Thu 5 Mar 2020

Could social.coop set up it's own Loomio instance?

Danyl Strype Public Seen by 127

Loomio.org is no longer offering ongoing gratis hosting for unfunded groups, and groups set up under the pay-what-you-can deal are now being offered the choice to:

  • sign up for a paid deal

  • beg for a $1 per member per year deal

  • leave Loomio.org

I don't think this is cool, and I've started a discussion with the Loomio Community about it here (you may need to be a member of that group to access this thread):


What this suggests to me is that we can't allow ourselves to depend on centralized infrastructure, even when it's run by social enterprise, structured as a worker-owned cooperative. Does the social.coop community have the capacity to:

  • stand up and maintain its own Loomio instance, for its own use, and as an added benefit to members of the social.coop cooperative?

  • help to develop automated export/ import tools so groups can easily move their groups between Loomio instances?

  • help to developed federation tools, so that users on any given Loomio instance can participate in groups and decisions on other instances?

The Loomio developers often seem to have more things they'd like to do than they have the capacity to carry out in the short term. I expect they'd be happy to accept code implementing these features into upstream, as long as they didn't cause any bugs or other problems. If not, a set of plug-ins or a soft fork could be maintained for any instance admins wishing to use them.


mike_hales Thu 5 Mar 2020

can't allow ourselves to depend on centralized infrastructure

I agree with this principle.

an added benefit to members of the social.coop cooperative

If social.coop is going to do something - cultural or economic projects of some kind in addition to hosting a Mastodon instance - this is not 'added benefit to members' (like a coop dividend) which might enlarge or please 'the customer base'. It's necessary infrastructure for the collective practice.

help to develop . . . tools

A nice thought. Hard to see how the tech ops team will stretch to this from the present situation, where doing updates on Mastodon and fixing emergencies is as much as the dedicated volunteers hope to promise? Could occasional tool development labour be more readily available than committed maintainance?

Is it twice as much work to maintain an instance of Mastodon and Loomio? Or, say, only 30% more work?


Nick Sellen Thu 5 Mar 2020

I feel optimistic we are on the pathway to opening up tech capacity to do more than just keeping it running and upgrades, during our tech meeting call yesterday (see minutes here https://www.loomio.org/d/UwAeiBgE/tech-meeting-minutes/6) I outlined a little plan... that starts with a bit more structured tidying, but ends with opening up the wider discussions about what to do next...

It could be nice to begin some of those wider discussions about what additional things would be nice to add - there have been these ideas so far:

Right now, I'd be personally most interested in the meta-discussion on how to structure a process to involve the community deep in the tech process... also because this is a weak point of all the projects I work on (people lacking tech understanding, perception that it's all just for techies, tech people having dominance and arrogance, ...etc).

Are there some good, documented, models for this process? (related concepts are maybe Convivial Technology, or Convocational Development).

(I too am a bit concerned of the direction of loomio, from my limited perspective looks like more and more focus going to satisfying "enterprise" customers, presumably because it pays the bills...).


mike_hales Thu 5 Mar 2020

meta-discussion . . a process to involve the community deep in the tech process . . . a weak point of all the projects I work on . . .

I agree. @nick would you like to open a thread for this? Then we can explore the things you highlighted.

On convivial technologies . . Illich on ‘tools for conviviality’ is a great source, definitely. But beware reading this in a tech way. The point of Illich’s critique is that modern cultural and economic forms and institutions are ‘tools’ too, which attract power around specialist professionalised roles, and undermine the possibility of ‘vernacular’ capability. What Illich has in his sights is the politics of these kinds of roles and institutions, not just hammers, tractors, cars, fast food and software code. So it’s convivial processes/practices in general that we need to develop - and then tech infrastructures come into the frame just as a part of that.

Avoid tech reductionism - we’re social.coop, not app.coop?


Nick Sellen Fri 6 Mar 2020


mike_hales Thu 5 Mar 2020

“Convivial technologies” . . is a term that gets used quite diversely. So the principle imo is good, but the term is unreliable. Guerrilla Translations uses it to refer to the architecture of digital means of collaborative working in a DisCO - apps like Trello, Slack and Loomio, and facilities like Google Drive (aargh!). See Book 5 of the Guerrilla Translation Handbooks . For Google Drive to slide in under the rubric of ‘convivial’ - or Trello and Slack, for that matter - just goes to show how slippery the term is! Tread carefully? Just because we mean well when we use a platform or app, doesn’t make the platform or app OK. Apps have politics.


