cathy-300pxMeet Cathy, the Cooperative Development Institute’s new answerwoman! She can take on any co-op questions you might have, big or small. Today we address the questions: “Is there such thing as a digital co-op? Is there something specific about a co-op for digital workers? How can the co-op model matter to digital workers and what are some best practices?” See all of Cathy’s answers and ask your own on her home page. This blog post was written by Micky Metts of Agaric, a web development collective based in Boston.

Yes, there are digital co-ops and there are tech communities where coders share what they write with others. Digital cooperatives like Palante and Colab are good examples of distributed teams working together.

In fact, there is a growing movement to build a network to connect people working on the fundamental tools for a cooperative future, it is called Platform Cooperativism. The movement is supported by a four-year conference series at the New School in New York City. The conference in 2014 may be of interest, it was on digital labor. A book will be published by Trebor Scholz in April 2016 that will define the movement and present examples of tech sectors that are cooperatively building free software and platform tools. Nathan Schneider, a founder of Platform Cooperativism brings us the Internet of Ownership. It is a directory of cooperative projects that have built or are building cooperative platform tools/services. This work has just begun and will facilitate digital co-ops by having the resources they will need to build upon. There is great need for everything from hosting services and platforms to analytics software for collecting website statistics.

Although they are distinct from other types of co-ops, there is nothing particularly special about cooperatives for digital workers. Working remotely does not really change the way we cooperate other than allowing collaboration over long distances. Much like other remote developers, digital co-ops use tools to communicate like IRC, Slack, Loomio, Wiki, and Issue queues for project-based development. As for governance in a distributed environment see how Debian works,  or how BackDrop is doing it. Nothing is written in stone and we are all contributing to build these new models for operating.

Your question on sharing best practices can be answered by looking at communities that are built around software and programming languages. One outstanding community is based around the content management system called Drupal. There is a large group of people in the Drupal community that specifically share code for the purpose of helping communities that have little resources to build their future. Hack-a-thons and sprints—like a digital barn-raising—bring coders together to rapidly build or prototype a project. Some of these programmers will meet in person and some will work remotely, but they will all be writing code and focusing on the same project. Sharing code is a fact in the Open Source community, but it is the Free Software community that takes the sharing a few steps further by focusing on the sharing of best practices and including social justice as part of the development process. These groups and more are also building community websites for coders to come together with non-technical people in communities that are under-served, to build things that benefit not only the local community, but perhaps can be re-purposed for other communities.

Here is a link to an excellent guide by the ElectricEmbers Cooperative, it is helpful for starting a tech cooperative: A Technology Freelancer’s Guide To Starting a Worker Coop. You can also look for groups that may have members local to you if you prefer to start out collaborating in person. A great start would be to join a mailing list of tech worker/owners, and for that purpose there is, a list that includes many digital co-ops.

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Is There Such Thing as a Digital Co-op?
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