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Peer production, disruption and the law – call for debates, essays and interviews

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
30th August 2014

From The Journal of Peer Productionhttp://peerproduction.net

We are now inviting contributions to this special edition of the Journal of Peer Production in the form of short essays of between 1000 and 3000 words to complement the longer peer reviewed articles that will appear in thisedition of the journal, due to be published in December 2014 The contributions can be testimonies, working papers and critical essays by researchers and practitioners. Debates are essays by several authors expressing clearly contrasting viewpoints about a relevant issue.

The deadline for these contributions is 24 October 2014 and should be sent to

disruptlawissue AT peerproduction.net

The contributions will be reviewed by the editors – Steve Collins (Macquarie) and Angela Daly (Swinburne/European University Institute) – and so will not be peer-reviewed. Please see here for more details on JoPP submissions and style: http://peerproduction.net/about/submissions/

Special edition description

The disruption caused by new technologies and non-conventional methods of organisation have posed challenges for the law, confronting regulators with the need to balance justice with powerful interests. Experience from the “disruptions” of the late 20th century has shown that the response from incumbent industries can lead to a period of intense litigation and lobbying for laws that will maintain the status quo. For example, following its “Napster moment”, the music industry fought to maintain its grip on distribution channels through increased copyright enforcement and the longer copyright terms it managed to extract from the legislative process. The newspaper industry has similarly seen its historical revenue stream of classified ads disrupted by more efficient online listings, and responded to its own failure to capitalise on online advertising by launching legal campaigns against Google News in various European countries.

Though the law as it stands may not be well-equipped to deal with disruptive episodes, the technological innovations of the last twenty years have created an environment that generates disruption. The Internet, the Web and networked personal computers have converged into the ubiquitous post-PC media device, leaving twentieth century paradigms of production, consumption and distribution under considerable threat. The latest technology to be added to this group of disruptive innovations may be 3D printing, which in recent times has become increasingly available and accessible to users in developed economies, whilst the manufacturing capacity of 3D printers has dramatically grown. Although current offerings on the market are far from a Star Trek-like “replicator”, the spectre of disruption has once again arrived, with the prospect of 3D printed guns inspiring a moral panic and raising questions of gun control, regulation, jurisdiction and effective control. In addition, 3D printing raises a number of issues regarding intellectual property, going far beyond the copyright problems that file-sharing brought about due to its production of physical objects.

This special issue of the Journal of Peer Production calls for contributions that deal with the intersection of peer production, disruptive technologies and the law. Potential topics include, but are not restricted to:

- The threat posed by peer production to legacy industries

- The regulation of disruptive technologies through the rule of law or embedded rights management

- Lobbying strategies of incumbent players to stymie disruptive technologies

- Emergent economies or practices as a result of disruptive technologies

- Extra-legal norm formation in peer production communities around disruptive technologies

- Historical perspectives on the legal status of collaborative projects

- Critical legal approaches to technology, disruption and peer production

- The role and ability of the law (which differs across jurisdictions) in regulating autonomous production

- The resilience of law in the face of social and technological change

- The theories and assumptions which continue to underpin laws rendered obsolete by social and technological change

JoPP will be published twice a year. All scientific contributions will be peer reviewed. Submissions should be made to the editors though our contact form. PEERPRODUCTION.NET


Posted in Culture & Ideas, Open Access, Open Calls, P2P Legal Dev., P2P Theory | No Comments »

Video: Jim Zemlin on the Importance of Foundations for Collaborative Technological Development and Economics

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
29th August 2014

Jim Zemlin gave an excellent talk about the importance of foundations in facilitating collaborative development at the 2014 State of Linux conference. He focuses on the key role of FLOSS Foundations, such as the Linux Foundation, and their key role in facilitating open production.

His main points:

* A neutral home for collection and sharing of resources.

* Enable structured investment.

* Helping industry understand how to engage with the community.

* Shared legal defense.

* Shared development infrastructure.

* A neutral home for key developers.

* Addressing market failures.

* Raising awareness (marketing) to bring in more developers and users.

