P2P Foundation https://blog.p2pfoundation.net Researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices Wed, 19 Sep 2018 09:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Licensing needs for Truly P2P Software https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/licensing-needs-for-truly-p2p-software/2018/09/19 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/licensing-needs-for-truly-p2p-software/2018/09/19#respond Wed, 19 Sep 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72685 Software licenses are about USAGE constraints of software — Do you have a right to run it, copy it, distribute it, for how many people, under what conditions, etc… However, in a new era of decentralized software, I believe we must also uncover an assumption buried into past licenses that a licenses also implicitly includes ownership of... Continue reading

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Software licenses are about USAGE constraints of software — Do you have a right to run it, copy it, distribute it, for how many people, under what conditions, etc… However, in a new era of decentralized software, I believe we must also uncover an assumption buried into past licenses that a licenses also implicitly includes ownership of data and user accounts created by the software.

Let me say that differently. Since past software has been centrally controlled and administered, it was assumed, that the license-holder of a database owns the data in the database, as well as controlling whatever user accounts and permissions exist for accessing it. Even the most open of organizations (like Wikipedia, who lets you download copies of their databases) can still terminate user accounts or purge spammy advertisements from their database, because it runs on their centrally controlled servers.

Think of your corporate email account. The company you work for can change your password, lock you out of your own email, and they own messages sitting on their server. They control both the identity and the data.

However, what happens when software no longer runs on a central server, but each person publishes data to their own local storage first? Then when that data is intended to be shared, gets published to a shared space (DHT) from your local store. Since Holochain is structured this way, by default each user controls their own data, and via our key management app, they control their own identity, even across any and all Holochain applications. So if a corporation wanted to run a Holochain application under centralized control, instead of generating your own app keys and revocation keys, a corporation would do that and maintain control the revocation keys, so that they could kick you off the system at any time.

On Holochain, to accomplish the old pattern of centralized control that is assumed by software licenses of the past, you essentially have to strip away each user’s control of their own cryptography by owning their keys. This seems like a very different category of USAGE of the software, than Holochain’s native design where users control their own data and identity, thus it merits a different class of license. This isn’t about whether you can copy or change the software, but about how you structure the cyrptographic relationship to users and data generated by the software.

Introducing the Human Commons License

If people run your Holochain app as network of autonomous humans, where each one manages the keys that control their data and identity, then you are operating a “human commons” and operate under that classification as Holochain apps are intended to operate.

However, If you structure the management of keys for the people running your hApp such that you can revoke their keys to the hApp or if you have required them to agree to be stripped of their ownership of data they’ve authored, then this is a commercial classification of the software (not autonomous humans, not a shared commons among them).

We’re still sorting out some of the details for each classification. For example, in the Human Commons case, the software license may be fully free and permissive (like MIT license?), where the commercial usage may be more restrictive (like GPL) such that you’re at least contributing new code back into the commons if you’re taking away people’s identity and data.

However, this classification may be more important to the apps running on top of the Holochain software, than the effect it has on your rights to Holochain. Distinguishing these different usage types at the underlying level lets apps more effectively choose how they want to charge customers. Consider an app like P2P Slack where everyone controls their own data and identity, in contrast to one where a corporation owns the data and user accounts. The builder of that hApp may want to give it freely to those operating a commons, and charge for usage in the corporate case.

New Distinctions in Licensing

Whether you agree with our explorations of increasing restriction on commercial use or not, the point of this article is to call out the importance of distinguishing the fundamentally new patterns of data ownership and identity as part of software licensing concerns for truly P2P software.

In addition to the topic of control of your own data and identity, authored by you and stored on your own device, is the matter of data shared to into a shared space (in Holochain this means published to that apps DHT). For this we look to licenses like Open Data Commons for models there.

What else should we be considering to get licensing of P2P apps right?

Thanks to Eric Harris-Braun. Some rights reserved

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What on earth is the Catalan Integral Cooperative https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/what-on-earth-is-the-catalan-integral-cooperative/2018/09/19 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/what-on-earth-is-the-catalan-integral-cooperative/2018/09/19#respond Wed, 19 Sep 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72682 This summary of our in-depth report on the Catalan Integral Cooperative was originally published in Outgrowing Capitalism. During my research I have encountered several sources which have mentioned the work of the Catalan Integral Cooperative and its philosophy of “Open Cooperativism”. Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation especially promote this organization and its approach, and... Continue reading

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This summary of our in-depth report on the Catalan Integral Cooperative was originally published in Outgrowing Capitalism.

