, global collaboration. Cross referencing online discussion between many networked sites enables a unique, topic based and grassroots collaboration between movements.
    Bringing movements together

    Coeō has brought together a unique and growing network of movements, creating much-needed unity. Thanks to Coeō, members from a growing number of groups such as Ubuntu Planet, The Full Circle Project, Prepare for Change, The Freedom Cell Network and The Conscious Media Coalition are coming together, connecting and collaborating. The local connections made between members of these varied groups is enabling greater collaborative action at a grassroots level.
    https://www.coeo.cc
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  6. the most revolutionary aspect of blockchain technology is that it can run software in a secure and decentralized manner. With a blockchain, software applications no longer need to be deployed on a centralized server: They can be run on a peer-to-peer network that is not controlled by any single party. These blockchain-based applications can be used to coordinate the activities of a large number of individuals, who can organize themselves without the help of a third party. Blockchain technology is ultimately a means for individuals to coordinate common activities, to interact directly with one another, and to govern themselves in a more secure and decentralized manner.

    There are already a fair number of applications that have been deployed on a blockchain. Akasha, Steem.io, or Synereo, for instance, are distributed social networks that operate like Facebook, but without a central platform. Instead of relying on a centralized organization to manage the network and stipulate which content should be displayed to whom (often through proprietary algorithms that are not disclosed to the public), these platforms are run in a decentralized manner, aggregating the work of disparate groups of peers, which coordinate themselves, only and exclusively, through a set of code-based rules enshrined in a blockchain. People must pay microfees to post messages onto the network, which will be paid to those who contribute to maintaining and operating the network. Contributors may earn back the fee (plus additional compensation) as their messages spread across the network and are positively evaluated by their peers.

    Blockchain technology thus facilitates the emergence of new forms of organizations, which are not only dematerialized but also decentralized. These organizations — which have no director or CEO, or any sort of hierarchical structure — are administered, collectively, by all individuals interacting on a blockchain. As such, it is important not to confuse them with the traditional model of “crowd-sourcing,” where people contribute to a platform but do not benefit from the success of that platform. Blockchain technologies can support a much more cooperative form of crowd-sourcing — sometimes referred to as “platform cooperativism”— where users qualify both as contributors and shareholders of the platforms to which they contribute. And since there is no intermediary operator, the value produced within these platforms can be more equally redistributed among those who have contributed to the value creation.

    With this new opportunity for increased “cooperativism,” we’re moving toward a true sharing or collaborative economy — one that is not controlled by a few large intermediary operators, but that is governed by and for the people.

    There’s nothing new about that, you might say — haven’t we heard these promises before? Wasn’t the mainstream deployment of the internet supposed to level the playing field for individuals and small businesses competing against corporate giants? And yet, as time went by, most of the promises and dreams of the early internet days faded away, as big giants formed and took control over our digital landscape.

    Today we have a new opportunity to fulfill these promises. Blockchain technology makes it possible to replace the model of top-down hierarchical organizations with a system of distributed, bottom-up cooperation. This shift could change the way wealth is distributed in the first place, enabling people to cooperate toward the creation of a common good, while ensuring that everyone will be duly compensated for their efforts and contributions.

    And yet nothing should be taken for granted.
    https://hbr.org/2017/03/what-blockchain-means-for-the-sharing-economy
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  7. Platform cooperatives, which share the value they create with the users they depend on, are on the rise. As Shareable co-founder Neal Gorenflo writes in How Platform Co-ops Can Beat Death Stars Like Uber to Create a Real Sharing Economy, “Platform coops combine a cooperative business structure with an online platform to deliver a real-world service.”

    Gorenflo asks, “What if Uber was owned and governed by its drivers? What if Airbnb was owned and governed by its hosts?” We don't have to wait to find out. A growing number of platform cooperatives are making their presence known on a global scale. Below are just 11 platform co-ops that are changing the way people organize, run businesses, create value, and share the wealth. There are many more.
    http://www.shareable.net/blog/11-plat...tives-creating-a-real-sharing-economy
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  8. Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg seems to be easing ever more into his role as benevolent dictator of the media universe. As recently as just after the U.S. elections in November, he attempted to dodge responsibility for Facebook’s role in shaping the outcome. Now, three months later, he is ready to take charge of the security, accuracy and diversity of how the world shares information. And he wants our help.

    The latter third of the essay centers around a call for Facebook to “explore examples of how community governance might work at scale.” This comes in the context of the declining fortunes of democracy in governments the world over; we may be losing our countries to authoritarians, but at least we will have our Facebook. The proposal seems to amount to a cascading series of online focus groups—of which we may or may not know we are a part—managed by artificial intelligence in order to develop fine-tuned acceptability standards for content across various world cultures. But democracy is not a focus group.

