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Cover image for ValueFlows Software for Distributed Cooperative Economic Activity on the Open Web — Grant Report #1
ValueFlows

ValueFlows Software for Distributed Cooperative Economic Activity on the Open Web — Grant Report #1

eliorsterling profile image Eli Sterling ・6 min read

Project Update

The last few months have been extraordinarily frustrating, but as we've been pulling together the materials for this interim report it has been very heartening to realize how much we actually accomplished since October 2020. As if Covid and quarantine weren't enough of a challenge for everyone this past year, everyone on our team has had additional personal and family challenges to deal with. Working with our partners in DisCO.coop and the Distributed Cooperative Organization (DisCO) labs across 7 timezones and 3 continents while so many were homeschooling their children, taking care of sick family members, volunteering at vaccination clinics, or dealing with local natural disasters and local political unrest often made scheduling meetings or even managing asynchronous communication difficult. It often felt like we were drowning in the center of a fast moving river, but it turns out that we managed to build a makeshift raft out of driftwood as we all went down river together. Now that we are sitting on top of the lashed together driftwood, we can see that we have the materials we need to turn this into a usable houseboat.

Our Dream Houseboat is a suite of software that works inside of Nextcloud (an open source Google Workspace alternative) and allows any given cooperative team to manage its value production both internally and between themselves and other cooperative teams. This not only includes the usual tools of project specification, time tracking, widget production tracking, intra- and inter-team communication, and value exchange (money for hours is the usual rubric for this), but appropriate sets or subsets of all of the above should be available via a distributed system to other teams that you are working with in partnership on a given project AND the value exchange should be flexible enough to allow non-monetary, digital or fiat exchanges (bananas for completed pies, song downloads for # of words translated, WhatyahoozitsCoin for miles of delivery van driving, shekels for packing supplies) based on agreed upon exchange rates that may be public or private. And, while we are building this inside of Nextcloud right now, we want the whole suite to be something that someone else could fork easily enough to work elsewhere. It's a lot to build out of driftwood, but there's some high quality driftwood in this here river!

  1. The ValueFlows vocabulary provides a theoretical framework to help us describe the contracts between individuals in a cooperative and from coop to coop. The software that allows us to use that vocabulary is now called Bonfire.
  2. Interledger allows us to make exchanges between different types of value (in ValueFlows vocabulary, create an "Economic Event between different units of resource").
  3. Existing project management software inside of Nextcloud gives us something to fork so that a cooperative or a set of cooperative can create "recipes" that describe what they are trying to achieve along with all the resources and actions needed, along with a way to track the exchanges of resources and actions.

Progress on objectives

So far, we have four kinds of progress:

  1. Shared instances of Nextcloud apps that teams are using -- or have chosen not to use because they don't work the way they'd like. Shared instances of communication apps that are not currently in Nextcloud, but which are open source and can be plugged in to Nextcloud later.
  2. User feedback on what works for them and what doesn't along with user stories of how they would like the tools to work which came only after they realized what they did and didn't like about their experiences with both the open source options, corporate software options, and the spreadsheet cludges they've been using to tie it all together.
  3. Lots of technical documentation on how to make Bonfire work, how to connect to Interledger, Workflows for users, and how to fit WebMonetization into ValueFlows.
  4. Test networks!

Key activities

We spent a big chunk of October and part of November moving many of the activities of both the DisCO team and the Geeks Without Bounds (GWOB) team onto open source alternatives to the closed source software as a service that DisCO had been using previously. The key to all of this was that we (GWOB) hope to make it easier for Distributed Cooperative Organizations to use Nextcloud instead of Google Workspace, and we would like the entire DisCO Deck to work seemlessly inside of Nextcloud. Not all of the open source alternatives that were installed and tested met the needs of team members, and so the various teams settled in to using different mixes of corporate controlled software and the open source projects we installed. What we learned from this was that we were going to have to make the user interface of the new software work for DisCOs.

We had many meetings with cooperatives both inside and outside the DisCO network to learn more about the software that they currently use for project management, communications, and accounting; talking about the DisCO principles and how they fit in with the general cooperative principles; offering access to private Nextcloud instances so they could give us feedback on what they liked and didn't like, and then getting that feedback; and discussing the ValueFlows tools and how that can help them make federations of cooperatives function like a single entity on joint projects while maintaining their independence elsewhere.

We spent weeks learning about the different versions of Interledger, the dream and the shortfalls, figuring out how to build a test network and also an Ethereum test network and then documenting all the things.

We worked with DisCO.coop to create a set of user stories and get some initial graphical designs for user interfaces for the new software.Start here for the full user story process and additional design documents.

Communications and marketing

We published a blog post on our site at the beginning of the Grant For The Web cycle. Unfortunately, the link is defunct as it was shortly before we lost our hosting due to the sudden, unexpected sunsetting of the sponsorship we had with a company that was purchased by IBM. We will be posting new blog posts as the project continues.

We spoke on the Bloom Network call in November

We have Tweeted, Instagrammed, and Facebooked about Grant For The Web activities sporadically, and we have reshared posts by other Grant For The Web grantees.
Example

We published an overview of the DisCO Deck on YouTube

We have also published information about our work on the DisCO.coop Website.

What’s next?

Over the next few weeks we are looking forward to unveiling our new tools that work inside the Nextcloud environment. We have a meeting with the DisCO.coop team to show them the new tools and teach them how to use them. We have a lot of front end work to focus on right now so that the backend work that has already been done becomes useful. As we enter this next phase, we're looking forward to replacing cludges with working tools that will make coop work and economies easier for everyone.

What community support would benefit your project?

The best way to support our project right now is to connect with DisCO.coop if you have or would like to build a cooperative that can work within the Distributed Cooperative Organization network.

Additional comments

The "We" in this report is:

  1. Eli Sterling
    • Who you may know as Lisha Sterling, but who, through the magic of TECHNOLOGY now functions in boy-mode.
    • Project coordination, programming, a little sysadminning, a little documentation, whatever else needs to get done
  2. Jill Ada Burrows
    • Programming, documentation goddess
  3. Javier Arturo Rodriguez
    • Sysadmin wizard
  4. Denise Colbray
    • assistant who had to leave our team in December 2020 due to family illness

We couldn't have done any of this without the theoretical underpinnings of the DisCO Manifesto and other work by Stacco Troncoso, Anne Marie Ultrael, and the rest of the DisCO.coop team.

Special thanks also to Cooperation Jackson, Agaric.coop, Multitalented Makerspace, Bloom, COMPOST, the Mondragon University, and others who have been so generous with their time, knowledge and feedback throughout this process.

Discussion (3)

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erikad profile image
Erika

Love the raft to houseboat metaphor! 😁

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Chris Lawrence

Exciting progress, excited to see your new tools and next steps. But I also wanted to say how much I enjoyed the writing. Informational, empathetic, warm, and funny. Thank you for a beautiful report.

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Ayesha Ware

Hi Eli, thank you for sharing!!