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Starting sometime April 7th you can call me a CoSocialist, because my new social-media handle is becoming @firstname.lastname@example.org. CoSocial is yet another fediverse outpost running Mastodon and with a blog. What’s different is that it’s Canadian, and a member-owned co-operative. Both of those matter to me, but the co-op part is the real story.
It’s not complicated: $50/year and you’re a member/owner, with an account at cosocial.ca. There’ll never be ads. Nobody will ever get rich. A few people might make a living, down the road. You will never be the product.
As for the cheese, read on.
History · What happened was, last November, when Elon started showing his true face, I bailed out of Twitter. A few days before that I’d seen a post from Evan Prodromou: “Should we start a Canadian coop Mastodon service? There are going to be a lot of people who need accounts soon.” And I was so there, the moment I heard the idea.
A bunch of hands went up, and we got so overexcited… Digital-Ocean-one-click instance that weekend, we thought, and venture forth! Without thinking. Oops. So we stopped to think. And now, a few months later, It’s Happening!
Sustainability · It’s not that hard to build a Mastodon instance. It’s not hard (with Elon’s help) to attract people to join it. But (pardon me for being crass) how you gonna pay that Cloud bill, and who will your mods and SREs be? The most popular answer, so far, has been “Patreon and volunteers”.
It’s pleasing that that happens, and it’s sustaining some pretty big instances as I write this. But once that Fresh Fediverse Flavor is no longer the new hotness, does it last? I mean, social media is a species of publishing, and the practice of publishing is full of chores that people have to do to keep the virtual presses spinning. It’s work, and people should be paid when they work.
In recent years, the idea’s been that publishing operations should be funded by Venture Capitalists looking for 1000X returns, which they’ll get by monetizing their “users” (I so hate that word). All the end-games seem to require achieving a monopolistic grip on some locked-in revenue stream. None of the outcomes that I’ve seen have been very pleasing, in the end.
So we asked ourselves “How much is this gonna cost in the long-term? That is, keeping servers on the air and paying people a decent hourly rate to moderate and sysadmin?” Spreadsheets were wrangled. The answer turns out to be “way less than you might think”. We’re pretty convinced that if you can get a few thousand members, the cost per member per month for compute and admin and mods is a small single-digit number of dollars.
So, why not ask the members to pay a small single-digit number of dollars, draw a line under it, and call it a win? It smells like a cottage industry, a “lifestyle business”, something that can provide a fair price for a decent product with smiles on faces.
Cheese · But, Ben Adida said, “The Fediverse can't just be the artisanal cheese shop of the Internet if it means to serve all humans.” I dunno, I really like artisanal cheese and I’m glad those shops are out there. Yeah, non-Kraft cheese is a minority taste, but damn there are still a lot of good cheesemakers and you can buy their stuff at the supermarket. And when I go to a public market, the artisanal-cheese booths seem among the shiniest; I think it’s not a terrible business. And Fediverse traffic is way cheaper than cheese anyhow.
But doesn’t that sound like something no Venture Investor would ever look at? Working As Intended.
Co-operative? · It’s not a new idea. Co-ops don’t have to be small; the world’s biggest has tens of thousands of worker-members. They come in a variety of flavors, but common threads are member democracy and a non-goal of enriching investors. That Wikipedia article linked at the top of this paragraph covers the territory well.
I can testify that pulling together and registering a member-owned co-operative in Canada is, while not a crushing task, quite a bit more work than standing up a Mastodon instance. To be fair, the legals are pretty easy, but first you need to get consensus on a vision and rules and, this being a legal entity, a constitution and bylaws and so on.
I don’t want to be dismissive, but I don’t think skipping that work is a good idea, not if you’re trying to build something for the long term.
We’re not the first co-op on the Fediverse: Check out social.coop. There are probably others.
Speaking personally · I’m a member; I’m helping a teeny bit with tech and financials and am on the moderation team. It’s early days yet so we’re volunteer-driven like all those other instances. But we’re not planning to rely on donations, and we’ve set up the structures so we can collect money and pay people in an orderly way.
Futures · One thing we’re sure of is that we’ll have scholarship accounts for people who are too broke to be Members; even $50/year is a steep hill for some folks.
We’re also thinking about all the organizations in Canada that don’t have instances but should: Government departments, universities, law firms, rock bands, and then lots and lots of co-ops and nonprofits, everything from agriculture to housing. CoSocial could end up helping with that too.
And we definitely need “CoSocialist” T-shirts. And thus graphics. So…
Branding · Having deployed my awesome design talents to produce the red/white banner reproduced above (hold the applause), I decided to ask an ML (Bing’s) to generate Canadian-Mastodon pix.
What do you think?
I think we should engage a professional designer once we get a few bucks.
Canadians: Come on over and check us out. The rest of you: Watch this space; I think co-ops are the right building block for the kind of Fediverse we’d like to inhabit.
Thanks · To Kris Nóva and Quintessence and the gang for keeping my home on Hachyderm ticking along for the last few months.
On the CoSocial side: Thanks to Evan for lighting the fuse. To Boris for organizing the tech. To Alka for getting our story straight. To Jai for being our in-house coop-ologist. And to our first cohort of volunteers for keeping us honest.