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Archive for 'Networks'

Book of the Day: Collective Action After Networks

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hartsellml
29th October 2014


Organisation of the Organisation-less: Collective Action After Networks. By Rodrigo Nunes. PML Books (Mute / Post-Media Lab), 2014.

Summary:

“Rejecting the dichotomy of centralism and horizontalism that has deeply marked millennial politics, Rodrigo Nunes’ close analysis of network systems demonstrates how organising within contemporary social and political movements exists somewhere between – or beyond – the two. Rather than the party or chaos, the one or the multitude, he discovers a ‘bestiary’ of hybrid organisational forms and practices that render such disjunctives false. The resulting picture shows how social and technical networks can and do facilitate strategic action and fluid distributions of power at the same time. It is by developing the strategic potentials that are already immanent to networks, he argues, that contemporary solutions to the question of organisation can be developed.”

Excerpted from an earlier article on the same topic, ‘Three theses on organisation’, by Rodrigo Nunes:

It is Possible to Have a Mass Movement Without Mass Organisations

This lesson is not particularly new; it has been known since at least 1968, or since the late 1990s if we are to eschew the classical references. It is nonetheless both worth repeating and phrasing in this way, since attempting to translate the questions thrown up by the present into the language of older debates can offer more of a grip on them than merely insisting on their absolute novelty.

What matters here is not only the extent to which mass organisations (parties, unions – notable exceptions being the strikes in Egypt, and local support by unions in Tunisia) were seen as ‘part of the problem’, or simply not invited, but also the extent to which they were questioned as mass organisations. In the face of a large, heterogeneous, developing, living movement, their mobilising capacity seemed limited by comparison – and the quality of their representation too stale, too ossified, too much of a representation to matter. When masses of people rose up against the representative system and the dearth of real options it offered, unions and parties were widely regarded as representing that system itself, rather than those they notionally represent.

To say this, of course, does not tell us anything about the staying power of the movements that appeared in 2011; whether a choice not to form mass organisations will entail a progressive loss of momentum, or whether forming them will simply be divisive without bringing any gains; nor does it say anything about whether mass organisations as such are an outdated proposition.[ii] But it does say something about the state of existing mass organisations, and the potentials that reside in the encounter between widespread discontent and access to technological tools that allow for mass, multi-polar communication. It is, thus, evidently good news: mass organisations are in crisis everywhere (and this includes Latin America, from where I presently write); it is good to know that it is possible to bypass them in order to produce political effects.

It also says something about the crisis of representation, and how it will be a long time until it is solved. Some were quick to point out the ‘failure’ of movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Spain, in the sense that the forces that eventually came to power were not much better than those that were removed. There is a truly bizarre logic in this: if these movements started out by decrying how all essential decisions were outside the scope of representative democracy and all the available options were different shades of the same, to expect to prove them wrong by pointing out that what they got was ultimately a different shade of the same is essentially to corroborate their assertion. This argument can only make sense if one has already accepted the premise these movements reject – that there is no alternative to the ‘there is no alternative’ that they oppose. It fails to acknowledge how they have, from the start, set their sights on a much longer game than can be measured by electoral cycles (and which will demand a lot more from them to be achieved).

In regard to the political system as a whole, these movements are exercising – and that is perhaps all they can do at present – what Colectivo Situaciones have called poder destituyente, de-instituent power.[iv] They undoubtedly also possess a constituent power whose future and direction is as yet impossible to predict. It may result in new political forms, new mechanisms of representation, new institutions or, at the very least, new organisations. It may result in all of those at once, as was the case in Bolivia in the aftermath of neoliberal crisis. But right now, their main achievable goal is probably that of flushing the system; and not only can this not be done overnight, the sharpening of contradictions in the short term – Spain now has a right wing government elected by 30 percent of the population, while polls indicate that around 70 percent agree with the indignados, who the new government are on a declared collision course with – may lead to just that in the longer run.

 

Organisation Has Not Disappeared, But Changed

Many have observed how the obvious similarities between 2011 and the alterglobalisation moment went oddly unnoticed among the commentariat. In what concerns organisation, there is a double irony in this invisibilisation. On the one hand, the alterglobalisation moment marked the first attempt to elaborate the transformations to organisational practice brought about by new communication technologies, the internet above all. On the other, it already manifested the same tabula rasa, new dawn attitude that some adopt today: new technological conditions have changed the way we organise forever, it is all about connected individuals now, the time of hierarchical organisational forms is over. Therein lies, of course, a third irony: that, as is often the case with the modern attitude of announcing the present as a total break with the past, it appears retrospectively as an anticipation of something then still to come. The ‘new technological conditions’ of ten years ago – mailing lists, camera-less phones and Indymedia! – pale in comparison to the access to the means of production of information that we see today; conversely, today’s ‘total break’ has already been around, in some form, for ten years.

The problem is that different things tend to get mixed up in the discussion, and activist practices associated with older organisational forms – such as ‘factory floor’ or ‘door-to-door’ community organising – are lumped in with the organisational form itself. As a consequence, the argument flits from claiming that some organisational forms are no longer necessary to some forms of activism have become superfluous, and ends up producing a falsified picture of how social media have actually been put to political use.

In a well received article from late 2010 that went on to seem thoroughly debunked by ensuing events, Malcolm Gladwell drew on Mark Granovetter’s groundbreaking work in social network theory to suggest that social media are fabulous tools when it comes to spreading information and fostering low involvement forms of action (‘share’, ‘like’, ‘retweet’, ‘donate’), but are not as good when it comes to developing dependable relations, commitment and what it sometimes takes to really get an action or campaign off the ground. One of that text’s strongest conclusions was that ‘Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice, but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice’.[vi] In other words, social media are an excellent medium for weak tie activism, but the development of strong ties requires greater organisational consistency than ‘clicktivism’. As anyone who’s ever organised anything will know, it is sadly not as simple as ‘tweet it and they will come’.

My hypothesis is that, rather than contradicting this conclusion, the political use of social media in 2011 highlights a possibility underestimated by Gladwell: that, under certain special conditions, the quantity of connections enabled by social media can indeed produce the quality of stronger ones – a marginal effect that weak ties always possess that is intensified by favourable circumstances, and which we could describe as a general lowering of each individual’s participation threshold.