* Organize events for face to face meetings and training.

* Provide training and certification to help grow the community.

Watch the video here via


Posted in Conferences, P2P Collaboration, P2P Governance, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Technology, P2P Theory, Peer Production, Videos | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Critical Introduction to Social Media

photo of hartsellml

29th August 2014

Christian Fuchs. Social Media. A Critical Introduction. Sage, 2014.

URL = http://fuchs.uti.at/books/social-media-a-critical-introduction/


Now more than ever, we need to understand social media – the good as well as the bad. We need critical knowledge that helps us to navigate the controversies and contradictions of this complex digital media landscape. Only then can we make informed judgements about what’s happening in our media world, and why.

Showing the reader how to ask the right kinds of questions about social media, Christian Fuchs takes us on a journey across social media, delving deep into case studies on Google, Facebook, Twitter, WikiLeaks and Wikipedia. The result lays bare the structures and power relations at the heart of our media landscape.

This book is the essential, critical guide for understanding social media and for all students of media studies and sociology. Readers will never look at social media the same way again.




Posted in Collective Intelligence, Featured Book, P2P Epistemology, P2P Governance | No Comments »

How Algorithmic Scheduling is complicating working lives and the parenting of the poor

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th August 2014

Excerpted from the NYT:

(worth reading the detailed working life profiles in detail)

“Like increasing numbers of low-income mothers and fathers, Ms. Navarro is at the center of a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers. Along with virtually every major retail and restaurant chain, Starbucks relies on software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data to determine which of its 130,000 baristas are needed in its thousands of locations and exactly when. Big-box retailers or mall clothing chains are now capable of bringing in more hands in anticipation of a delivery truck pulling in or the weather changing, and sending workers home when real-time analyses show sales are slowing. Managers are often compensated based on the efficiency of their staffing. Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. “It’s like magic,” said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.

Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.

In Brooklyn, Sandianna Irvine often works “on call” hours at Ashley Stewart, a plus-size clothing store, rushing to make arrangements for her 5-year-old daughter if the store needs her. Before Martha Cadenas was promoted to manager at a Walmart in Apple Valley, Minn., she had to work any time the store needed; her mother “ended up having to move in with me,” she said, because of the unpredictable hours. Maria Trisler is often dismissed early from her shifts at a McDonald’s in Peoria, Ill., when the computers say sales are slow. The same sometimes happens to Ms. Navarro at Starbucks.”


Posted in P2P Labor, P2P Rights, P2P Technology | 1 Comment »

Critique of political economy of water and the collaborative alternative

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
27th August 2014


Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.10.27

An thought-provoking critique on the political economy of water  along with a collaborative, Commons-oriented proposal have been published at the European Water Movement website, by Kostas Nikolaou, member of the initiative K136. Kostas begins his article criticizing the current practices regarding the water management and the recent efforts to privatize another Commons so to maximize capital accumulation. Then he deals with two critical questions: i) “who made and who makes the privatization of water everywhere in the world?” and ii) “saying no to privatization and ultimately preventing the privatization, say yes to what?”. Through the case of the collaborative alternative from Thessaloniki, Greece, i.e., the initiative K136, and other historical successes of the movement, Kostas makes concrete proposals for a cooperative alternative. If you are interested in the Commons (since you are here, certainly you are!), you should definitely read the essay in full here.


Posted in Activism, Commons, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Featured Essay, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, Peer Property, Politics, Sharing | 1 Comment »

South/South collaboration for a post-capitalist paradigm by François Houtart

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
26th August 2014

BRICS Summit 2014
In July 2014 a new step was taken towards constructing a multi-polar world, with the meeting in Brazil of the BRICS, the constitution of a new Bank and of a Fund for Development. This was followed by a joint meeting between the BRICS, UNASUR, the Organization of the South American States and CELAC (the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean).  All this happened without the participation of the Triad (USA, Europe and Japan).

