Free Software 2.0: Web Cooperatives?
by Sid Steward
Related link: http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2005/09/22/gpl3.html
So many web services use free software, yet the services themselves, their organization and management, are closed. When will we see a web service that is literally owned by its users, like a cooperative? Or is one already flourishing somewhere?
As a capitalist, I can go buy shares of Yahoo! or Google and feel confident their management is working for me. But as a user, I can't be as certain. Management will serve me, the user, to the extent that it also serves their shareholders. Yes, they're doing a good job serving users today. But will they do a good job for the next 20 years? How many times must I switch services during my lifetime?
It just seems to me that as these services integrate more closely into our lives, the need for a stronger social contract increases. This isn't just about privacy, but also reliability and community. It would feel good to know that the service's management is working harder for the user than the shareholder (crazy!). In a cooperative, the user is the shareholder, so no worries.
I think the FidoNet people were fast off the mark in this respect. The Association for Progressive Communications were/are pioneers in international co-operative application production with the APC shell. GreenNet was/is both a workers co-op and a charity.
Deployed services as assets
The other model to look at is the credit union, a financial form of cooperative. A CU is a not-for-profit oriented organization (not a non-profit). A CU provides services: it accepts deposits of members, pays dividends on contributions out of earnings, and provides installment credit only to members.