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GNU social: Federation against the social model of Twitter

photo of Manuel Ortega

Manuel Ortega
25th April 2015


15m
“Federation issues” may look like a “bug”, but they are really the result of an agreement, an implicit contract: to be part of a conversation on another node, I first have to have received the trust of someone who is taking part in it.


The Facebook and Twitter socialization model, the FbT model, is like a large plaza where everyone can shout their slogans, while barely listening to each other and without taking responsibility for looking at context and understanding conversations. The result is like a big chicken coop, a “fray,” where any attempt to maintain a conversation on any topic is immediately cut off by an avalanche of slogans and aggression by users who, quite possibly, haven’t even read the article that led to the conversation.

Why does GNU social create more value in its conversations than Twitter?

It is no coincidence that what users most value is having “fewer links that on Twitter, more characters and more conversation,” “a space without noise for calm conversation,” “speaking calmly and dealing with other topics,” etc. All these messages point to the intimate relationship between the value of a conversation and the trust that has already been established within the nodes. It is a consequence of the distributed structure of GNU social. Thanks to it, GNU social is free of anyrecentralizing tendencies and builds the network based on independent nodes — generally formed by affinity between groups of friends who communicate with each other thanks to the federation of content.

What is “federation?”

villa locomunaThe connections between the nodes of GNU social are established by the users who follow each other. Through these “following” relationships, all nodes can communicate and form a network. It’s what’s known as “federation,” and could be understood as a network of agreements.

All it takes is for me to follow a user on another node for everything that that user publishes to be visible to all members of my node. Thanks to this, you can see not only messages from the people that you follow in your inbox or on your personal time line and messages that are published in your node on the public timeline of the node, but also a much broader collection of messages, “the whole known network,” where, in addition to previous messages, you’ll be able to see messages from people in other nodes who at least one user in your node follows.

This creates wonderful things, like “the whole known network” being different in every node, because its composition is based on the people you follow and who follow your nodemates (or “nodies”). This is a very valuable aspect because it means joint exploration of the network. And starting from the existing relationship of trust between the members of a node, each time a member of the node follows — which is to say, establishes an agreement with — a user on an external node, the space of trust is expanded.

The key to creating space and favorable conditions for conversation is that the federation of content is based on what the users of each node follow on others, and not the general aggregation of all content by all nodes. The result is that if a person that neither I nor anyone else on my node follows says something in a conversation, I won’t see their posts. This might seem like a “bug”, but it’s really the result of an agreement, an implicit contract: to be part of a conversation of another node, I first have to have received the trust of someone who is taking part in it.

“Federation issues”

federationissuesThis model of federation is criticized by many new users who land on GNU social having had the experience of socialization of Twitter and Facebook. They label this difference “federation issues” and complain that conversations they participate in only show messages from the person that they themselves follow or other people in their node. The solution is as technically simple to implement as it is dangerous.

What such a request would do, in reality, is break the federation of content based on implicit contracts and open the doors to the aggregation of everything, everywhere, breaking any chain of trust. That is, it would remove the basis for allowing the nodes to create spaces for real conversation. By breaking this model of federating content, we would be importing the social model of the great centralizers, the Facebook-Twitter model, into the spaces and networks that we built on the basis of tools like GNU social, Diaspora, Friendica, etc.

Massive socialization through Facebook and Twitter has impoverished conversations and cut off the birth of new identities. It has done so by imposing a narrative about how the more accessible any conversation is to anyone, the better a network and its interactions are. In other words, when it is not necessary to have a minimum of prior trust to be able participate or interrupt the conversation of others. However, the search for this kind of accessibility obscures the very basis of distributed networks: the fact that a distributed network is made up of nodes, of independent groups that communicate among each other.

Conclusions

The problems or defects of the federation of content are only such if we accept and approve of the FbT socialization model. Really, we should call them “federation advantages,” because if which we’re seeking is to build enriching and conducive spaces for conversation, what we have today in GNU social is the structure that makes it possible.

The federation of content based on following relationships — agreements between people — is the base on which to build enriching and conducive spaces for interaction and for conversation. This is a determining aspect to not give in to centralizing pressure and turn spaces built with GNU social into a new version of the chicken coop that Twitter or Facebook currently offer us. The distributed structure of servers is “invisible,” and if we change the spontaneous logic of federation so that the user sees the network and behaves the same as in a centralized network, we will have changed everything to keep everything the same.