It is, of course, a very positive advance, already preceded by very important agreements on energy between two members of the BRICS, China and Russia. The aim of the new institutions is to boost growth and to eliminate poverty. They bring ‘emerging countries’ with important financial reserves together with others in a less privileged situation, in a South/South relationship. Latin America has been chosen for the new scenario and both the president of Russia and the prime minister of China, have taken the opportunity to reinforce their links with the progressive countries of the subcontinent.

However, the basic conception of South/South relations is still expressed within the classic framework of development, with the same concepts and the same measures, with no or little consideration for externalities (ecological and social), i.e. a modernization that has been captured by the logic of the market. This is why it has been possible to bring together societies oriented by a capitalist project (India), a socialist country with a regulated market (China) and various forms of social-democratic systems, accepting capitalism as a ‘growth’ instrument, together with policies of income redistribution (Brazil, South Africa).

In this paper, I deliberately develop a provocative style, in order to call attention to the urgent need for a radical (going to the roots) transformation and to initiate transition steps.

A multi-polar world with the same conception of modernity and of development

The main emphasis of the BRICS initiative is to create a new pole against a monopolistic globalization dominated by an imperialistic nation and with international institutions mainly at the service of this unique pole (World Bank, IMF, WTO, etc.).  But it is not to create a new model of development after the death of the present one. Of course, there is an awareness of its inner contradictions, hence the adoption of some measures to alleviate the environmental burden and to help people to emerge from poverty, but in various degrees there is continuity in the same vision.

On the whole there is little questioning of the main concept of modernity as a lineal progress on an inexhaustible planet, using a ‘sacrificial’ economy to achieve this goal. It means joining the unsustainable development club, only in a different way. At best, it is presented as a necessary step to prepare another era, or the capitalist North is accused of responsibility for the damages and the ‘underdevelopment of the South’ (not without reason, of course). But this is an easy way to escape one’s own responsibilities.

Many examples can be given. The systematic disequilibrium of metabolism between nature and human beings provoked by the different rhythms of reproduction of capital and nature was denounced by Karl Marx, but it has not been solved by socialism, as Marx anticipated. On the contrary, the development of productive forces has increasingly meant a destruction of eco-systems, more noxious gases and the poisoning of the sources of life (soils, water).

The Global South is today reproducing the same pattern of relations with nature, in three ways:  either by transforming nature into commodities according to pure capitalist logic, as in India, or, in a new perspective of extracting natural wealth to provide means for a welfare state like the progressive countries of Latin America, or, as a means of a new State-oriented process of accumulation, as in China. In this way the present philosophy of South/ South relations does not solve the problem. On the contrary, in spite of some strong verbal ecological positions, the same path is followed.

The discourses at the Brazilian meetings in Fortaleza and in Brasilia and the objectives for the new institutions, like the new Bank and the Fund for Development, do not abandon the classic definitions of growth as increasing GNP and of development as the main result of technological progress: all these are intellectual tools created by a modernity that has been hijacked by capitalist logic. Such criticism, as we shall see later, does not mean a romantic return to the past, nor the proposal of a new form of utopian socialism. What it means is the redefinition of the collective life of humankind on the earth, respecting the regenerating capacity of the planet, and refusing a concept of a development that is based on sacrifice.

To continue to read the full article visit http://alainet.org/active/76072


Posted in Politics | 1 Comment »

How Tech-Savvy Podemos Became One of Spain’s Most Popular Parties in 100 Days

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
25th August 2014

The Podemos banner asks, “When is the last time you voted with hope?” (Podemos Uvieu/flickr)

Originally published in Techpresident, this recent report by Carola Friedani details the unstoppable rise of Podemos and the participatory tools that have enabled it. We’re especially happy to see our friends at Loomio mentioned as one of Podemos’ go-to tools.

It has been called “a radical left sensation”; a “fledgling party” born out of the ashes of the Indignados (“the outraged”) or 15-M movement; and “the new-kid-on-the-block” whose success is yet another example of modern technopolitics or, as some experts have put it, “the power of the connected multitudes.”

Podemos (“We Can”), a new Spanish party established in March 2014, disrupted their nation’s political scene when it swept up five seats out of 54 and 1.2 million votes (8% of the total) in the European elections in May even though it was only 100-days-old. With 704,585 likes on Facebookand 321,000 followers on Twitter, it has more online fans than any other Spanish political party.