If one pays attention to how events unfolded, the myth of isolated individuals coming together on the randomly picked date of a Facebook event becomes shaky. Even the instance seemingly closest to the ‘spontaneous uprising’ narrative, Tunisia, is arguably best described as starting with strong ties. Mohamed Bouazizi’s shocking act of self-immolation first galvanised a small circle of friends and family who tried to make sure the information about his death, and the protests that followed, got out of the town of Sidi Bouzid. From then on the story was picked up by Al Jazeera, there was support from the local trade union branch and student groups, and longer-term activists and media critics of the government began to speak (and act) out.

The movement, in other words, was not simply from weak ties to strong ties, isolated individuals to strong commitments, the internet to the streets; but (small scale) strong ties to weak ties (more people hearing about what had happened) to strong ties (activist groups and individuals becoming involved on a larger scale) to a broader fringe of weak ties becoming strong ties as things gathered momentum. This is illustrated in the geographical spread; from the countryside to Al Jazeera, then from social media and YouTube to the capital and abroad, where each relay produced not only a greater number of informed people, but also people who became active; and it is not too much to imagine that communication among individuals was taking place not only through media, social or otherwise, but also through meetings and nascent or pre-existing organisations of different kinds.

It is well known that, for years, activist groups in Egypt had had their attempts to channel mass opposition to the Mubarak regime frustrated and repressed. Then the events in Tunisia and the viral spread of information and availability of online mobilising tools provided them with an opportunity that they seized. It is true, someone did create a Facebook event calling for the January 25 ‘Day of Anger’; this someone, however, was no random ‘concerned citizen’, but the admin of a Facebook page (‘We are all Khaled Said’) with over 400,000 followers that had existed for half a year. That admin, the now famous Wael Ghonim, attributes the idea to his collaborator AbdelRahman Mansour and the final decision to a brainstorming session over a month earlier with Ahmed Maher of the April 6 Youth Movement, in which they agreed that the Facebook page would spearhead the call, while the activist group would take care of logistics.[x] (April 6 had already mobilised for that date – Police Day – in the past.) And as the idea of a protest on that and subsequent dates caught on, it was worked out and made operational by several other already existing and then sprouting organisations and affinity groups.

The communication that enabled the Arab Spring (or 15M and Occupy) did not simply spread from one individual to the next via social media; in each case, what happened was always a much more complex relay between already established hubs – either ‘strong tie’ groups or communication nodes with a large following and credibility – and a long tail of ties with decreasing intensity, in a sort of ripple effect with many epicentres. If there can be mass movements without mass organisations, it is because social media amplify exponentially the effects of relatively isolated initiatives. But that they do so is not a miraculous phenomenon that can magically bypass quality by producing quantity out of nothing; it requires the relay through hubs and strong tie groups and clusters that can begin to operationally translate ‘chatter’ into action. As that happens, under propitious conditions, the spread of information also aids the development of strong ties down the long tail: once a friend or family member goes to a demo, or you see stirring images of one, you are more likely to go, and so on. So we can only speak of ‘spontaneity’ if we understand the new flows of information and decision making as also being necessarily routed by previously existing networks and organisations and more tightly knit affinities, and thus along the lines of previously given structures that no doubt were transformed in the process; certainly not in the sense of an ideal ‘association of individuals’ who previously existed as individuals only. This is even more explicit in those cases, such as 15M and Occupy, where there was an open, overground organising process prior to things ‘kicking off’.[xi]

Finally, it is interesting to speculate on how the beginnings of both the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are tied to death and sacrifice, of Mohammed Bouzizi and Khaled Said above all. There is no greater test of commitment, or of the strength of ties, than being ready to die. The relation between years of police abuse and violence, and then the irrepressible resolve demonstrated by protesters in those countries – the way in which the risk of taking action being the highest was turned into the most fundamental ‘strengthener’ of ties: the disposition to die together if necessary, and the solidarity that it creates – seems clear.

 

The Primary Organisational Form of 2011 was Not the Assembly

At the most evident level, the primary organisational form employed by movements in 2011 was the camp. From the extraordinary example set by Tahrir Square, the model spread to Wisconsin, Israel, Spain (where, however, it was an unplanned outcome of the 15 May demonstration); and then, after Occupy Wall Street (initially devised as a camp) and the 15 October day of global action, to the rest of the world. It was the most powerful meme, which is unsurprising seeing as it provided the most stirring images and, with Egypt, the most captivating victory.

Yet it is important to bear in mind the precise connection between form and goal that made Tahrir into a victorious symbol. For more than simply a meme, it was a tactic that consisted in concentrating the movement in one place with a very concrete, if negative, demand: that Mubarak step down. Even then, it is clear that it would not have managed to achieve its goal had the regime not realised they were losing control of several other parts of the country.

As the camp became a meme, this connection was lost. It is remarkable that the first tweet from @acampadasol – the first Twitter account of the first ‘spontaneous’ (i.e. moving from strong ties to developing strong ties along the weaker intensity long tail) camp in Spain, at Puerta del Sol, Madrid – stated that ‘we shall stay here until we reach an agreement’. Who ‘we’ was, and with whom agreement was to be reached, were things left unstated in the micro-blogging website’s peculiar syntax. By the time it got to the various worldwide ‘Occupy’ that sprung after October 15, this tie was lost. The same can be said about other related memes, such as the ‘human mic’, which started out as a practical solution to a ban on amplification at Zucotti Park in New York, and went on to become a marker of a certain ‘Occupy’ way of doing politics, even where the original impediment that had elicited it did not exist.”

About the Author

“Rodrigo Nunes is a lecturer in modern and contemporary philosophy at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Brazil. He coordinates the research group Materialismos, which investigates the resurgence of metaphysical speculation in contemporary philosophy and its interfaces with other fields such as politics, science and anthropology. He has been involved in several political initiatives over the years, such as the first editions of the World Social Forum and the Justice for Cleaners campaign in London. He is a member of the editorial collective of Turbulence (http://turbulence.org.uk).”

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

The problem with Facebook “likes” and Netarchical Social Media Metrics

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Stacco Troncoso
26th October 2014


A fascinating video on Facebook’s dubious practices, which will (hopefully) make you think twice before making grandiose proclamations based on any for-profit Social Media stats.

From the notes to the original video

Evidence Facebook’s revenue is based on fake likes.

My first vid on the problem with Facebook: http://bit.ly/1dXudqY

I know first-hand that Facebook’s advertising model is deeply flawed. When I paid to promote my page I gained 80,000 followers in developing countries who didn’t care about Veritasium (but I wasn’t aware of this at the time). They drove my reach and engagement numbers down, basically rendering the page useless. I am not the only one who has experienced this. Rory Cellan-Jones had the same luck with Virtual Bagel: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-…

The US Department of State spent $630,000 to acquire 2 million page likes and then realized only 2% were engaged. http://wapo.st/1glcyZo

I thought I would demonstrate that the same thing is still happening now by creating Virtual Cat (http://www.facebook.com/MyVirtualCat). I was surprised to discover something worse – false likes are coming from everywhere, including Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. So even those carefully targeting their campaigns are likely being duped into spending real money on fake followers. Then when they try to reach their followers they have to pay again.

And it’s possible to be a victim of fake likes without even advertising. Pages that end up on Facebook’s “International Suggested Pages” are also easy targets for click-farms seeking to diversify their likes.http://tnw.co/NsflrC

Thanks to Henry, Grey, and Nessy for feedback on earlier drafts of this video.

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Featured Content, Featured Video, Media, Networks, Videos | No Comments »

Podcast of the Day: Rachel O’Dwyer on the Role of Commons in Contemporary Capitalism

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Stacco Troncoso
18th October 2014


We met Rachel O’Dwyer a couple of weeks back, at the Open Everything 2014 Convergence, celebrated in Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Ireland. We really enjoyed talking to Rachel and listening to her contributions in the Q&As and, in fact, we’re hoping to work with her in the near future. Until then, please check out this podcast, originally published as part of a series called “Contemporary Capitalism”

From the Shownotes to the Podcast:

Contemporary Capitalism is a 4 part series of talks, each part critiquing an aspect of how capitalism affects society today.

The talks were originally held in Dubzland studios, north inner city Dublin, in late 2012, and were organised by the Provisional University, a group of researchers and social activists. [www.provisionaluniversity.wordpress.com]

The series was edited for broadcast by artist and Near FM volunteer Craig Cox. [www.craigcoxart.com]

Contemporary Capitalism Part 4: The Commons

Part 4 is by Rachel O’Dwyer and is about the commons as it exists today.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Podcast, Media, Networks, Podcasts | No Comments »

Can we turn Netarchical Platforms into worker-owned businesses?

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Stacco Troncoso
18th October 2014


facebook
In answer to the question posed in the title, I don’t think we can do much to reclaim our rights as producers of content and use value in netarchical platforms. However, we can work to raise awareness on the subject and help the shift toward real P2P platforms. This is already happening right now, with Diaspora enjoying a revival in the wake of Ello’s failed promise to deliver a true alternative to Facebook. The following article was written by John Robb and originally published in Home Free America.


“We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership… We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.”

Do you contribute to Facebook, Yelp, Reddit, or sites like that?

Most of us do contribute to some sites like this and our contributions, more or less depending on our contribution, are the reason these companies are valuable.

Our contributions are the reason people come to these sites day after day, so why don’t we get a bit of ownership for our contributions?

Lots of ownership goes to the employees.  But, nobody goes to these sites for the high quality software, elegant design, or robust hosting.  Further, all of the tech they are using is the result of innovation by other people.

Most of the ownership goes to the financing.  Yet, these sites don’t cost much to run.  A pittance actually.  The cloud makes them very cheap to operate.  In fact, the amount is so small, nearly all of the money needed to launch these sites could be raised by the customers using these sites.

We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership.

We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.

There is a small glimmer of hope things might finally be changing (it’s something I tried to do back in 2010-12 and got my ass handed to me for trying to do it).

My hope is due to three things:

  1. Desire to do the right thing.  We don’t see enough of this in Silicon Valley anymore, despite the fact that all great innovations start with getting the “why” right.  Reddit’s CEO, Yishan Wong (formerly of Facebook) is doing the right thing.  He’s planning to make Reddit’s users into owners, depending on their contribution to the site.
  2. There’s a way to create a form of liquid ownership that doesn’t require Wall Street.  This new method is based on the bitcoin blockchain.  That technology makes it possible to issue ownership to contributors in a decentralized and trusted way.
  3. The combination of blockchain stock, Yishan’s example, and the experience of participants will set in motion a wave of change in Silicon Valley.  The message is:  if you want to build an online company, you better find a way to make your customers/contributors owners.

PS:  This is potentially a sea change in financing/ownership.  There’s much more to this.  Wall Street’s banksters should be worried.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Networks, Politics | No Comments »

John Holloway on Changing the World Without Taking Power

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David Bollier
15th October 2014


JohnHolloway-main

John Holloway, a sociology professor in Mexico, recently gave an interview with Roar magazine suggesting how to introduce a new social and economic logic in the face of the mighty machine of neoliberal capitalism.  Holloway’s idea, recapitulating themes from his previous book and 2002 thesis, is to build “cracks” in the system in which people can relate to each other and meet their needs in non-market ways:  “We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognizing them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking confluence, or preferably, the commoning of cracks.”

This strategic approach has immediate appeal to commoners, it seems to me — even though some engagement with state power is surely necessary at some point.  Below, Holloway’s interview with by Amador Fernández-Savater. It was translated by Richard Mac Duinnsleibhe and edited by Arianne Sved of Guerrilla Translation.

In 2002, John Holloway published a landmark book: Change the World Without Taking Power. Inspired by the ‘¡Ya basta!’ of the Zapatistas, by the movement that emerged in Argentina in 2001/’02, and by the anti-globalization movement, Holloway sets out a hypothesis: it is not the idea of revolution or transformation of the world that has been refuted as a result of the disaster of authoritarian communism, but rather the idea of revolution as the taking of power, and of the party as the political tool par excellence.

Holloway discerns another concept of social change at work in these movements, and generally in every practice—however visible or invisible it may be—where a logic different from that of profit is followed: the logic of cracking capitalism. That is, to create, within the very society that is being rejected, spaces, moments, or areas of activity in which a different world is prefigured. Rebellions in motion. From this perspective, the idea of organization is no longer equivalent to that of the party, but rather entails the question of how the different cracks that unravel the fabric of capitalism can recognize each other and connect.

But after Argentina’s “que se vayan todos” came the Kirchner government, and after Spain’s “no nos representan” appeared Podemos. We met with John Holloway in the city of Puebla, Mexico, to ask him if, after everything that has happened in the past decade, from the progressive governments of Latin America to Podemos and Syriza in Europe, along with the problems for self-organized practices to exist and multiply, he still thinks that it is possible to “change the world without taking power.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Firstly, John, we would like to ask you where the hegemonic idea of revolution in the 20th century comes from, what it is based on. That is, the idea of social change through the taking of power.

