In early August members of the web development cooperative, Agaric, presented to two Boston area audiences on platform cooperativism. Platform cooperativism brings cooperation and collective control to platforms built for connecting people, services, and products. Ben Melançon from Agaric presented to the first audience, a group of web developers in Boston that meets regularly to discuss the content management system (CMS) Drupal. Drupal is widely used because it is powerful software, but it’s also free – free software is also known as open source software. The worker-owners at Agaric, particularly Micky Metts, have been working hard to bring together the movements of cooperatives and free software.
Ben’s presentation introduced platform cooperativism which offers something related to both cooperatives and free software: ownership. Distributed ownership of online platforms can benefit both developers and users in a cooperative structure that platform cooperativism champions.
Ben presented the possibility of funding a given web project by users. What if musicians, for example, invested in a music sharing platform that serves them? This would give the developers and the users of the platform a source of capital. Developers and users would also be owners forming a hybrid of stakeholders, creating a cooperative platform. Turning users into investors can be a powerful impetus for web development.
At a second event this month promoting free software called Libre Boston, the task of explaining platform cooperativism fell on the shoulders of Micky Metts and Chris Thompson from Agaric. Micky described the path toward platform cooperativism as a bridge. We can’t expect full investment in free software or platform cooperativism, but we can encourage incremental steps onto the bridge leading us toward platforms (and software source code) we can own. An integration of alternative software can liberate us from proprietary control. Switching to a Linux operating system from proprietary software is one example.
Chris emphasized the hybrid nature of platform cooperativism and drew attention to the hybrid Black Star Co-op in Austin. Although Black Star isn’t a cooperative platform, its innovative hybrid ownership structure bodes well for the multi-stakeholder ownership that platform cooperativism advocates.
The advent of platform cooperativism is fitting for the mission Agaric has been touting. An additional Drupal project was announced this month giving users a role in the development of online tools for organizations. It’s called Drutopia, announced by Chocolate Lily Web Projects. And in November, another platform cooperativism event is happening at The New School in New York.