Scaling platform co-ops – lessons from

In the lead up to OPEN 2020 we spoke to Nick Meyne from Resonate, the community-owned music network.

OSB: How are things going at Resonate? Is Peter Harris who spoke at OPEN 2018 still with you?

NM: Peter is very much still here, but after nearly 5 years, including some rough times, he’s decided to step back a bit. Rich Jensen is the new executive and I am the Secretary. Terry Tyldesley is also very active and so is our new board member Z, from Black Socialists in America.

OSB: So, what happened to the relationship with RChain we heard about in 2018 and the investment they made with crypto tokens? I imagine the value of the investment plummeted as crypto lost value in 2018?

NM: Rchain and Resonate went through a very hard time towards the end of 2018. We learned some lessons. Funds from the proceeds of RChain’s ICO (Initial Coin Offering) were helpful to us, but we became tied into a solution looking for a problem, and when that solution did not deliver, so we had to rebuild on something simpler, without a blockchain.  We emerged with a stronger commitment to open source and community effort. I’m amazed the project survived at all – it’s a tribute to the concept and the small committed team that kept it going. The reality is that crypto finance is rather like the Venture Capital world – except with less regulation. However rosy and brilliant the initial intent, if the underlying motivations are to extract value you need a solid foundation of good governance to work out if the arrangement makes sense – even more so than with traditional investing institutions.

The original idea was that our music player would sit on a blockchain back-end platform, and that media would be stored on chain – with smart contracts for artists to get credit each time their tracks were played. But we found it a lot easier to do that by building and evolving well-structured back-end code services. We can be more agile and reliable that way. We also found that open source, and open, collaborative governance helps to build human trust.

Resonate today is delivering in a centralised way using proven ‘green energy’ cloud services. I think we can keep to our social and ethical principles if we have solid, transparent governance in place, so our members and stakeholders can have trust in us.  But it’s ‘horses for courses’: we might well return to using distributed ledger technology for specific privacy-respecting peer to peer features we hope to bring to the platform in future, around identity, for example.

Resonate was established with a fantastic focus and purpose – to bring humanity to the music industry: Recapturing a culture of music as an agent for change – the soundtrack to social change and revolution – this is something you will be seeing much more of from Resonate.

We talk about ethics and fair rewards for artists but we’re also about activism – for people that actively seek sounds that are important to them – saying why it’s important to them and explaining why, sharing with a community. It’s a human collaboration and discussion about the music and the art – maybe it doesn’t fit well with outright money-making but we think a platform co-op model fits well with that vision and culture.

If this ethos can extend more widely into a network of co-ops – to change things a little in the right direction – that would be good.

OSB: Is Resonate still looking into ‘identity’ – as we heard about from Claire Tolan in 2018?

NM: Yes. When you enter into a transaction you first need to identify the party you are dealing with… trust and ‘authenticity’ is key. The second thing is, you only need to know just enough about the other party to support the transaction – no more. For example, I don’t need to give my email address to my barber when I have a haircut.

We are looking at Self Sovereign Identity (SSI) – which says rather than give everyone everything, via an all-knowing third party, let’s just share the info that’s needed for each peer to peer transaction, without involving anyone else. We have a project called IRIS – Identity for Resonate.IS

OSB: And are those identity protocols governed in a decentralised way?

NM: They’ve been thinking about it – using decentralised pairwise identifiers – W3C has a DID standard – and a lot of stuff about how you implement it – that’s where it gets tough and the research gets involved – the Canadians have decentralised public key infrastructure to enable a public knowledge base for verifiable credentials, but it’s complex. We will start with something very simple – our membership register perhaps –  where it makes sense, and from that we will build up experience in the music ecosystem and consider other uses.

Why is this important? In the case of a music lovers network, some of whom are in Syria or underground movements in other countries – it’s really important to life that privacy is respected…. Hence why IRIS is important for us. It gives everyone a right to identity – but equally a citizen who is being discriminated against will be at risk, so having a privacy respecting identity is important.

OSB: There does seem to be a lot of different identity projects – surely collaboration is the key to developing an open standard and wide adoption?

NM: We are working with the Mycelia project, they’re developing open protocols for music makers. Their Creative Passport is the digital container to hold verified profile information, IDs, acknowledgments, works, business partners and payment mechanisms…

We want to use available standards that work already rather than develop something new and pretend people will adopt it! People will use Facebook ID and Google ID. So, first lets co-exist – then let’s migrate. But let’s not reinvent the wheel. We should allow people to come on board at the pace which suits them.

We take care not to decentralise for its own sake:  Don’t decentralise unless you have to for a good reason, and then, engineer it well.  It’s very hard to fix a decentralised system once it’s “out-there”. The way we govern ourselves collectively – not the bits and bytes and tech – is more important and hard to appreciate – we need to trust each other at a human level.

OSB: So what else is happening at Resonate?

NM: We are funding for our IRIS project and a revamp of our site infrastructure so we are better able to scale up. Our outreach to artists is by word of mouth and we can only just keep up with the level of interest, particularly in these difficult times. These are things that will change as we feel our way through the ecosystem – we aim to be agile and listen to our members. Above all we want to stimulate our community – we’re rejuvenating and getting some  interesting new people on board to help with that, led by Z.

OSB: How big is Resonate now?

NM: Up to 10,000 people have shown interest in membership and we want to onboard more. We have nearly 2000 artists and tens of thousands of tracks. But our problem is that active listener levels are still pretty low – and we need large numbers to yield a decent living wage for artists – we need active listeners, topping up and buying tracks now – and renewing subscriptions…

At the moment people might forget they have a Resonate account. We’re hoping that new products like ‘sign up to a monthly top up’ will make us more sticky … we need to get listeners back on site and listening again – sometimes our aversion to capitalist surveillance and marketing is our own worst enemy! But we will try to do this at scale in a savvy way – an activist way – we recognise we need to get better.

Let’s not forget, there is some really interesting new music on Resonate – such a wide variety of art… Better than listening to naff old pop in an AI-generated playlist!

OSB: What lessons do you think the platform co-op community can learn from your adventures?

NM: We are not unique in having a community of different stakeholders that we need to work with. If we could find a way to do privacy-respecting identity collaboratively, to make it easy to bring co-op ‘seeds’ into any other co-op and allow them to use what we have built it could be a hugely powerful thing which would help the OPEN co-operative movement. As a member of one co-op already, imagine how useful it would be to re-use the proofs of address, email, or even competences when joining another co-op. These ‘verifiable credentials’ could be portable across a  mutual network of trust. It would give us the opportunity to make savings, reduce friction and mutually extend membership  in a privacy respecting way.

OSB: That’s music to my ears! I couldn’t agree more. Let’s kick off some discussions and collaboration about an ‘open co-op ID’ in the OPEN 2020 webinars.

Thanks for your time, Nick.


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