Founded by left-wing academics, and led by a 35-year-old political science lecturer, Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ platform strongly advocates for anti-corruption and transparency measures, is supportive of participatory democracy and critical of the two main parties – the PP (the center-right People’s Party) and the PSOE (the Socialist Party) – as well as the government’s austerity measures. As Iglesias told the Guardian, Podemos is about “citizens doing politics.”

Iñigo Errejón, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, and the coordinator of Podemos’ electoral campaign, tells techPresident, “The rise of Podemos is about their new way of reading and articulating widespread citizen discontent, which had previously surfaced within the 15-M movement.”

Podemos is considered an offshoot of 15-M, a tech-savvy group that from 2011 to 2012 protested against the country’s political inefficacy, high unemployment and other political and economic woes.According to Cristina Flesher Fominay, founder and co-chair of the Council for European Studies Social Movement and a professor at the University of Aberdeen, Podemos’ popularity was made possible in part by its roots in 15-M as well as the charismatic and media-savvy leadership of Iglesias and the party’s ability to mobilize the youth, unemployed and voters that tend to abstain.

The party’s success also came from deep changes to the way politics has been done, says Errejón, a combination of bold reforms and use of technology to make the decision-making process as inclusive and transparent as possible.


Compared to a standard campaign, which in Spain can cost more than 2 million euros per party, Podemos succeeded with hardly any money, initially raising 100,000 euros (US$133,650) through crowdfunding.

Podemos’ charismatic leader Pablo Iglesias speaks at a rally (credit: CyberFrancis/flickr)

“Since the beginning, we believed that we needed to be financially independent from banks and corporations, and for this reason we asked for citizen funding,” Eric Labuske, 26, and Miguel Ardanuy, 23, who are members of Podemos, wrote in a joint e-mail to techPresident. “We have used crowdfunding for specific projects, such as building servers for our web platforms and materials for our political campaigns. We also use a monthly donation system to cover all our expenses.” Labuske coordinates citizen participation activities within the party and Ardanuy is part of a working group that is organizing Podemos’ Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Ciudadana) in October 2014 when members will debate and vote on proposals for an agenda, as well as the future trajectory of the party.

Not only is crowdfunding important in distancing themselves from the sway of corporate funding, according to Labuske and Ardanuy, it also enables citizens to get involved politically and, as a result, forces the party to be as transparent as possible. “As our funding depends on small donations from citizens, we have the obligation of being accountable and transparent, by publishing our accounts and balances online,” they explain. Podemos also documents its crowdsourcing process online.

Even now, crowdfunding is Podemos’ main source of funding, making up more than half of all its resources with the rest coming from regular donations. The party has collected more than 150,000 euros (US$200,450) since March 2014 through more than 10,000 funders.

Some of the money is used for specific projects; for example, when the PP accused Iglesias of associations with the Basque terrorist group, ETA, Podemos raised more than 16,000 euros(US$21,380) in three hours to defend themselves against libelous attacks.

Podemos also met their 23,000 euros (US$30,735) goal for organizing its Constituent Assembly. Any member can participate and anyone can become a member by filling out an online form.

Podemos’ lean crowdfunding model is also reflected in their bold reforms for public spending. It aims to set MEP salaries at 1,930 euros (US$2,580), or triple the national minimum wage, as opposed to the standard 8,000 euros (US$10,690) a month, and use the extra income towards building the party or towards a particular cause. Podemos also hopes to set a minimum guaranteed income and reform financial regulation.

Online voting and decision making

A large part of Podemos’ digital strategy is turning decision-making into an inclusive, citizen-driven process. It used an online platform, Agora Voting, to select their Euro-MPs during the primaries, attracting 33,000 voters who were verified through SMS. While those votes only account for 3 percent of their actual voter base, Podemos was the only party aside from Partido X, a 15-M spin-off founded over a year before them, that used open primaries, which allowed any voter regardless of party affiliation to throw in their support. Podemos also used Agora to select their executive coordination team, a group of 26 in charge of organizing the Constituent Party Assembly.