During my research I have encountered several sources which have mentioned the work of the Catalan Integral Cooperative and its philosophy of “Open Cooperativism”. Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation especially promote this organization and its approach, and even helped to fund and publish an in-depth study of it, authored by George Dafermos in October 2017. Dafermos spent several months working alongside members of the CIC and conducting interviews with members. The aim of this report, “The Catalan Integral Cooperative: an organizational study of a post-capitalist cooperative”, which is the main source I am drawing from, was to answer the questions “What is the CIC?” and “How does it work?”. As I will show, the answers to both of these questions are rather more complex than you might think, and after reading the report, left me with more questions than I started with.

 

 

What Is It?

To understand the CIC and what supposedly makes it a “post-capitalist” cooperative in more than ambition, Dafermos says that the “revolutionary activist” character of the cooperative is essential, as is an understanding of its “Open Cooperativism” philosophy, which distinguishes it from both conventional businesses and mainstream cooperatives. According to Dafermos, “the main objective of the CIC is nothing less than to build an alternative economy in Catalonia capable of satisfying the needs of the local community more effectively than the existing system, thereby creating the conditions for the transition to a post-capitalist mode of organization of social and economic life.”(Dafermos, 2017). This mission is what, in my opinion, has lead to the complex organizational structure of various committees, self-employed members, exchange networks and autonomous initiatives, as members experiment with different facets of the economic and social transition from capitalism.

A traditional business-oriented worker cooperative would look at a market, search for a good or service that they could provide and build their business up from there, eventually expanding into other markets if possible. This is the “lean-startup” approach which currently dominates entrepreneurial circles in North America and elsewhere. The CIC takes this supposedly conventional wisdom, and does something entirely different, instead rapidly prototyping and supporting multiple, often wildly dissimilar business models (from hackerspaces to organic farms) and projects at the same time, with the goal of experimenting with and disrupting as many industries as possible and promoting open cooperativism within their sphere of influence.

The main work of the CIC core membership is to facilitate and fund the expansion of these projects through the system of democratic committees and assemblies the CIC uses to govern itself via consensus processes. These committees are

  • Coordination – General administration and internal organization of CIC. Closest thing you’re going to find to an “executive” anything with the CIC
  • Reception – Onboarding and training of new members
  • Communication – outgoing comms, promotion, handling information requests, inter-cooperative networking
  • IT – manages CIC servers, website and software development & support for all members
  • Common Spaces – Facilities management for the AureaSocial building in Barcelona which CIC uses as its headquarters
  • Productive Projects – facilitates connecting members to jobs and promoting cooperative projects
  • Economic Management – provides support to self-employed members as well as manages the finances of CIC as a whole.
  • Legal – Legal support to the CIC committees and its many at-large members
  • Catalan Supply Center – a regional food and craft industry distribution network made up of “rebosts” or local pantries managed autonomously by various groups. The committee mostly focuses on managing the supply chain for this network as a cooperative public service.
  • Network of Science, Technique and Technology (XCTIT) – develops, prototypes and licenses machines and softwares use by CIC projects and affiliated cooperatives.

Basic Income

The members of these committees, according to Dafermos, see themselves less as business-owners and more as activists. So that they have adequate free time to effectively participate, the cooperative supports members financially with a limited “basic-income” salary, paid both in Euros and a local electronic currency called “ecos”. The basic income is meant to be distributed on a basis of need for members to participate fully, and is adjusted accordingly. The highest reported amount for a member’s basic income was 765 Euros + 135 ecos per month. I did not find in the report a breakdown of how many members receive basic income, but based on the participant numbers for each committee, as of late 2017 at least 45 people recieve a good deal of their income through the program. And that is just for management. Many more people are supported by the cooperative’s many projects and programs, either in self-employment or one of many “Autonomous Projects of Collective Initiative”. The basic income program was launched after the start of CIC. Previously all members were volunteers.

