When we started early May, we first wanted to share a BBB server between three cooperatives - femProcomuns, Collective.tools and Webarchitects, but why would we limit this to just our own three coops? We agreed that also other actors from the Commons and Social and Solidarity Economy would be very welcome to join us and we would abide by the Cooperative Principles - see the home page at https://www.org.meet.coop/ We mentioned the idea to people around us and the ball started rolling.
The second weekly meeting (Thursdays at 15h CEST) we had people from Europe but also from other continents, in particular from Hypha.coop and Koumbit both from Canada and Yasu from Japan joining in. The idea of building The Online Meeting Cooperative as a network of nodes became clear. Based on those discussions - in the meetings and over email initially - @chris drafted a Roadmap. In this roadmap we envision different nodes in different continents. Each node may have one or more servers and at least one organisation taking care for the node and enabling people and organisations to become a member and contribute resources (money, time, servers mainly) to make the node and global network sustainable.
Traditional companies like Zoom, Inc have one legal body, owning, controlling and exploiting the services it develops for its customers, in a top-down fashion. We try to do this bottom-up, initiated by commons cooperative actors who take responsibility for the project and supported by organisations and people who want this to exist and benefit from the service. Zoom and likes aim to maximise their value at the stock exchange at whatever means it may take (keeping users personal data hostage and abusing them). Our mission is therefore totally different as we aim to provide an ethical service in a bottom-up way to the community and can do this as long as we the community are all involved in making it happen. Let’s discuss some of the challenges of such more decentralised model: Organisationally, financially, technically, legally.
Being decentralised means to make use of the organisations we already have. We intent to avoid to set up a new legal entity and instead connect the existing entities to each other. We designed different types of membership and contributions: Producer members and Consumer members, mainly for organisations, but we also encourage individuals to make a contribution as individual members. Financial contributions can be made through either one of the cooperatives that have taken responsibility to channel the collective funds, let us call them the “custodian members”. (if anyone has a better name, please shout!). Non-financial contributions can be made by contributing time and resources to the project. Taking responsibility and working on relevant tasks helps the project and therefore should be valued. We run time registration tool. Do request an account to track your contribution. Valuable non-financial contributions can be counted toward a membership contribution - we should discuss how to validate this collectively.
We aim for the community to be as open and self-organised as possible, the use of an open forum like this one is important, but also the choice of a public wiki, git repositories and other tools.
Being decentralised means you can contribute financially through different organisations, the custodian members. We started with three custodians: femProcomuns, Webarchitects and Collective.tools and it seems that Hypha.coop is willing to join that group. This means they take care for their local node and contribute to the larger whole and be solidarity with other nodes in need. Here it is important to note that membership of The Online Meeting Cooperative is formally done by joining anyone of the custodians and make your contribution through them.
The Roadmap already includes a list of servers that are in the air. We envision the key service to be accessible through https://meet.coop and have nodes with subdomains (e.g. Australasia → nz.meet.coop, Europe → de.meet.coop, North America → ca.meet.coop, etc). Hoever ideally we can have all users access the service through one and only frontend. There are several loadbalancing solutions, but the first choice seems to be the official loadbalancing solution by the BBB project: Scalite. However the load balancing documentation is based on having several servers in one data centre with a shared file system. The GreenLight user interface can be the frontend to the loadbalancer but we’re not sure how recordings made at one server can be accessed on another. Apparently it isn’t designed for load balancing a global network of servers. Here more research needs to be done and we should see whether this is a solvable issue or whether we can come up with a suitable solution.
If we manage to have one user interface - and thus one database with user accounts and rooms, the load balancer finds the most appropriate server (based on proximity and most capacity available) and opens the room there. This would be a huge advantage to the users and would also allow expanding the network. Imagine if one organisation has a dedicated BBB server and wants to make it available part of the time to the network (when they don’t use it), that would increase overall capacity greatly. At the same time in exchange for networking once’s server, we could lower their management costs and increase capacity at peak moments. There’s a business case there…
In any case, the aim is to have loadbalancing in the beta stage (September) and work on improving it until Production stage in January.
Be it noted that so far we agreed on one key centralised aspect of the design of The Online Meeting Cooperative: We use one name and a (set of) shared domain names, in order to facilitate community building. But there’s possibly also a second: We aim for user accounts to be unique and have users access the services with one account. While BBB isn’t designed for a federated network, this could result in one centralised user account and room database connecting to the different servers in the network according to their load and proximity. There’s also the idea of redesigning BBB and making federation possible at this level. Those are some aspects to be researched in more depth.
Being decentralised means no single legal entity, that’s generally a challenge to the status quo, but there are existing solutions for that. We can see ourselves as a joint venture or consortium and sign an agreement, especially between the custodians and with the producer members. Do we have examples we can take inspiration from?
General assembly: members should have a vote in the cooperative. We’ll have to agree that anyone joining according to the membership procedure will have a vote. There are different types of memberships, do we need to have weighted votes? An individual vote or an organisational vote may count differently. Also workers and consumers have a different weight in multistakeholder cooperatives such as Webarchitects or femProcomuns.
There’s also policies on privacy and personal data and conditions of use. How do we deal with local differences, i.e. if Webarchitects were to be responsible, UK regulations would apply, if femProcomuns, Spanish ones. We have different examples here, CommonsCloud: Conditions of use, Data protection, Cookies.
The Conditions of Use should include a Licensing Policy. From the start we are committed to share knowledge under free licenses, to the point of enabling people to replicate servers and the organisation as such. Software, documentation and content in general is licensed under free-as-in-freedom licenses. The software repos already have their GPL and other free licenses applied; the wiki should get an appropriate license. Possibly CC BY-SA, int’l.
Multiculturalism, gender and diversity
English isn’t the language for all, DevOps shouldn’t be male dominated and the world is tremendously inequal. We seek inputs to build our community as diverse as possible with the limitations that each of us has. How can we effectively become a multilingual community? How can we cater for income differences in the North and between the North and the Global South? How can we foster gender equality?
Of course there’s much more to say about decentralisation. Looking forward to your comments!