Wed 13 May 2020 10:55PM

Decentralization and Free Access

JC Jaimie Cosmia Public Seen by 90

I’m new to the community, hi!

So before I jump in with annoying newbie criticisms, I just want to say that I think what you guys have built here is incredible. There are a lot of features I’d still like to see, but this thing is so close to the sort of platform I’ve been dreaming about for years, and I think it has the potential to be world-changing. I am impressed and grateful.

That said, I wanted to start some discussion about my number one concern with the platform. I believe the world desperately needs a platform like this, not for trivial (sorry) purposes like facilitating corporate decisions and teamwork but for allowing worker cooperatives, unions, non-profits, whole communities to govern themselves effectively, equitably, and efficiently. Right now, what seems to me to be the biggest barrier to Loomio being used for such lofty aspirations is its centralized and subscription-based nature.

I understand the need to charge monthly fees if Loomio is maintaining its own servers, but I’m wondering if the org ever intends to move the platform to a Fediverse standard, a la Mastodon, Diaspora, etc. Allowing volunteer servers to host the platform could not only make access free but establish trust by eliminating any single point of failure or control. Free access is important so that even the poorest can participate, but just as importantly, any subscription fee at all (even if its affordable) increases sign-up friction, which make it difficult to achieve the network effect that would make a platform like this useful on a mass scale. It’s very difficult for me to imagine Loomio gaining ubiquity on the order of a Facebook or Twitter or Google app if use isn’t free. Because I assume we’re all in agreement against the use of data collection and targeted advertising, the only real alternative I’m aware of is decentralized Fediverse hosting.

If the team is concerned about continuing to make an income from the project, you could always start a Patreon or similar and continue providing value to the community by maintaining and improving the code and by providing one of the many servers for hosting.

I hope these concerns aren’t taken personally, but I would really love to see this platform achieve its full potential.


Robert Guthrie Sun 24 May 2020 5:17AM

Hi @Jaimie Cosmia, you should find plenty of discussion about Loomio's pricing model in our archives.

Our costs are almost all staff, and we don't have many staff (currently 5). We have found that a traditional SaSS model is the only thing that can provide enough revenue to approach covering our costs.

We have a number of rates to suit a group's budget, and in practice a few dollars per person per year is not prohibitive for most groups. Requiring payment to use Loomio after a free trial is the most successful way we have found to ensure that people who get value from Loomio support it's ongoing development.

We would not be here today if we did not charge money for Loomio. That's the choice we have to make.

That said, Loomio is open source software, and people do run host their own Loomio's rather that use our hosted service.


Danyl Strype Sun 7 Jun 2020 3:26AM

Nau mai @Jaimie Cosmia welcome to the Loomio community.

FYI if you type the word "federated" into the search bar at the top of this group (under the headings for 'threads', 'proposals' etc), you will find a number of threads about ways of decentalizing the Loomio software. It's more helpful to add to the discussions in those threads than to start a new one from scratch.

FWIW your comments remind me of many of the founding aspirations of the Loomio workers cooperative. However, after two successful rounds of crowdfunding, the Loomio co-op needed a further round of funding that would use less staff time and last longer. Sadly, seeking funding through a multi-stakeholder co-op, where users could also be owner-members ("exit to community" to quote Nathan Schneider and the Unicorns United group), was not a well-known idea at that time. So Loomio made a compromising decision to seek funding from outside investors, which has bent their decision-making away from those founding aspirations, and towards ways of making a profit, to give a return on that investment.

This is IMHO one of the reasons the Loomio devs are not interested in a decentalized model. They worry their investors will see that as being harder to monetize than the centralized model.


Robert Guthrie Sun 7 Jun 2020 8:28PM

It's not that it's harder to monetize, it's much harder and slower to build, and we have decided to provide a user experience driven product for small high trust groups rather than a technologically idealistic approach aimed at solving global politics.

Your characterization of our fundraising efforts and investors is mistaken and uninformed.


Danyl Strype Tue 9 Jun 2020 11:12PM

Rob's summary doesn't contradict mine in any way, it just leaves out the reason why Loomio ...

decided to provide a user experience driven product for small high trust groups

... given that ...

a technologically idealistic approach aimed at solving global politics.

... is exactly what Loomio was founded to create, as can be easily seen in the way the project was described in the two crowdfunding rounds, and in this 2014 quote from Loomio co-founder Rich Bartlett:

Personally my interpretation of the NSA revelations is that *every online platform that gets popular will be compromised*. There is no easy “magic bullet” solution, but the best hope we have is decentralization. That means, instead of having one huge monolithic platform with everyone’s data in one place, we envisage a massive network of small pods. Some of them would be federated together, and some would be totally independent and hidden. Basically we want to avoid creating a huge target for surveillance, and empower people to take control of who they share their data with.


Robert Guthrie Wed 10 Jun 2020 1:13AM

What is your intention here? I'm not feeling encouraged to spend my time discussing this with you. It's time consuming, but also not replying also eats away at me. ugh.

Our crowdfunding promised a self hosted loomio image, and we've provided that and continue to improve it and support it.

Creating something today, that gives us some success, and provides people with value, does not preclude further development on decentralization and free access.

So many projects in this space fail. The decisions to charge for access, (while providing the software and support to run it yourself), and to build the app with robust technologies, have been in the best interests of our users - because if we did not do that, we would not exist, at all.

There is every possiblity we can develop a decentralized system in the future, but I can honestly say, that nobody knows what the right thing to build is, yet. If we did, we would be working on it right now. We have to work it out (the UX and the tech) though trial and error, step by step, with prototypes and production ready systems that we can learn from, all the while creating a business that can fund future research and development.

This is the Loomio approach, and it's how we're going to continue working towards our mission.


Z. Blace Tue 21 Jul 2020 7:31AM

@Rob Guthrie how open is loomio.org as coop to still experiment these days with forms of funding?


Robert Guthrie Tue 21 Jul 2020 8:07AM

These days our primary funding focus is selling loomio.org services to organisations who are willing to pay for it.


Z. Blace Tue 21 Jul 2020 1:12PM

OK - is there an overview of existing users somewhere publicly available?

I am curious both personally and for pitching it to NGOs and projects I contribute to.


Robert Guthrie Tue 21 Jul 2020 8:25PM

Yes!, our blog is a good place to look at the kinds of organisations using Loomio.


Z. Blace Wed 22 Jul 2020 12:57AM

Awesome, thanks!

Partago folks from Ghent I know already.

Is there a way to get in touch with some of them?

I am curious over Podemos contacts.