In today’s world, platforms like AirBnb and Uber are increasingly creating connections and exchanges. Platform co-ops want to go one step further to serve the communities who use them by offering a new model of ownership for a more democratic future, with peer-to-peer tech and ‘sensual’ social software.

In this guest post by Oliver Sylvester-Bradley, co-founder of The Open Co-op and organiser of OPEN 2018 conference in London, chats to Indra Adnan from political platform The Alternative UK and Holochain’s Matthew Schutte about hacking business structures, feminine wisdom, the perfect microcosm – and creating a sustainable, collaborative economy for the benefit of everyone.

No Crypto-kitties here.


Oliver Sylvester-Bradley:

As part of the preparations for OPEN 2018 (26-27 July 2018) we have been researching the changing narrative of the progressive movement and the latest technology for liberating decentralised cooperation at scale. When I asked Indra Adnan, Co-Initiator of The Alternative UK, about how the progressive movement should get more organised in order to have greater impact, I did not get the answer I was expecting.

Indra Adnan | Photo:Dom Moore

For Indra, who recently convened a ‘friendly’ meeting in Plymouth as part of The Alternative’s work on engaging communities in people-centred politics, getting organised is more about caring – and recognising what’s already there: “We need to develop a partnership between men and women. It’s a moment for men to listen to women as well,” she explained. “In Northern Ireland for example, no amount of clever ideas were going to solve anything until the women came forward to show them what was missing. There’s a partnership that has to happen.

“It’s more like the ethos of social workers – you don’t start with the idea that ‘I’m doing this to you’. It’s more ‘you and me need to get these things done’. It’s ontologically different. You talk about ‘organising’, but to me it’s more about a feeling of caring and coming alive. It needs to be a relationship.

“When you start to look below the radar, you see that lots of women never get paid for their work on this, plus they have to do paid jobs too. But lots of women don’t want to step in the limelight – don’t want to tool up like men – to be strident. They want to carry on doing what they do, which they do very well. This needs to be a partnership – real communities working together for the benefit of everyone.”

One of our topics at the OPEN 2018 conference, focuses on ‘the changing narrative’, which seems like an essential part of the shift to a new way of thinking and working. I asked Indra if part of the problem is that we have been operating from old values to date. It seems we need a new set up assumptions about how the world works – we need to recognise that we live in a complex adaptive system and things don’t flow linearly from A to B in every instance in every context. Webs of connections and complex systems have emergent behaviour. What sorts of actions should we take, and activities should we pursue, to get the results we want to emerge?

“We know increasingly that systems are complex, but when we think of how to scale up complexity we stumble around,” she replied. “Rather than scaling up centrally, we need to build great prototypes and copy them, adapting as we go. We need spaces to come together, safe spaces for a waking up process, so we can wake up to complex news and the state of the world – the things we’re doing – they ways we consume – so we can evolve new responses, new kinds of behaviour.

“And it’s not about scaling up. Take Frome’s flatpack democracy for example. Power in the local council was split between three main parties, and only 30% of citizens would vote. Decisions were made by the council, and if you wanted your say there were lots of procedures to follow to get your three minutes, then you would have to leave and  the decisions would get made without you. So a group of people in the pub decided to take over the council. They thought ‘well, if 70% of people aren’t voting – we’re going to make it participatory’ – and it didn’t take much to get a majority. In the second round of elections they got all 17 seats. That’s a model of people waking up and deciding to do something. They wrote it up as a book called Flatpack Democracy, and now the book is everywhere.”

The idea of a centralised, organised movement making inroads and changing conventional politics in any significant way seems more unlikely by the day. But are we really at a point where people are ready to understand and embrace the emergent possibilities of a truly distributed way of organising?

Politics does not have to be a grim thing, sitting in a chair listening to someone talk at you for hours. We want it to look and feel like a festival – have a good time and decide stuff. But you can’t just drop it on people and say “this is our brand”, it has to rise from them – as something that feels like them.”

