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Archive for 'Networks'

Women in P2P: Interview with Alison Powell (Part 1)

photo of Rachel O'Dwyer

Rachel O'Dwyer
26th August 2015

Alison Powell interviewed By Rachel O’Dwyer

alison highres_238x305

Alison Powell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media & Communications in the London School of Economics. Her research examines the history and future of openness within new media. Alison’s research explores open-source cultures including community wireless networks, free software advocates and people interested in open sourcing knowledge including hardware design. Alison was involved in Île Sans Fil,  a Montreal organisation founded in 2003 and committed to spreading Wi-Fi across the city.

I interviewed Alison last month during IAMCR in Montreal, Canada. We spoke about the Community Wireless Network (CWN) Île Sans Fil in Montreal, the changing role of wireless infrastructure in reclaiming the city and why creating a P2P society needs much more than the right technical infrastructure.

ROD: You’ve done a lot of research across p2p, but with a particular focus on community wireless networks and more recently smart cities and open data. What drew you to research community wireless networks initially?

AP: I’ve always been really interested in urban communication spaces and in the ways that people appropriate different technologies within urban spaces to create their own identities and to create their own versions of the city. So I was really drawn to community wireless networks because I thought it was a way of remaking the city and adding a different element to the idea of urban life that was both collective and technological. The people in Montreal had this idea of ‘hacking the city’ as part of the way that they thought of the work they were doing. It was really interesting to work with them because they were interested in reimagining the city through community and collective projects and they were doing that reimagining through a technology project. That meant there were several levels. There was the level of the technology itself and the ways that people were using internet technologies and thinking about access to information technology or even thinking about how we distribute the computing network. Another level was thinking about how we change the way that we all live together in cities. Do we do this by creating a community organisation, partnering with other community organisations or having something quite rhizomatic that connects different community organisations?

ROD: When did you start the research?

AP: I started that in 2004. It wasn’t of course one of the first community networks, I think the first ones were in London. The people that did those projects – like James Stevens and Julian Priest – they were also thinking about transforming the city and they had a more radical perspective on the topological side of things, because from the beginning they were interested in building meshes. And they were interested in building meshes because they were interested in building a horizontal city. If you read Julian’s report on the Consume project in London, he talked about how they were going to make horizontal nodal cities that would overlap and intersect and be a model for a non-hierarchical way of communicating and being in the city. And of course it didn’t work, because mostly these things are visions; they’re creative projects.

ROD: How did Île Sans Fil differ?

AP: It wasn’t a mesh network.

ROD: What kind of a topology did it have?

AP: They developed a gateway protocol that transforms an existing network connection into a wireless hotspot. The gateway protocol is open source.

Their main innovation was that all of the authorisation for the individual wireless hotspots would be visible on the server. So they did interesting projects that linked the hotspots together. There was some information that was transferrable across hotspots even though each node was its own spot. The nodes were never linked together (meshed) but there was this idea that the network itself was one entity so they linked all of the different locations where you could get wireless access, mostly through projects where there were stories or information distributed over hotspots.

For example, in one storytelling project each hotspot had a different part of the story told by a different character and in order to get a full story you would have to visit all the hotspots. They also provided election information that was specific to the location of each hotspot access point.

Their idea of using the technology to link people together and to create a more horizontal city did not have to do with the topology of the network; it had to do with the applications and the creative projects that ran over the top of the network. The network itself was quite simple, just hotspots broadcasting Wi-Fi in each individual spot. The economic model was that they would partner with places that were already paying for Internet bandwidth and give people a completely ‘free’ (as in free-of-charge) way of managing access to that Internet bandwidth. So in the early 2000s when it was really hard to get Internet outside of your house, cafes signed up to provide individual hotspots, then some community centres and eventually business districts partnered with Île Sans Fil to pay for the equipment to install hotspots to cover entire streets. In turn that became a branding project for different parts of Montreal and eventually the city of Montreal created a partnership with Île Sans Fil to use their equipment and software to do wireless Internet access in lots of public locations. It was a way of rethinking the city through one technological possibility. But it was actually quite flexible. The activists were very flexible in how that happened; they wanted more people to become involved in learning how to build wireless technology in learning how to use it and they felt they were creating a very useful service.


