An interview with Isaac Mao on the concretisation of Sharism in China

Sharism, broadly speaking, is an ideology that attempts to reconcile the sometimes idealistic cultures of open source and new media theory with the tech business community, creating viable options for both content sharing and progressive models of profitability. Expanding on a conception of “cloud intelligence” that he has presented previously in several exhibitions and essays, Isaac Mao here clarifies how and why everyone from artists and dissidents to investors and marketers should open up their lives and work in order to protect their own interests, offering a solution for networked creativity that moves beyond the Californian ideology at long last.

Robin Peckham has interviewed Isaac Mao for Digimag 58. Sharism is moving from a general ideology, to a concrete project. For full details check the original interview.


“Robin Peckham: I’m glad we found the chance to meet today, because I was moderating a panel on the opening up of digital art archives at the Wikitopia conference on collaborative futures yesterday and we talked briefly about Sharism. In that vaguely academic context, it seems that the theoretical framework of the project is relatively clear at this point, but have you made any progress in actual implementation, in getting the word out to a wider audience?

Isaac Mao: That’s part of the philosophy of Sharism: you have to tell people how it can work in the physical world, the real world. I try to observe how people can benefit from these ideas in daily life, particularly through their organizations and other social activity like so-called social enterprises. Sharing is not just giving; there is also a return on your interests. It amplifies your contribution to society, without which you cannot be sustainable all the time. Before I started the Sharism project I focused more purely on technology, especially on how people implement different kinds of new technologies that help people meaningfully collaborate. We should try to think about the marks and traces that we create over time. The traditional system does not truly log our achievements in the long-term. Sharism gives you a path: you can always look back, and we can maintain have our own grassroots space on a human scale, a history written by individuals. With this we can create a scenario of cloud intelligence, and as people relay their knowledge into this cloud one by one these changes can reach a certain level.

Robin Peckham: I’d like to stop you there for now and move on to something a bit more specific. The last time we spoke in Shanghai at Xindanwei last spring we talked about the ideology of Sharism, growing out of your widely circulated essay in Freesouls. I think a lot of people are now pretty clear on that. Today I want to know a little more about implementation. Last spring you were still brainstorming with collaborators Jon Philips and Christopher Adams, talking about whether this should become a software service based in the cloud, some kind of general platform, or what. Would you hook it into blogs and other formats, like the plugins that now allow trackbacks on shared content? Is that where Sharism is going now? Do you have a technical platform that you’re working on at the moment?

Isaac Mao: Exactly. We are using as an open platform to identify a protocol. A protocol, like the GSM protocol that makes phones talk to each other in the same language, allows two entities to shake hands and then transfer information. We are all social neurons with synapses and nodes, and if we care about those connections through something like Sharism we need a common protocol to communicate. We have now defined something called the Open Share Protocol (OSP) based on the description of value-added paths. This is about trying to give technical tools to individuals and interfaces to businesses. If something is regarded as valuable, it will be shared. The basis of the share bank system is the OSP, which is entirely based on goodwill. We want people to be more open to do more things together on the side of justice. This will help more people to understand and recognize influence: if I have more shares and have become influential, I can then recommend you as a “good” person, a shareable person. So then at that point other businesses can reward you, not only for mentioning their corporate interests but also for sharing in general.

Robin Peckham: So who signs the shares to begin with? Just corporations?

Isaac Mao: I think some of the first entities to start the share bank systems will be social enterprises, because they encourage people to share most of the time anyway. They want people to contribute and give. At the same time, they also want to record your contributions. For example, we now have billboards that announce the largest charity donors each year. But that’s not enough, because there millions of people who contribute time and social power, much more than just that leading financial portion of the long tail. We need more social contributions from everyone. This kind of sharing system can be implemented first in social enterprises, like Xindanwei, which will support the OSP. Any time you blog your blogging platform will record your shares within your own system, but if you mention Xindanwei the two systems will talk to each other through this protocol, and then the blogging system will trackback to the share bank in Xindanwei, which will add value to your share account.”

Source: EXPECTING EXPECTATIONS AN INTERVIEW WITH ISAAC MAO. Txt: Robin Peckham / Img: Courtesy of Isaac Mao. Digimag 58, October 2010

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