The world of the federation of content is passionate, and will largely determine the future of the web. Speaking concretely of the model of the federation of content, we sincerely believe that the challenges that we have to confront are in developing private communication and enlarging the system of exchanging short messages to a system where we can share everything useful — creating networks of hospitality, supply and demand, music, etc. — for our circle of friends, associations, community and surroundings.

That is, we believe it would be a mistake to replicate the centralized model and its culture. That would serve information without agreements between people, and therefore, approve of irresponsibility and encourage confrontation. For us, GNU social’s priority should be on becoming the “Swiss Army knife” of distributed networks based on sharing, by developing a culture of socialization based on trust within the nodes and the responsibility for understanding what is being talked about when someone joins a conversation. And for that, the key is to connect through federation, as has been done so far, on the basis of the minimum responsibility that comes with the fact that, to be an equal on another node, someone from that node has to considers what I say interesting enough to follow me.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Free Software, Networks, Open Models, Open Standards, Original Content, P2P Development, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Benkler on the Uber-ification of Services

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
24th April 2015


Yochai Benkler

Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler gave attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos a dire warning about future instability if the “Uber-ification of all services” continues.  In his intense six-minute talk, “Challenges of the Sharing Economy,” Benkler notes how open networks and collaborative production models have led to the “destabilization of the firm,” and ultimately threaten to bring about “the potential reorganization of the entire services sector.”

In light of this epochal shift, he declares, the critical question is: “Will [this shift] allow embedding economic production in the same kind of social solidarity trust models that we saw with the emergence of Wikipedia? Or will the externalization of risk onto the people formerly known as employees create severe disruption?”

The big challenge today, he argued, is that the social and the political have diverged, as demonstrated by the Occupy movement. And this leads to worrisome social pressures that the political system is disinclined to address.

I realize that Benkler must have been under a strict time limit — he was talking quite rapidly for this talk — but it sure would be nice to hear his proposed solutions for re-integrating the social and the political in functional ways, and how he proposes moving that agenda forward.  But at least the Davos crowd was alerted to this fundamental political challenge. Whether they will deign to recognize the issue and move beyond their adulation for the Uber, Airbnb and other lucrative forms of network monopoly is another matter.

While most people think that answers can only come from Washington, D.C. — FCC regs, antitrust law, etc. — rots of ruck on that, for all the obvious reasons.  I think the only effective solutions will come from P2P architectures and legal innovations that technically and legally stymie the consolidation of services by a single, dominant network player. Neither Congress, regulatory agencies or the courts are capable — politically or intellectually — of delivering satisfactory answers, I fear. The natural “power law” outcome of networks will ineluctably prevail unless some sort of intervention is made.  And if the answer is not going to involve social disruption, as Benkler warns, it’s high time that we begin to address challenges of legitimate, responsive, accountable governance in the network age.


Originally published in bollier.org

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Networks, Original Content, P2P Development, Peer Production, Politics | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Government of the Precarious

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hartsellml
13th April 2015


* Book: State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious. by Isabell Lorey. Verso, 2015

URL = http://www.versobooks.com/books/1737-state-of-insecurity

Description

“Years of remodelling the welfare state, the rise of technology, and the growing power of neoliberal government apparatuses have established a society of the precarious. In this new reality, productivity is no longer just a matter of labour, but affects the formation of the self, blurring the division between personal and professional lives. Encouraged to believe ourselves flexible and autonomous, we experience a creeping isolation that has both social and political impacts, and serves the purposes of capital accumulation and social control.

In State of Insecurity, Isabell Lorey explores the possibilities for organization and resistance under the contemporary status quo, and anticipates the emergence of a new and disobedient self-government of the precarious.”

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Posted in Activism, Featured Book, Networks, P2P Governance | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Many Faces of Anonymous

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hartsellml
8th April 2015


* Book: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. Gabriella Coleman.

URL: http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_04/13908

Review

Astra Taylor:

“But as an anthropologist deeply embedded in the Anonymous community, Coleman could discern things that were invisible to casual observers. These other facets of Anonymous only began to come into focus for me on the first day of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. As I mingled with a small group in Zuccotti Park, I was surprised to see Anonymous vigorously promoting the encampment. Whatever you thought of the protests, Occupy was hardly a cause that a bunch of nihilists (a common view of Anonymous) or die-hard libertarians (a common computer-nerd stereotype) would rally behind. I started to pay more attention.

