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.