So far the platform has been used to vote directly for candidates, but in the long run Podemos may use some of the other voting models supported by the platform, such as liquid delegation. This form of voting allows a participant to delegate his or her vote to someone else they feel has more expertise, but the delegation can also be revoked. Agora also supports single transferable voting, a system that seeks to create proportional representation through the ranking of candidates in order of preference on a ballot.

Currently, Podemos is working on an even more ambitious project. LaboDemo (Laboratorio Democrático), a techno-political consulting and researching organization that is focused on how to use Internet tools to optimize democratic processes, began to collaborate with Podemos in June on testing new apps that would allow for instant mass polling.

“We started to test a number of tools after a national meeting of all the ‘Circulos’ on 14th June,” Yago Bermejo Abati, the coordinator of LaboDemo, tells techPresident. The ‘Circulos’ or Circles are local, offline places for citizen participation that are open to all, launched by Podemos in order to fulfil its ambition of being a real citizens’ party. The Circulos have been one of the key factors of Podemos’ success. Today there are around 800 Circles scattered throughout the country. During meetings, members discuss policy issues, such as debating the proposals that will be brought to Podemos’ National Party Assembly. They often use Titanpad, a tool that allows many people to edit one document. “That means that everyone can take part in the building of Podemos. This is democracy,”says a post on one of the local Circulos’ Facebook page.

A screenshot of Podemos’ Circulos map

Podemos also uses the Circulos as a place to test new apps. “Appgree was first tested at the national meeting,” says Bermejo Abati. Appgree is a mobile app that filters proposals by type and can quickly poll thousands of people simultaneously. More than 9,000 participated during the national Circulos meeting in June and more than 5,000 were on the app simultaneously. A number of questions were proposed, for example, like suggesting a collective tweet to the president of Spain.

“We think Appgree will be useful in the future to allow very fast feedback regarding proposals or polls,” explains Bermejo Abati.

Another online platform Podemos just began to use in order to maximise participation is Reddit. “We believe that everyone needs to be part of the construction of Podemos,” say Labuske and Ardanay. “And unlike the other political parties in Spain, we want to use [Reddit] to enforce democracy in our country. We think that transparency and direct contact between politicians and citizens are vital to reach the level of democracy we want.” After LaboDemo suggested it, Podemos decided to use Reddit’s “ask me anything” feature to enable the party’s political candidates to debate with citizens.

“We wanted to create a massive national debate. We have chosen Reddit as our platform and we call it Plaza Podemos,” adds Bermejo Abati.

Plaza Podemos received more than 80,000 unique visits and more than 400,000 page visits since its launch about one month ago. During this time the party also hosted four Reddit interviews with Podemos Euro-MPs Pablo Echenique, Lola SànchezCarlos Jiménez and Teresa Rodrìguez, each of them answering hundreds of questions posed by users.

“We conceive Plaza Podemos as a virtual square to deliberate, discuss and visualize all the issues that concern Podemos’ followers,” says Bermejo Abati. “Since these interviews are done directly by the people, they produce truly interesting questions. It is also a great way for the MPs to explain some of their actions in the European Parliament.” Plaza Podemos is also enabling the offline Circulos to connect to each other virtually.

Podemos intends to utilize Reddit to debate the ethical, political and organizational principles that are going to be voted on at their National Citizen Assembly in October. The Reddit debates provide a new way of interacting with a political party and Bermejo Abati believes it will develop into a “new kind of politics.”

Another participatory platform that Podemos is currently experimenting with is Loomio, a collaborative and open source decision-making platform that allows groups of people to discuss issues, propose actions, gauge group opinion and are given a set deadline to vote. It aims to encourage consensus-making rather than the polarization of an issue.

“After Podemos adopted our platform, several thousand Podemos folk have now started 396 groups within the last month,” Ben Knight, co-founder of Loomio, tells techPresident. Some of them are local groups, like Podemos Toledo. Others are thematic, like Podemos Economistas, which as its name suggests, debates the party’s economic policy. “[Loomio’s] user-base and total activity have almost doubled as a result,” adds Knight.

A screenshot of Plaza Podemos on Reddit.

The problem with “e-democracy”

Despite Podemos’ success, it is not without its critics, especially those who pursue similar goals of using online participation to create a more inclusive democratic process.

“[The party] has been very efficient on social networks,” Simona Levi, a prominent former 15-M activist and a co-founder of Partido X, says to techPresident. “However it still hasn’t addressed some problems, such as the risk of clicktivism, of implementing a fallacious idea of participation.” She wonders how Podemos will prevent decisions being made primarily by those with the time to participate or whether people who vote online are really informed before they cast their ballot, especially when it comes to complicated policy issues like political or economic reform.

Levi explains that Partido X tried to address these problems with their own version of online political participation based on the idea that online participation by itself is not enough and that people don’t need to express an opinion on everything, especially if they are not informed enough.

“Our methodology seeks to go beyond clicktivism, introducing the idea of responsibility, competence and scalability in the participatory decision-making process,” she says. For instance, Partido X tried to implement a decision-making process based less on majority voting and more on consensus, less on opinion and more on expertise.

However noble Partido X’s attempt at creating a more meaningful platform for political engagement, it was less effective at communicating its vision to the public. While Partido X was often considered the main heir to 15-M, it was unable to win any seats in the last election while Podemos has become the fourth largest national political force and the third largest in many regions, including Madrid.

Podemos’ founders do realize its methods are far from perfect. “We are always looking to improve our participation systems and looking to find new ones,” say Labuske and Ardanuy. “Improving democracy is one of our main objectives, and we believe that technology is very important in reaching that goal.” And despite its flaws, Podemos is leading the way in online politics in Spain.

Carola Frediani is an Italian journalist and co-founder of the media agency, Effecinque.org. She writes on new technology, digital culture and hacking for a variety of Italian publications, including L’Espresso, Wired.it, Corriere della Sera, Sky.it. She is the author of Inside Anonymous: A Journey into the World of Cyberactivism.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident’s WeGov section.


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Networks, Open Government, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Public Policy, Politics | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Against the Smart City

photo of hartsellml

25th August 2014

Against the smart city (The city is here for you to use). Andrew Greenfield


“From the smartphones in our pockets and the cameras on the lampposts to sensors in the sewers, the sidewalks and the bike-sharing stations, the contemporary city is permeated with networked information technology.

As promoted by enterprises like IBM, Siemens and Cisco Systems, the vision of the “smart city” proposes that this technology can be harnessed by municipal administrators to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency,security, convenience and sustainability. But a closer look at what this body of ideas actually consists of suggests that such a city will not, and cannot, serve the interests of the people who live in it.

In this pamphlet, Everyware author Adam Greenfield explores the ways in which this discourse treats the city as an abstraction, misunderstands (or even undermines) the processes that truly do generate meaning and value — and winds up making many of the same blunders that doomed the High Modernist urban planning of the twentieth century. “Against the smart city” provides an intellectual toolkit for those of us interested in resisting this sterile and unappealing vision, and lays important groundwork for the far more fruitful alternatives to come.”


Posted in Activism, Featured Book, P2P Architecture and Urbanism | No Comments »

Peering through the Crowdfunding Window: Sustainable Food, Sharing Economies and the Ethos of Legal Infrastructure

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th August 2014


Bronwen Morgan, a researcher and expert in regulation and rights related to social activism and claims for social and economic human rights, recently approached us to share the following article. It deals with sustainable food systems, the sharing economy, and the ethos of legal infrastructure by using  the recent crowdfunding campaigns of Open Food Network (Australia) and FarmDrop (UK) as a window onto these issues.

At the end of the first week of August 2014, two different crowdfunding pitches closed almost simultaneously.  FarmDrop, based in the UK, had raised three quarters of a million pounds, which was not far from double their original goal, from 359 investors. Open Food Network, based in Australia, had raised Aus$35,877 from 398 investors. Peering through the windows opened up by these two initiatives gives a clear view of rather different trajectories of the burgeoning ‘sharing economy’.