As the subtitle of her epic and excellent new book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, suggests, Coleman’s subject is mercurial. The group’s ethos of “motherfuckery” (a commitment to mayhem) coexists alongside what some less politically engaged Anons derisively call “moral faggotry” (a devotion to social and political causes). As a result, Anonymous is a remarkable, if confounding—and yes, occasionally noxious—witches’ brew, into which a wide variety of human characteristics have been poured: cruelty, sexism, homophobia, racism, immaturity, and idiocy, but also intelligence, idealism, ingenuity, and even courage.

This perplexing concoction is conveyed in the definition of “lulz” Coleman quotes from the online Encyclopedia Dramatica (if you haven’t come across the site before, imagine a satirical and self-referential, meme-obsessed Wikipedia on acid). Like any subculture, Anonymous has its own jargon and value system, and lulz hold a central, and even paramount, position in its lexicon. “Lulz is a corruption of LOL . . . signifying laughter at someone else’s expense,” the encyclopedia helpfully explains. “Lulz is engaged in by Internet users who have witnessed one major economic/environmental/political disaster too many, and who thus view a state of voluntary, gleeful sociopathy over the world’s current apocalyptic state, as superior to being continually emo.” Some readers might get stuck on the phrase “gleeful sociopathy”—which emphasizes a terrifying lack of conscience—but, for me, what stands out is the sensitivity that contributes directly to this affect. Lulz are not purely aggressive and contemptuous; they are, perversely, rooted in disappointment and righteous indignation. Like the return of the repressed, the emo (short, of course, for “emotional”) element persists and resurfaces, suffusing much of the activity that has put Anonymous on the cultural map in recent years.

The story of Anonymous’s emergence and transformation into one of the most intriguing and, arguably, potent leaderless political collaborations of our time has been told before in books such as Parmy Olson’s We Are Anonymous; in the 2012 documentary We Are Legion; and in a spate of glossy magazine articles. Coleman’s history complements, and frequently corrects, these popular accounts, but the book’s comprehensive detail and deep analysis set it apart. She covers the history of hacking and trolling, revealing the various tech-savvy and humor-loving milieus that spawned Anonymous. She traces the group’s political turn, from the battle with Scientology to actions like “Operation Payback,” which targeted PayPal and other financial institutions for cutting off WikiLeaks, and OpTunisia, which assisted antigovernment protesters during the Arab Spring. Coleman continues her tale as Anonymous fragments, tracking the evolution of spin-off cadres such as LulzSec and AntiSec and the rise and fall of well-known figures like Barrett Brown, Jeremy Hammond, and the double-crossing Hector Monsegur, aka “Sabu.”

Through it all, Coleman charts her own conceptual course, breaking with the standard narratives, particularly the click-baity cautionary tales about the dangers of Anonymous. Her book offers its share of warnings, but ones more nuanced, compelling, and empathetic than the typical hand-wringing about online mobs and the conundrum of virtual vigilante justice. Coleman is no cheerleader: She questions the wisdom of the hive mind, registers her ambivalence about the supremacy of lulz, and is appropriately mortified by some of the queasier trolling exploits she recounts. But she also doesn’t wag her finger from some imagined high ground, in part because she could be considered an Anon herself. Coleman repeatedly crosses the line between observer and participant, engaging in conversations, helping with media outreach, and editing manifestos, and this inside view is part of what makes the book unique. By becoming part of the clan, Coleman provides evidence of another one of her key points: Anonymous is surprisingly diverse. While mostly male dominated (though some female Anons do rise to prominence), Anonymous is multigenerational and multiethnic. Some high-profile members were revealed to be teenagers, like eighteen-year-old Jake Davis, aka “Topiary,” and Mustafa al-Bassam, aka “tflow,” while others are grizzled social-movement veterans, like the colorful Christopher Doyon, aka “Commander X,” who is currently on the lam in Canada.