“We don’t want to scale it up. We want it to be fractal,” Indra adds. “It’s not about one group scaling things up, but ideas which can be copied everywhere. If we get the perfect microcosm, doing something in a meaningful and sensible way. If you get that right, people will copy you. It’s more about blueprinting – prototyping – it’s you now. You have to make this happen.”

It’s an inspiring, and very tangible explanation of now, and one that made me start to realise some of my male-oriented prejudices could benefit enormously from incorporating some feminine wisdom! The future will not be a patriarchy, but a partnership which incorporates the views and practices of everyone and works to the benefit of all people. There are amazing similarities between this thinking and the discussions that have emerged as part of our other work on peer-to-peer software and open source technology.

Holochain: the perfect framework for decentralised cooperation at scale

One of our contributors to OPEN 2018 is Matthew Schutte from Holochain, a new peer-to-peer app hosting framework which looks set to blow blockchain into the weeds. Whilst some people have been embarrassing humanity by creating mind-numbing concepts such as Crypto-kitties, the team at Holo have been figuring out the fundamental information architecture for a new, sustainable, collaborative and cooperative economy.

Matthew Schutte

Such a valiant and laudable mission is clearly not for the faint-hearted and the Holo team brings together brains such as Eric Harris-Braun, Arthur Brock, Jean Russell, Jean-François Noubel and Matthew Schutte to name just a few. They are an incredible group of system-thinkers whose ideas have evolved out of the metacurrency project and CEPTR and synergised as Holochain, a new application framework that they are giving away to the world for free.

To help subsidise that effort, they are also launching the first flagship application built using Holochain – a peer-to-peer web hosting platform named Holo host – for which they recently raised over $20 million through a crowdfunding campaign and an Initial Community Offering.

I asked Matthew Schutte why would someone want to host Holo apps on their computer – and how is that going to help build a collaborative, sustainable economy?”

It’s kind of like the way AirBnb and Uber work. Their model enables them to make use of spare bedrooms – to help people pay off their mortgages. Holo makes use of the spare space and processing power of your computer to help you pay for your internet connection and maybe even the cost of the computer itself,” he explained.

“There is a massive amount of unused computing power in the world, more than any one company control. Amazon is king of hosting at the moment, though there are others that are neck and neck, like IBM and Google. Amazon is the third most valuable company on the planet and their web hosting division, Amazon Web Services (AWS) makes up 10% of Amazon’s revenues but more profit than the entire rest of the company combined. App hosting is the cash cow of the third most most valuable company on the planet!”

“Holo is aiming to do to Amazon’s cash cow what Uber did to taxis, but instead of taking 20 or 30% of the money from the drivers (like Uber does) with Holo 99% of the revenues go straight to the host who’s computer is doing the work.  Holo takes a 1% or less transaction fee.”

It takes a little while to get your head around exactly what Holochain is and why it’s so significant, but disrupting the hosting industry, and offering income to anyone with spare computing capacity, is undoubtedly going to cause waves. And that’s just the start of it… What Holochain enables, through it’s distributed hash table (the DHT – which does not require any of the insane ‘mining’ work – think: the wasted computation and energy which makes it hard to crack the blockchain) and peer-to-peer market for applications, is a whole new way of organising and structuring not just our digital files, but our society.

Matthew thinks Holo will help liberate decentralised cooperation at scale. “We’re hacking business structures in order to try to change what types of business models are possible in the world.”

“This concept of putting users in the middle will completely shift how co-ops can function. It will enable them to make use of the advantage that they have, which is diversity. What we are calling platform co-ops and protocol co-ops – coming together in alignment to create an ecosystem rather than just a network. So we can try new things and if they prove useful, they can propagate across the community and perhaps beyond.

“The ‘beyond’ comes from the fact that users can bridge between different networks.  That means that I can draw data from 5 or 10 apps and combine them together to create a more coherent user experience for myself. And I don’t need anyone else to agree to also use that particular configuration. If it works for me, I can put it to work. No group meetings and voting required (for that sort of issue, anyway).