Nathan Schneider Thu 5 Mar 2020

Thanks for raising this. What a shame that they're putting the tool so much behind a wall. I'd be curious to know whether we can get the discounted account. As a general principle, I think we should prioritize solidarity with a fellow cooperative, and that we want to be an ally to them. But if the arrangement becomes too unreasonable, the idea of self-hosting (with single sign-on, hopefully!) seems like a reasonable second choice.

Another question is if there's a way to better integrate our governance into Mastodon itself, or another tool that we might choose to self-host, like Matrix.


Nick Sellen Fri 6 Mar 2020

I'll open a thread as suggested by @mike_hales in his comment above, to discuss some meta/process stuff for working out how to proceed. There is time for a discussion, as there will be no tech capacity for additional things anyway for a little while longer...

(without wanting to discuss it tooooo much here/now, I would also consider/propose discourse as an option too - people seem to like it for discussions, and the polls might be sufficient for voting too.... would need more assessment...)


Danyl Strype Sat 7 Mar 2020

Another question is if there's a way to better integrate our governance into Mastodon itself

Mastodon has simple polls, but it would be much harder for members to find and consistently participate in governance discussion there. It's much harder to have governance discussions at the pub than in a dedicated meeting room ;)

or another tool that we might choose to self-host, like Matrix.

Matrix has no polling tools at all, and no discussion threading, just chat rooms with a single stream-of-consciousness. From what I've read about Synapse (the Matrix server), including from it devs, it's pretty bleeding edge and a bit of a resource hog. Offering realtime chat for Social.coop members would be cool, but an XMPP server might be a better choice.

There are other software projects for decision-making (eg LiquidFeedback) that might be more suitable. Coming up with a list and evaluating them on both their features and self-hosting potential would be a good start.


Leo Sammallahti Fri 6 Mar 2020

If the price is 1$/year per user, I wouldn't mind giving say 100$ extra donation to Loomio every year. If the price is say 3$+/year per user happy to go with self-hosting.

Huge fan of Loomio and what they are doing, wish all the best to them.


Danyl Strype Sat 7 Mar 2020

To me it's not about the price, but the principle. Bringing in groups by offering a "free" (gratis) service then turning around and demanding a fee for that service is unprincipled. Especially given that as they've said themselves on many occasions, hosting a handful of legacy pay-what-you-can groups costs them almost nothing, and is easily cross-subsidized by their enterprise users.


Danyl Strype Sun 5 Apr 2020

Update: the Loomio Co-op have reconsidered their decision, and agreed to let the groups who signed up during the pay-what-you-can era continue to have gratis use of Loomio.org. Full functionality will be restored on those groups, and the message asking groups to "upgrade" to the paid plan will be replaced with some messaging that offers them some non-cash ways to contribute to Loomio. My faith in the Loomio crew is thoroughly restored.

However, the centralization issues revealed in this whole saga have not gone away. I think hosting a Loomio instance, and working with other instance hosts to federate Loomio, remain a medium-term priority. There's also this idea, which I posted on the fedi today: https://mastodon.nzoss.nz/@strypey/103943457744963741


Nathan Schneider Sun 5 Apr 2020

Glad to see them have this flexibility, but I still see it as one of the main purposes of having something like Social.coop as being to offer solidarity and support to co-op ecosystem builders like Loomio. Centralization isn't an issue for me here, as the effort and development and initiative is centralized, and I think the product is worth supporting that crew.


Danyl Strype Mon 6 Apr 2020

I've been a vocal evangelist of Loomio since it began. But it would be
remiss of me not to point out that the Loomio Cooperative took on
outside investment a few years ago. That means there is huge pressure on
them to become commercially profitable, despite their founding
aspirations as a social enterprise. This recent episode is not the first
time they have changed the deal on legacy pay-what-you-can groups (eg
removing the ability to create new subgroups), in an attempt to drive
them into paid plans. If I was running my own servers, I wouldn't be
trusting my core decision-making forum to a group who have responded to
"market logic" by doing that, but YMMV ...


Nathan Schneider Tue 7 Apr 2020

I reported on that investment. It didn't come with direct control. It was from an aligned investor. One way or another, groups need to find resources to support their work. The heavily updated tool you're using right now is a result of that investment. One way or another, we need to find economies to support what we're doing. I think Loomio has done an admirable job of trying to balance cooperative values with meeting its members' economic needs. Great software doesn't come out of nowhere.


mike_hales Tue 7 Apr 2020

That’s the ‘dance of contribution’ that DisCO/Guerrilla Translation, for example, pays core attention to. How many coops have two left feet ;-) Something we all could learn?