Instead of lingering on Anonymous’s ethical and tactical lapses, which have been thoroughly dissected in the press, Coleman focuses on the larger social and political context, rightfully raising red flags about the government’s overblown response to the purported hacker menace. An alarming double standard applies to digital protests: While offline civil disobedience or vandalism—think blocking an intersection or defacing a corporate billboard—often leads to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, felony charges are distressingly common for hackers due to the powers granted zealous state officials by ill-conceived legislation like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The ongoing crackdown has been called a “nerd scare,” with more than one hundred people arrested around the world in connection with Anonymous. Many of these individuals did nothing but partake in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks—in other words, they pressed a few buttons to help flood a website with traffic—which, as Coleman points out, hardly qualifies as hacking. And some didn’t even do that much.

But, you may be thinking, orchestrating a DDoS attack is nothing like a sit-in! And isn’t it ironic, you might continue, that a group known for fighting censorship impinges on the free speech of others by causing their websites to crash? Coleman reveals that these and countless related questions have already been debated at length within the Anonymous community. Indeed, one of the book’s most compelling revelations is that every common criticism of Anonymous has already been vigorously taken up by Anons: They have railed against the limitations of social media and affirmed the superiority of offline protests; they have complained about the puerile nature of specific operations; they have vehemently denounced “doxing”—i.e., outing—individuals in the absence of irrefutable evidence of their crimes. Anonymous, so one saying goes, is not unanimous. The group’s often raucous culture of dissension and debate, and the serial improvisations of democracy that grow out of it, all come to life here through extended chatlog excerpts elucidated by Coleman’s engrossing and convivial commentary.

As Coleman shows so well, Anons are irreverent and intelligent—and also impatient. And why shouldn’t they be? They want to provoke a response, this instant, and to play a part in exposing corruption and challenging power. That they do so by submerging their individuality in a collective identity is particularly notable in an age of personal branding and incessant self-promotion: Pursuing individual celebrity, Coleman writes, is the “ultimate taboo.” (Thus does Sabu rail against “those that want fame” and “infiltrators,” right before he’s exposed as an attention-seeking FBI informant.) They are, arguably, the last refuge of a hard-core, underground punk ethos. Coleman returns again and again to Anons’ penchant for heaping scorn on those who use collective endeavors to gain individual notoriety, yet she also acknowledges that a few highly visible characters often contribute disproportionately to the cause.

By examining these sorts of tensions, Coleman offers suggestive insight into the relationship between the networked-attention economy and political activism. Anonymous, like Occupy and various other grassroots campaigns, has been able to cast an enormous virtual shadow, but ubiquity can be a double-edged sword. What’s the true utility of clicks and retweets if people just get distracted and move on to the next thing? Does the emphasis on spectacle only tighten the media’s grip on activists and increase their dependence on both traditional news outlets and digital corporate platforms? How can a group capture online attention and transform it into sustained and effective political pressure? These issues keep my comrades and me up at night.

As honest as some Anons are about the limitations of their methods, the government and military-defense contractors are still committed to inflating the group’s prowess and the danger it poses, propping up an enemy to justify their ever-expanding budgets and purview. How threatening are these Anons, actually? Not very, it might seem, but that’s not the point. Government and corporate outcry against hackers is really about mind games and maintaining power not cybersecurity. In 2011, Anonymous obtained PowerPoint slides from the security firm HBGary detailing a plan not just to spy on and disrupt WikiLeaks but also, crucially, to defame and intimidate supporters and journalists. These allies have a “liberal bent,” the firm noted, but “ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause.”

In the end, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy offers an extended and persuasive argument for defying HBGary’s cynical assessment and siding with the hackers, professional preservation be damned. While most Internet users are busy looking at cat videos or porn or frittering away time stalking their frenemies on Facebook, some young people might be logging on, debating right and wrong, and getting hooked on political action thanks to Anonymous. Maybe such experimenters will become lifelong activists, or maybe they’re just looking for lulz. Sure, their operations haven’t always been pretty, but no social movement is perfect or pure. Few, however, have been as unpredictable, outrageous, and entertaining as Anonymous. To my mind, that’s reason enough to join Coleman in rooting for them.” (http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_04/13908)

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Posted in Activism, Featured Book, Networks | No Comments »

A collaboratively developed ideological map of the P2P world

photo of David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte
5th April 2015


Almost any contemporary group could be positioned on this two axis based in its proposals and practice on economy and network architecture.


During the last week, after discussion in «La Matriz», we proposed our friends and readers to discuss and collaboratively produce an ideological map of the p2p world. The result is just a partial result, a «working paper», but it clearly expresses a new world coming. First of all, we couldn’t use a unidimensional criteria, as in the old world uses to be the liberal-conservative axis. Two criteria emerge: the abundance-degrowth axis and the centralized-distributed one.