Île Sans Fil Map

ROD: How has the community wireless network model changed since that time? How sustainable is it? For example, one concern about community wireless networks more recently  is that they seem to be tied in with mobile offloading by cellular networks. If in the past we framed community Wi-Fi in opposition to commercial networks and as a possibility to build over the top services using VoIP, today it seems as though Wi-Fi is just a positive externality for cellular carriers to offload their data into free and public communication space. I’m thinking of something like FON for example, which is presented as a ‘mobile commons’ but also has economic partnerships with large network operators that allow these to offload their mobile data onto Wi-Fi spectrum. We don’t really know who we’re sharing with.

AP: I did a project in 2006 while living in Paris, which was about different political economic models for wireless access in cities at the time. That was the point when I realised this wasn’t going to be a long-term sustainable mode for people to gain access. What was more interesting was that this was a creative appropriation and playfulness for different ways of thinking about the city and about creative practice.

From the beginning, FON was interested in employing Wi-Fi access within innovative economic partnerships. They partnered with Free, the French telecom – so it was always an offloading model. If you have bandwidth you can send it out unknowingly as a potential resource for passers-by. The initial models didn’t work because places where people had sectioned off their wireless bandwidth for public use weren’t necessarily in places where people used wireless. And so that’s why it became bundled into lots of telecom offers. That was the point at which I thought ‘it’s not really about Wi-Fi, it’s more about what different technologies might let you do’. Wi-Fi lets you offload and share bandwidth but if you don’t know who you’re sharing your bandwidth with or why and how that might create a relationship between you and them, then its kind of incidental that you’re sharing your bandwidth; it becomes simply an arrangement of infrastructure. From my perspective it’s a lot more interesting when people start thinking about and representing the social relationships that underpin that. I’ve always been a little bit disappointed by the models that seem to be about unknowingly offloading/sharing. This might be good if we’re thinking about commons-based infrastructure, but to me they don’t help us to think through the cultural changes we need to make in order to amplify the commons-based community relationships that we already have.

ROD: How significant are terms like commons or commoning to your practice? 

AP: Radio spectrum is of course a public commons so you should think about how to manage that from a commons perspective as opposed to a proprietary auction and command and control model. But I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the commons from an economic perspective because I’m not an economist; I’m a person who thinks about how people use technologies to tell stories about themselves. So when people start telling stories about commons themselves, then I start listening. I also think about communication commons because I’m a communications scholar and I’m interested in people’s right to communicate and their ability to develop and have their own voice in the world. That’s a different kind of commons, a ‘speech commons’ – the space of possible speech and exchange.

ROD: The practices you’ve described with Île Sans Fil seem to relate more closely to that model of the commons, more so than the Elinor Ostrum model of economic governance of resources outside of the state or the market.

AP: Exactly. So this idea isn’t as well developed in the literature. And where the p2p literature talks about the commons there isn’t as much of a discussion of this.

ROD: Sure. There’s definitely more emphasis on commons as an economic resource. But you have the work of people like Peter Linebaugh for example, which is more focused on commoning as social production and social practices. That possibly relates to your idea of the speech commons?

AP: I’m more interested in social production than shared infrastructure and I’m more interested in cultural and symbolic production than social production and I’m really interested in people not as individuals but as groups of people. I’m interested in the commons as a speech commons that can be claimed and used expressively by all and not just by individuals.

ROD: To come back to a point you made earlier, you’ve expressed some criticism of the mesh network approach commonly used in CWNs. Does this relate to your criticism of different approaches to the commons?

AP: I’m critical of mesh networking projects because I have a concern about over-determining technological possibilities for social and cultural change. And we see this in a lot of technology-led movements. What we tend to see is that people interpret the possibilities of a technology’s design or, as you said, ‘topology’ to be a model for social or cultural forms.