I think the central element is labor, understood as wage labor. In other words, alienated or abstract labor. Wage labor has been, and still is, the bedrock of the trade union movement, of the social democratic parties that were its political wing, and also of the communist movements. This concept defined the revolutionary theory of the labor movement: the struggle of wage labor against capital. But its struggle was limited because wage labor is the complement of capital, not its negation.

I don’t understand the relation between this idea of labor and that of revolution through the taking of state power.

One way of understanding the connection would be as follows: if you start off from the definition of labor as wage or alienated labor, you start off from the idea of the workers as victims and objects of the system of domination. And a movement that struggles to improve the living standards of workers (considered as victims and objects) immediately refers to the state. Why? Because the state, due to its very separation from society, is the ideal institution if one seeks to achieve benefits for people. This is the traditional thinking of the labor movement and that of the left governments that currently exist in Latin America.

But this tradition isn’t the only approach to a politics of emancipation…

Of course not. In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labor by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit.

These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.). The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks.

The rejection of alienated and alienating labor entails, at the same time, a critique of the institutional and organizational structures, and the mindset that springs from it. This is how we can explain the rejection of trade unions, parties, and the state that we observe in so many contemporary movements, from the Zapatistas to the Greek or Spanish indignados.

But it isn’t a question of the opposition between an old and a new politics, I think. Because what we see in the movements born of the economic crisis is that those two things come to the fore at the same time: cracks such as protests in city squares, and new parties such as Syriza or Podemos.

I think it’s a reflection of the fact that our experience under capitalism is contradictory. We are victims and yet we are not. We seek to improve our living standards as workers, and also to go beyond that, to live differently. In one respect we are, in effect, people who have to sell their labor power in order to survive. But in another, each one of us has dreams, behaviors and projects that don’t fit into the capitalist definition of labor.

The difficulty, then as now, lies in envisioning the relation between those two types of movements. How can that relation avoid reproducing the old sectarianism? How can it be a fruitful relation without denying the fundamental differences between the two perspectives?

Argentina in 2001 and 2002, the indignados in Greece and Spain more recently. At a certain point, bottom-up movements stall, they enter a crisis or an impasse, or they vanish. Would you say that the politics of cracks has intrinsic limits in terms of enduring and expanding?

I wouldn’t call them limits, but rather problems. Ten years ago, when I published Change the World without Taking Power, the achievements and the power of movements from below were more apparent, whereas now we are more conscious of the problems. The movements you mention are enormously important beacons of hope, but capital continues to exist and it’s getting worse and worse; it progressively entails more misery and destruction. We cannot confine ourselves to singing the praises of movements. That’s not enough.

Could one response then be the option that focuses on the state?

It’s understandable why people want to go in that direction, very understandable. These have been years of ferocious struggles, but capital’s aggression remains unchanged. I sincerely hope that Podemos and Syriza do win the elections, because that would change the current kaleidoscope of social struggles. But I maintain all of my objections with regard to the state option.

Any government of this kind entails channeling aspirations and struggles into institutional conduits that, by necessity, force one to seek a conciliation between the anger that these movements express and the reproduction of capital. Because the existence of any government involves promoting the reproduction of capital (by attracting foreign investment, or through some other means), there is no way around it. This inevitably means taking part in the aggression that is capital. It’s what has already happened in Bolivia and Venezuela, and it will also be the problem in Greece or Spain.

Could it be a matter of complementing the movements from below with a movement oriented towards government institutions?

That’s the obvious answer that keeps coming up. But the problem with obvious answers is that they suppress contradictions. Things can’t be reconciled so easily. From above, it may be possible to improve people’s living conditions, but I don’t think one can break with capitalism and generate a different reality. And I sincerely believe that we’re in a situation where there are no long-term solutions for the whole of humanity within capitalism.

I’m not discrediting the state option because I myself don’t have an answer to offer, but I don’t think it’s the solution.

Where are you looking for the answer?

Whilst not considering parties of the left as enemies, since for me this is certainly not the case, I would say that the answer has to be thought of in terms of deepening the cracks.

If we’re not going to accept the annihilation of humanity, which, to me, seems to be on capitalism’s agenda as a real possibility, then the only alternative is to think that our movements are the birth of another world. We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognizing them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking the confluence or, preferably, the commoning of the cracks.

If we think in terms of state and elections, we are straying away from that, because Podemos or Syriza can improve things, but they cannot create another world outside the logic of capital. And that’s what this is all about, I think.

Finally, John, how do you see the relation between the two perspectives we’ve been talking about?

We need to keep a constant and respectful debate going without suppressing the differences and the contradictions. I think the basis for a dialogue could be this: no one has the solution.

For the moment, we have to recognize that we’re not strong enough to abolish capitalism. By strong, I am referring here to building ways of living that don’t depend on wage labor. To be able to say “I don’t really care whether I have a job or not, because if I don’t have one, I can dedicate my life to other things that interest me and that give me enough sustenance to live decently.” That’s not the case right now. Perhaps we have to build that before we can say “go to hell, capital.”

In that sense, let’s bear in mind that a precondition for the French Revolution was that, at a certain point, the social network of bourgeois relations no longer needed the aristocracy in order to exist. Likewise, we must work to reach a point where we can say “we don’t care if global capital isn’t investing in Spain, because we’ve built a mutual support network that’s strong enough to enable us to live with dignity.”

Right now the rage against banks is spreading throughout the world. However, I don’t think banks are the problem, but rather the existence of money as a social relation. How should we think about rage against money? I believe this necessarily entails building non-monetized, non-commodified social relations.

And there are a great many people dedicated to this effort, whether out of desire, conviction or necessity, even though they may not appear in the newspapers. They’re building other forms of community, of sociality, of thinking about technology and human capabilities in order to create a new life.

John Holloway is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico. His latest book is Crack Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2010).


Originally posted at bollier.org

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Networks, Open Access, Politics | No Comments »

An intro to Diaspora

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Stacco Troncoso
12th October 2014


“Maybe Diaspora was born just before its time, and maybe now, people will realize what a gift has been given to us by the Diaspora founders and the community that continues to build, create and maintain this project.”

I’m overjoyed that the Ello hype-machine is currently reviving interest in Diaspora and decentralised networks that set themselves apart from the netarchical giants. Here’s an excellent first person introduction by Diaspora contributor Birch, which was originally published on her blog.


I joined Diaspora a few years ago, in 2011. I had migrated to G+ when it came out and shortly afterwards the #nymwars started up. Many people were unhappy that Google was forcing ‘real names’ onto people. Many bloggers and people who were known primarily by nicknames had their accounts shut down.

Meanwhile, a group of young men from NYU were already working on something amazing that people had heard about but weren’t quite sure how to join.

People weren’t familiar with this ‘decentralized’ thing. And admittedly, most people who wanted to own their content and have better privacy, etc., weren’t tech-savvy enough to start their own ‘pod’ of Diaspora. All pods interconnect with one another, and many pods started up as a group effort for a few friends to run their own, but some big pods started up also — Diasp.org, Poddery.com and others. These were open to the public to join. Diaspora had their own as well, called joindiaspora.com. However, it proved to take a very long time to get an invite to, 1) because of the sheer volume of people wanting to join and 2) the team wanting full stability at their end before letting everyone in. These other pods took the load off from that.

The downside, however, was that people waiting on an invite from JoinDiaspora didn’t necessarily know about all the other pods unless they were following the Diaspora project. In reality, what the largest percentage of the population did was request an invite and then just wait (and eventually forget). As time passed, they assumed Diaspora never happened. (I still meet people that say “hm, I wonder what ever happened to Diaspora?”

Luckily, there was a vast number of people following the progress quite closely, and the ability to join other pods – rather than wait on the core pod to get all the invites out – became much more common knowledge during the #nymwars of Google+.

I came across a conversation on Google+ about Diaspora, people were talking about joining it and my first thought was:
What? It IS finished? How can I get an account? Where do I find information?

As is normally the way on social networks, info suddenly made its way round. Especially because so many people wanted to leave G+ and Facebook. That desire to avoid data mining and own content, especially while under threat of having your account shut down due to one’s name not being ‘Real Enough’, was enough to get people looking into the status of the Diaspora they had heard about.

In the beginning Diaspora was wonky.

It has ALWAYS been a community project (much more so now), and the boys from NYU were working 24/7 to get this stable for the people flocking to it.

People have a sense of ‘entitlement’, and even though something is free (TRULY free) and being offered to them out of a labour of love, there are still bound to be complaints and demands. Such was the way.

Regardless, Diaspora continued to grow.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Ilya took his own life. One of the Diaspora founders.

I won’t get into it here. This post isn’t about that. It can be read about here. But there is no shortage of grief still to this day. Most of the community suddenly really REALIZED – these are people. These Founders (like of any project) are people. As grief hit the community, I think, too, a sense of bonding began to grow. I know that I still feel very close to all those initial friends I made there, even those whom I often disagreed with.

As time passed I spent more time in Virtual Worlds, mainly Inworldz, and only spent time on social networking sites sporadically. I also began blogging more about my own personal internal journey with various things. I still logged into Diaspora, still checked in with friends, but wasn’t as active.

Then Ello came on the scene. The hype of this seemingly ‘grassroots’ type of project, and its claim of privacy, no data mining, etc., intrigued me. I joined to see how it compared with Diaspora. Whereas the news had been calling the Diaspora founders ‘Geeky, Nerds’ etc., and almost mocking their attempts, Ello was the ultimate Hipster’s dream. Pretty, retro, minimalist. Actually, the clean interface reminded me a lot of Diaspora. However Ello, at the time of my last use of it (yesterday Sept. 26th), is dysfunctional. You’d think with a Venture Capital investment it would at least have a proper search function, or reshare. Or notifications? nope.

Of course, no one realized right away about the VC investment. Full story on what Ello really is:
https://aralbalkan.com/notes/ello-goodbye/

That’s all the time I’ll waste talking about Ello, except to mention that what got me on my Diaspora rant was coming across the same ignorance as before “Hm, I wonder if Ello is going to go the way of Diaspora?” “Will Ello succeed? Or fail, like Diaspora?” I corrected a few of those misconceptions and although my comments had 50-75+ views, no one responded.

So.

On Diaspora the past few days, I have seen many new people, possibly due to the fact that people remember Diaspora now. Possibly due to the fact that they realize there is an actual TRULY free (and decentralized) option to Facebook, Google+ and, of course Ello.
So I decided to add some screenshots with some getting started tips.

1. When you join, make a NewHere post. The registration process is very simple and directs you into a good ‘Getting Started’, but I don’t think people realize how important that first post is. We follow tags at Diaspora. When anyone posts a public post with tags that I follow in it, that post gets into my Stream. Likewise, I also check JUST my tags to see what’s going on there. If you don’t have friends, and are posting privately, or without tags… no one is going to see your post

DiasporaStreaminst

As you can see above, this new member made a public post, used the NewHere tag as well as others to show interests. Because I follow NewHere, it arrived in my feed.

You can search topics in the Search bar, add a ‘#’ directly in front of the word you are searching.
diasporasearchwithtag

Along the side you can see others who share that interest/follow the tag, and of course you see the most recent posts about that topic.

There is the option on the page to Follow that tag (see above the space to enter text) and/or post directly onto that tag page about the topic.
Once you have your followed tags, you can click them from your sidebar and just see what’s going on in the topics of your choice.

diasporataginst

To search for a person instead of a tag/topic, simply put the person’s name into the search window with no ‘#’
Diasporsearchnameinstr
And there, I found Leanna <3

Now along your sidebar, you can choose to look at individual tags, and you can also choose which aspects you want to see. I can choose just Friends and see just their content, and likewise the text/posting box on that page will by default ONLY go to friends.
If you Select All of your aspects then that will be the default destination of your posts. Be sure to choose ‘public’ below your text box however if you are new and wanting to meet people via your tagged post.

diasporaaspectsinst

Now, this hasn’t been an extensive ‘how to’, but more of an overview.

If you’d like to join Diaspora, there is a list of pods that indicates if they are open or closed at http://podupti.me, run by diasp.org’s David Morley. When choosing a pod, you can see what version it’s running, if it’s open or closed, amount of time running, and what services it offers (many of them offer cross-posting to WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook).

I personally use diasp.org and feel free to look me up!
birchwind@diasp.org

I think that the sheer number of people flocking to Ello, even with its less than stellar origins and lack of function, indicate that people are really ready to move on from the data mining sites such as Facebook and Google+.

This might be Diaspora’s time to shine.