Auto-Ocupados

Being self-employed, operating a private practice or a small business in Spain can be prohibitively expensive or otherwise unavailable to those without legal status or financial means to pay the fees on registration and invoicing (the minimum fee is 250 Euros per month). One of CIC’s main services is to manage legal entities that self-employed individuals and collective autonomos in Catalonia can use to surmount these barriers. All of their invoices are processed through the cooperative system, which uses membership fees of 75 Euros (adjusted for income) every three months to sustain itself. There are around 600 self-employed members, but few of them choose to be closely involved with the organizational work of CIC.

Territorial Economic Network

This component of the CIC includes some 2,500 members engaged in various kinds of work connected to the economic system managed by the CIC. The primary unit of this network is the local exchange network and its various nodes, including the consumer-run rebosts (pantries) of the Catalan Supply Center, assemblies who manage the production and distribution of ecos digital currency and the “autonomous projects of collective initiative”, independent projects and businesses that the CIC is involved in through active membership, collaboration and financial/material/legal support. These include

  • A cooperative office building, AureaSocial used by CIC as its headquarters and shared with various other cooperative ventures within the CIC’s network
  • CASX, a financial cooperative dedicated to providing support and interest-free financing to cooperative ventures, and ultimately aimed at attracting widespread consumer investment through a cooperative savings program
  • SOM Pujarnol, a rural bed-and-breakfast and housing cooperative
  • Calafou, a settlement occupying an abandoned industrial village which now produces machine fabrication, professional music recording, handmade soap, lodging and software and event hosting for concerts, festivals and conferences
  • MaCUS, a collaborative machine shop which supports artists, traditional and modern craftspeople and livelihoods by allowing access to a wide range of industrial machines, including everything from a woodshop to a music studio and 3-D printers.

Aerial View of Barcelona

Inside one of the workshops of Calafou

Transactions

Monthly transactions within the alternative economic network

Cooperative Public System

The CIC ultimately aims to promote the development of a “Cooperative Public System” outside the official control of the Spanish and Catalan governments as well as the capitalist market. It seeks to transition systems such as Food, R&D, Education, Housing, Health Transportation and more to a commons-based management and ownership system. Currently, the Catalan Supply Center and XCTIT are the most fully-realized aspects of this goal.

There is No Catalan Integral Cooperative

One of the most interesting facts that turned up in Dafermos’ report is the fact that although the CIC has developed a highly diverse network of legal entities to aid its projects, the CIC itself has no legal status and does not officially exist. Dafermos claims the reason for this is so that the core members have more flexibility when it comes to dealing with the state and its various bureaucratic requirements.

How Does It Work?

According to the Dafermos report, the rough financial breakdown goes like so:

Income Sources

  • Member fees (50%)
  • Tax refunds from self-employment loophole (50%)
  • Donations (minimal)
  • Revenue (Unclear in the report how much this accounts for)

Expenses

  • Basic Income to CIC members
  • Funding for various projects

Most of the economic activity is carried out in a decentralized fashion by the CIC’s various projects and legal entities it manages, leaving an extremely minimal financial burden for the cooperative itself, which may explain why it is able to sustain itself while supporting so many other projects. It relies on reciprocal support and benefits from the diverse cooperative institutions it collaborates with to reproduce itself. As a cooperative, it emphasizes the need for “cooperation among cooperatives” and proves that with a robust enough network, highly experimental forms can be developed into viable organizations.

Decisions are arrived at within the committees through consensus-based democratic processes, and the general membership is organized through assemblies for coordination, which operate on similar principles. Assemblies are organized for individual projects, as well as for coordination between projects. Some committees and assemblies have limited authority over others, such as the financial committee and CASX, which make decisions about funding and have a direct say in each other’s operations, while others are completely autonomous from the main cooperative.

Why Does the CIC Work?

By most conventional standards among cooperative businesses, it shouldn’t. And yet it does, and even appears to be growing through its own organizing and support from the governments of Barcelona and Catalonia. Why is the CIC succeeding where many other politically-motivated cooperatives have failed?

Open Cooperativism

The CIC is founded on the principle of Open Cooperativism, which states that in order to counter isomorphic tendencies (isolation, commodification and protection of intellectual property, exploitation of non-members and the environment) in cooperatives bound to the market system Co-ops must agree to

  • “work for the common good” rather than just their membership
  • Utilize multi-stakeholder governance
  • Use and produce “commons”-based goods in their production and licensing (rather than proprietary means of production)
  • Collaborate globally with the intention of leading an economic transition away from capitalism while focusing on local production and development.