ROD: Such as a purist emphasis on things being ‘decentralised’ or ‘distributed’ in an infrastructural sense …

AP: Exactly. ‘In an infrastructural sense’ which then comes to stand in for whatever social or cultural relationships might be required to make such a thing operate. So you can say ‘we will then have a distributed system’ and it’s like the technical or topographic description stands in for all of the things that you would need to construct to build a social and cultural movement. This is partly the consequence of having people with lots of technical training who are influential in these movements. So this is where my critique of the mesh comes from. My critique is not so much that people would like to build networks that mesh together or that they couldn’t feasibly make this happen, but with the assumption that if you did that this would be modelling and instantiating a distributed form that would imply social and cultural relationships.

ROD: I think that’s a great analysis of what’s so problematic with much of the work around p2p networks. Not just around CWMs and meshes but more recent work around, say, the blockchain as a new distributed infrastructure… that presumption that we can technically or algorithmically engineer the commons.  

AP: Or engineer people out of equations!

ROD: But how do you think we can find a medium where we’re still acknowledging the affordances of these systems? Obviously we’re not talking about a perfect translation between the infrastructural topology and the social practices that can emerge, but that isn’t to say that technical architectures fail to matter. Or do you disagree?

AP: Well I think that the people interested in creating social change who are interested in technological models need to work with the people who are interested in making social change who may know more about how social change operates. I believe that these two sets of approaches occupy the same space and they have many of the same goals, but they bring different ways of thinking about things. Silicon valley is not the only space where you get people who are compelled to believe that technology will bring social change; you also find that in activist circles, and I think we need to be better at building bigger coalitions and being more humble if we’re from a more tech-activist background. We need to work with people who have done a lot of community organising and can describe how to create social change, how to create trust, how to involve many people, how to break down hierarchies and this involves different kinds of skills and embracing a certain kind of humility.

P2P processes have existed throughout history. So the question is to what extent does their mediation make a difference? And if the mediation is going to be technological, how do you maintain the legitimacy of the processes themselves without letting the technology take too much of a role?

click here for part two…


Posted in Default, Featured Person, Networks, P2P Gender Issues, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Messages from the Immaterial Commons: 4

photo of Denis Postle

Denis Postle
14th July 2015

Stepping aside from neoliberal faith – The heresy of Commoning

20thAnniFLYERwebCropOne of the great things about the commons tradition is that every instance is local and idiosyncratic and requires that we make it up as we go along. But do we have to reinvent the commonweal? Yes – probably we do, but what might be generic? What might be learned by sharing the experience? This article tells of how a group of practitioners in the UK developed what subsequently turned out to be commoning, and have sustained it for over 20 years.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Default, Ethical Economy, Integral Theory, Networks, Open Access, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Ecology, P2P Healthcare, P2P Subjectivity, Peer Production, Politics | No Comments »

Mapping “Below the Radar” Organizations in Crowdfunding platforms, with Maria Botella of European Alternatives

photo of Ann Marie Utratel

Ann Marie Utratel
2nd June 2015


One of our guests at the recent Goteathon will be Maria Botella, who is the main researcher in the European Alternatives project “Mapping BTR”, a Nesta Policy and Research grant awardee for “Data Driven Methods for Mapping Below the Radar Activity in the Social Economy”. According to their website, “Mapping BTR” is a research project exploring how data-driven methods can be deployed to automatically identify “Below the Radar” organizations in crowdfunding platforms, in this specific study, UK-based.

“Below the Radar” (BTR) is a term presently being used to describe those organizations which have asocial purpose supported by voluntary activity, but which are not affiliated, registered or regulated, and (perhaps therefore) have no apparent, direct financial support from traditional funding entities. These are considered third sector organizations, and are understood to be voluntary and non-profit in nature. The significant implication in the label BTR is that by being below the radar, or undetected, this type of organization has a tendency to operate in more tenuous and less sustainable ways. For this reason, BTRs often gravitate toward crowdfunding as a means to gain financial and community support.

