Mon 12 Mar 2018 5:07AM

The Common Bond & Scaling Strategy of social.coop?

MC Matthew Cropp Public Seen by 60

Let's use this thread to discuss our current and future scope of membership for social.coop. I am currently the primary member vetting applications, and my understanding of our grounds for admission is pretty loose. Basically, if someone indicates interest in at least one of the items on the poll in the intro survey, and something in their application doesn't scream SPAM, I let them in.

That loose screen nonetheless establishes that social.coop currently operates with a common bond that can be characterized as "affinity for the co-op model/movement."

I think this has contributed to our progress thus far by (1) creating a critical mass of mutually interesting content, which keeps members coming back, by focusing on the co-op movement, and (2) having a pool of expertise, energy, and interest to draw on for the work of actually constructing the platform.

As our platform matures, a key strategic question is how we scale beyond our present semi-intentionally gradual growth? Do we, when we hit a certain size/infrastructural capacity milestone, decide to drop the common bond (and thus the more curated feel of the local timeline) and start actively encouraging our networks not just to join Mastodon, but social.coop specifically? Or do we maintain an identity as a co-op movement social hub, and work to support other instances in adopting the organizational model we're developing?

Where are we going with this?


Erik Moeller Mon 12 Mar 2018 5:27AM

Great thread, Matthew, and thanks for your work vetting new applications. Personally, I don't think we should restrict the topic scope to co-operative movements, but I feel that we should communicate an expectation that folks participate actively in running the co-op. It would be easy for new members to misunderstand the social.coop model as "I pay $X, and I expect Y in return", i.e. a classic customer/service relationship, rather than co-ownership and co-creation.

I've had my frustrations on the technical side -- there are similar sized Mastodon instances that have a better track record than social.coop in terms of updates, reliability, public monitoring, and so on. But I am patient because I know that we're here to figure this out together, and the folks doing the tech work are volunteers (thank you, Victor & Mayel!).

So, I'm all in favor of explicitly expanding the content/topic scope, but I think as we try to reach a broader audience, I'd suggest being even more clear what running this as a co-operative means, to avoid misunderstandings and complaints. This is "DIY social media", and people joining need to understand that their active involvement is what keeps it working & makes it better.


Kevin Flanagan Mon 12 Mar 2018 8:23AM


Is it necessary for all users to be members? There is almost certainly a sliding scale of participation. I miss my friends from other social networks and there are no shortage of people who would quit given a decent alternative they are good people with social conscience but not particularly knowledgeable about coops. I invited a number of friends and it took over a month for their registration which is nuts. I would open account registration to general public like any other social network and automate that then add an option for coop membership where membership is something like a verified account, members with a vote should be identifiably real people with official I'd of some sort.

People who like an ethical social network that use social.coop ( http://social.coop ) but are not members could also contribute to running costs as optional in fundraising drives.

Where as members pay a small members fee.

My two cents



Aaron Wagener Mon 12 Mar 2018 11:44PM

I think that right now, we should continue the coop focus, because it allows for this "micro network effect" that is a big draw to signing up. You can go to the local timeline and get lots of coop news. It seems like that is why most people have been joining.

That said, I don't think that the criteria needs to be to high. It should be absolutely fine to join the network without being particularly knowledgeable about coops, as Kevin was talking about. In this sense, I think that the automatic membership makes a lot of sense. If you like (or tolerate) coops enough to become a member of one, then I think you have plenty of reason to be on social.coop.

I think it is better to have everyone in social.coop be a member. This keeps the network from being divided between members and nonmembers, and also helps to ensure that our revenue will scale with the membership. The awesome thing about mastodon is that if people don't want the responsibilities of owning their instance, they can join another one that is free and still talk to folks on social.coop.


Edward L Platt Mon 12 Mar 2018 11:58PM

There is some value in requiring members to show that they've at least read through our principles. The full bylaws are probably not necessary.


