Protocols as Organizational Forms

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Morshed Mannan:

"Matthew Slater and Jem Bendell presented a different vision of protocols as organizational forms. They expressed skepticism of the value and viability of a cooperative alternative to platform companies such as Uber, given the company’s capacity to undercut competition and the cooperative simply swapping one intermediary for another. Instead, they argued that the use of ‘open protocols’13 would diminish the need for a platform intermediary altogether, as users in industries such as ride-hailing would be able to directly find each other and transact through the use of a “simple algorithm”, without any need for matchmaking (Slater, 2017). From the users’ perspective, this would have the advantage of reducing the cost of the ride-hailing service—as there would be no fees for intermediaries—and, at the same time, legal responsibility for transactions would be at the edges of the network, with transacting users. No single person or corporate entity would be in the position to own or commodify the protocol, with the role of the cooperative organization being limited to simply managing trust and social relations among stakeholders such as drivers (Bendell and Slater, 2017, p. 9). They referred to two projects, La’zooz and Arcade City as examples since the former was to be ostensibly owned by “nobody” (Schneider, 2015) and as the latter is peer-to-peer, with it allowing drivers to set their own rates and process their own payments and passengers to negotiate their own transport needs. Issues such as safety and governance are delegated to the drivers themselves, who form their own ‘guilds’ to address these issues (initially on Facebook!). While La’zooz now appears to be largely defunct, Arcade City is active in the US city of Austin and was temporarily active in Manila, the Philippines in 2017 and 2018 (Arcade City, 2019; David, 2017)."


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