Proposal for a network of OpenVillage houses

(This started as an interesting discussion with @hazem and @yosser over here. It’s early stage, so don’t take it seriously until it is :wink: The main implication for the Edgeryders organization would be that we do not aspire to found own, “The Reef” branded spaces outside of the Schengen area, but network with those established by locals.)

Let’s try to imagine the eventual network of OpenVillage houses – forming together the worldwide distributed OpenVillage. How could that be organized, and what benefits would each participating communal space get out of it? Here’s an opinion.


1. Basic vision and organization of the network
2. Benefits of joining the network
3. Other requirements to join the network

1. Basic vision and organization of the network

Why this is essential under late-stage “development”. It may sound cliché, but I’m persuaded that the current urbanization drive worldwide is both unsustainable and unhealthy, and is unjustified when looking at the potential of already widespread technologies. In low-infrastructure regions (“developing areas”), city life is seen as desirable due to a prejudice for being “developed” – until people realize the collective hell they created for each other by coming all to one place. (In my mind there’s Kathmandu right now, with all its pollution and noise.) It is much simpler, cheaper and more successful to take the tools of globalization and make small city life and rural life attractive again. (Keywords: Internet connectivity, virtual reality (for fun and to connect spaces over the Net), budget airlines, tourist visa system, international driving licence, remote work over Internet, worldwide product shipment etc.). In the age of Internet, physical concentration of people and resources is grossly overvalued :slight_smile: What makes a place interesting over the long term is basically stimulation and opportunities. Big cities offer lots of that, the countryside does not. However, we can bring change there, for example by having regular international visitors. For them, the new place is a change as well, so a few weeks or months there will be refreshing, not boring. Win-win.
  The reason why this option has not yet been realized is, in my view, because it requires collective action. One person alone can’t make a small city attractive, but one person alone can go to a big city to see if that is an attractive place. However, a collective, like a worldwide network of communal houses, can make any place attractive.

A federation, not a franchise. True to the freedom loving spirit of people attracted to Edgeryders, and because everyone loves to found and have an own project, it seems better to organize the OpenVillage network of houses as a loose federation, not as a franchise with a lot of strict rules. Eac house chooses its own name, and manages its own finances so it can sustain itself. This also relieves the network hub (Edgeryders if you want) of a lot of day-to-day coordination work. If we have one or two spaces to run, it will be enough.

Local founders and core teams. A communal space project is necessarily local, so it is much better to let those people start a new OpenVillage house whose commitment to the place can be trusted: locals. It is ok that many in the Edgeryders network are rather nomads, they also have an important role to play (see below).

  There seems to be a kind of world-wide revival of communal living and working projects, so it is a good time to look around for spaces who might want to join the network, esp. early-stage ones. It is definitely much simpler for Edgeryders than to found multiple spaces on our own, including one in the MENA region: if run by local citizen, outsiders do not have any issues with residence permits etc. as they’d stay for visits only. A typical tourist visa is three months, which is fine for a visit. Edgeryders on the other hand can run a 1-3 spaces in the Schengen area, which will be attractive for visitors from MENA region countries and further abroad.

Self-defined way of funding and running the space. Each OpenVillage house is independent, so can and should find its own, suitable style of social organization and of financial sustainability. The OpenVillage network may collect and document best practices, but cannot decide anything. Funding may come from sources as diverse as rent from individuals, rent from companies, “Erasmus for Entrepreneurs” and “Erasmus International” grants, normal crowdinvesting campaigns in exchange for access to the space, a cryptocoin ICO etc…

2. Benefits of joining the network

Being part of the OpenVillage network and fulfilling the requirements and obligations that come with that will only work when it has benefits for the space joining. Which makes it important that we only launch the network once it can offer something, or it would be rather ridiculous. (An initial offer might be a booking system and documented traveler knowledge that enables visitor flow between spaces.)

A list of benefits of the fully developed OpenVillage network might rather look like this:

  • A common online platform. Edgeryders would offer to utilize this platform as an international online meeting place for all members in the network. It would be used for the exchange of ideas, invitations for online and local events, developing business ideas and giving feedback about them from an international perspective, organizing business partnerships etc… (So good we have our new, shiny Discourse platform … I would have been ashamed to offer our old Drupal platform for this purpose :laughing:)

  • Visitor access to all spaces. Every space must provide at least one guest room (but usually has many more), and it’s free to stay there for members of the network. Booking for all spaces has to be possible with a central web-based booking software.
      There could be a rule to allow guest rooms to be rented out for money on AirBnB etc. aside, namely that the guest room has to be booked more than two weeks or less than two days in advance, leaving a window where “instant booking” from AirBnB is possible. Software that syncs to and from the AirBnB calendar would be part of the network’s infrastructure.