Erik Moeller Tue 13 Mar 2018 5:27AM

Per Aaron, I would also prefer to avoid introducing a member/non-member distinction at this stage. There may come a point when social.coop can indeed be a traditional service provider to people who don't want to be involved in co-creating it on a day-to-day basis, but I don't think that point has arrived yet -- we simply aren't set up to meet the quality of service and maturity expectations people signing up under such a model may reasonably have.


Michele Kipiel Wed 14 Mar 2018 4:07PM

Great thread, thanks for opening it! My personal understanding is that part of the problem lies in the fact we''re a bit "recursive": we're a co-op instance focused on co-op knowledge and promotion. This in turn creates a bit of a confusion about what's the core topic (ie. the interest in cooperatives at large? The actual participation in this specific cooperative called social.coop?).

I believe we can consider both these topics as core, or foundational values with equal dignity and importance and build on top of them, becoming more inclusive (eg. introducing the concept of "coop accounts", which we debated long ago) while not losing our focus on the cooperative movement. I would personally avoid becoming a general-purpose instance in the future, lest we lose our original spirit and values.

In conclusion, I'd say we can keep being social.coop, but we should do better at being welcoming and inclusive (as pointed out in the first anniversary thread a few days back).


Neil - @neil@social.coop Sat 17 Mar 2018 4:37PM

This touches the question Mastodon seems to be facing as a whole at the moment - that of general-purpose instances vs. topic instances. Topic instances make more sense to me, so I like the idea of keeping social.coop with a common bond (nicely phrased by Matt as "affinity for the co-op model/movement.")

Re: members and non-members, I think it's good to promote membership to encourage co-creation, but the expectation of monthly financial contributions feels a little exclusionary. There may be plenty with an interest in coops but without the means for regular payments. Any way to mitigate that without a member vs non-member split? Maybe accepting more than just US dollars, maybe something like Mayel's ora ( http://ora.network/ )?


Matt Noyes Sun 18 Mar 2018 5:08AM

Great idea -- Ora seems very cool


Nick S Wed 11 Apr 2018 10:31AM

I hadn't heard of Ora, but it does sound interesting, I must go and investigate it. Seems a variation on timebanking/mutual credit?

I was thinking about similar ideas myself. I'm very curious how or if it works in practice - I suspect it's harder to get working than it looks, as are most alternative currencies.

Perhaps social.coop could accept Ora, but I suspect this needs some careful thought in the light of the kind of questions I asked in the thread below about meeting the bottom line, and whether this is just a token contribution or actually used to pay coop bills in some way.

Another way of looking at this: I was wondering if Ora (or a currency like it) could be used to allocate the share of the funds collected by social.coop? Although this doesn't solve anything if the funds are insufficient in the first place, and in any case I suspect something like Enspiral's Co-Budget might be more appropriate for that.


Nick S Wed 11 Apr 2018 9:05AM

Perhaps this was discussed elsewhere (I'm not a part of the finance subgroup), but I'd be interested to know a bit more about the economics of running social.coop. For example,

  • What is the minimum income it can survive on?
  • Where does that go?
  • How close to that does the social.coop run at the moment?
  • And so how much surplus does the operation have, and how is is it used?

Of course, there will be equipment and 3rd party services to be paid, which are fairly clear cut, and then there will be jobs which need to be done like maintenance and admin, which will be fuzzier if this is done by volunteers. (I can only guess what these are and whether they're sustainable for the long term.)

The question of scaling is related to this, in that the motivation to scale because the minimum requirements aren't really being met is entirely different to wanting to scale for some other reason. If the basics aren't met, then non-paying accounts/non-members need to be considered firstly in terms of whether they make social.coop more or less sustainable (by adding to the cost of running the infrastructure; or conversely by providing a pool of volunteers). Otherwise, social.coop could be fairly free and easy about not making the distinction (although it might choose to maintain "a common bond" as @matthewcropp puts it).

More questions which occur to me:
- Are there some clearly defined (system-critical or otherwise) roles which get remuneration?
- Are these roles necessarily performed by members? (I assume not but that in practice they are.)
- Are they currently being done by volunteers? Is that planned to change?
- And what is the selection / deselection process for them? (Many of them will require some technical or other skills.)

