Where to begin?

A cooperative is an organization owned by those who use it. My favorite variety is the worker co-op, which is owned and operated by the people who work in it. A “platform co-op” means the co-op is organized online, via a website and/or app–the platform. It will need to be worker-owned, but there’s also room for consumers to participate, possibly even as owners. Online, the distinction between producer and client need not be as sharp as the way we’ve traditionally understood them.

There are only a few platform co-ops currently in existence… that identify as such, that is. Similar ideas have actually been around for many years. The two best examples are Stocksy, a stock photography site, and Resonate, a music streaming site.

Because the definition is rather broad, and we have only a few examples to look to, the possibilities are wide open. If traditional co-ops are any indication, platform co-ops will be highly diverse. That means no one is obliged to follow the model I describe in any detail. For example, I’m going to wade into what it would take to make a platform co-op fully P2P, and run it on the blockchain. That’s pretty clearly not a requirement. Probably the only real requirement would be software that lets the workers communicate and the clients contact them.

Who would be interested in being part of a platform co-op? The leading candidates are people in lines of business that are not easy to turn into a worker cooperative. In other words, people who work alone (like photographers) or in very small groups (like bands, or translators). Workers like this don’t require colleagues to do their jobs–which is not to say support isn’t welcome–but rather, to administer and market it. And of course, this encompasses the often-cited examples of a worker-owned version of Uber or AirBnb.

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