Almost any contemporary group could be positioned on this two axis based in its proposals and practice on economy and network architecture. Some well known firms and experiences as Mondragon, Apple, Ubuntu or Google were included in the graphics too as a reference.

p2p ideological map
You can download the .odg file, position your group and discuss it with us (you can use English language in la Matriz, our GNUsocial node).

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Posted in Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Networks, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Subjectivity, Visualisations | 6 Comments »

Ubiquitous Commons: The Struggle to Control Our Data

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
4th April 2015


Salvatore Iaconesi of Ubiquitous Commons

Over the past twenty years, there has been such a proliferation of computers, smartphones, digital devices, surveillance cameras, maps, mobile applications, sensors and much else – all of it networked through the Internet, wireless and telephone connections – that an unimaginably vast new body of personal data is being generated about us, individually and collectively.

The question is, Can we possibly control this data to serve our own desires and purposes?  Or will we be modern-day techno-peasants controlled by the neo-feudal masters on the hill, Facebook, Google and Twitter and their secret and not-so-secret partners in the US Government?Salvatore Iaconesi of Ubiquitous Commons

Finding an effective response to this worsening situation is not going to be easy, but one brave initiative is attempting to start a new conversation about how to build a new, more socially benign data order.  The Ubiquitous Commons, a project launched by Italians Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico, seeks to find new technological, legal and social protocols for managing the sheer ubiquity of networked information, and for assuring us some control over our digital identities.  Their basic idea is “to promote the adoption of a new type of public space in which knowledge is a common,” which they describe as “ubiquitous commons.”

Iaconesi and Persico believe that vital public and personal information should not be controlled by large proprietary enterprises whose profit-driven activities are largely hidden from public view and accountability.  Rather, we should be able to use our own data to make our own choices and develop “ubiquitous commons” to meet our needs.

Why should Facebook and its social networking peers be able to control the authentication of our digital identities?  Why should they decide what visual and textual works shall be publicly available and archived for posterity?  Why should their business models control the types of insights that can be gleaned from “their” (proprietary) Big Data based on our information — while government, academic researchers and the general public are left in the dark?

I remember how Google crowed that its search results could make better, more timely predictions about the flu and other contagious diseases than the Centers for Disease Control.  I don’t see this type of unaccountable, god-like power over social information as so wonderful and benign, especially when lucrative business self-interests may selectively govern what gets disclosed and what is used for private strategic advantage.

At the Berlin Transmediale Festival in January, Iaconesi and Persico said:

Each instant, the data we produce is used, processed, purchased and sold in multiple ways, and it becomes the object of myriads of experiments. Only a handful of these are clearly perceivable. Most of them are completely not transparent, opaque, ungraspable. Algorithms of multiple types, distributed across multiple layers, locations, and operations, constantly process the data we produce, and the data which is produced from the processing, and so on, in a chain which becomes ever more opaque and whose effects show up on the content we see online, on the products we buy, on the services we use, on our jobs, on the ways in which we are classified in our education, work, insurances, health, relations and more.

Ubiquitous Commons aims at creating a protocol which is legal and technical/technological through which people and organizations will be able to define how they wish the data they produce to be used.

Few organizations or public figures are even talking about this quiet, undeclared political struggle, perhaps because there is no off-the-shelf answer. It must be created. But it’s important to start this discussion because the struggle over our personal data and digital identities will have profound implications for democratic self-governance. If the NSA is able to act as a kind of uber-Stasi surveillance state, in selective collaborations with data vacuums like Facebook and Google, then the very idea of citizen sovereignty in our “democracy” will degenerate even more than it already has, leaving a troubling “legitimacy void” for all institutions.

Iaconesi, Persico and their partners aim to make data streams far more accessible and intelligible by (among other things) mapping them onto physical spaces. The results of this process are often striking. Iaconesi once prepared a series of heat maps of Turin, Italy, generated by marking the location that various social networking posts originated from. Two animated maps showed the intensity of posts in Italian versus those in Arabic over a period of time, plotting the movement of the two communities. “They are two different cities,” Iaconesi noted. Another map showed each location in which a user described something that he or she would like to change about Turin. “If I was mayor, I would look at this map,” Iaconesi said.

