Ours To Hack And To Own

ourstohackandown

I’ve been nibbling on the concept of platform cooperativism for the last few months, but it was a comment from Hal Plotkin who mentioned it during the #opened16 FutuOER: Designing the Next Generation of Open Education session that prompted me to grab a copy of Ours To Hack And To Own.

I have been spending time with the notion of platform cooperativism to get a sense of how it can inform the work I am involved with in British Columbia with the BC Open Educational Technology Collaborative.

Although encouraged by many of the the ideas and directions outlined in the collection of essays, I have some reservations around the enthusiasm in these essays for emerging technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrency as useful economic tools in these systems.  Still mulling these ideas around while looking for potential gatherings of #platformcoop folks in Vancouver in 2017.  Looks like plans are already in place for a #platformcoop gathering in London in February for https://2017.open.coop/.

Among some of my highlights from the book:

The most valuable networks, however, are those that facilitate group affiliations to pursue shared goals—which is to say, networks that are treated like commons.

 

From open access platforms to managed digital commons: that is one of the chief challenges that network-based peer production must meet if we are going to unleash the enormous value that distributed, autonomous production can create.

 

Platform cooperativism will not come about simply through a few killer apps; it will require a different kind of ecosystem—with appropriate forms of finance, law, policy, and culture—to support the development of democratic online enterprises.

 

Platform cooperatives—as a direct affront to the platform monopolies characterizing digital industrialism—offer a means of both reclaiming the value we create and forging the solidarity we need to work toward our collective good.

 

The idea of disintermediation was central to the emancipatory visions of the Internet, yet the landscape today is more mediated than ever before. If we want to think more about the consequences of an increasingly centralized Internet, we need to start by addressing the cause of this centralizing. The Internet was colonized by capitalist platforms; centralization is required to capture profit. Disintermediating platforms were ultimately reintermediated by capitalist investors dictating that communications systems be built to capture profit.

 

By keeping the computational capacity in the hands of the users, we prevent the communication platform from becoming capital, and we prevent the users from being instrumentalized as audience commodity.

 

In this sense, many open platforms are not so benign. Many of them are techno-economic fortresses, bolstered by structural dynamics that enable dominant corporate players to monopolize and monetize a given sector of online activity. Market power based on such platforms can then be used to carry out surveillance of users’ lives; erect barriers to open interoperability and sharing, sometimes in anti-competitive ways; and quietly manipulate the content and experience that users may have on such platforms. Such outcomes on seemingly open platforms should not be entirely surprising; they represent the familiar quest of capitalist markets to engineer the acquisition of exclusive assets and mine them for private gain. The quarry in this case is our consciousness, creativity, and culture. The more forward-looking segments of capital realize that owning a platform (with stipulated, but undecipherable, terms of use) can be far more lucrative than owning exclusive intellectual property rights for content.

 

Cooperativism is not simply shared ownership, as are many employee-ownership plans. It is, first and foremost, shared governance.

 

In cooperativism, as with commons-property-regimes, it will be important to clearly define who members are, and place a higher barrier on membership than peer production has done. This is so partly because the quality and timing of outputs will be more critical, and partly because of the need to maintain a reasonably defined universe of participants among whom returns sufficiently high to make a real contribution to their livelihood must be shared.

 

First, platforms are us: Platforms aren’t just software applications and the companies that administer them. What gives a platform value, in most cases, is the community of users that employ the platform, along with the networks, data, and ideas they create. In other words, what makes platforms so valuable is what we put into them. Second, platforms don’t need to be treated as commodities.

 

In any of these cases, membership is meaningful, equating to ownership and control over the entity. A platform that doesn’t actually consider at a granular level the question of membership, its members’ needs, and their relationship to the cooperative—one that uses “cooperative” as some sort of trust mark not backed by actual cooperative structures—runs the risk of simply being part of the problem.

 

Platform co-ops can succeed at building privacy-positivity and basic decency into products and sell this as a competitive advantage against venture capitalist-backed tech companies that lack such qualities because they practice what is increasingly recognized as surveillance capitalism, the extraction of our data to modify our behaviors at scale.

 

Platform cooperatives resist the extraction of profit that only benefits the few by promoting systems that focus participants on forms of sharing that can enhance the sustainability of everybody in that ecosystem.

 

Commons are sometimes considered tragic because of the asymmetry between individual and collective cost and benefit. An individual might take the risk of exploiting a common resource because the individual benefit is great, whereas the cost—distributed across many other people—may not be noticed—unless everyone else similarly exploits the resource. Because of this asymmetry, commons need to be negotiated through conventions that are actively maintained. Cooperatives formalize this need to protect the commons.

 

Commons-based peer production, a term coined by Yochai Benkler, has brought about a new logic of collaboration between networks of people who freely organize around a common goal using shared resources, and market-oriented entities that add value on top of or alongside them. Prominent cases of commons-based peer production, such as the free and open-source software and Wikipedia, inaugurate a new model of value creation, different from both markets and firms. The creative energy of autonomous individuals, organized in distributed networks, produces meaningful projects, largely without traditional hierarchical organization or, quite often, financial compensation.

 

To a greater degree than traditional cooperatives, open cooperatives are statutorily oriented toward the common good. This could be understood as extending, not replacing, the seventh cooperative principle of concern for community. For instance, open cooperatives internalize negative externalities; adopt multi-stakeholder governance models; contribute to the creation of immaterial and material commons; and are socially and politically organized around global concerns, even if they produce locally.