Maybe Diaspora was born just before its time, and maybe now, people will realize what a gift has been given to us by the Diaspora founders and the community that continues to build, create and maintain this project.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Free Software, Networks, Open Access, Open Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Infrastructures, Peer Property, Technology | No Comments »

Podemos as a template for the New Left

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
11th October 2014


Mitin PODEMOS en Málaga
Joana Ramiro writing for Left Unity, describes how Podemos’ unprecedented tactics and organizational methods can reinvigorate the New Left in Europe though a wider (if not full) acceptance of P2P dynamics. You can read the original article here.


“Marketing guru Philip Kotler wrote that “the costumer will judge the offering by three basic elements: product features and quality, services mix and quality, and price. All three elements must be meshed into a competitively attractive offering.” It might sound obscene to some that I strongly believe there is much that the Left could take from this sort of advice.”

People push through in order to get into the room and reserve their seat. There is a buzz of euphoric expectation blending with rapid chatter in Castellano. This is the start of a Podemos meeting but it could have been a rock gig for all we know. When panel speakers finish their opening remarks ardent applause follows, people whoop and whistle in wondered appreciation. Credit, I suppose, has to be given mostly to the organisation at the core of it all.

Podemos is a Spanish anticapitalist party founded in January 2014. By beginnings of September it counted no less than 120,000 members and 20% ratings in the latest polls. It had elected five MEPs and is set to take Spain by storm at the next general election in December 2015. Its success is often described as part mystery, part formulaic “Twitter revolution” theory. And while it is true that Podemos reflects the political zeitgeist and has effectively built itself on the momentum of the 15M movement, there is much more to be said about its politics, strategy and exponential growth.

“I think we can emulate [Podemos] in the organising in the grassroots, drawing people in, speaking to the 90%, using social media when necessary”, Left Unity co-founder and revolutionary film-director Ken Loach tells me.

He adds another example of what Left Unity should be doing differently: “Using fresh language.”

But what does that mean?

It isn’t the first time I hear that we need to speak differently. During the build up to the British student movement of 2010/2011 I often had heated debates with members of the so-called “old Left” arguing for more Public Relations, more social media – on our side. It is well documented that uprisings don’t occur from a hashtag alone, but learning to communicate in progressive ways – even to co-opt some capitalist strategies of mass appeal – seems to be vital for any political organisation attempting to produce change in the twenty-first century.

“I think that what Podemos shows, and what other social movement groups like Juventud Sin Futuro or Oficina Precaria show, is that you can combine the autonomous, digital media campaigns with an active reaching-out to mass media”, says Cristina Flesher Fominaya, author of Social Movements and Globalization (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).

And according to Cristina, the process of being publicly recognised as a legitimate organisation does not happen instantaneously.

“You know, it’s little by little. They didn’t just overnight end up on these morning talk shows. They established those media connections, their media savvy and catchy and interesting direct actions, and then they engaged.”

She agrees that much like corporations have adopted more democratic channels of communication – such as the social media platforms Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – to promote their products, so must social movements learn how to take over and efficiently use mass media channels for their causes.

“Alternative media is absolutely crucial, don’t get me wrong, but also engaging with mainstream media and mass media and thinking very holistically about how to combine those campaigns.”

The key lies in “retro-feeding” your message through these many avenues. It’s a process through which groups must constantly try “to keep on message and keep tweaking it and subverting and contesting”, she argues.

But what does this essentially mean?

In short it means the ways of organising that the British Left has taken for granted so far are utterly necessary but useless if not linked to two other tactics:

Firstly, the mentioned multifaceted approach to putting your message across. Leafleting door to door and holding local branch meetings is necessary, but so is blogging and writing opinion pieces for your local paper (they might be a dying breed but they are still read by thousands of people in your neighbourhood).

Secondly, keeping the message simple, clear and to the point. The Podemos programme is built on six simple aims, all based on the principle of democracy. It abides to the usual “rules and regulations” of socialist organisations – standing against sexism, racism, homophobia and all other types of prejudice and exclusion – but it gives members a clear structure of argument. It is therefore easy to understand, support and regurgitate. Unlike what some crude critics argue, the point is not to unite under the lowest common denominator, but to leave very specific alignments to debate and to group scrutiny, rather than to make them be-all end-all foundations of the organisation. Where one stands on the issue of Palestine or Scottish independence is important, but it won’t be helpful if taken outside the context of the organisation’s original purpose – to be the genuine political representation of the overworked, underpaid, disaffected 99%.

Importantly too is that these messages can be improved as the organisation grows. “Keep tweaking it” – as Flesher puts it. Political organisations today (perhaps always) have to be adaptable to the demands of the majority. As long as the principles of democracy and equality are not broken, the organisation needs to know when to talk about austerity and when to talk elections. Political parties are propaganda tools as much as they are forums of expression and activity for their members. If the people on the street – the “Polish fruit-picker and the Nigerian nurse” as Owen Jones often describes them – want more from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), then the party needs to verbalise that discontent, not pander to cronyism.

Above all, perhaps what is impressive about the Podemos strategy, and which should definitely be a lesson to us all, is its ability to embrace nuance and not to give in to black and white solutions to the problems at hand. Realpolitik is after all the art of advancing your political project when possible and giving way when necessary, without ever compromising your ethos. The Podemos European elections’ strategy was the brainchild of Íñigo Errejón, the man who said that “each country has to find its tools” to “hijack democracy”. The understanding that one needs to be flexible whilst sticking to one’s core beliefs has often been amiss on the British Left.

But don’t you need mass to attract mass?

Newton’s law of universal gravitation only applies to politics to a point. It is true that social movements and political parties can snowball once they’ve gained momentum. But where that momentum comes from and how political attraction can operate despite inexistent visible mass are points that Left Unity should think about long and hard.

Sceptics have come forward saying that unlike countries like Greece and Spain, Britain does not currently have a political movement active on the streets. There are no occupations of public squares going on, no million-strong demonstrations. This often crystallises into what I see as a misunderstanding of Rosa Luxemburg’s Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation (but let us leave that for another article). Crucially, we need to recognise that whilst many of these social movements and new anticapitalist parties have come out of a fortuitous sequence of events, organisations of different forms were involved in creating them from the start.

In Spain the 15M and the Indignados movement grew out of the said “indignation” of certain layers of society with a series of oppressive laws pushed through by neoliberal knee-jerk reactions of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) then in power. A cull of digital activism through the Ley Sinde, a media crackdown on strikes and workers’ protests, and the generally declining life and working conditions in the country (youth unemployment at 47% by 2011) created an explosive environment. Different activist groups started mushrooming about, some visible only online, many others on the streets too, handing out manifestos printed on A5 sheets.