Iaconesi and Persico have conducted workshops in Rome, São Paulo, Hong Kong, New Haven (Connecticut) and other cities around the world to help local governments, urban planners, architects, artists, and others to make better use of data that is available.

Some social networking data can be analyzed to infer and map the emotional moods of people and their locations at the time.  When such data was analyzed and plotted on a map of New Haven, home of Yale University, it showed “a reddish blotch centered on the Yale campus, a palpable impression left by term papers, lab results, and midterms” – while the “epicenter of joy” in another map was located in the nearby suburban town of Hamden.

Should Facebook be the only entity allowed to assess data flows and to use them for its own proprietary goals?  yet if city governments and ordinary people are to access to such data, we clearly need to figure out new principles and techniques for legally and technologically managing them.

It’s unclear at this stage how far the Ubiquitous Commons vision will go, but obviously one can only begin by beginning. The project describes itself as “an international research effort dedicated to understanding the transformation of data, information and knowledge in the age of ubiquitous technologies.”

Ubiquitous Commons wants to develop new “critical understandings of the social, anthropological, psychological, aesthetic, political mutations” that hyper-interconnectivity among human beings (and their digitized bodies, objects and places) is creating.  It is also dedicated to “creating tools and practices” that can help bring about “new institutional and organizational models that are based on peer-to-peer, ecosystemic governance.”

For example, why shouldn’t citizens in a city be able to use P2P systems to crowdfund a civic action or enter into a shared decisionmaking process?  Public administrators should be able to monitor real-time data feeds concerning transportation, safety, the environment and public health.  All sorts of specially crafted maps could use data to reveal where people are happier, where more crime occurs, and where certain types of social and economic activities are surging.

To advance all of these ends, Ubiquitous Commons wants to develop “legal, technological and philosophical toolkits” for understanding how data commons could work in practice. As a proof of concept, could programmers develop web browser plugins that would apply Ubiquitous Commons principles?  How should the law regard the uses of data?  Iaconesi and Persico would like to develop as set of Ubiquitous Commons protocols to help create “a real-time museum of the city,” plotting its pulsating digital life, flows of people and economic activity, social moods, community life, and more.

In short:  data for the common good, not just for private profit.   Data for self-governance and democratic choices.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Networks, Open Content, Open Innovation, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

“Sharing lies”: five lies about the Sharing Economy

photo of Mayra Rodriguez Singh

Mayra Rodriguez Singh
3rd April 2015


topicos-sharing-1200x470Putting things in context is not to let just anything happen. It is also being clear that the “hype” that’s being built with a number of lies that will inevitably lead to disappointment. These are, in my judgement, the five big ones.


Talking about the collaborative world these days is as dangerous as walking on shifting sands. Under the “sharing” and the “co-whatever,” there hides a wide minefield of concepts and phenomena mixed together. To be immersed in the world of the collaborative economy today is, often times, contradictory and surprising.

Of course, there are classifications and dictionaries that give it all order and help us explore, and neither should we forget that all this forms part of a much broader process, of which “sharing” consumption and access to resources is only one very small and superficial part, within very powerful changes and perspectives.

But putting things in context is not to let just anything happen. It is also being clear that the “hype” that’s being built with a number of lies that will inevitably lead to disappointment. These are, in my judgement, the five big ones:

  1. airbnb comunidadPlatforms are communities. That’s a lie. Whatever definition of community we use, Airbnb, Uber, Zipcar, Blablacar, and the many clones of all of them are not communities. Adhering to conditions of use doesn’t even point towards “community standards.” Let’s be honest, the large majority of collaborative consumption platforms are markets. Barter markets in some cases, non-profit markets in others, traditional labor markets in still others, and even markets of restoration… but, markets: places where transactions are made, even if some are relatively cheap and others even at zero price. They’re still markets. And a market is something completely different from a community, and the two provide experiences that are nothing alike. Or do we really think the start-up world could be expected anything other than bid us “Welcome to the Jungle?”
  2.  

  3. The “sharing economy” creates conscious consumption. That’s a lie. We’re told that it’s better to reuse than to be compulsive buyers, and that it’s time to be conscious of our consumption. And that’s true. But if the boom in the sharing economy coincides with the longest economic crisis in the history of capitalism, it’s not by chance. With the middle class seeing its buying power reduced, sharing has grown because it offers to maintain something like the standard of living of the “good years.” Travel, but stay in a stranger’s room or in a little tourist hotel outside of State regulation. Go out to eat, but to the apartment of a chef who organizes the meal, rather than to a restaurant. Go by taxi, but pay less, because the taxi driver works under the table and the car is private. Now everything’s OK again! But the argument is a fallacy. I don’t believe that consumption is more conscious if it takes advantage of people’s precariousness and the shortcuts that so many people have had to take to survive the crisis.Sure, they’ve painted it with a little amnesia, and they’ve put new labels on it to make sure it’s still cool. One of the many examples is vintage fashion, because sharing clothes with your brothers/sisters is not the same as buying it second-hand. If your jacket was once your cousin’s, you weren’t in fashion. But now, second-hand clothes and accessories have gone from being looked down on to being cool, and you can bet someone will ask you for the address or website of the store you shop at, so they can go get stuff like yours. It’s not that the obsession with buying, the famous consumerism, has disappeared. It’s simply been adapted and started valuing things that used to be seen as being “for the poor.” The longstanding flea market that people used to want to relocate now becomes an obligatory Sunday stroll. Stores that were once on hidden streets now reappear in maps of exclusive sites and are the creme de la creme.
  4.  

  5. fabcafeThe “sharing economy” is a new mode of production. That’s a lie. To present the P2P production as part of the “sharing economy” is to confuse things by equating ways of creating wealth that are very different and erasing what P2P really represents.P2P production is centered on the creation of the commons. That’s what transforms the nature of capital and the market. But is that the way it really is in the thousands of “Ubers” that enter the risk-capital market? Does Airbnb create anything resembling a commons? Obviously not. And to confuse things only leads to the things that matter most losing meaning. Quoting Natalia:

    Collaborative consumption is not part of the transition towards a P2P mode of production if isn’t in the framework of the development of the commons and P2P production, in the same way that consumer cooperativism does not create democracy in an economy if it is not in the framework of a cooperative industrial community.

  6.  

  7. airbnb barcelonaThe businesses of the “sharing economy” promote economic activity that displaces capitalism and promotes a new use of the city. That’s a lie. If we study the “Airbnb effect” in a city like Barcelona, we’ll see that it moves us farther away — a lot farther — from the “sharing city.” The difference between Airbnb and Hilton is not not even the difference between a business of the direct economy and a large, inefficient corporation with the strength of over-scaling. Airbnb, Uber, Blablacar and others are not behind the substitution of independent SMEs for the industrial fabric of big businesses whose decomposition is gutting the productivity of cities. In fact, as Bruce Sterling pointed out, by promoting highly centralized models, these business fit into and promote the worst of “smart cities,” deepening precariousness and taking sovereignty from people and the city as a whole. As Sterling asked, “do you think San Francisco or any big American city would let its new taxi system be run by a business located in Barcelona?”
  8.  

  9. The activity of the businesses of the “sharing economy” strengthens community bonds and helps resist the social effects of the crisis. That’s a lie. The type of human relations built by the best-known “sharing” platforms are far from creating community or establishing links that strengthen social cohesion. On the demand side, they support the economy of precariousness, shortcuts, and “anything goes,” while on the demand side, they eliminate the need for collaboration and real human relationships, replacing it with interaction through a platform. That is why, as Caro said not long ago in a chat:

    [It’s not even] enough to develop independence from centralized platforms. The simple solution to our problems of access to goods or services through sharing does not create the type of interrelationships and responsibilities that characterize the commons. Just the opposite, generally — the use of platforms in exchange exempts us from the responsibility for building relationships, for observing community needs and organizing to respond to them.

So, is the “sharing economy” bad?

car sharingNo. Absolutely not. It’s just that we must distinguish, and not accept the lies of the “hype” uncritically or in all cases. There are models of couch-surfing that really are communal, and do not create the disasters of Airbnb. There are models of car sharing that don’t try to sell themselves as an alternative mode of production and that were able to evolve from the commons to a business, and from there, be integrated into public services, helping to reduce traffic. Because in reality, the main contribution of the “sharing economy” is to transmit a culture of efficient use of durable consumer goods.

So, I think it is necessary to put the “sharing economy” in context, not to lose the critical view of the talk about their businesses, and above all, not forget that if they contribute to changes of real importance, it won’t be because they tried to be more than they really are, but by taking on a deeper perspective.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Networks, Original Content, P2P Development | No Comments »

Greenstone, a powerful mesh extender for FireChat

photo of Guy James

Guy James
29th March 2015


GreenStone_by_Open_GardenFire Chat has already been mentioned here in the context of enabling peer-to-peer networking during the recent protests in Hong Kong, now I am glad to see that they are planning to produce a device which will further empower this mesh networking concept:

“Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, is taking mesh networking beyond our mobile devices. It’s working on GreenStone, a prototype piece of hardware that acts as a connectivity node and messaging beacon. It’s a dual-purpose piece of hardware: If someone walks in the vicinity of the beacon with FireChat installed, GreenStone picks up the most recent messages and stores them in its memory. When someone else with FireChat walks by, they will receive those messages. GreenStone stores up to 1,000 messages, and will update with the most recent chats from whoever walks by.

Not only does it send and store messages, but it also works to extend the connection in the mesh network.”

Read more here.

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Posted in Mobile Developments, Networks, Technology | No Comments »

How we got Here? #Greece has an immense network of organisations focused on social good

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
21st March 2015


Greece has an immense network of organisations that are focused on improving the social good, with or without the support of the state or private foundations. In many cases, they are self-organised and autonomous

Months after the fall of Matera, some unMonasterians came to Athens on a brief “exploratory” excursion in December, 2014. During their visit they discovered this vibrant network of locals, which has similar aims as the unMonastery, so they quickly plugged into it.

Source: https://medium.com/@unmonastery/how-we-got-here-8f463dc81920

Rooftop meeting in Athens in late December.

Later, following the Transmediale extravaganza in January 2015, many people that were involved with the original unMonastery decided to plop down in Athens in February to see what else there was to discover in Greece. This “scoping period” was intended to have a duration of three months.

What the unMonasterians found went much deeper than was initially perceived. The more time that was spent connecting to existing networks, the more it became clear that the people living in Greece have a strong affinity to hacking of all sorts; be it with internet connectivity, food sharing, reactivating abandoned spaces, or just simply taking the metro.

The vision for the future of Greece is especially captivating when you speak with the people here that are involved with making the place more liveable. The group of unMonasterians was humbled by the amount of knowledge and experience there was to absorb here.

One such visionary project is SatNOGS that was created by our new neighbours, the Athens Hackerspace. It’s a global network of opensource satellite ground stations that recently won the Hackaday prize.

Continue to read the full article: https://medium.com/@unmonastery/how-we-got-here-8f463dc81920

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Featured Movement, Networks | No Comments »

Map of #Grassroots groups in #Greece

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
20th March 2015


0dc8cfb0cb3c164e-OUZOMASTERsmallPresenting… our new grassroots map (June 2014)!

Source: http://omikronproject.gr/grassroots

Still think Greeks are sitting idle, the helpless victims of events in their country? Think again. In 2013, we carried out an extensive study to map all the grassroots movements in Greece who are stepping in where the system is failing, and produce the first edition of our grassroots map, titled ‘Coffee-drinking lazy Greeks?‘.

Now, we’ve released a second edition of the map – ‘Ouzo-drinking lazy Greeks?’ – fully updated and including over 60% more groups!

What is this?

The map is a poster showing all the grassroots groups that are currently active in Greece, split into ten categories from neighbourhood assemblies to education movements to alternative micro-economies, with information on each group and details of an example group in each category. We’ve also included a list of all these groups in text format, with links to their websites (below).

All the groups have been verified by us as grassroots, explicitly not-for-profit, Greece-based and active as of June 2014. By ‘grassroots’, we mean that the groups are open for others to join and that, at the time of their inception, they had no affiliation with a profit-making entity.

Like all our productions, the poster is made available under the Creative Commons license. Download it in high-resolution format and use it however you want.

What’s new in this version?

For this second edition of the map, there are 70% more groups, and a new category (Information Technology). We’ve provided English translations where appropriate, and we’ve removed all the groups that we found were no longer active. Thanks to all the groups who wrote to us to let us know of updates!

Help us keep this map up to date

This map is an ongoing project. If you notice any errors or omissions, let us know and we’ll make the necessary changes to the list below, as well as in the next version of the poster!

Continue to the full article: http://omikronproject.gr/grassroots

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Networks, Visualisations | No Comments »