Introducing Gather
From: Tom Smyth (
Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2017 06:58:50 -0700 (PDT)
Hi everyone!

I'm Tom Smyth, a member of Touchstone Cohousing here in Ann Arbor. For the
past couple of years I've been working on a software project called
"Gather" that is tailor made for Cohousing. I believe that well-designed
software can greatly enhance cohousing by streamlining and coordinating
rote work so that members can focus on enjoying and building a great

[image: Inline image 1]

We have been using Gather here at Touchstone and the neighboring Great Oak
and Sunward communities since the fall of 2015. Here are some stats:

   - There are 242 active users.
   - About 500 meals (14,000+ servings) have been run through the system so
   far, amounting to nearly $50,000 billed.
   - Over 2,700 reservations have been made.

So clearly the system has served us well and I am hoping and wondering if
other communities would be interested in using it and helping it grow.

Gather currently has solid support for meal planning, resource
reservations, account billing, and a member directory. I've got quite a few
more major areas of functionality in mind (e.g. shared work, meeting
support, Google Drive integration, email integration, Quickbooks
integration, etc.) There is lots more detail and screenshots of features

But first, to the purpose of this email:

*I believe that cohousing is such a wonderful and important phenomenon that
it deserves a financially supported, constantly evolving software product
tailored to its needs. Obviously, I'd like Gather to fill that role.*

Thus far, Gather has been a hobby effort for me, and has been generously
supported by Touchstone's work program. However, development has been slow
as a result. Great new ideas get added to the backlog much faster than I
can realize them.

In my day job, I am a founder and worker-owner at Sassafras Tech Collective
<>, a tech worker-coop based here in Ann Arbor. We
are an 8 person shop (and growing!) building high-quality, custom software
primarily for social justice causes. As a coop,* we are interested in
making Gather available for other cohousing communities on a subscription
basis*, if there is interest.

In exchange for subscription fees, we would provide hosting and support
along with new feature development (think the roadmap above). But we
realize that cohousing is a relatively small market (for now!) and so we
need to think carefully about feasibility before investing too much in a
product offering.

So this email is an initial testing of the waters. What do you think? Is my
vision appealing? Is it something you think like your community would be
interested in devoting resources toward? What thoughts come to mind?

I'd love to talk. Feel free to reply all or individually to me. If there is
a positive response I'm thinking of coming to the conference in Nashville
to explore things further.

Thanks everyone for your time!


Now on to the gory details! Be sure to click the various links below to see


Gather's initial purpose was as a meals administration system. As you can
tell from the stats above, our communities have a very healthy meals program
<> and I
believe this is in large part thanks to Gather and a preceding, now-retired
system from which Gather drew inspiration.

Meals support is robust, and includes:

   - A full billing system (see below)
   - Multiple signup types
   <> (adult,
   senior, teen, kid; meat/veg) with different cost formulas
   - Beautiful, detailed reporting
   <> so
   you can see how your meals program is working
   - Calendar exports so meals show up in your Google Calendar
   for example
   - A pretty, printable summary sheet
   <> for
   - Email reminders for workers and diners
   - Automatic integration with facility reservations (see below)
   - Ability to easily email meal attendees


   - Gather is the central place for all your member info
   - Easy photo uploading with drag and drop
   - Contact sync to smartphones or other contact systems via CardDAV
   - Search for users by name
   - Full user profiles
   birthdays, vehicles, and emergency contact info
   - Automated profile update reminders so things stay fresh
   - Printable version with photos and basic details
   - Household pages


   - Book rooms
   vehicles, or other resources
   - Daily, weekly
   and monthly calendar views
   - Customizable, rich-text resource guidelines
   users are reminded of community policies at the time of reservation
   - Fine-grained reservation policies
   things like event type, max. days per year, max. length, max. days in
   advance, etc.
   - Exportable reservation calendars


   - Diners receive a regular account statement
   - They can view current and past statements
   <> and get
   payment instructions
   - Automated statement generation
   <> and
   - Ability to adjust meal signups
   <> at
   time of finalizing to accommodate late signups
   - Cooks can receive a credit in lieu of reimbursement for grocery
   - Adjustable, per-user credit limits


   - Beautiful design, delightful and easy to use (or that's what users say
   at least!)
   - Easy sign-in with a Google account
   - A single sign-in for all services -- no passwords to remember, and you
   only need to update your profile info in one place
   - Built with data security in mind, using industry-standard frameworks
   and libraries
   - Highly reliable, 99.99% uptime
   - Responsive design
   and works great on smartphones
   , tablets
   laptops, and desktops
   - Fine grained permissions system with roles like admin, photographer,
   meal biller, meal coordinator, etc.
   - For nearby communities, ability to share meals, resources, and contact
   info, and customize what is shared and what is private
   - Fully open source

*Planned Features*

Gather does a lot but it could do so much more. I've got big plans. In

   - Shared work system for managing community labor
   - Full event calendaring system, tightly integrated with meals,
   reservations, meetings, birthdays, etc.
   - Google Drive integration for document storage and collaborative editing
   - Mailman integration for community email
   - Emergency SMS alerts
   - Wiki for frequently accessed community information
   - "Meeting Minder" for coordinating meeting notice, agenda templates,
   minutes review and distribution, space reservation, etc.
   - Online bill payments
   - QuickBooks integration
   - Private resource lending
   - Other great ideas that you all will come up with!?

As you can see, many of the above features arise from the unique needs of
cohousing communities. Each one of them represents a pain point in the
operation of our communities here in Ann Arbor. Building solutions for them
into a convivial tool could make everyone's lives easier and perhaps also
make the prospect of starting new cohousing communities that much less

Hope to talk soon! Thanks again!

Tom Smyth

Worker-Owner, Sassafras Tech Collective
Specializing in innovative, usable tech for social change · @sassafrastech

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