According to Pablo Gerbaudo – a lecturer in Digital Culture and Society at King’s College London and author of Tweets and the Streets (Pluto Press, 2012) – the popularity of the Democracia Real Ya campaign and the momentum towards the first May 15 demonstration was seen as “an opportunity to overcome division and inertia”. Several other groups joined in the call and “200 civil society organisations, including well-established groups like the anti-globalisation group ATTAC” joined in the call for action.

Their self-description as “neither left nor right” – which Podemos echoes and which is yet another discussion to be had in another article – did not mean they were actually outside or beyond the political spectrum. Standing for democracy, equality and collective decision-making processes the Indignados movement was well to the Left of the establishment, but also permeated with left-wing activists and even organisations from the get go. Our engagement with local issues and grassroots initiatives, not by demanding to lead them, but by fight side by side with those who are part of them is essential. Much like our duty to call for action where coordinated action is needed and yet not existent. To call for united action when there are three different campaigns. And to throw our weight behind those most representative, inclusive and efficient at that.

So what needs to be done?

I am not claiming to have the answer to the perfect left-wing party in Britain – I wish I did – but I do think there are lessons to be learnt from the successes and the failures of similar projects across Europe.

I also believe that, against my better (orthodox Marxist) judgement, we need to co-opt the dexterity and shrewdness of capitalist forms of propaganda in order to make ourselves visible and heard.

Marketing guru Philip Kotler wrote that “the costumer will judge the offering by three basic elements: product features and quality, services mix and quality, and price. All three elements must be meshed into a competitively attractive offering.” It might sound obscene to some that I strongly believe there is much that the Left could take from this sort of advice.

We know that our “product” is good – it is the best, in fact. In our politics we rest the hope for a better world. A world in which there is absolute equity, equality and equilibrium. The world socialists want to build is one of greatness, not just for a selected few but for every single person in this good old world. Who could possibly not want that?

Our “price” isn’t half bad. OK, so people know that building a better world is no smooth task. People know it because creating this not so amazing version we currently have is not that easy either. But when given the option to make things better for themselves and their loved ones, people do move mountains. People have always given their lives for their children, laboured harder to feed their elderly, gone to prison for the right to vote, the right to use the same facilities, the right to stand up straight and live with dignity. It wouldn’t be now – no matter how cynical this world might seem – that people would stop being inspired by a message of progress and prosperity.

But our “service” is poor. We have interiorised our weaknesses, made to act in defence, holding on dearly to creeds and formulas like deranged alchemists. The average Joe thinks it best to stay away from the Left or to mock it for its impractical project. We – the Left – have allowed political opponents to define us by what we are not. People that demand the impossible, they said. People that want to take away from you your individual freedoms and your right to chose between an iPhone and a Nokia Lumia, they said. And now we are faced with the task to prove them wrong.

Thankfully we are not alone. We have seen that change of rhetoric happen on our very doorstep. When UKUncut came around, it positively changed the message from “people living above their possibilities” to “corporations not living up to their responsibilities”. The Occupy movement pulled a similar trick with the creation of the now ubiquitous term 99%: we cannot be made to pay for the banking crisis when what we have in our billions adds up to the same amount of what those few, clearly responsible for this mess, have in their few hundreds.

How we create that change of speech, of poise and above all of doing politics is what is now in our hands.

“It’s easier to make speeches where we denounce what is happening, the difficulty is asking the question and finding specific organisational answers”, Ken Loach pointed out to me with a smile.

But we have a growing number of people out there on the streets hungry for change. We have the examples of the rest of Europe showing us the way. We have history on our side. Nos Podemos. We Can. Let’s do it.

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5 tips for making better team decisions

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Stacco Troncoso
8th October 2014


You're making decisions by consensus, but are you collaborating?

Here is a guest contribution from our friend Richard D Bartlett, one of the developers at our favourite decision making tool, the wonderful Loomio. It was originally published at medium.com


Hi I’m Richard D. Bartlett: I work at Loomio, a team building an online tool for group decision-making. We started building software to coordinate activists, and now we help teams and organisations of all kinds make better decisions.
We’re a horizontal organisation, so good coordination is totally critical for us—not having a formal management structure means we’d fall apart without it. But all workplaces—even those with more traditional management structure—benefit when decisions are made with group input. With the right processes, you can leverage your team’s collective wisdom to make better decisions.

I asked our team of facilitators and software developers for their top tips for making better decisions, and surprisingly enough they had lots of great ideas! Here’s my favourite five:


1. Set the context and make the invitation

Decision-making is all about communication: your group can only make good decisions together if there’s a foundation of good communications in place first. This means being clear about what the purpose of a discussion or meeting is, who needs to be involved, what the time-frame is, and what people can expect.

Often, lack of engagement doesn’t mean people don’t care, it means something’s keeping them from real participation. Transparency isn’t about information not being secret, it means that the people closest to the information do the proactive work to make it accessible—physically and conceptually—to everyone who needs to understand it to participate in a decision effectively.


2. Try some simple process hacks

If you’re not happy with how your team is making decisions, don’t just try harder, try something different. We’ve found a bunch of different process hacks that have made us much more effective:

  • Stand up!
    Start the day with the team standing in a circle. Everyone answers 3 questions: what did you do yesterday? what are you doing today? is there anything blocking your way? Stand-up is only over once all the blocks are either solved, or people are assigned to resolve them. If you keep these meetings super short and strictly focussed on the process, you’ll find they’re like collaboration super-juice.
  • Check in
    We start many of our meetings with everyone ‘checking in’ before we get to the agenda. These check-ins are focused not on your work tasks, but on how you’re doing as a human being. If you’re going through a rough patch at home, or you’re sick, or you have exciting positive news, understanding your state of mind will help the entire group have the right context to interpret how you’re communicating.
  • Leave the office
    Periodically we’ll leave the office for an ‘Away Day’ or a weekend retreat. Getting out of the office means you leave the operational concerns behind so you have space for the deep strategic planning and culture-building that makes for a robust, agile organisation.

These practices are appropriate for different teams at different times. You might find some of them work for you, and you might need to invent some of your own.


3. Empower everyone to take acts of facilitation

Sometimes having a designated facilitator makes sense; you can also distribute the role so that everyone’s keeping their eye on group process. An act of facilitation is action taken from the perspective of what’s best for the group, as opposed to only your individual perspective.