Without this framework, it would be hard to imagine an organization like the CIC existing. Intense focus on collaboration and inter-cooperative reciprocity is what keeps something as decentralized as the CIC afloat.

Clever Exploitation of Tax Loopholes

Apparently, a significant portion of the income comes from tax refunds earned through the self-employment program on each member’s invoices when processed by the state.This is part of the CIC’s larger principal of Economic Disobedience. One of the CIC’s founding members, Enric Duran, became famous for taking out nearly a half-million euros in collateral-free loans from 39 banks and giving it all away in donations to anti-capitalist organizations. After announcing what he had done, Duran fled the country and went on to found FairCoop, an organization based on open cooperativism that focused on promoting global initiatives through legal, financial and technological tools.

Organizing the Self-Employed

Many have talked about organizing the self-employed and so-called independent contractors, but few have succeeded. CIC’s model proves that an extremely broad cross-industrial cooperativism may have some important updates to older models of industrial unionism, which have had a very difficult time organizing the increasing numbers of precariously employed workers in formal and informal jobs.

Diversity of Institutions

The strength of CIC comes from its widely diverse reciprocal networks of exchange. By not relying on any single income source tied to revenue, they are able to exist and experiment with relative freedom compared to more business-oriented cooperatives. Many post-capitalist and mainstream economic transition theories assume that a shift towards less and less formal employment is likely, and a further decentralization of formal employment is already occurring with video-conferencing and telecommuting becoming popular. Many worker cooperatives and labor unions are struggling to adapt to this new paradigm of labor atomization. The CIC’s response is to optimize the countervailing tendency to labor atomization, which is the general growth of the social network across industrial and shop-floor bonds and using that as its primary tool for developing the forms of a future fair and sustainable economy.


Photo by debora elyasy

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Our economy is a degenerative system https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/our-economy-is-a-degenerative-system-2/2018/09/18 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/our-economy-is-a-degenerative-system-2/2018/09/18#respond Tue, 18 Sep 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72564 Republished from Medium.com Impacts of resource hungry exploitative economies “What is 120 times the size of London? The answer: the land or ecological footprint required to supply London’s needs.” — Herbert Giradet Our ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. A number of useful indicators and frameworks have been developed to measure the ecological impact that humanity... Continue reading

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Republished from Medium.com

Impacts of resource hungry exploitative economies

“What is 120 times the size of London? The answer: the land or ecological footprint required to supply London’s needs.” — Herbert Giradet

Our ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. A number of useful indicators and frameworks have been developed to measure the ecological impact that humanity and its dominant economic system with its patterns of production, consumption and waste-disposal are having on the planet and its ecosystems. The measure and methodology for ecological footprinting translates the resource use and the generation of waste of a given population (eg: community, city, or nation) into the common denominator of bio-productive land per person, measured in Global Hectares (Gha), that are needed to provide these resources and absorb those wastes.

Much of the educational power of this tool is its capacity to compare between how much bio-productive land exists on the planet with how much bio-productive land would be needed to sustain current levels of consumption. In addition it also helps us to highlight the stark inequalities in ecological impact that exists between different countries.

Source: Global Footprint Network

Ecological Footprinting is basically an accounting tool that compares how much nature we have and how much nature we use. He are currently using about 50% more ecological resources than nature is regenerating naturally every year.

Source: Global Footprint Network

This point of spending more than is coming in every year — or living of the capital rather than the interest — was reached by humanity in the late-1960s. It is called Ecological Overshoot and every year since Earth Overshoot Day — the day when humanity as a whole has already used up the bio-productivity of Earth in that year — is a little earlier. Here is a little video (3:30 min.) to explain the concepts of ecological overshoot and footprint.

Source: Global Footprint Network

The first Earth Overshoot Day (also referred to as Ecological Debt Day) fell on December 31st of 1968 and by the mid-1970s it was already reached at the end of November. Rapidly rising population numbers and rates of material and energy consumption, along with the accelerating erosion of ecosystems everywhere have resulted in the decline of the planet’s annual ‘bioproductivity’ and a reduction in ecosystems services each year since. Thus, the day on which we overstep the limits of Earth’s annual productivity is occurring earlier and earlier. By 1995 it was on October 10th, in 2005 we reached overshoot by September 3rd, in 2013 on August 20th, and in 2015 on August 13th, and by 2017 on August 2nd!