The Mapping BTR study documented a methodology developed for mapping BTR activity, focused on two UK-based crowdfunding platforms. In selecting these platforms, the study authors used the following questions as criteria:

  • Which platforms are likely to be used by UK-based BTR groups to connect with their target audiences?
  • Which platforms had sufficient data on groups that can be considered BTR organisations?
  • Which platforms presented a suitable data structure to allow deployment of the co-link analysis, the method selected to map BTR activity?

The two platforms chosen were Spacehive and Crowdfunder, each with some unique characteristics that fit the study’s criteria and yet different enough from one another to provide some contrast. Spacehive keeps its focus narrowed down to projects with a social, civic purpose, and describes itself as “…a crowdfunding platform with a purpose: to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to bring their civic environment to life.” On the other hand, Crowdfunder’s aim is more broadly towards development in general: “Crowdfunder Mission: Connecting entrepreneurs with investors around the world to help fund their business and fuel economic growth.”

The authors of the study developed a methodology for identifying and tracking BTRs through their presence and activities on crowdfunding platforms, including a web-crawling software prototype developed to track activity, using hyperlinks. The process is called “co-link analysis”, employed to identify common themes, connected via hyperlinks, in crowdfunding campaigns. In earlier, unrelated uses, the process was used to uncover what was called “issue networks”, or groups of websites with common themes, connected by hyperlinks. Adaptations were made to the method for this study, due to the data structures in each crowdfunding platform. Typically, crowdfunding projects don’t link to one another, but instead link back to the profiles of their own backers – and in turn, to the other projects (if any) that those backers have supported.

Links from the first crowdfunding projects identified (which the study termed “seed projects”) were analyzed to identify additional, potentially similar projects. Only projects with at least 2 contributors in common with the “seed” are analyzed. Similarly, the projects tracked from the original “seed” are also expected to have a similar theme in common, e.g., environmental concerns. The following additional criteria were put in place:

  • Only successfully funded projects (for the potential longevity)
  • Only BTR organizations (for the aims of the study)

According to the authors, the criteria for determining which projects were probably run by BTR organizations is:

  • They meet the condition upon which co-link analysis is based
  • They have reached their funding target
  • They are not run by registered organizations

The publication resulting from the research is a report called Data for Good, a compilation of reports generated by five projects released as a PDF by Nesta. Also available for download is a working paper for this project. The purpose of these publications is to explore how big and open data may be used for the common good, either by charitable organizations in their strategic development and refinement, and as a resource for the education of civil society.

We asked main researcher Maria Botella the following questions about the experience of conducting the study – the process, the results, and about the use of open API and data. Here we present her answers:

Regarding the choice to map BTR (below-the-radar) organizations and projects that operate under them, what is the ultimate purpose of this mapping? Specifically, is there some advantage in identifying projects and organizations operating in this unregistered, unaffiliated way, which benefits or helps support the sustainability of these projects or organizations? How might any political influence be achieved through identifying the BTRs?

The research project ‘Mapping BTR organisation on crowdfunding platforms’ is one of the five projects that were awarded the grand ‘Data Driven Methods for Mapping Below the Radar Activity in the Social Economy’, by the Nesta Policy and Research Unit. This grant programme builds upon existing voluntary sector research in the UK, more specifically, the work of the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) on its research stream ‘Below the radar’.

This research work runs parallel and operates within the specific political context of the UK. Over the last five years, regulation has been set up under the Conservative Party mandate that seeks to implement the ‘Big Society’, which is intended to ‘give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want’i. This contested concept is seen by many as the neoliberal ‘solution’ to the large-scale cuts in public expenditure, as an integral part of the goal of reducing the size of the state.

There is an urge to identify who those ‘communities’ – which can potentially benefit from being part of the Big Society by receiving support by the public and the voluntary sector and getting involved in decision-making in their local area – are. Otherwise, those resources risk remaining underused and the needs and claims of these communities unfulfilled, as they might just do not know the channels to become part of the Big Society and to count as such.

It is in such context that BTR research takes on its full meaning. However, the extent to which the results of BTR research are noted and acted upon by public and voluntary organisations remains a mystery for me.

Were the identified BTR projects informed that they were being included in this study? If so, were there any notable reactions to this information?

