The following article appears here not as something to be quoted from, republished, or cited, but as a draft shared for the purpose of eliciting feedback and suggestions. It is intended for future publication in a monograph under the auspices of The Sociological Review, but it has not undergone review there so should not be considered, as yet, in any way affiliated. Updated 2017.02.17.
The disappointments of the online economy – for instance, user surveillance and systemic labor abuses – stem at least in part from its failures to meaningfully share ownership and governance with relevant stakeholders. Under the banner of ‘platform cooperativism’, an emerging network of cooperative developers, entrepreneurs, labor organizers and scholars is developing an economic ecosystem that seeks to align the ownership and governance of enterprises with the people whose lives are most affected by them. This represents a radical critique of the existing online economy, but it’s also a field of experimentation for alternative forms of ownership design. This essay presents and analyzes some of the ways platform cooperativism has begun to generate ownership designs that could serve the platform economy of the future differently than the investor-owned structures that currently prevail.
This essay stems from an ongoing collaboration with Trebor Scholz, and while he is innocent of my oversights, I am indebted to his insights. The following has also benefited from the input and feedback of Devin Balkind, Josef Davies-Coates, Enric Duran, Daniel Hu, Brent Hueth, Tim Kuhn and Keith Taylor, in part through an open review process at https://ioo.coop.
On March 18, 2016, at a press conference with US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez on his right and a platform user named Ty Lane on his left, Managed by Q CEO Dan Teran announced, ‘Over the next five years, Managed by Q will give 5 percent of the company to the operators working in the field’.1 On the backdrop behind them, Managed by Q’s logo – a futuristic, sans-serif grey Q repeated over a black background, much like Uber’s U – evoked the company’s status as one of the many trying to be ‘the Uber for x’ – in this case, the Uber for office-cleaning. But Teran’s announcement represented a departure from Uber’s notorious disavowal of employment responsibility for its drivers, whom it seems impatient to supplant with self-driving cars. In addition to full-time jobs and benefits, Managed by Q was welcoming the platform’s worker-users as genuine co-owners.