While agricultural inputs (fossil fuel based fertilizers), irrigation and technological advances have artificially raised the bioproductivity of agricultural land, the continued degradation of ecosystems everywhere leads to a drop in planetary bioproductivity every year. At the same time — the number of humans keeps rising, the average — or fair share — of bioproductive global hectares (gha) available per person has dropped from 3.2 to 1.7 gha from the early 1960s to today.

Source: Living Planet Report 2014

The global average ecological footprint per person is 2.7gha and therefore almost 50% more than would be sustainable (WWF, 2014). Averages are deceiving, as you can see in the graphic above, the five countries with the highest demand on the world’s bioproductivity and resources are consuming nearly half, leaving the other half to be shared among the remaining 190+ nations. We live in a world with extreme economic and ecological inequality!

Source: WWF 2016 Living Planet Report

Metaphorically speaking, if we think of global ecosystems as an apple tree, we can say that globally, until the late 1960s, we limited ourselves to harvesting the apple crop. Since 1968, we have started to eat into the wood of the tree, diminishing the crop that the tree is able to yield. In this way, we are eroding the habitats of other species as well as the bequest that we leave to future generations.

Finding an answer to this challenge through a shift away from fossil fuel and materials sources — a strategy that is moving towards the top of the agenda for today’s political and economic elites — will hardly address the core problem. Our numbers and the levels at which we are consuming are eating into the planet’s natural capital.

WWF’s Living Planet Index, that tracks populations of 3,038 vertebrate species — fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals — from all around the world, has found that the Index has dropped by 52% between 1970 and 2010 (WWF, 2014, p.16). During only 40 years of unbridled consumption and exploitative economics the planet has lost natural capital, bio-diversity and resilience at a catastrophic rate.

Meanwhile, regular reports on fish stocks, the health of soils, rivers and lakes, depletion of aquifers, and rates of deforestation leave us in no doubt that the ecosystems on which we are dependent are under serious stress (see Brown 2008). Lester Brown’s Earth Policy Institute has a data centre that publishes up-to-date research on these developments.

Staying within ‘Planetary Boundaries’

Another way of looking at the ecological impact of our current industrial growth society is the planetary boundaries framework that as first developed by Johann Rockström (video, 4 min.), director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and an international group of researchers in 2009 (download paper). It has been revised in 2015 and the graphic above the heading illustrates the levels to which we are already outside ‘humanity’s safe operating space’ on planet Earth.

There are nine planetary boundaries:

1. Climate change

2. Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)

3. Stratospheric ozone depletion

4. Ocean acidification

5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)

6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)

7. Freshwater use

8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)

9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre (Steffen et al. 2015)

We — as humanity — have already crossed four of these nine boundaries (climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land systems change, and altered biogeochemical cycles). This transgression is directly linked to the cumulative effects of human activity on the planetary system and many of the processes that lead us to crossing these boundaries are linked to our systems of resource exploitation, production and consumption. To address this issue we need a fundamental redesign of how we think about and do economics on a finite and increasingly fragile planet.

NOTE: this is an (edited) excerpt from the Economic Design Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability. The first version of this dimension was written in 2008 by my friend Jonathan Dawson, now Head of Economics of Transition at Schumacher College. In 2015–2016, I revised the Design for Sustainability course substantially and rewrote this dimension with more up-to-date information and the research that I had done for my book Designing Regenerative Cultures.

The next installment of the Economic Design Dimension starts on March 19th, 2018 and runs for 8 weeks online. You can join the Design for Sustainability course at any point during the year.

Photo by brianscantlebury.com

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​Strengthening the Movement for a Cooperative Digital Economy Through The Platform Co-op Development Kit https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/%e2%80%8bstrengthening-the-movement-for-a-cooperative-digital-economy-through-the-platform-co-op-development-kit/2018/09/18 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/%e2%80%8bstrengthening-the-movement-for-a-cooperative-digital-economy-through-the-platform-co-op-development-kit/2018/09/18#respond Tue, 18 Sep 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72649 What is the Kit? The Platform Co-op Development Kit is a multi-year project that advances the cooperative digital economy. The Kit is a project by the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, homed at The New School in New York City, in collaboration with the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Toronto, and platform co-op communities... Continue reading

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What is the Kit?

