They were supposed to liberate us. They were supposed to empower us.
And in some ways, they've done some part of that.
But the mega-platforms-- Google, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft and UBER, in particular, are also very dangerous to our future and incredibly exploitive. They are profoundly top down in doling out services and controlling data.
Amazon's Mechanical Turk allows workers to paid a few dollars an hour, and allows employers to not pay workers at all. And of course, Amazon is destroying the brick and mortar retail industry, killing tens of thousands of small businesses and some large ones, like Sears, KMart, Macys, and more.
Google and Facebook are influencing who sees what news, or other content, with zero transparency as to how they make decisions.
Uber has had tens of thousands of drivers protest against their algorithm driven policies.
Worse, all of the megaplatforms are amassing huge troves of data from users, that they are using to build proprietary databases that only they get to use.
The thing is, these megaplatforms do provide a lot of strong, valuable resources, from search, email, user feedback on products and so much more.
There's another, better way to think about platforms.
It's called platform cooperativism-- the application of the idea of co-op, or worker or food co-op to big platforms and to sharing resources.
I attended the first conference to explore the idea was held two years ago. A lot of good ideas were offered and the beginning efforts of the movement were showcased.
Yesterday, I attended the third annual Platform Co-op conference. People came from all over the world to report on progress in building the digital and cooperation infrastructure to support worker owned or worker supporting bottom up worker business and projects. They include local competition for UBER, local platforms to support artists, patient care workers, domestic workers.
The are many advantages. One presenter reported that while ninety percent of small businesses close after five years, 90% of worker owned co-op businesses are still operating after ten years. Workers make twice as much money in co-ops and, in co-ops in the insurance industry, women are 900% more likely to be in leadership positions.
Another presenter discussed CoWorker.org, where co-workers for big companies can coordinate together to build cooperation, power and influence. The biggest group includes about 40,000 Starbucks Barristas. This is a great Bottom up idea for helping empower employees using a platform.