Crowdfunding’s heady mix of creative expression, cultivating an audience of potential investors, media-savvy PR pitch, and technical provision of ‘due diligence’ information about business plans and risk seems appropriate to the somewhat contradictory ethos surrounding the spread and growth of the sharing economy. As William Deresiewicz argued in the New York Times in 2011 in ‘Generation Sell’:

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business…. The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan. 

The prism of the crowdfunding ‘pitch’ refracts diverse imaginaries of scale, and of ownership and control. Yet in the pitches for these two projects, scale is highly visible while questions of ownership and control are mostly shrouded or implicit. But both are important foundations of  the particular ethos of the practices that might spring up in their wake – and ethos, elusive as it is, is a vital facet of the kind of world that such projects aspire to create.

Both FarmDrop and Open Food Network aim to create and grow sustainable local food systems. Both stress the desire to create positive social change of a systemic kind, one that will disrupt the existing dominance of supermarket provision of food. They have not dissimilar structures – both provide a web-based platform that allows individual consumers to source food from local farmers, and to cut out or curtail the power of the ‘middleman’. Both emphasise the enlarged share of the final purchase price that will go to farmers as a key plank of their commitment to positive social change.

Their visions of the way in which they will grow, however, are quite different, a difference perhaps mirrored in the fact that FarmDrop’s largest investment was GBP100,000 while Open Food Network’s was Aus2500  -  as well as the sheer scale of difference in the total sums raised. FarmDrop aspires to establish a standardised model that will ‘scale up’ to a mass level, citing a quantified market share target of current UK supermarket sale volumes, and envisioning an ‘exit strategy’ of a public stockmarket sale where its potential valuation is compared to AirBnB, the ubiquitous sharing economy behemoth.  Open Food Network, by contrast, conveys  a hope of growing by variable replication, primarily through sharing the code of its web-based platform and fostering partnerships with small community-based ventures. It has already begun such partnerships with existing local food projects in Scotland and the South-West of England.

This difference is closely linked to the design of ownership and control in the two projects. Although there is much less overt discussion of this in the two crowdfunding pitches, one important feature stands out clearly – the open source nature of Open Food Network’s software platform. FarmDrop says nothing directly about this aspect of its pitch, but the exit strategy implies a closed intellectual  property model, as does the fact that Crowdcube, the funding platform, allows the sourcing of equity-based finance from venture capital as well as from so-called ‘mom and pop’ investors. Crowdcube also imposes a standard set of Articles of Association (not publicly available) upon funded projects, and FarmDrop is a private proprietary company controlled by its founders.

Interestingly, Open Food Network’s company structure is not made visible through the pitch (it’s a non-profit and registered charity) – but the pitch does communicate an important plank of ‘ownership and control’ very differently from FarmDrop – that of control over the sharing of surplus. FarmDrop proudly foregrounds a specific measureable – and very high -  proportion that will go to farmers – 80p in the pound – with 10p to the ‘Keeper’ who coordinates the local pickup, and 10p to FarmDrop itself.  Open Food Network, meanwhile, gives no specific proportions but leaves it up to the farmer to set the price. While FarmDrop’s ‘pitch’ thus seems markedly redistributive (at least, compared to supermarkets) , the more important – and less obvious – point is that Open Food Network delegates control over prices to farmers, while FarmDrop retains it. Given that FarmDrop is a private proprietary company, its promised generosity in terms of distributed proportions to farmers could change in the future. Nothing is built into the legal model of private proprietary companies to prevent this, and FarmDrop’s tagline – “The simple principle of missing out the middleman powers everything we do” -  sidesteps the issue that the platform is a middleman – and potentially a massively powerful one.

Of course, Open Food Network’s pitch is partially silent on ownership and control, at least in terms of the technicalities of legal models. But its commitments to open-source software and delegated price control communicate an ethos that extends what is shared, and on whose terms, more widely than the FarmDrop pitch. Open Food Network’s approach not so much cuts out middlemen as supports multiple small locally empowered networks that subscribe to the transparency of the platform.

photo (1)Debates over the political and social implications of the sharing economy would be energised and clarified by the combination of a greater appreciation of ethos on the one hand, and more overt, transparent discussion about the legal models that will give structure to the visions glimpsed through the window of crowdfunding. These are linked issues. In a whimsical but provocative reflection on the foundations of sustainable practices, Ivan Illich argues that modern discussions of scale are blind to issues of proportionality and balance that cannot be captured by numbers or quantitative measurement. He remarks: “In his treatise on statecraft Plato remarks that the bad politician is he who confuses measurements with proportionality. Such a person would not recognize what is appropriate to a particular ethos, a word that originally implied a dwelling place, later something like “popular character.”

In the context of this quote, it is perhaps fitting that FarmDrop chooses to highlight a numerical measure of farmer income, while Open Food Network delegate the general power of setting prices. More broadly, the general ethos of the Open Food Network project leaves much more room for the ‘particular ethos’ of different configurations of growers and customers to evolve, particularly on questions of ownership and control. The ethos of FarmDrop could be interpreted as one that to preserve the comfort and convenience of the shopping relationship while personalising it and at least appearing to shrink its scale.  Yet when the ‘back-systems’, particularly the financing, ownership and control and legal governance of projects are designed as FarmDrop’s seem implicitly to be, such projects become potentially very similar to the mass-scale commodification the project appears to reject. All the same, the extent to which none of this is up front and centre in the crowdfunding pitches suggests there is more debate to be had here.

As experience has shown, growth and success down the line bring issues of underlying legal infrastructure painfully into contentious view. When CouchSurfing, once the more ‘open’ and ‘truly sharing’ version of AirBnB, went through some contentious governance change, angry couch-providers directly raised the importance of such issues as ‘asset locks’ within corporate governance structures. This is more than just a technical question, and more even than a political one, though it is certainly that. As important is the ethos of how particular models, or any modern ‘template’ structure, is embedded in practice. To quote Illich again,  “To consider what is appropriate or fitting in a certain place  – this is “a delicate task” requiring that we “retrieve something like a lost ear, an abandoned sensibility”.

What would our lost ear hear, our sensibilities regain, if sustainable local food projects matched the design of ownership and control to the sense of fit and appropriateness of each place the project were implemented? What kinds of models would encourage such a sense of appropriate fit – cooperatives, community interest companies, benefit corporations? Illich views “a certain sensitivity to the appropriate as the necessary condition of friendship”.  As we peer through the window of crowdfunding pitches, which of the models offered us will make possible a relationship of friendship – that infinitely variable shared good, capable of expansive deepening but never of being ‘scaled up’ – to the earth? Ethos matters, and the legal infrastructure of ownership and control of sharing economy projects is a too-little-discussed facet of the sharing economy.


Posted in Commons, Ethical Economy, Food and Agriculture, Guest Post, Open Models, P2P Ecology, P2P Foundation, Sharing | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Global War for Internet Governance

photo of hartsellml

24th August 2014

* Book: The Global War for Internet Governance. by Laura DeNardis. Yale University Press, 2014

From the publisher:

“The Internet has transformed the manner in which information is exchanged and business is conducted, arguably more than any other communication development in the past century. Despite its wide reach and powerful global influence, it is a medium uncontrolled by any one centralized system, organization, or governing body, a reality that has given rise to all manner of free-speech issues and cybersecurity concerns. The conflicts surrounding Internet governance are the new spaces where political and economic power is unfolding in the twenty-first century.

This all-important study by Laura DeNardis reveals the inner power structure already in place within the architectures and institutions of Internet governance. It provides a theoretical framework for Internet governance that takes into account the privatization of global power as well as the role of sovereign nations and international treaties. In addition, DeNardis explores what is at stake in open global controversies and stresses the responsibility of the public to actively engage in these debates, because Internet governance will ultimately determine Internet freedom.”


Posted in Featured Book, Open Access, P2P Warfare | No Comments »