The Platform Co-op Development Kit is a multi-year project that advances the cooperative digital economy. The Kit is a project by the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, homed at The New School in New York City, in collaboration with the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University in Toronto, and platform co-op communities worldwide.

The motivation behind this project is that we are approached, almost daily with the question of how to start a platform co-op. The work of the Kit is two-fold. First, we provide a range of resources that make it easier to start a platform co-op. Second, we will offer tools not simply by building coop technology but technology that will allow the platform co-op ecosystem to grow. We started the co-design process by engaging five pilot platform co-ops in Brazil, Germany, Australia, the United States, and India. The pilot groups:

• 3,000 babysitters in Illinois organized by the Service Workers Union looking for an onboarding, labor, and purchasing platform;

young urban women in Ahmedabad, India who are part of the SEWA Federation of co-ops bringing beauty services to people’s homes through an app;

trash pickers currently operating in Sao Paolo and Recife, Brazil, whose work recycling trash makes up more than 90 percent of Brazil’s entire recycling capacity;

refugee women in Germany, starting in Hamburg with Syrian, Albanian, and Iranian women, who plan to offer a platform co-op for child care services and elder care;

• homecare workers in Australia, the only worker co-op in social care in Australia, that is seeking to build a governance tool for its remote rural members.

All open source tools that we will design with these groups will be customizable for a range of platform co-ops in various sectors and countries.

Initiated with a $1,000,000 grant from Google.org, this project seeks to raise a total of $10,000,000.

By building a broad coalition, our team will engage people around the globe who are seeking to learn about and then build platform co-ops with their communities.

By working with pilot groups in various sectors — from home services, garbage-recycling and beauty services, to child and elder care — we will demonstrate how the cooperative approach plays out in the digital economy. We will work with co-ops, technologists, policy facilitators, researchers, and freelancers to advance the movement for a cooperative digital economy. Watch an video introduction about this work here.

Read the press releases about the Kit from the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, The New School, and OCAD University. Explore how this work connects with Google.org’s “Future of Work” Initiative here. Read media coverage about the project with recent articles from Fast Company (also discussing the question of accepting Google funding), Shareable, and Philanthropy News Digest.

Goals of the Kit

Over the next two years, with the support of the platform co-op community, we will develop open source tools for use worldwide; and provide various resources such as essential legal, intellectual, and entrepreneurial resources that make it easier to start a platform co-op. This work depends on collaborations with cooperators around the world coming together to support one another and advance this movement.

These goals will be met through the following deliverables:

• Creation of open source labor platforms and online governance tools through co-design processes with five pilot groups, tailored to be extensible and customizable for other platform co-ops with similar needs;

• Development of an online wikipedia-style learning commons, activated by informal as well as institutional online learning groups in several countries;

• Development of a curriculum about the cooperative digital economy to be distributed with undergraduate and graduate programs in business schools and law schools as well as acceleratorator programs;

• Creation of a data-rich, interactive map of platform co-ops, and supporting organizations and individuals;

• Development of an international network of lawyers to provide legal resources to assist the launch of (platform) co-ops;

• Development of a global narrative co-written by co-op workers, researchers, unionistas, technologists, and policymakers.

• Ongoing reports and analysis about work in progress made available to the public online, and regular calls for community engagement and input

Strategy for Achieving Goals

The design and development of the tools will be guided by the platform co-op communities themselves. Full cycles of co-design, prototyping, implementation & evaluation will ensure that the tools fulfill the needs of the community. Additionally, by working with diverse pilot organizations and populations, our team will provide essential assistance to platform coops of all stripes, and to workers with many socioeconomic backgrounds. This reverses the dominant pattern of platform development which typically excludes marginalized groups, contributing to greater economic and social inequities. The project places vulnerable and marginalized workers at the center.

Creating a supporting infrastructure for platform co-ops through a learning commons, interactive map, cooperative curriculum development, and legal resources will launch simultaneously with pilot group work. Website development will be lead by the IDRC team, and we continue to engage with a number of collaborators to generate the various components that will eventually make up the online ecosystem. To achieve both goals, time and resources will be split over the next two years, with 70% of efforts going towards the pilot groups, and 30% towards the projects’s online learning components.

Finally, the project will run as an open and transparent community. All resources and updates will be available online to any prospective or existing co-op, and all interested persons. Explore recent updates, for example, from the IDRC on the Kit and our work with the pilot groups thus far. And review our blog updates documenting recent visits with our Hamburg and SEWA pilot groups.

