Platform Co-ops – Definition and history

What are ‘Platform Co-ops’?

Platform cooperatives are online organisations which are owned and managed by their members. Platform co-ops follow the principles of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). They are democratically governed and support the development of informational and material commons. They provide a viable alternative to the standard internet model based on monopoly and extraction to facilitate the transition to a collaborative, sustainable economy.

Where did the term ‘Platform Co-ops’ come from?

The term ‘Platform cooperativism’ was first used by Trebor Sholz in an article entitled “Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy” on December the 5th 2014. In his article Trebor argued that the sharing economy, as it has developed so far, has not delivered huge benefits for workers and suggested that:

platform cooperativism can invigorate genuine sharing, and that it does not have to reject the market. Platform cooperativism can serve as a remedy for the corrosive effects of capitalism; it can be a reminder that work can be dignified rather than diminishing for the human experience.

In his article Trebor not only highlighted a problem that many people were aware of, through detailed analysis of the issues of the so called ‘sharing economy’, but he went further by suggesting an alternative model and wrapping it up with a name: ‘Platform cooperativism’.

Trebor’s analysis, and rejection of the sharing economy in which large corporations benefit from individual’s efforts to share, echoed the sentiment of many others. In the same month, Nathan Schneider published his article “Owning Is the New Sharing” in which he draws on his extensive work and knowledge of alternative economic systems to explain the problems with the standard VC backed model of finance and points to the ‘resurgent co-op model’ as a possible, albeit difficult to implement, alternative. He concluded then that:

Simply giving up on ownership, however, will mean that those who actually do own the tools that we rely on to share will control them. People who want an economy of genuine sharing are coming to recognize that they must embrace ownership — and, as they do, they’re changing what owning means altogether.

Like all good concepts which lack a catchy name, the term Platform Cooperativism helped solidify a range of associated ideas as other authors expanded on theme.

Caitlin Dewey wrote “You don’t know it, but you’re working for Facebook. For free.” in The Washington Post. Shoshana Zuboff published “Disruption’s Tragic Flaw“ in FAZ, Neal Gorenflo joined the debate with his excellent article “How Platform Coops Can Beat Death Star Platforms to Create a Real Sharing Economy” and Karen Gregory added to the debate with “From Sharing to Cooperation: Lessons from-Mondragon in the New Economy”. In October 2015 Scholz and Schneider co-authored “The People’s Uber: Why The Sharing Economy Must Share Ownership” in Fast Company in which they concluded that:

The way future generations work need not be determined solely by the bottom line of Silicon Valley investors. It is still possible to create a future in which technology nurtures democracy and cooperation, rather than obscuring them. We need only say “yes” to it.

In November of the same year they organised a two-day event billed as “A coming-out party for the cooperative Internet” in New York which placed the concept and growing movement behind Platform Co-ops firmly on the map.

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) and buy your tickets now.

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