What is a platform co-op?

Just like traditional co-ops, platform co-ops are organisations that are owned and managed by their members. While traditional co-ops are normally based around a physical community of members, platform...

Just like traditional co-ops, platform co-ops are organisations that are owned and managed by their members. While traditional co-ops are normally based around a physical community of members, platform co-ops live online and are normally populated by online communities of members.

The word ‘platform’ is often used to describe an internet service which brings together suppliers and consumers in an online marketplace. But platforms don’t necessarily provide traditional ‘products’; they often facilitate the trade of services, like taxis or temporary accommodation. Most people have heard of Uber and Airbnb, whose platforms have disrupted the minicab and short-term lettings industries while generating enormous profits for their shareholders. Unlike platform co-ops, these giants of the internet era are most accurately described as ‘platform monopolies’ and are specifically designed to extract as much value from their members as possible. They represent capitalism at its ‘best’.

Uber, and more recently Deliveroo, have come under attack for not paying their workers fairly. The way they are structured, owned and governed is directly opposed to the the principles of the International Co-operative Alliance. These ‘platform monopolies’ place profit above planet and are not afraid to use their considerable power to undermine workers’ rights.

Related: Taxi drivers need to take control back of Uber, says economist 

Platform co-ops, on the other hand, are specifically designed to address the issues of workers rights and the extraction of value by making their members owners of the platforms and giving them democratic control. In the traditional offline co-op world, this is not new at all but in the online world, dominated by Silicon Valley startups in search of multi-million dollar IPOs, the idea of democratic member control is radical.

Platform co-ops provide a viable alternative to the standard internet model based on monopoly and extraction. They represent a new model of ownership designed to facilitate the transition to a collaborative, sustainable economy, which is starting to pick up steam.

Advertisement

There are now several examples of successful platform co-ops whose owner members are busy trading physical goods (Fairmondo is an ethical co-operative alternative to Amazon), stock photography and many other products and services. Platform co-ops are even championed in Jeremy Corbyn’s Digital Democracy Manifesto, in which he promises to “foster the co-operative ownership of digital platforms”.

It’s an exciting time for this new movement, which seeks to bring the age-old principles and values of the co-op movement into the ever expanding digital economy. But, as with all movements which oppose the status quo, advocates of co-operative platforms need as much help as they can get to spread the message and encourage other organisations to join in, to help drive the transition forward.

With this aim in mind, The Open Co-op are organising a two day conference, on the 16-17 February 2017, in conjunction with Goldsmiths University, London, and Co-operative News as media partners for the event. The event aims to bring together the co-operative community and people from the world of open source and internet development to cross-pollinate ideas and activities to kick-start the collaborative economy.

We look forward to seeing you, hearing your stories and working with you to scale up the co-operative sector for the internet age.

  • To find out more about platform co-ops or how your existing co-op could benefit from the multitude of open-source web apps available, visit www.open.coop and click on ‘Conference’. Buy your tickets now and get our 10% Co-op News discount.
In this article

Join the Conversation