Through collaboration with pilot groups and by engaging individuals committed to the movement, the toolkit grows from small successes. As our work progresses, we will engage other cooperative ventures, organizations, and individuals who can contribute different resources and services to advance this critical project. Stay up to date on our work so that now or in the near future, we can draw on the expertise of the community and find ways of collaborating.

How We Will Measure Success

Grant activities started on July 1, 2018 and will conclude with Google on July 2020. Iterations of the deliverables and prototypes will be freely available and open to critique and input as our work advances. A broader measurement of the project’s impact, however, will not be available until completion.

We will consider the project a success if the Kit was implemented by low income workers in at least three pilot groups & successfully transferred to at least one other labor market. Success would be based on the evidence of higher wages, better working conditions, democratic governance within the enterprise, & potential for scaling this work to more workers. Due to the nature of this work, these metrics can only be measured upon the completion of the project. In the same way a highway’s efficacy cannot be measured while it is still under construction, so too can the pilot groups’ effects not be known until full completion and implementation.

During the project, the Platform Cooperativism Consortium will provide qualitative research investigations and progress reports on the pilot groups. Written reports will provide big-picture analysis, and highlight successes, failures, best practices, and other findings from the pilot groups. These reports will also discuss the feasibility of these models applying to other industries or regions, and when applicable, offer policy recommendations.

For strengthening the platform co-op economic movement and building an online infrastructure of support, we will fulfill these objectives:

• Engage a variety of unique platform co-ops in distinct countries to facilitate the scaling of our labor platform and distributed governance tools

•Establish active learning groups engaged with our content online in at various countries

• Deliver high profile talks and media publications about Kit work

• Create a global narrative co-written by stakeholders and make it available for translation in different languages.

• Create and distribute a curriculum to shared with business schools, law schools, undergraduate or graduate programs at universities.

• Develop policy briefs and engage different political parties to consider

• Develop and share platform co-op worker testimonials to be hosted online

• Generate traffic to the platform.coop website with blogs and a new site design

We will also use non-parametric methodologies of measurement so that we do not impose a particular notion of success onto groups that are marginalized and have already suffered from the effects of traditional “successful” interventions.

The outcomes of the Kit will be diverse and variable, but collectively the change will be significant. We hope to reach the most marginalized of platform workers and build our work from their perspective. To achieve this we need to look beyond predetermined measures of success. If we only concern ourselves with measuring success through quantitative metrics, then we would be forced to develop quick interventions that scale quickly. We would be merely recreating the platforms of the past that have contributed to existing economic and social inequities and further marginalization. That is a strategy of the exploitative, extractive companies we hope not to emulate.

Instead, the project will demonstrate that we have only scratched the surface of imagining the possibilities for the cooperative digital economy. While our work over the next two years can begin to address the urgent needs for more organized research and infrastructure to support platform co-ops, more importantly, it will lay the foundation for future researchers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, co-op workers, technologists, and many others to pick-up this work and carry it forward in new directions.

Please consider joining us in this critical work. We need the time and energy of many people for this work to succeed. If you think you can help, please write to us at info@platform.coop and we can share more on how to get involved.

 

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Douglas Rushkoff on the importance of human connection in the digital age https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/douglas-rushkoff-on-the-importance-of-human-connection-in-the-digital-age/2018/09/17 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/douglas-rushkoff-on-the-importance-of-human-connection-in-the-digital-age/2018/09/17#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72637 Douglas Rushkoff, speaking at this summer’s Future Fest explores the importance of human connection in the digital age. About Team Human A provocative, exciting, and important rallying cry to reassert our human spirit of community and teamwork.”―Walter Isaacson Though created by humans, our technologies, markets, and institutions often contain an antihuman agenda. Douglas Rushkoff, digital... Continue reading

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Douglas Rushkoff, speaking at this summer’s Future Fest explores the importance of human connection in the digital age.

About Team Human

A provocative, exciting, and important rallying cry to reassert our human spirit of community and teamwork.”―Walter Isaacson

Though created by humans, our technologies, markets, and institutions often contain an antihuman agenda. Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of the podcast Team Human, reveals the dynamics of this antihuman machinery and invites us to remake these aspects of society in ways that foster our humanity.