Actually they were not. The results of the case studies were only sent to the two crowdfunding platforms concerned.

Do the relationships uncovered by the co-link analysis you are using result in information about relationships that go beyond the thematic? If so, what other kinds of links or relationships has your co-link analysis uncovered?

Fundamentally not. Co-link analysis is used here to identify thematically related projects based on their common backers. Yet, to understand what exactly those thematic relations consist of, further analysis of projects and organisations has to be undertaken.

In doing so, a different type of relation among the Crowdfunder projects found was uncovered: a number of well-connected projects on the Crowdfunder network visualisation were part of the same campaign on the platform, the Crowdfund Cornwall Campaign, aimed specifically at funding Cornish projects. This geographical relation among Crowdfunder projects could be read as a success of the platform campaign in getting backers to support different projects in a given area.

Why might it be interesting or useful to your organization to have available API data for crowdfunding in Europe to create an expanded mapping? What ultimate purpose might that mapping serve?

Having available an API to collect data on BTR organisation in crowdfunding platforms across Europe would allow European Alternatives to furthering BTR research beyond the UK – something it has already done to some extent with qualitative methods through projects such as ‘Transeuropa Caravans’- but also to do some type of intervention based on the resulting mapping.

I can imagine, for instance, using those data to map initiatives searching for funding to accomplish similar or complementary projects, and this way, to identify distinctive themes across BTR initiatives in Europe. This analysis could serve to inform and push forward policies to support such initiatives at a national and European levels and / or to forge strategic partnerships between them.

What information might be visualized and utilized about the backers (donors) of the “seed” projects discovered in the co-link analysis? What ultimate purpose might that information serve?

The network visualisation could be extended to include backers and project creators as a second and third type of nodes. When clicking on one of these nodes, the right-hand panel would show all the other projects backed or created by that user and a measure of his overall activity on the platform.

This information could be employed by crowdfunding platforms to evaluate whether it would be worth it to include a similar type of analysis in future platform developments, such as a recommendation system that could offer creators and backers whose rate of activity is above a given threshold other projects they would likely want to support, based on the projects they have already created / backed. This is something that Change.org does with its sponsored petitions, which constitutes one of its main sources of funding.

Since Facebook wasn’t a cooperative participant in terms of open API, has any other social media platform been considered or approached for collaboration on this kind of analysis and mapping?

No, only the two crowdfunding platforms involved in this project were approached and asked for consent.

Was it possible to draw any visualizations, comparisons or conclusions between the social returns offered by BTRs as compared with those from projects with affiliations to supporting organizations?

No. In fact, it is not rare to find BTR projects and projects run by voluntary organisations or social enterprises on these crowdfunding platforms that present similar goals. Moreover, one of the main conclusions drawn from the two case studies is that BTR activity on crowdfunding platforms appears often combined with that of registered organisations and governmental bodies, making it difficult to analyse BTR activity as a pure and isolated entity.

Was there any specific information you wanted to find in the API of the two UK crowdfunding platforms, but did not have access to?

Yes, the information needed to perform co-link analysis. That is to say, the backers for each project. This would allow to identify new projects that share at least two backers with the seed project in a way far more consistent than using web crawling techniques. These new projects are expected to have a purpose similar to that of the seed – a social one in this case.

An easier way to identify social-oriented projects would be to define a specific category for this type of project while allowing creators to tag their projects with more than one category, thus making sure that no project with a social purpose is missed for having been classified under a different category.

The two crowdfunding platforms used in this research present such a category – and indeed project categories are available at least through the Crowdfunder API, but they do not allow creators to use more than one category at a time, what reduces significantly the amount of projects with a social purpose that can be achieved in this way.

Furthermore, being able to access the names of the organisations behind projects through an API would also have been extremely useful for this research.

What specific use could you make of the Goteo API in your research?

In order to deploy the methodology employed in my research using the Goteo API, the API would have to be extended to include ‘projects’ as an endpoint. Different ways of collecting BTR projects could then be implemented based on the features enabled for this endpoint. So, for instance, having the ID of donors among the response values would allow to deploy co-link analysis, while being able to filter projects by categories would enable an alternative way to check for the purpose of projects as described above.