“No more top down, or one-size fits all application experiences, that’s centralised corporate architecture. New ways of digital commutation are going to harness the diversity of co-ops and help give them a learning advantage. This will allow them to experiment and learn faster than centralised organisations – a collaborative advantage in a world that changing fast.”

The idea of moving from ‘platforms’ (with a centralised body or organisation at the centre) to ‘protocols’ which enable diverse and distributed ‘nodes’ (people, or things, or even organisations) to communicate, and collaborate, without any middleman at all is the quantum leap which will deliver our overdue systems change. It’s essentially a way of encoding the ideas which Indra advocates. Our new system of politics will need to be a partnership between all people, in which the ‘most agreed upon’ (as in ‘most used’) solutions become the norm; a system in which you’re not required to ‘vote’ because every act and action is a vote in itself.

What Matthew is talking about, what his team have created, is a framework which will enable us to organise our digital worlds around organic, more humane and ultimately, more feminine philosophies and processes. In a recent podcast on Plutopia News, Arthur Brock, another of the Holo team, specifically mentions how Holochain is fundamentally more feminine way of designing computing systems. We need systems like this because it’s becoming increasingly clear that simply throwing more male-dominated thinking at the same problems is not delivering the changes we need.

“Right now, when we think of apps, we think of them like places and properties to be owned, but apps (especially the ones we are creating) are really agreements between different parties about how to communicate with each other,” Arthur explains. “Any two parties can decide to try something different, and if out works for them, cool, maybe it will spread. That enables the community to experiment with new ways of communicating, new ways of coordinating. And the things that work, they propagate, and the things that prove to be a waste of time, people will decide not to copy that one… or they stop using it.

“Language is highly adaptable because it’s stored holographically inside the brains and the bodies of each of the participants – and that language adapts readily because any person who says ‘we need a new word for something’, they can come up with that word – and anyone else who says ‘oh, that’s great, that’s really useful’ they can start using it. So changes can be tried and spread and at every step of the propagation its spread is dependent on it being useful, functional for those users. That’s how we hold language – it’s why languages is adaptable. It’s also how we hold culture, the beliefs and expectations about appropriateness in a given situation. Which means they vary from person to person.

“If someone tries something new – like staying in a stranger’s home after that have booked a room on a website, if it works out well they might tell some friends about it and if those other people try it and if they have a good experience too, that new expectation might spread and that culture might change. We saw this over the last decade with the rise of the sharing economy companies. The culture shifted and it shifted rapidly. That’s because culture is held holographically. It lives in the brains and the bodies of the participants. Holographically means that each party sees the whole from their own experience and perspective. The technical phasing we generally use is ‘each part perceives the whole but from its own perspective’.

“If we make the way that we hold applications ‘opt in’, and individually held  the way that we do language and the way that we do culture we will gain the adaptive advantages of how holograms work. The main point I want to get across is: we don’t have to keep running cooperative organisations as if they are just corporations but also with voting, we don’t have to adopt the top down structures of the corporate world. There are ways we can do the communications infrastructure that doesn’t have to have the centralisation of  power and by forgoing that – by actually running cooperatively we gain huge advantages.”

The platform cooperative economy is evolving as a viable alternative to the centralised, profit-hungry, extractive business model which dominates the web today.

By shifting the focus toward fundamentally fairer forms of ownership and governance, and rewarding their communities instead of venture capitalists, platform cooperatives, and open protocols, provide a template for a new type of organisation – forming the building blocks for a more equitable economy. These are the essential components of the transition to a transparent, democratic and decentralised economy which works for everyone – a society in which anyone can become a co-owner of the organisations on which they, their family and their community depend – a world where everyone can have say in the decisions that affect them.

AtlasOffer: OPEN 2018 is a chance to meet the people that are working on fixing our broken political and cultural systems. Join them on the 26 and 27 of July 2018 at London’s Conway Hall to help create the world we want. For a 20% discount use the code atl4s.