As Mark Andreessen noted, software is eating the world because once it's developed, it scales to infinity. That means that once a worker's co-op of drivers clones Uber's platform in free/open code, drivers in every city in the world can disrupt the company, throw off its rent-seeking, and fill their pockets with the money the company siphons off for providing very little at the margins.
In a long piece on Shareable, Neal Gorenflo articulates a vision for co-op versions of the sharing economy monopolies, an idea that will be explored later this month at the Platform Cooperativism conference in New York.
I raised the possibility of co-op alternatives to Uber at an event last summer and an investor in the audience was really upset at the suggestion, insisting that Uber provided something big and complicated, too big for any mere co-op to replicate. He sounded exactly like the taxi barons who say that the taxi business is too big and complicated for any stupid software startup to replace.
3. Take Cooperation to the Next Level
It goes without saying that platform coops should cooperate, as that is standard operating procedure in the cooperative world. In fact, it's number six of the sector's widely embraced Rochdale Principles. However, platform coops should take cooperation to the next level to exploit a potentially decisive competitive advantage over Death Stars. Death Stars' closed nature which make it nearly impossible for them to engage in the deep collaboration between cooperatives seen in regions like Quebec, Canada, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, and Basque Country, Spain. Clusters of small to medium-sized cooperatives in these regions often compete successfully against large multinationals through networking, formal collaborations, and shared infrastructure such as market research centers, banks, and universities. These cooperatives collaborate in a much deeper way than tech companies. In fact, they act almost as if they're one organism.
Platform coops must act similarly. For example, the replacement for Airbnb shouldn't be another centralizing global platform even if it's a cooperative. It should be a federation of locally owned and operated cooperatives that are interconnected technologically (Fairbnb!). GNUsocial's microblogging platform is a precursor. Each node is on a different server, but users can interact across nodes. The advantage is a much more resilient, user-controlled distributed infrastructure. At Somero 2015 last month, GNUsocial took it a step further by unveiling the alpha version of an Airbnb-like module for GNUsocial called GNUbnb.
Platform coops can share much more than software too including data, digital reputation, knowledge, marketing, public relations, legal, lobbying, and physical space. And can take it to the next level by cooperating on a global basis — as Michel Bauwens' open cooperatives proposal advises — and across industries. Cities can get in on the action too. They should cooperate with each other and with platform coops to mold the sharing economy in the public interest as Janelle Orsi of the Sustainable Economies Law Center recently suggested.
4. Create an Ecosystem to Distribute Wealth
Silicon Valley arguably creates and concentrates more wealth than any place on earth. Behind this phenomenon is a powerful ecosystem that includes Stanford University, the biggest venture capital firms in the world, an enterprising culture, top notch professional services, and more. This ecosystem birthed the Death Stars, and they've benefited greatly from it. Platform coops need a similarly powerful ecosystem to compete, but one that distributes wealth instead of concentrating it. That's a tall order, but platform coops may have natural allies in creating such an ecosystem including city governments, unions, nonprofits, universities, the free and open source software movement, and social investors like credit unions, social venture funds, and foundations. It took many decades for the Silicon Valley "miracle" to unfold. Similarly, it'll take an ecosystem to raise this movement.
How Platform Coops Can Beat Death Star Platforms to Create a Real Sharing Economy