  • Office space for companies from abroad. A major attraction, also for Edgeryders, of the OpenVillage houses model is that it enables a company to establish a presence abroad with a minimum of resources: just rent a desk in a shared office, and rent it out to temporary users when you do not need it.

  • Project teams coming for a visit. This will be an attractive option for both sides: project teams can work from a new, inspiring place for some weeks or months; and local members of a space come in touch with “foreigners” and their ideas and social networks. Projects can be both cultural, technological (say, open source software / hardware) and entrepreneurial. There would be guidelines making sure that visitors are accessible to locals, so that there will be a good amount of engagement and inspiration as a non-monetary return for the option to visit. There will not even be a need for project teams to come from other spaces in the network if they are really interesting and valuable to have – actively looking them up and extending an invitation should do the job.

  • Visiting for informal job training. With the visitor program in place, and co-working spaces with companies in the network, visiting companies in other OpenVillage houses in order to learn there seems a natural opportunity. Basically a self-organized internship program for people who are not eligible for a EU-funded “Erasmus for Entrepreneurs” exchange. (And internship would not be the nonsensical “unpaid employee” thing it is in Europe, but rather about learning a trade in 3-4 months.)

  • Peer reviews of visitors. When allowing members of other spaces to book a guest room, of course there has to be a reputation system to manage trust between people who never met. It will feel a bit like a hospitality platform for organizations (“corporate couchsurfing”).

  • Peer reviews of spaces. Instead of a “code of conduct”, public reviews by visitors from other spaces should be able to make sure that socially abusive behavior in running a space is detected early and can be dealt with. If that does not help, there would be a very-last-resort process of shunning a space (removing its affiliation with the network).

  • Hands-on help with founding a space. Would include the offer to have ones sustainability plan reviewed by the management teams of an established spaces. And perhaps even that an international team comes together from other spaces to help with renovation and construction – why not, it’s just the first possible visit to a new space!

  • Space management support. A knowledge base and support forum for how to manage a space and solve typical problems. Including best practices and recipes for interior design, low-cost DIY furniture, recipes for “creating your own fun” etc…

  • Tools repository. A directory with all the OpenVillage tools, in a well-documented, easily replicable format. Tools would be made specifically for larger houses like co-working / co-living spaces, enabling a low-cost, resource-preserving lifestyle.

  • Traveler knowledge base. An up-to-date, open content knowledge base to make visitor flow between the spaces effortless. Would contain knowledge about obtaining visas, low-cost travelling between spaces, templates for visa invitation letters.

  • Ride sharing and logistics coordination. A small but effective system to let members of different spaces coordinate to share car rides between spaces, to arrive with the same airplane for time-saving pickup, and to ship small and large items between spaces by sending them with trustable people who travel between them. This can include whole pallets of products.

  • Doing business “from space to space”. Spaces will probably specialize in different segments of the economy, such as biohacking, IT innovation, agriculture etc… Since spaces will have a frequent exchange online and through visits, an international business network based on personal trust will naturally emerge. For example, one space in Germany may specialize on obtaining used industrial machines (because they are abundant here, and cheap), and then supply them to a business incubator space in Morocco. Or a space specializing in desert agriculture in Morocco can supply nuts and dried fruits to other spaces in Europe through a direct trade scheme, which benefits both sellers and buyers in terms of price compared to buying through the normal multi-tier food market.

  • Moneyless settlement network for doing business. PayCoupons, a tool that I co-developed, could serve as a moneyless payment system for this business network, both for business between companies in the same space, in different spaces, between members and the space, and between the space itself and the network (for fees etc.). The benefit is a boost to this local economy, as one does not have to save up or obtain a load before spending – in PayCoupons, spending and earning always happens at the same time.

  • Common direct sales marketplace. Selling in Europe will be attractive to manufacturing companies in spaces in the MENA region, due to the higher sales prices. This only works when doing direct sales, shortcutting the intermediate traders. So the network would want top operate a direct sales online marketplace collaboratively, as this minimizes marketing and branding efforts. (Suitable software is either the one used by “our” marketplace Epelia, or the open source, Ruby based Fairmondo software).

  • Combined online marketing efforts. Direct sales to a high-wage country makes only sense if the marketing is done in the low-wage country as well, or else a lot from the margin has to pay wages for marketers in the high-wage country. Since marketing is about the network’s common online marketplace, it is a mutually beneficial activity, much more efficient than if every seller markets only their own products. Marketers can use Google Translate to understand foreign language websites, and online translation services to translate marketing texts into European languages.

