Developing an ecosystem of cooperative service providers that host open-source tools Back

Developing an ecosystem of cooperative service providers that host open-source tools

In the golden age of surveillance capitalism, Autonomic Coöperative – a worker-owned cooperative dedicated to using technology to empower people for positive change – observes that as long as we are limited to the monopolised facilities of corporate providers and their spyware, a loss of freedom and self-determination characterise our digital lives. But alternatives are possible; to protect the fundamental human right of privacy, a crucial part of the struggle is to develop an ecosystem of cooperative service providers that host open-source tools. Autonomic Coöperative presents ‘Co-op Cloud’ – a European infrastructure that features self-hosting open-source apps to the public interest. Accessibility, reliability, sustainability, transparency and privacy are the name of the game.

In an interview, Autonomic Cooperative shared with us its vision for Co-op Cloud: ‘Our project aims to protect our environment by using significantly fewer resources than most enterprise cloud services. This is achieved by using a tech stack that allows hosters to utilise existing hardware resources more efficiently. By developing all of Co-op Cloud technologies in the open and under a free software licence, we are creating a digital configuration commons that allows other hosters to share the same underlying code and work cooperatively rather than in closed privatised silos. This same commons is also available and useful for smaller groups and individuals with tech skills who will benefit from the investment of larger entities. This frees up co-operative hosters to focus on providing support and care to their end-users, which helps to build an ecosystem of social justice projects around Europe.’

‘Technologically,’ Autonomic elucidates, ‘Co-op Cloud is 3 things: abra, a command-line tool to manage local and remote deployments of applications; a catalogue of “recipes”, shared configurations for (currently over 80) libre applications; and a set of best practises and helper utilities, including a backup system, deployment tools, and automatic update management infrastructure.’ In other words, Co-op Cloud is a packaging format, i.e. an archive of programmes that catalogues apps, vouches for their credibility, and gives easy access to them.

Computers with plants growing out of them, from the Internet Gardening collection by Trav Fryer (are.na/trav-fryer)

With the contribution of the Culture and Solidarity Fund, the beta version will build on the previous alpha stage, to see increased stability of abra, recipe catalogue releases, and place a greater focus on outreach to develop best practises. Additionally, the project will switch from incubation within Autonomic to accessible community governance. In the process of developing the alpha version, Autonomic notes that it has learned more about the need to set a balance between new feature development and bug-fixing. Autonomic gladly observes that there seems to be huge community interest in this kind of project and that conversations with interested users or partners are overwhelmingly positive.

Co-op Cloud is placed in the nexus of a collaborative software community; it is a bridge between existing libre software apps, as well as end-users. Made part of the commons, it is made to express an alliance with the open-source movement by being shared under copyleft licences. Democratic governance is at the core of the project, ensuring that decision making structures operate horizontally so that Autonomic takes no paternalistic position in its implementation. Instead, the aim is to facilitate the involvement of different groups, including end-users, user organisations, hosters and co-developers. ‘We use a consultative, human-centred design process wherever possible,’ Autonomic tells us, ‘to ensure our core principles of accessibility and design justice are embedded in our planning.’ Some contributors at present include individual participants and members from Doop.Coop, Karrot, 1312.media, Open Learning Commons and Social.coop.

The Co-op Cloud proposes ‘to make access to appropriate technology more feasible for organisations who typically have to rely on high-cost, inflexible “Big Tech” cloud services. The project can support efforts in expanding diversity and inclusion by providing more options for creating independent, autonomous and safe digital spaces for the communities that need them.’

Within the scope of the Culture and Solidarity Fund, Autonomic Coöperative is in conversation with Meet.Coop and Varia, who will use Co-op Cloud as the technical platform for key portions of their projects. For Meet.coop, Co-op Cloud will lower the technical and financial cost of experimenting with new services and help explore new versions of their current apps. For Varia, Co-op Cloud’s contributions will include making Varia services more reliable through a systematising approach to hosting custom applications developed by Varia members, and empowering Varia’s partner groups to host services themselves.

Other platforms that already run some or all of their technology infrastructure on Co-op Cloud are: ruangrupa – curators of the upcoming “documenta fifteen” event ; WASHNote ; Social Media Analysis Toolkit (SMAT) ; Neuronic Games ; Third Sector Accountancy ; Biobulkbende ; Anarchy Rules ; Fashion Revolution ; the Industrial Workers of the World ; Shaping Our Lives ; and United Tech and Allied Workers. Autonomic remains in close contact with them to discover their changing needs and to adapt Co-op Cloud to fit for the widest possible use.

Follow the developments of Autonomic Coöperative and Co-op Cloud on a blog dedicated to their activities.


Granted
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