I assume part of the point of social.coop is to experiment with creating a viable self-sustaining community in contrast to the usual profit-to-stockholders exponential-growth model, and from there on promote the alternative. Right?

As to what I think now, knowing what little I do: I'd tentatively suggest that makes sense to maintain the "common bond" requirement, as that's part of the attraction for me, at least until it is generally considered to be dispensable because it isn't needed for sustainability (for example, it seems useful for finding contributors). I might change my mind if this seemed to be counter to the sustainability or health of social.coop in some other sense.


Michele Kipiel Wed 11 Apr 2018 10:04AM

There was a lot of talk around remuneration for mission-critical roles, but I'm not sure where we're at with it, as of today. So far, mostly everything is done on a voluntary basis, but we will need to change that in the future as the workload will sure increase over time, as the instance grows. Regarding the questions you pose on the surplus and the overall income, that information is available on our OpenCollective page https://opencollective.com/socialcoop


Robert Benjamin Wed 11 Apr 2018 9:23PM

Man another great thread that I will have to wade through its entirety as I am finding people have already been discussing thinking about many of the things swimming around in my head in relation to social.coop growth. All great questions.Nick. For the finance related part it might be if good you joined the Finance working group so we could work some these ideas/questions within that framework. I recently posted a question about starting a budget document if there hasn't already been one. It seems like many of these issues around platform management, volunteerism vs remuneration, mission, support initiatives, growth, and the overall financial sustainability of SC would play out best in simple Pro Forma to start.


Nick S Thu 12 Apr 2018 1:14PM

I've made a request to join. I see it does say something about working groups on the main social.coop Loomio page, I hadn't noticed it before.


Matt Noyes Wed 11 Apr 2018 3:33PM

This is a great thread. I wish we could sit down in a room for a few hours and work through the issues! I imagine social.coop on the strawberry patch model, or Highlander model: we use our cooperative instance to cultivate/support cooperators who then start new cooperative instances. So maybe we want to think about providing hosting at some point, for example.


Nick S Thu 12 Apr 2018 1:07PM

I wonder, are these ("Strawberry patch"/"Highlander") ad-hoc, or known terms in coop parlance? I googled them but didn't find anything specific...


Neil - @neil@social.coop Sun 15 Apr 2018 10:25AM

Speaking of which - new instance opensocial.africa are looking to adopt the social.coop platform coop model - https://opensocial.africa/@falgn0n/99862640594925966

(edit: @matthewcropp is already on the case :) https://social.coop/@mattcropp/99842682979939582)


Jake Beamish Sun 15 Apr 2018 10:48AM

The strawberry patch/highlander terminology is lost on me too I'm afraid – but I'm in agreement that the scope of this project is something that could be ironed out a bit, and doing that would help with other questions and issues we're all working with


Matthew Cropp Mon 16 Apr 2018 12:22AM

Neil, you can embed links using the markdown system.


Matt Noyes Mon 16 Apr 2018 4:42AM

Sorry not to reply promptly! Strawberries grow like rhizomes instead of trees, basically distributed and federated. The Highlander Folk School, which was one of the key education and organizing centers for the civil rights movement, had a strategy of helping people to build their own independent organizations rather than expand Highlander itself.


Jeff Hardin Wed 18 Apr 2018 10:06AM

An example of the impact of the work of the Highlander Folk School: https://www.grocer.coop/articles/co-op-changed-south


Edward L Platt Mon 16 Apr 2018 1:09PM

I've seen this called replication-based decentralization. For instance, in Charlie DeTar's phd dissertation on consensus.


Michele Kipiel Mon 16 Apr 2018 2:14PM

Any chance you have a link to that dissertation? :D


Edward L Platt Mon 16 Apr 2018 4:33PM

"InterTwinkles : online tools for non-hierarchical, consensus-oriented decision making"


Clayton (clayton@social.coop) Wed 18 Apr 2018 4:13PM

I agree with empowering other instances to form and grow. What do folks see as the threshhold for our own instance? We're at 979 users. If more of the existing users were active I'd say we've already hit it, for me at least. Maybe we should focus on engaging and activating our existing community.