  • Shipment centers in each country. One space per country has to agree to operate a small warehouse for fulfillment logistics. They’s receive 30 kg parcels or whole pallets shipped from companies in other co-working spaces abroad, store the content, and ship orders as they come in on the common online marketplace. This allows to provide the cheaper national shipment prices on orders, and allows customers to order from the whole product range produced in the network while paying for shipment only once. (Note: This system of shipment centers was invented for food items on For storable goods, depending on price and amount, it may be more cost efficient to just use Amazon Fulfillment, which is essentially the same service.)

3. Other requirements to join the network

In addition to collaboratively providing the benefits listed above, participating spaces would have to fulfill a few requirements regarding transparency and reputation in order to take part:

  • Provide an honest self-description. This is especially about telling others what organization style, leadership style and lifestyle a space has. For that, the space’s profile page would provide around 10 standardized categories to select from, plus details to describe in text form. This information about spaces is currently mostly unavailable, but will allow people to go where they enjoy being, instead of choosing randomly and then making do with the people who are there. It has the added benefit that sociopaths, greedy, angry and otherwise malevolent people can’t run a space permanently – if they do, participants will simply leave and go to better-run places, because leaving and joining is simple enough.

  • Provide a well-defined way of joining and leaving. Namely, on a space’s profile page on the OpenVillage network platform. Ideally, both processes would be web-based and comfortable to do. The OpenVillage network might find or develop a member management software for this, incl. payment management.

  • Contribute to run the network. Organizing and extending the network is done at-cost: paying wages, but not profits. The membership fee would depend on purchasing power in each country, and in addition it can be paid partially or completely in PayCoupons for those spaces lacking the money. So there is solidarity between spaces. (Disclosure: I’m a co-founder of PayCoupons.)

  • Do not operate the space for a profit. Not too sure about this point yet, but I think spaces that try to maximize profit for their founders have a different character, introduce competition, and do not fit into the network. But of course, being not for profit still means that the founders and space managers can pay themselves a decent salary for their work. Only if there’s something over after paying all salaries and other costs, it will have to be invested back into the space.


Good thinking there, Matt. It is a needed Gedankenexperiment to imagine the network in place and see if it makes sense. My interest is rather in how we even get there: and I suspect it will take quite some top-down work. Right now, co-living is a thing, but this is not the direction it is going in. It is moving towards The Embassy, or Roam. The burden of proving this concept is on us.

Also (but totally irrelevant to this project), the data I have seen are pretty conclusive that rural life for seven billion people is way unsustainable. The carbon footprint of urbanites is a fraction of that of country dwellers. In his book, Stewart Brand makes a compelling case for cities to be one of the “big three” green technologies around. And when he says “cities” he does not mean Gent, or Salzburg, or Pisa: he means Mexico City, cities with 20 million inhabitants or more. A nice retreat by the beach is a first world concept. We need it, because we need (some) first world people to work with us, and maybe we just want it because it reflects our own aspirations. But the global poor are voting with their feet, and they are moving into large cities, the larger the better.

As I said, all this makes no difference to our course of action for the foreseeable future. But I enjoy abstract discussions, too. :slight_smile:


I love the strategies you have suggested,and I totally agree with [quote=“matthias, post:1, topic:6785”]
What makes a place interesting over the long term is basically stimulation and opportunities
[/quote] !
Having this network will allow us to be more of global local decision makers that would have the ability to touch some people’s lives positively, and the idea of sharing the knowledge, ressources and even the guest rooms would be a short cut for all the network to broaden its impact !
I was thinking of having the space working in the social entreprenurship, meaning for example I hdthe idea of having women in rural areas to have a job in the space where they make an artisanal crafts and help them with selling them, so maybe also we can have such a thing in the platform where they can display their crafts or so on, so that we can help as many as we can!
As for the last point I don’t agree with it, I do agree that the profit should be reinvested in the space in the first place, yet I do also believe that we can invest in other cultural projects?


Not sure it’s that far off. If we find that it’s attractive for more upstarting co-working spaces and communal spaces in the MENA region, we might want to bake this into the next project funding proposal that @nadia is working on.

I agree that it’s risky as an alternative to existing co-living models. I had primarily co-working models and other non-residential communal spaces in mind though (didn’t write that clearly). Of these, there are many more, and they can add guestrooms or living quarters without making that their focus.

That’s a great idea – I’ll add it above! Because, online sales to European consumers enables your artisans to get a higher price, when compared to both local sales and sales via wholesalers. (Market prices in Europe are higher, and by having an online marketplace for direct sales this higher margin is not captured by intermediate traders but can go to those manufacturing the products.)