This can take many forms, like:

  • noticing: “I’m sensing tension in this discussion, do we want to talk about where that’s coming from?”
  • giving feedback: “I hear what you’re saying, but the way you’re saying it might not being landing well for some people”
  • reflecting back to the group: “We seem to be bikeshedding on this—what if we left that aspect of the decision to the working group to determine, and we used our time now to focus on the core issues?”

These skills come from practice, and normalizing these kinds of statements through repetition and example. Acts of facilitation are not just for the manager, or the person who called the meeting—they are for everyone.


4. Listen for the people you’re not hearing

Good decisions come from diverse perspectives. Empowerment and innovation go hand in hand. If you want to innovate, you have to make space for different points of view—luckily, this is also what you need to do if you want a team where everyone is empowered. Whether you’re a software company building a product, or a community group organising for social change, you always need to be aware of who you’re listening to.

All kinds of cultural and technical factors conspire to privilege some voices at the expense of others. There are many practices you can implement to systematically challenge that bias, but just being aware of it is a good starting point.

A friend of mine named Charlie DeTar developed a neat little tool called the Progressive Clock, which is all about tracking how much speaking time in meetings is taken up by different demographic groups. Whether or not you use the software, the idea is super powerful—if everyone’s got the clock running in their head, you’re way less likely to only hear from the middle-aged white male contingent (don’t worry, I’m including myself in there) at the exclusion of everyone else.

Hearing new perspectives always lead to a more comprehensive understanding of an issue, which means you’re much more likely to make the right decision.


5. NEVER MAKE DECISIONS BY EMAIL!

Trying to make a group decision over email is like trying to tie a bunch of cats together with an eel while wearing oven mitts. Don’t bother! Email is great for one-to-one or one-to-many communication, but it just wasn’t designed for coming to clear outcomes. And neither was Facebook. Making decisions in a Facebook group is like trying to have a meeting in a shopping mall. You want to make sure you’re using the right tools for the job—when you need to bring an online group discussion to a clear decision, either use something purpose-built for decision-making (Loomio is obviously the one I’m pretty excited about) or get together in person.


When I had my first experience of a collective decision-making process that actually worked well, it totally changed my life. Since then I’ve been working with an amazing team to share this experience with as many people as possible.

Loomio co-founderRichard D. Bartlett

Getting group input into a decision always makes it better—it doesn’t just make people feel good, it leads to more innovative ideas and more effective collaboration. But it can be really challenging if you don’t have the right technical and cultural tools.

We’re pretty excited about the prototype tool we’ve developed so far, which all kinds of teams are already using to distribute decision-making and collaborate more effectively. Right now we’re crowdfunding so we can build an amazing new platform and give it away to the world.

These 5 tips are just a snapshot of what we’ve learnt so far. I’d love to hear from your experience! ?

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Networks, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, Sharing | No Comments »

Book of the Day: The Question of Organization after Networks

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hartsellml
8th October 2014


* Book: Organisation of the Organisationless: The Question of Organisation After Networks. by Rodrigo Nunes. Post-Media Lab / Metamute, 2014

 

Description

“Rejecting the dichotomy of centralism and horizontalism that has deeply marked millennial politics, Rodrigo Nunes’ close analysis of network systems demonstrates how organising within contemporary social and political movements exists somewhere between – or beyond – the two. Rather than the party or chaos, the one or the multitude, he discovers a ‘bestiary’ of hybrid organisational forms and practices that render such disjunctives false. The resulting picture shows how social and technical networks can and do facilitate strategic action and fluid distributions of power at the same time. It is by developing the strategic potentials that are already immanent to networks, he argues, that contemporary solutions to the question of organisation can be developed. Part of the PML Books series. A collaboration between Mute and the Post-Media Lab.”

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Digital innovation or Biourbanism? Both, of course!

photo of Marco Fioretti

Marco Fioretti
30th September 2014


(this is the translation, first published on my own blog, of the final part of an article I published on the italian Pionero Web magazine in April 2014. The translation of the first part is available here)

The official definition of Biourbanism starts with the focus on “the urban organism, considering it as a hypercomplex system, according to its internal and external dynamics and their mutual interactions.”

In practice, as an almost total ignorant when it comes to architecture, urbanism, psychology and the like, I understand this to mean that Biourbanism proposes to make the places we inhabit decent places, that is places worth living in because they are:

  • (self) organized, bottom-up
  • taking their history and unique characteristics into account
  • designed with a process which is biophilic, that is friendly to all the levels and sides of human life (family, personal relationship, emotion, work…)
  • managed with little interventions, cheap and not invasive (biourban acupunture), that match the real needs and features of each place

The International Society of Biourbanism (ISB) has led, and continues to organize and propose with this spirit, several initiatives for the renaissance of italian villages and small towns, in the mountains and elsewhere, starting with Progetto Artena.

I discovered ISB by chance in the summer of 2013. Since then, we have done several things together, including the parts on education on digital matters and open technology of Progetto Leo. This cooperation has also led, among other things, to the reorganization of several courses, which I and others were already proposing, in a new package called Minimi Comuni Digitali, which is both autonomous but perfectly compatible with Biourbanism activities and educational programs. The package name, roughly translatable with “Minimal Digital Commons/Cities” hints to the possibilities, also for small towns, to benefit from knowledge and usage of appropriate, open digital technologies and communities.

Why talk of architecture, psychology and so on, on a website like Pionero (where the original article appeared), whose slogan is “Digital Innovation”? Easy: to suggesto a generic model just for digital innovation.

Italy (and many other countries, if you ask me) needs to be rebuilt from the foundations. ISB, if I got it right, proposes and practice a way to rebuild it based on the principle that, if you want a decent life, you should rebuild common spaces and services from the bottom, putting people in the first place, in the most efficient and sustainable way. They aren’t the only ones to say this, of course, but I like their approach and general vision.

Above all, since we should be talking about Digital Innovation, I like Biourbanism for a very specific reason I believe that, if you start to reboot a city the way Biourbanism does, things like Free Software, Open Data, Open Government, Fablabs, Maker Faires and so on surely enter the picture, eventually. You couldn’t avoid them even if you wanted. BUT, the point is, starting from Biourbanism those things would enter the picture in a way that is much more productive, sustainable and long lasting than all the other ways tried so far by us “digital maniacs”: only, that is, as the last thing, stealthily, in the smallest possible amounts, as an unavoidable consequences of the starting ideas, and actual needs, of local non-geeks. Stay tuned for more, but in the meantime do let me know your thoughts!

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Posted in Free Software, Networks, Open Hardware and Design, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Development, P2P Governance, P2P Mapping | No Comments »