 

How, then, does the concept of platform cooperativism relate to the notion of open cooperativism? Cooperative ownership of platforms can begin to reorient the platform economy around a commons-oriented model. We highlighted six practices that are already emerging in various forms but need to be more universally integrated. We believe that a chief ambition of fostering a more commons-centric economy is to recapture surplus value, which is now feeding speculative capital, and re-invest it in the development of open, ethical productive communities. Otherwise, the potential of commons-based peer production will remain underdeveloped and subservient to the dominant system. Platform cooperatives must not merely replicate false scarcities and unnecessary waste; they must become open.

 

One fundamental challenge for the development of such a theory of value is the inadequacy of monetary metrics as proxies for value production, since part of what peer producers create, exchange, and consume does not pass through monetary exchanges.

 

What we have shown so far is that platform ownership models do not only determine governance but also influence the capacity to generate value. This should be considered when peers or policy makers decide what kinds of platforms they are going to build or promote. According to our analysis, platform cooperativism will further not only self-governing processes but also the capacity for people to create resources and services that garner a good online reputation.

 

Investing public resources for piloting innovative, cooperative platforms is necessary to enable credible alternatives to the current data paradigms exploited by the dominant platforms—integrating economy, technology, society, and policy, which would otherwise remain fragmented and lead to market concentration and regulatory breakdowns.

 

We are not going to be able to improve welfare, health, youth employment, education, and the environment by leaving the market to do it on its own.

 

Some more reading/viewing:

Viewing:

Reading:

 

 

On Conflict and Violence

Some more listening branching from my reading of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

 

      Utah Phillips - Nonviolence and Pacifism

 

      Myles Horton - On Violence
 

You don’t need to know the answer …

Getting caught up with Bryan Alexander’s brilliant invitation to read and reflect on We Make The Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change over the next few weeks.  Really enjoying the reflections of a great group of folks.

I discovered the 1981 Bill Moyers interview with Myles Horton when Bryan suggested the Horton/Freire dialogue a couple weeks ago.  I decided to use the video as a jumping off point to familiarize myself with Horton as I was already familiar with the work and influence of Freire.

Listening to Horton recalled the stories and songs of Utah Phillips for me:

the essence of contract is agreement
not coercion or obedience
and agreement is sacred
what can one say? i will not obey

      utahphilips_iwillnotobey

I read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 today and found myself highlighting many passages from Myles:

I got to the place where I was terribly concerned about how I could relate my values to society. At that time I said it’s not important to be good, it’s important to be good for something. But, what was that something I could be good for, and how could I figure out how to be useful in society and make a contribution?

I think the problem is that most people don’t allow themselves to experiment with ideas, because they assume that they have to fit into the system. They say how can I live out these things I believe in within the capitalist system, within the subsystem of capitalism, the microcosm of capitalism, the school system and within the confines of respectability, acceptance. Consequently, they don’t allow themselves to think of any other way of doing things. I don’t think there’s anything unique in having the kind of ideas that we have. That’s kind of nickel-a- bushel stuff, I think. I just think most people can’t think outside the socially approved way of doing things and consequently don’t open up their minds to making any kind of discoveries. I think you have to think outside the conventional frameworks.

… the way you really learn is to start something and learn as you go along. You don’t have to know it in advance because if you know it in advance you kill it by clamping this down on the people you’re dealing with.

They’ve got other problems and we don’t have any answers. We didn’t have any trouble dealing with that because we were intellectually prepared and emotionally prepared. We had to do some fast shifting around though, because we still hadn’t learned how to respond to people, but we were committed to doing it. Once that commitment is made, then you do it. You do whatever it takes. We had to laugh at ourselves for thinking that we could figure out in advance what to do.

So to embolden people to act, the challenge has got to be a radical challenge. It can’t be a little simplistic reform that reformers think will help them. It’s got to be something that they know out of experience could possibly bring about a change. And we sell people like that short by assuming that they can take a little baby step and isn’t this wonderful. If they can see something that’s challenging, something that they believe would change things for them, and if they can see a path that they could move on towards that goal, then I think something can be done.

You don’t need to know the answer. You can help people get the answers. You have to know something; they know something. You have to respect their knowledge, which they don’t respect, and help them to respect their knowledge. These seeds were planted there.

 

“You don’t need to know the answer” is how I am approaching Bryan’s great questions for Chapters 1 and 2, but I know something for sure – Horton’s voice is resonating deeply with me.  Looking forward to reading more of the book with everyone.

 

 

 

The Representatives of Something That Couldn’t Be Negotiated With

But one of the people who did understand how to use this new power was Donald Trump. Trump realized that there was now no future in building housing for ordinary people, because all the government grants had gone. But he saw there were other ways to get vast amounts of money out of the state. Trump started to buy up derelict buildings in New York and he announced that he was going to transform them into luxury hotels and apartments. But in return, he negotiated the biggest tax break in New York’s history, worth 160 million. The city had to agree because they were desperate, and the banks, seeing a new opportunity, also started to lend him money. And Donald Trump began to transform New York into a city for the rich, while he paid practically nothing.

Clip via: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/02d9ed3c-d71b-4232-ae17-67da423b5df5.

Two-part Village Voice piece on that era at: