In late May 2016, Outlandish organised an event on Platform Co-ops at Newspeak House, the political hackspace in London.

We had the privilege to hear the ideas of three inspiring speakers at the forefront of innovative projects in the realm of technology, co-operatives and the commons: Nathan Schneider, Felix Weth and Sarah Gold.

The event brought together a diverse crowd from both the technology and the co-operative scenes who contributed to a lively debate and Q&A session. Videos from both the talks and questions are now available to view on Youtube.


What is a platform co-op?

A platform co-operative combines the forms of governance and ownership typical of co-operatives with on-line platforms, the basic infrastructures that connect people online.

One of the first to use the term platform co-operativism was Trebor Scholz. The concept was born during a time when the critique and disappointment about the so-called “sharing economy” was becoming obvious.

“There isn’t just one, inevitable future of work. Let us apply the power of our technological imagination to practice forms of cooperation and collaboration. Worker–owned cooperatives could design their own apps-based platforms, fostering truly peer-to-peer ways of providing services and things, and speak truth to the new platform capitalists.”

Platform co-operativism raises the question whether recent technological developments can be repurposed to facilitate a future based on co-operative principles. I’ll let our speakers provide some answers.


Nathan Schneider – Platform Co-operativism

Nathan is a journalist based in the US who writes about religion, politics, economics, tech and social movements. In November 2015, together with Trebor Scholz, he co-organised a conference in New York on Platform Co-operativism, coined as “a coming-out party for the Co-operative Internet.”  A second conference will be taking place again in New York this November.

In his talk Nathan starts by describing the “platform society” we live in, and how the way we work and interact with each other. He highlights how new platforms often tend towards monopolies and have detrimental effects on worker’s rights, especially for those already on low wages.

Nathan describes platform co-operativism as a movement that uses the Internet to facilitate the sharing of both ownership and governance of resources. It does this by bringing together the principles and practices of the co-operative movement with those of the Internet’s “commons based peer production”.

Nathan takes us through several possible scenarios, and refers to the The Internet of Ownership directory, which includes many existing digital co-operatives.


Felix Weth – Fairmondo: Co-op 2.0

Felix Weth is the founder of Fairmondo, an online marketplace run as a multi-stakeholder co-operative. At Fairmondo employees, producers and users of the  platform participate at different levels in the governance and ownership of the business. Fairmondo is one of the most successful examples of platform co-operativism currently active in Europe.

In his talk he describes the fascinating journey of Fairmondo, its practices, successes and the challenges, and what brought him to set up the co-operative marketplace in the first place.


Sarah Gold – What can platform co-ops do about data?

Sarah Gold is the founder of the design studio IF. Her work focuses is on interaction, data and networks in the public domain. The design studio examines and creates systems and practices that delve into questions of technopolitics, privacy and civics.

In her talk she explores openness in companies, different methods to achieve it and the necessary limits to transparency.

Sarah suggests that internal templates, governance structures, and code are among the things that can be most useful to share, and explains how open access systems can in some cases provide more security then closed systems. She also refers to Data Licenses, a model that would devolve more power to users to decide how their data is distributed and used.


Q&A sessions


The presentations were followed by a lively debate, addressing among others the following questions:

  • Why are platform co-ops important today? What is it about today’s economic situation that makes them so relevant?
  • How do we mainstream these ideas?
  • How do we take them beyond the middle classes?
  • What public policy changes that would make it easier to accomplish these projects?
  • What is the role of the state in platform co-ops?
  • What can platform co-operatives do to forge alliances so that infrastructure is not exploited against the people, like in the case of surveillance?
  • How do we deal with competition in the case of open source software?
  • What are the funding models out there for these kind of projects?

The recordings from the event were filmed and edited by Blake House Co-op.