Why Can’t Internet Platforms be Coops?
Our current realities? From a Facebook that fractures our society by not endorsing facts, to an Uber exploitation of the shared economy model, to the truly nefarious dark corners of our web — our current media vehicles are the message. These tools, with their viral power — both for good and bad and all in between have one thing in common. Investors drive their vision, their scale, their business models. Hoodies and kombucha or not, capital and capitalism is part of the “tech bro” culture that knows enough to to know better. And we all know we can do better than this.
What is now possible? With the batching of code, the open sourcing of so much that is possible, may be, just maybe, we could return to some version of that hazy, heavenly moment when that dialup bing and bong, as slow as it was, was a door to the world — with commerce and advertising nowhere on the immediate horizon. At that time, I was hanging out in museums and libraries from around the world, FTPing here and there. It was a travel journey of the mind, an inspiration for the spirit.
So many of the complexities of various transactions have boilerplate code. Just like capitalism leveraged the work of ARPANET, maybe we can leverage the work of the capitalists that have gilded their cages with startup successes and build off their solid user interfaces and create alternative platforms for the same services, and solidly ground them in truly sharing the wealth, exorcising the investor class. The business models may entail more user fees, but if there is true transparency as to what pocket the money flows, heck, most of us would pay. Think NPR. A version of Etsy. Think REI. If the model would force better corporate citizenship, and may be, along the lines of REI, with an elected Board, may be would we settle for a little less scale, or speed, or better yet — less self serving IPO hype about saving the world — that is unsupported, arguably contradicted.
So maybe we can build models and platforms that benefit more people, beyond just investors. Maybe we can use existing platform templates for building a platform of an equitable economy through combining cutting edge technologies and coop economic strategies. Mondragon, one of the largest coops in the world, has been an inspiration for many. Who will be the Mondragon of the tech sector?
Why not? Some will say it is not possible. Some will say innovation needs capitalism. I have been a leader in the nonprofit sector for 30 plus years, had Board members from the private sector on my Board and I am going to share my bias and say — that the most innovative people I have met are not necessarily motivated by money — they were the amazing staff in the organizations for whom I served. Innovators are out there, including coders.
What if? What if Uber had been a coop? What if Facebook and the truly creative pieces and postings on a comparable platform was voted on by members, rewarded accordingly — all based on some simple standards of decent behavior, commitment to facts, respect for differences. Sure, someone will game the system, the need for nuanced interpretations will arise, but so what. We will be in a better place, equity will be shared, the content would ostensibly be better, and we will continue to put one foot in front of the other, and be a little closer to the better world we can all envision.
Tech companies, platforms all based on a coop model? It might truly be a sharing economy. And heck, people might not miss the venture capital vultures, the private equity excesses, the investor insanity that distorts our worldviews, our equity, our communities. And sure, we could still have hoodies, kombucha, nice office chairs, a company mascot that looks like a reptile and a new age name. Let’s just make a real new age truly real— Scale up the Coop!