Moreover, including the name of the organisation behind every project – it being either a formal or informal organisation or an individual – among the response values would allow to check whether that name is included in the official registers containing voluntary organisations and alike in order to remove projects created by registered organisations from the results. However, getting the creator of a project to specify whether the project belongs to a registered organisation or to a community group / informal organisation would make this analysis much more straightforward.

I see a great potential in combining the collection of data with the suggested endpoint and the ‘categories’ endpoint for future BTR research.  In line with the mapping of BTR projects across Europe mentioned above, the BTR projects returned by the projects endpoint could be used as parameters of the ‘projects’ filter for the categories endpoint. Using that filter together with three other filters available for this endpoint, ‘location’, ‘from_date’ and ‘to_date’, would enable to collect suitable data to inform some maps visualisation showing the evolution of BTR project themes in different geographical areas over time.

What kinds of apps can you imagine being created from the Goteo API?

A recommendation app to show users the projects they could support based on their interests – determined by the other projects they have already funded or collaborated in. Unlike the recommendation system mentioned before, this would not be implemented by the platform. Rather, it would be an external piece of software that users would have to intentionally download and use.

What other potential uses do you see for the Goteo API?

I imagine the data available through the different ‘reports’ endpoints being matched up, analysed and explore by Goteo and other crowdfunding platforms in order to get an insight into how to improve the performance of crowdfunding projects and the platforms in themselves.

The Goteo statistics visualisations can well serve such purpose, in the same way that the Civic Dashboard created by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Data Kind was intended to ‘give Citizens Advice staff an immediate overview of how issues are changing across the UK, visualise and analyse social and economic trends and use this to inform and shape the public debate and strengthen the impact of service delivery’.

Moreover, project creators can also use those data to understand what makes a successful project and social entrepreneurs to search for inspiration and new businesses opportunities.

We thank Maria Botella for her participation in our Goteathon, and look forward to more of her research, and opportunities for collaboration.


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Networks, Open Access, Open Content, Open Standards, Original Content, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

Video of the Day: The Alternet

photo of Guy James

Guy James
30th May 2015

Sarah T. Gold provides an excellent overview of the current state of personal data privacy (or, increasingly, the total lack of it) and imagines some possible solutions in her video ‘The Alternet’:

…the Alternet evolved as a superfiction, a creative proposal that blends fiction and real world structures, presenting organisations and the lives of invented people as though they were real. The project presents designs for fictional products based on existing processes, prices, capacities and services alongside real world initiatives.


Posted in Featured Video, Mobile Developments, Networks, Open Hardware and Design, P2P Art and Culture, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Rights | No Comments »

Swarm community on “basic income”

photo of Joel Dietz

Joel Dietz
9th May 2015

Source – https://discourse.swarm.fund/t/suggestions-for-the-swarm-community-on-basic-income-voluntary-basic-capital/183

These are only suggestions. It is meant to provoke discussions and to enhance the potential for the voluntary basic income experiments.

1) Create a new software license called the voluntary basic capital license (VBCL). This would be similar to the GPL but would designate by law that anyone using the source code has to agree to the social consensus. So if the social consensus is that all verified humans get some percentage of all businesses who use that license then the license now has the teeth of the traditional legal system similar to the GPL.

2) A DCO is required. Swarm got this part right and did the legal legwork to formalize the “community oriented DAC” into the DCO. I think Swarm got this part better than right.

3) Enforce the social contract of the community as a smart contract, in code, so that the moment the person installs the app instead of seeing “terms of service agreement” legalese they are asked “do you agree with the social contract of our community”? At that point the social contract should be presented to them and if they agree to it then if the app has transaction taxes then their use of the app will become basic income through transaction taxes.

4) The community should enforce through reputation. Most people want to give back to society, to their community, to mankind, because it helps them to look good and it’s good for reputation. In a blockchain based world reputation can be decentralized, transparent, and people who use certain apps will be looked upon differently. So reputation is an enforcement mechanism for the social contract along with the voluntary basic capital license if it’s a corporation the community has to deal with.

