An introduction to Platform co-ops

Just like traditional co-ops, platform co-ops are organisations that are owned and managed by their members. While traditional co-ops are normally based around a physical community of members, platform co-ops live online and are normally populated by online communities of members.

The word ‘platform’ is often used to describe an internet service which brings together suppliers and consumers in an online marketplace. But platforms don’t necessarily provide traditional ‘products’; they often facilitate the trade of services, like taxis or temporary accommodation. Most people have heard of Uber and Airbnb, whose platforms have disrupted the minicab and short-term lettings industries while generating enormous profits for their shareholders. Unlike platform co-ops, these giants of the internet era are most accurately described as ‘platform monopolies’ and are specifically designed to extract as much value from their members as possible. They represent capitalism at its ‘best’.

Uber, and more recently Deliveroo, have come under attack for not paying their workers fairly. The way they are structured, owned and governed is directly opposed to the the principles of the International Co-operative Alliance. These ‘platform monopolies’ place profit above planet and are not afraid to use their considerable power to undermine workers’ rights.

Platform co-ops, on the other hand, are specifically designed to address the issues of workers rights and the extraction of value by making their members owners of the platforms and giving them democratic control. In the traditional offline co-op world, this is not new at all but in the online world, dominated by Silicon Valley startups in search of multi-million dollar IPOs, the idea of democratic member control is radical.

Platform co-ops provide a viable alternative to the standard internet model based on monopoly and extraction. They represent a new model of ownership designed to facilitate the transition to a collaborative, sustainable economy, which is starting to pick up steam.

There are now several examples of successful platform co-ops whose owner members are busy trading physical goods (Fairmondo is an ethical co-operative alternative to Amazon), stock photography and many other products and services. Platform co-ops are even championed in Jeremy Corbyn’s Digital Democracy Manifesto, in which he promises to “foster the co-operative ownership of digital platforms”.

It’s an exciting time for this new movement, which seeks to bring the age-old principles and values of the co-op movement into the ever expanding digital economy. But, as with all movements which oppose the status quo, advocates of co-operative platforms need as much help as they can get to spread the message and encourage other organisations to join in, to help drive the transition forward.

With this aim in mind, The Open Co-op organised a two day conference, in 2017, a further event in 2018, and continue to promote the platform co-op concept. Our events aim to bring together the co-operative community and people from the world of open source and internet development to cross-pollinate ideas and activities to kick-start the collaborative economy.

To stay up to date with the latest news about platform cooperatives and the new collaborative sustainable economy follow @open_coop and join the mailing list (form in the right hand column).

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