Matthew Cropp Mon 27 Aug 2018 10:06PM

I'm formulating more coherent strategic thoughts that I will share soon, but I'm feeling like the critical mass of new members coming in a short period of time in this recent wave is putting strain on the capacity of our common bond dynamics to maintain the level of mutual trust for much of the informal, volunteer-driven and ad hoc systems we have in place to operate effectively.

So, I'm thinking we need to go after the formalization work that has been ongoing in the CWG with increased urgency and speed, or put a pause on accepting new members until we've and thoroughly revisited our on-boarding process so that we're only accepting new members with an affinity for the co-op movement beyond vaguely liking the idea.

Or something else, but the latest round of tensions is definitely feeling like a sign of structural strain to me that needs to be approached strategically.


Arini Suhono Mon 27 Aug 2018 10:27PM

i'm strongly in favour of this. Not to say I think we should slow down "moving forward" as such, but I definitely think there should be a pause on accepting new members until we've hammered things out.


Simon Grant Mon 27 Aug 2018 10:34PM

Yes, I've been quite taken aback by the forcefulness and dismissiveness of some recent comments. As .coop, we can always refer back to the ICA principles, and Principle 5, the education one, is important to me in a new light, not the normal way you might expect. I'm longing for people to take the time to educate themselves and each other about other people's needs and realities, not typecasting them or imagining negative stereotypes. I know this is a personal weakness of mine, but I do feel pretty upset when people imagine I have some negative intent, or that I am culpably ignorant of something. We've been focusing, in a very stressful way, on stress from outside this instance, but how about charity beginning at home?


Matthew Cropp Mon 27 Aug 2018 10:52PM

I'm longing for people to take the time to educate themselves and each other about other people's needs and realities, not typecasting them or imagining negative stereotypes.

The challenge with this, @asimong is, when dealing with strangers, or almost strangers, that "taking the time" is a commitment of labor and energy in a world that demands more of both than anyone can reasonably provide, so we all have to ration it, and stereotyping is one blunt, but often effective, rationing tool.

If we're a tight-knit community of people with a shared set of interests around which we often interact in other contexts (say, other co-ops, conferences, etc.), it makes sense to ration a decent amount of that energy into developing nuanced understandings of each other. If we're more of a general purpose instance on track to scale to thousands (or more) users, it's functionally impossible, and so we'll have to rely on such tools as formal rule structures and empowered s/elected sub-groups of members that can afford to develop that deeper level of mutual understanding and trust.


Simon Grant Mon 27 Aug 2018 11:01PM

I think I can see your point, @matthewcropp -- to me, the opportunity to get to know someone is itself one of the most important features and outcomes of interacting on social media such as this. Maybe I'm in a minority on this -- that's OK. I mean, if I have any time, that's how I would like to be spending it. Making new friends, discussing things with old and new friends. It doesn't have to be so tight-knit, a thousand people is fine, but to me it just means treating people as part of one's virtual neighbourhood, not slagging them off. Particularly if you have a problem, then especially take the time to find out a little. That's what I would like, and that can take as much or as little time as one has.


Tao Tue 28 Aug 2018 11:55AM

FWIW I really like that there's so much discussion of coops in the local timeline -- it's a big part of why I chose social.coop.

I'm not sure I see the value in trying to be more general-purpose than we currently are, and I think we we should avoid having growth as any kind of goal. If an influx of users is straining our finances or our moderation capacity, I think it's reasonable to close sign-ups temporarily. There are lots of cool instances out there, and if someone really wants to, it's relatively easy to migrate once we open back up.


Michele Kipiel Tue 28 Aug 2018 11:58AM

Totally agree with you on this. We are obviously not a general-purpose instance and, as much as I like seeing new faces around, sometimes it's just better to take a break from onboarding new members to better focus on what we are and what we want to be in the future.