We tried something similar here at Edgeryders by importing coffee beans from a village in Nepal and offering it on an associated online marketplace for direct sales (, which a friend of mine founded. The farmers would get approximately double the normal price, while our sales prices in Europe are still average. And managing European Union customs is definitely doable (it’s a little nightmare the first time, but we got the coffee through in the end). Manuals and instructions for handling this can be part of the knowledge base as well.

The big problem with this approach is however, nothing sells online in Europe if you don’t actively market it. When Europeans do that marketing, a big part of the sales price will have to stay with them due to the higher price and wage level in Europe. I think the only solution to that is a collaboration where most of the marketing effort is done locally in the country where manufacturing happens, and only tasks that require knowledge of the European target market would be done inside Europe.

The thing about selling crafts is that you really need to work on the distribution channels, design and packaging on top of the economics for this to be profitable. @Yosser and @Matthias I think here @Susa can really help with the product design. Then we would need to get a product manager/salesperson to actually get them to market. We need to be sure that this is not a charity operation but that it generates sufficient revenue to cover everyone’s time So this could be a role for one or more of the fellows in the house - good way to learn about building and running viable microbusinesses .

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Well it happens that I have just gradauted with a major in Marketing so maybe I can work myself, more on the marketing of the artisans crafts to get them to the european customers!

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Absolutely, I am sure @susa would enjoy the artisanal craft packaging as I have seen in her description ‘‘is focused on the transformational aspect of design not only in terms of appearance but also in a broader sense of critical interaction’’!
I think when displaying the products in the platform it would be a gain of time and money, when having it online, we would only ship the products when there is an order for them, otherwise they are just there waiting to be ordered.
As a starting point, the distribution may be a direct distribution through the internet, these products may only be sold through this network, as mentionned, all these spaces will be cnnected, so only the people who are within the network can order the products, so once they are ordered, they will be sent directly to the space so they can hand it themself to the customer (who already belongs to their space)??

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This discussion is taking an interesting direction already. About organizing the trade, I would propose a bit different setup. (This is based on the logistics we settled on for the direct sales marketplace, using “shipment centers” for distribution.)

So there would be an online platform, and it will make operations cheaper than selling through any “brick and mortar” physical store. However, doing an international parcel shipment from Tunisia to Europe every time an order comes in is expensive, often so expensive that it makes it no longer meaningful for customers to buy the item. To solve this, we would utilize the connected spaces of the network as shipment centers. They all agree to have a small warehouse one room and to ship what is sold from it online. So you’d send a larger parcel (30 kg) of crafts to one space of the network in each country, and they store it and sell it inside their own country on demand. National parcel shipment is much cheaper.

Also this way, there is the added benefit that online customers can order from other goods stored in the same space and receive them in the same parcel, without additional shipping costs. And I don’t see a reason why sales would be limited to members of the network. The more customers the better :slight_smile:

Careful there. Logistics is a heavily optimised area of the economy. Most profitable arrangements for shipping and stocking are already out there, and most that are not there are not profitable… as you found out in your own “fair and direct food sales” story :slight_smile:

Well spotted, I think I made a bad judgement. :unamused: We’re not dealing with foodstuff here but only with storable items. So Amazon Fulfillment might be the more economical, more optimized logistics solution here. It’s very similar to the shipment center idea actually, and available as a service independent of the Amazon Marketplace.

What’s not profitable in my endeavour into fair and direct food sales is not really about logistics, but marketing: we found nothing sells without marketing, and nothing sells profitably with marketing and just a 8% commission. Not too sure how to fix this, as we don’t want to go down the “fairwashing” route with sleek, prominent marketing and a 50% margin we would have to hide. Latest development: I talked with @anu today if it’s possible to have online marketing done inside Europe with staff working from abroad, like Nepal. To be continued, as it’s too early to give up …


Aw I didn’t know about the feasibility of the national parcel shipment! So yup that would make it much easier!!

Take a look at Paga Bags (PagaBags – Wear Organic, Make it Slow , Show Respect) for an example of poor local artisans creating a sustainable business with a European market. The project was started and is still run by my cousin Meredyth who lives in Lyon, FR.

The bags are woven out of recycled plastic shopping bags and cotton. All the work is done by local people in Burkina Faso. It took years to put this together and operating at this level, but they really do it well. Their site is kind of sophisticated now - clearly they have pro help - but I remember when it was pretty primitive. I don’t know their financials these days, but this is not a hard core business. It is a pretty straightforward and honest group who have improved their presentation because in this case they are selling bags, totes and other items and it’s France. They are wonderful bags by the way - we have one.


