Author: Janosch Sbeih


Can Platform Cooperativism help the Maker Movement to become more sustainable? MAKE-IT on the Open 2017: Platform Cooperatives conference in London

What if so-called sharing economy and gig work platforms like Uber and AirBnB, or even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were owned by their employees and users who maintain the platform, deliver the services and create the content that leads to the astounding valuations of the platform economy? The result would be the orientation of emerging technologies toward community-wealth and participatory, democratic control – a vision which the cooperative movement pursues already for centuries, and which is now being picked up in its 21st century version by the Platform Cooperativism movement.

From 16th to 17th of February 2017, scientists, politicians, programmers, activists and representatives from business and civil society met in the halls of Goldsmiths, University of London, to bring together developers of the digital world with practitioners of cooperative business models. The container for this get-together was the two-day conference on the collaborative economy Open 2017: Platform Cooperatives.

I had the opportunity to discuss MAKE-IT with the participants of the conference with the particular focus on sustainability scenarios for the Maker movement. To connect the principles of open source design – on which the Maker movement is built upon – with platform cooperatives – which can be understood as a business form of Collective Awareness Platforms – appears to be a promising approach for a sustainable development of the Maker movement. Platform cooperatives can ease the Maker movement’s dilemma to aspire to the free sharing of open source designs on the one hand, while at the same time wanting to meet financial needs through Maker activities. The development of a platform cooperative where makers can offer their products for sale and free sharing depending on the use of their products could, for example, be modeled on the platform cooperative Stocksy United, which offers royalty-free stock photography and videos. This way, Makers would have the option to offer the same product with different licenses (i.e. open source and commercial licenses) to the respective audiences while parts of their revenues are automatically reinvested into the Maker movement through the platform cooperative.

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Similarities, differences and interactions between the Hacker scene and the Maker Movement. Discussion on the 33rd Chaos Communication Congress (33C3)

From 27 to 30 December 2016, about 10.000 hackers, scientists, activists and interested citizens met for the 33rd Chaos Communication Congress (33C3) in the sold-out CCH trade fair in Hamburg. I was given the chance to present MAKE-IT with some first findings from our empirical case studies there to lead into a discussion about similarities, differences, and interactions between the Hacker scene and the Maker movement.

Figure 2: Decentralised congress organisation through crowd participation

After providing an initial input on selected findings from MAKE-IT’s ten case studies that capture the diversity of the Maker movement, and an introduction to MAKE-IT’s three analytical pillars organisation and governance, peer and collaborative behaviour, and value creation and impact, I moderated a discussion with about 20 participants who were mostly members and/or researchers of hacker-/makerspaces themselves. The discussion elucidated how the Maker movement has its roots in the hacker scene and how the first German makerspaces were founded as secessions from established hackerspaces. Both movements share tools and machinery as well as the mentality to open, reconstruct and modify things to understand them and make them accessible in the spirit you don’t own it if you can’t open it. Decentralization, sharing, social inclusion and practicing a hands-on imperative are core topics of both sub-cultures which became apparent throughout all aspects of the congress, including its organizational infrastructure. All tasks of the congress, from the recording and translation of lectures to ticket inspections and medical support were impressively executed by self-organised volunteer networks.

Figure 3: Hacker aesthetics at 33C3

It emerged from the discussion that the Maker movement consciously tries to set itself apart from the hacker scene through language and public imagery in order to resist the negative stigmata that surround Hackers in the media discourse and to be more accessible to the wider public. The Maker movement has, therefore, rebranded itself by giving itself a new name, adopted a cleaner aesthetics and established its own media outlets. While hacker ethics strongly inform the current maker ethos, makers tend to be much more pragmatic when it comes to acquiring external funding and collaborating with established institutions. This enables Maker initiatives to enter into cooperation with public institutions like schools and libraries and to carry the culture of hacking items and production processes into wider society. For a further insight on the topic, check the Analytical Report below.

 

Figure 4: Maker aesthetics at Happylab Vienna

 

TUDO Analytical Report: 33C3 2016

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