Earlier today at the #opencoop conference in London I ran a short open space session entitled “Cooperation as a Service”. Surprisingly the small, and rather hot, room was packed, with people spilling out into the corridor. Even more surprising is that almost everyone stayed until the end of the session, and lots of constructive comments and questions arose. All of which left me thinking that the idea may have some value, and be worth pursuing further.
The idea of CaaS came out of work that I’ve been doing on the development of https://platform6.coop and discussions within the Digital Life Collective (also a cooperative). Focussing on free/libre open source software (FLOSS) projects, I was aware that in many cases, these projects are not particularly robust in terms their sustainable financing or their governance. And yet much of the internet infrastructure that we all rely on day to day is dependent on this code. Also in many cases financing comes from corporate interests, which, in the absence of strong governance models, could lead to potential privatisation of code, especially where more permissive licenses are adopted.
Developers, especially in the early stages of a project’s life cycle, most likely have little interest in governance. But as the project matures, and good governance becomes a real issue, cooperative approaches, which could be an excellent fit, are very rarely adopted, most likely because they simply aren’t on the radar of the people making the decisions.
What if we could provide a ‘cooperative by default’ environment for these projects, non-intrusively, through systems and services used by these projects? My initial point of interest is the innovative opencollective.com (OC) platform, used by hundreds of open source projects to enable supporters to give them money without them having to incorporate or even set up a bank account. I’m very interested in OC’s approach, and feel that as well as finance, it could potentially help with governance. And if the governance services it offered were by default of a cooperative nature, then perhaps some of the hundreds of projects OC facilitates might in time mature into successful cooperative organisations. I’m interested in this because I think that cooperatives provide a range of benefits that other models don’t or can’t offer, and because I’m interested in defending and extending an open internet. Cooperative ownership and control aligns with a decentralised web, whilst investor-driven business models align with a centralising approach.
This, in a nutshell, is the thinking. I’m interested in continuing the conversation started in the open space session. Please comment, criticise, ask questions, and make suggestions. I’m keen to test this idea, and, if appropriate, to move it on.