The software license should exist to protect the community from corporations coming along, forking, taking the best technologies developed, and then not giving anything back to the community.

The DCO is to protect the community from government legal actions.

The social contract existing as a smart contract or in code embeds it into the app to protect the social contract from being tampered with without community social consensus backing it.

The decentralized reputation element is to encourage the community to support itself. It’s easy to encourage people to give something back when the givers get a reputation and the takers get a reputation. Bittorrent used this idea of seeders and leechers to great success and while it isn’t something directly enforced there is a ratio which easily allowed people to not share with anyone who has a bad ratio. The same could happen in business interactions where smart contracts could look for some adherence to the social contract of the community and if the entrepreneur doesn’t meet the minimum then the community doesn’t have to provide any sort of good reviews to their business.

Below are a few references and shout outs

Social Networks as Contract Enforcement: Evidence from a Lab Experiment in the Field

Decentralized reputation based reward networks and gift economics

On social contracts – Part I

On social contracts – Part II

Acknowledgement to Dan and Stan Larimer for coming up with the idea of social consensus and social contract, for being among the first to declare the importance of profitability and competition.

Acknowledgement to Vitalik Buterin and his team for their efforts with Ethereum and for being the first to not only set record breaking crowd funding numbers but to attempt to implement a Turing complete scripting DAC.

Acknowledgement to the Synereo and GetGems team for their effort to help create an attention economy.

Acknowledgement to Satoshi Nakamoto for making all of this possible.


Posted in Culture & Ideas, Networks, P2P Infrastructures | 1 Comment »

GNU social will hold its global “Camp” together with the “Shareable Lab” in Asturias

photo of Natalia Fernandez

Natalia Fernandez
27th April 2015


Between the 9th and 16th of September, we’re going to revolutionize the Sharing Economy to return it to neighborhoods and citizens

The discussion about collaborative consumption is reaching pretty clear positions on the role of business. As Neal Gorenflo said this week:

As for Uber, Airbnb, and the other giants of for-profit sharing, “they do a service in a way, which is to open up a new frontier,” says Gorenflo.” They’re taking the risks, so maybe they are entitled to the rewards.” He adds, however, that citizens would be foolish to not take advantage of this new frontier and create cooperative versions of Airbnb and their ilk in order to truly share the wealth.

gnusocialThe issue, as we’ve known for more than a decade, is that every recentralization, even if done on a citizen platform, has a high social cost: the devaluation of the conversation and the emergence of control. All it takes is experiencing distributed architectures to enter a completely different world. That’s why, if we want create a strategy of civic reappropriation of the “sharing economy,” we have to look to what is spearheading distributed architectures today: GNU social, the Free Software Foundation project that is having the most social impact and growing fastest in users and instances.

Activists, social entrepreneurs and hackers

Last October, An?ovoligo held a meeting in Gijón of experts in the Sharing Economy from across the world
. Among them was Neal Gorenflo representing Shareable.

The main concrete commitment that came out of that was locate Shareable’s first European activities in Asturias, Shareable Lab, an open laboratory with a clear objective: design and promote thefirst free and distributed reappropriations of the Sharing Economy.

But what to use as a base? The opening of la Matriz and the conversation that this opened, gave the answer: create the first global “camp” to drive the development of GNU social, the GNU social Camp.

ancovoligoThe package of GNU social Camp and Shareable Lab could well become the starting point for a true alternative the corporate sharing economy and even the corporate models of the “smart city”.

Reserve the days between the 9th and 16th of September. You have an important appointment, so important it may change the world… of sharing.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Conferences, Events, Free Software, Networks, Open Content, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Collaboration, Sharing | No Comments »

GNU social: Federation against the social model of Twitter

photo of Manuel Ortega

Manuel Ortega
25th April 2015

“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.


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)


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

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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


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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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


“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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Book of the Day: Many Faces of Anonymous

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8th April 2015

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

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


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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