I love their work! It is so beautiful I love what they are doing :heart_eyes: !
So I was thinking of women in the rural areas, and even women who wants to work from their homes in Medenine to earn some money, maybe we can have them trained by professionals and then they can start making their own artisanal crafts within the space, so through that we would invest in women whom would invet in themselves and other people as well

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Paga Bags got started as a way to use the huge number of plastic shopping bags that are littered everywhere there…blowing in the wind. So they solved more than one problem with the project. A brilliant model.

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Being a Sci-Fi Nerd, and especially a Cyberpunk fan, this hugely reminds me of the transnational post-state entities Bruce Sterling describes in Islands in the Net, or the Phyles Neil Stephenson describes in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age.

Society in The Diamond Age is dominated by a number of phyles, also sometimes called tribes. Phyles are groups of people often distinguished by shared values, similar ethnic heritage, a common religion, or other cultural similarities. In the extremely globalized future depicted in the novel, these cultural divisions have largely supplanted the system of nation-states that divides the world today. Cities in The Diamond Age appear divided into sovereign enclaves affiliated or belonging to different phyles within a single metropolis. Most phyles depicted in the novel have a global scope of sovereignty, and maintain segregated enclaves in or near many cities throughout the world. - Wikipedia/The Diamond Age

So I can easily see Edgeryders becoming something like this, but in a good way. (In Cyberpunk, many of these are ultra-neoliberal, which I understand Edgeryders to be the opposite of)

This is to say, I like the Idea a lot, to be Part of the ER Network, visiting and working in the different places and using it in all the ways you describe.

Now to details:

Also, inside the Network it shouln’t be difficult to find someone to check the automatic translation to avoid it being terrible.

For Example, I could check German texts.

Wouldn’t this narrow the amount of customers down to a fraction?
And why not enable the single places to have an offline store? - If ER already “imports” these products from other continents, why not sell them in-house? This might depend heavily on the location of the Place, and on the Place Manager, or someone else, who will have the additional duty of manning the store. This might be tested once there this many houses.

I like this Idea a lot. It’s like outsourcing done right. Like, today scottish fish is shipped to china, prepared there, shipped back to the same village in scotland and sold there as being local (which is true). This is done because it’s cheaper than processing it in scotland. But global outsourcing doesn’t have to be like this. If someone from the community has this great Idea, which only needs tasks done by hand, the work could be delegated using some kind of internal baord.

Hi @coloursinside,
It’s interesting that you mention Neal Stephenson in relation to the principals behind The Reef structure. I’m a huge fan of his work, and i see overlap with the previous ER unMonastery project as well. In fact i know for a fact that @alberto is also a fan of his writing and ideas. I expect the same is true of @johncoate, although i’ve never had the chance to talk to him about it.

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Did anybody say “Neal Stephenson”? :smile:

@alex_levene, @coloursinside: I am indeed a fan of Stephenson, and more in general of a small cadre of sci-fi authors that have interesting insights in terms of societal development. Even more, I am interested in econ-SF: people who can imagine not just different social systems, but different economic ones. This turns out to be super-difficult. Anyway, this is a story for another day (Arved, let me know if you want to follow up on this).

You are basically right, both of you. The Diamond Age gets it about right:

  • Humans group on the basis of culture.
  • Evolutionary pressure is strongest at the group level. This may sound like one of those bullshit assumptions that people throw in, but it turns out to be firmly grounded in modern theoretical biology. It was @winnieponcelet, bless him, who pointed me towards people like E.O. Wilson and Joseph Henrich.
  • Hence, the groups with the best apparatus for collaborating win. There are even speculation that humans are on the threshold of a major transition to becoming eusocial – the mammalian equivalent of ants.
  • So, we consciously push a culture of using (what we think is) the best protocol for human collaboration. Online is better than offline, because it saves bandwidth and every interaction is recorded and searchable. Asynchronous is better than synchronous, because it is more efficient – people pick up the interactions in their own time and according to their own interest. Self-selection is better than top-down selection, because people end up doing what they are best at and what they are most passionate about. Reliability and not dropping the ball on others is better than brilliance, because missing deadlines or going AWOL blocks the information flow. When people start working the way we like, we tend to stick to them – good people are so hard to come by. In this sense, yes, we are a tiny, embryonic phylum.
  • Like phyla in The Diamond Age, we are easy to join and leave, and we trade with people outside the phylum. No point in restricting your customer base, as you say.

Hi @alex_levene,
where do you see this overlap? Not that I disagree, but I guess you see it more thoroughly than I do.

Hi @alberto,
Of which authors do you think? This might be an interesting bunch of scenarios.