Let users own the technology companies they helped build

Before a technology eternal, In 2016 and 2017, one of us helped organize a shareholder activity On Twitter, the platform is asked to explore strategies for involving users Co-owners of the company. Twitter was accepting acquisition offers from companies such as Disney and Salesforce. For those of us who participated in the campaign, a platform with such personal and political importance, attracting users with such love-hate love, is actually just a commodity that can be bought and sold, which seems to be wrong.Science and Technology Press cover Our election campaign, but most of them think it is impractical. We presented our proposal at Twitter’s annual meeting, and it only won a few percentage points of shareholder votes.

But soon, in 2018, Uber and Airbnb write a letter The proposal to the US Securities and Exchange Commission sounds very similar to our request of Twitter: users who are allowed to grant shares of the company to them-their drivers and landlords, respectively. Regardless of whether they are (or should) be treated as employees, contractors, or customers by law, these people are the people that the platform depends on, and they in turn depend on the platform. Somehow, Utopia, which seemed impossible to achieve in 2017, has now become the corporate strategy of the largest performance platform. Without much fanfare, user ownership as an industry trend is quietly emerging.

Airbnb letter The reason is simple: “The strengthening of incentive mechanisms between sharing economy companies and participants will benefit both parties.” Platforms can gain more loyalty from users, otherwise they may come and go as they please. At the same time, equity rewards can allow users to enjoy the benefits of company ownership, which are usually reserved for elite employees or those who already have wealth to invest.

We are not inclined to trust these companies, which have long had a contradictory relationship with the public interest. But it is true that broader ownership in the platform economy may change the rules of the fulfillIn Alec MacGillis’s comprehensive new book on how Amazon is reshaping the United States, he quotes the observation of former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich that if a quarter of Amazon’s Its workers own, just like Sears once did, so the average warehouse worker in 2020 may have more than $400,000 in inventory.

Equity grants may also include control over the company’s strategy. For example, for social media platforms, user owners can request to restrict the use of their personal data, better control the content that appears in their feeds, and express opinions on the development of content review policies. Think of Facebook’s supervisory committee, but its members are elected by users and have more meaningful powers.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission did not immediately approve Airbnb and Uber’s request to issue equity to users, so each company adopted a workaround.Uber Cash grant Loyal drivers can choose to buy shares in the 2019 public offering. Airbnb’s pandemic refunds hurt many hosts, Announce There are two forms of virtual ownership before going public in 2020: the “donation” of company stock to pay to the landlord, and the landlord advisory committee that provides information for the company’s decision-making. It seems that these companies are serious.And the US Securities and Exchange Commission seems to be coming; at the end of last year, the commission suggested Allow gig companies to pay up to 15% equity compensation.

As giant platforms have been developing their share-sharing plans, we have been researching and supporting a parallel movement: a new wave of early-stage startups trying to incorporate co-ownership into their plans from the beginning. Some are “platform cooperatives”, such as the newly launched ride-hailing service owned by drivers in New York City, Driver Cooperative, with relatives, A consumer cooperative featuring brands owned by blacks. Unlike the huge returns promised by aspiring “unicorn” companies to wealthy investors, these “unicorns”zebra“Start-up companies prioritize the interests of marginalized communities. Others, such as software developer performance platforms Bitcoin, Is using blockchain technology to share ownership through encrypted tokens instead of old-fashioned stocks.

Technology investors usually expect startups to achieve one of two types of “exit”, namely an IPO or an acquisition. What if the platform company can turn to work towards the ultimate “exit from the community”? What if co-ownership is what long-term users expect?Not the chaos that swarms The game stops the craze, This method can cultivate true loyalty, sense of responsibility and shared wealth.

in a New article in order to Georgetown legal tech review, We have detailed how to “Leave the community“Works. These strategies are built on long-standing examples, from the power cooperatives that supply most of the rural areas of the United States to the employee stock ownership program that now serves approximately 14 million American workers. We also explored decentralized social networking. New possibilities brought by media and blockchain technology.

Some pioneers are already achieving this goal. A few years ago, Hacker Noon, a technology news website located in rural Colorado, left using an “equity crowdfunding” campaign (with Nathan participation) and established its own platform through user investment. Groupmuse is a platform for chamber music concerts. It has become employee-owned and Also moving Ownership of musicians.

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