    Democracy is not a focus group.
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    Democracy means ownership and accountability, along with shared governance. That is how you make sure the governance is real, that it matters and that participants will take it seriously. In a country with functioning democracy, citizens vote responsibly because they know they will own the consequences if they don’t. They will be footing the bill. Same with the investors in a corporation or the members of a cooperative business, whether it is a neighborhood food co-op or a national credit union.

    Offering free input to an unaccountable oligarchy is very different. It is more like feudalism. King Louis XVI offered his subjects focus groups when he initiated the Cahiers de Doléances in early 1789; it was only with the start of the revolution later that year that the process of securing some real democracy began. If Mr. Zuckerberg’s vision for government is anything like Facebook’s past experiments with referenda on its terms of service, users should demand better before the sham-democracy starts.

    Ownership is also about economics. It is about who benefits. Right now, Facebook is in the process of absorbing huge swaths of the global advertising market, lots of our life-giving communities and now much of politics and media—funnelling the profits mainly to the founders, early investors and other large shareholders. Mr. Zuckerberg has tried to dismiss this concern. “One thing I have been wondering recently is if people misdiagnosed it that the hope for the future is all economic,” he told Kara Swisher in an interview about the manifesto. “But the things that are happening in our world now are all about the social world not being what people need.”

    This billionaire’s refusal to recognize the rise of authoritarianism as a symptom of economic inequality and insecurity is startling. He views unrest—as authoritarians tend to—as a problem of faulty management, not of unjust accumulations of power.
    http://www.americamagazine.org/politi...rg-democracy-not-facebook-focus-group
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  9. Key functions of an ecosystem of collaborative software tools:

    Here are a number of areas that we have decided are critical to this collaborative ecosystem.

    Notifications Dashboard: aggregated notifications of activity that is sourced from activity from tools in the ecosystem
    Chat and Direct Messaging: one-to-one and one-to-many messaging, with tunable privacy as appropriate to communication goals
    Representation of Group Membership and Group Auth: a tool that stores who is a member of which group, who can see the data that the group contains, and can invoke single-purpose tools through “group authentication”
    Representation of which groups are using which tools: this enables the community to understand which tools are part of the set of tools in use in a given environment
    Intent-casting + Collaborative discovery: discovery of aligned intentions + matching of available requests and offers. Can include bounties/price tags in a variety of currencies.
    Collaborative ideation & brainstorming: allows decentralized groups to ideate and brainstorm together
    Collaborative decision making: allows decentralized groups to come to decisions together
    Collaborative budgeting: allows decentralized groups to allocate common-pool resources
    Network visualization: allows users to interact with different types of visual representations of shared data and membership
    __Reputation: allows users to assess the past actions of network participants based on user tunable, context aware preferences
    Identity: allows users to be aware of the identity of other users over time tied to reputation
    Mutual Credit: allows users to create and track mutual credit exchanges
    https://www.hylo.com/p/17726?utm_camp...m_medium=email&utm_source=user_mailer
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  10. Corporations are adopting open source and other peer-production processes such as open data, open knowledge and open hardware like wildfire—not because they want to share, but because they want to make money. Meanwhile, cooperatives are expected to follow a set of principles, one of which is “cooperation among cooperatives,” and yet their adoption of open source and open data within the cooperative community is minimal. Evidence of the cooperative community not adopting open approaches and following principle six include:

    Research reports from cooperative support organization often have restrictive copyrights them instead of open, permissible, Creative Commons ones.
    Research data is locked away in PDFs instead of being made available in open data portals.
    Information about cooperative networks and membership organizations is often organized in proprietary data models instead of open ones, and not made openly available in bulk using open data formats.
    Cooperatives are often structured hierarchically like banks instead of horizontally like open source projects.
    There still isn’t a searchable online directory of cooperatives in the United States, much less an open data compliant one.

    All of the above problems could be resolved if the cooperative movement followed best practices emerging from the unfashionable but very useful open source, open data, free culture and open access, and peer-to-peer movements. These practices have proven track records for enabling highly productive, widespread collaborations among many different types of stakeholder groups. One thing they very rarely do is organize themselves as cooperatives. Instead, open source projects tend to use for-profit, nonprofit and unincorporated entities.

    We tend to view platform cooperativism as a vision that has yet to be realized, but it could just as easily be viewed as a potential future that never came. Cooperative organizational structures are not new. They have impacted a myriad of giant industries including food and agriculture, electricity and real estate. So why haven’t cooperatives been successful at software development? The answer to this question could be a key to moving platform cooperativism forward.
    https://ioo.coop/2017/02/10/when-platform-coops-are-seen-what-goes-unseen
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