In 100 aphoristic statements, his manifesto exposes how forces for human connection have turned into ones of isolation and repression: money, for example, has transformed from a means of exchange to a means of exploitation, and education has become an extension of occupational training. Digital-age technologies have only amplified these trends, presenting the greatest challenges yet to our collective autonomy: robots taking our jobs, algorithms directing our attention, and social media undermining our democracy. But all is not lost. It’s time for Team Human to take a stand, regenerate the social bonds that define us and, together, make a positive impact on this earth.

Sourced from Amazon’s book description

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Everything for everyone: Michel Bauwens interviews Nathan Schneider https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/everything-for-everyone-michel-bauwens-interviews-nathan-schneider/2018/09/17 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/everything-for-everyone-michel-bauwens-interviews-nathan-schneider/2018/09/17#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72482 The P2P Foundation has followed the work of Nathan Schneider for years, starting with his reporting on Occupy, followed by his visit to our FLOK project in Ecuador in 2014 (the first commons transition project undertaken at the invitation of nation-state institutions). Nathan was then instrumental in setting up, with Trebor Scholz, the platform cooperative... Continue reading

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The P2P Foundation has followed the work of Nathan Schneider for years, starting with his reporting on Occupy, followed by his visit to our FLOK project in Ecuador in 2014 (the first commons transition project undertaken at the invitation of nation-state institutions). Nathan was then instrumental in setting up, with Trebor Scholz, the platform cooperative movement and conferences. He is now teaching in Boulder, CO, but also keeping up his reporting on the cooperative movement, and a spiritually engaged progressive. His latest book, Everything for Everyone, has a chapter on the experience in Ecuador (excerpted below). Here is an interview about this very interesting book about the past, present and future of the cooperative movement and how it intersects with the revival of the commons.

Michel Bauwens: Dear Nathan, this is not your first book. Could you give our readers a short overview of your “life in books”, i.e. how each subsequent book is linked to the other, eventually leading to the insights and motivations that resulted in your new book on the future of the cooperative tradition ?

Nathan Schneider: It does seem like a rather baffling path. First, a book on arguments about God, then a close-up on Occupy Wall Street, and now co-ops. But it all makes sense in my head somehow. The overriding challenge for me has always been that of capturing how people bring their highest ambitions into the realities of the world. I’m drawn to people with both adventuresome imaginations and the audacity to put them into practice.

This book followed especially naturally from the Occupy one, Thank You, Anarchy. After the protests died down in 2012 and 2013, I started noticing that some of the activists I’d been following got involved in cooperative businesses. The first business I know of that started at Occupy Wall Street was a worker co-op print shop. Other people were helping create co-ops in areas of New York hit by Hurricane Sandy. There was this euphoria about the idea of co-ops among many of these people—a way of earning a livelihood while retaining the democratic values of the protests. I experienced a bit of that euphoria myself, which turned to a more serious fascination as I realized how long and deep this cooperative tradition has been.

MB: Can you tell us about the evolution of your engagement with Platform Cooperativism?

NS: Pretty early on in this work, I started seeing opportunities for cooperatives in tech. I’ve long been a tinkerer with free software and open source, so I’d been used to thinking of technology as a kind of commons. But this came to a head around 2014, when more and more people were wising up to the fact that Silicon Valley’s so-called “sharing economy”—which was then becoming mainstream—really didn’t have much to do with sharing. Especially under the guidance of the OuiShare network based in Paris, Neal Gorenflo of Shareable, and of course the P2P Foundation, I started noticing that a few entrepreneur-activists were trying to figure out a real sharing economy, with sharing built into the companies themselves. This was a hack open-source software was missing; those people had hacked intellectual property law but they’d left the extractive, investor-controlled corporation unscathed. Now it was time to rethink the logic of companies, and the old cooperative tradition seemed like a sensible place to start.

In late 2014 I teamed up with Trebor Scholz, who had been thinking along similar lines, and the following year we organized the first platform co-op conference at the New School in New York. The response was way beyond what we had expected, and we had the germ of a movement in our midst. The more I was getting approached by new startups trying to create platform co-ops, the more I found myself turning to history in order to be able to offer advice based on some kind of evidence. The more I did that, the more I discovered how much there is to learn and to draw from.

MB: How do you see the relations between cooperativism and the commons? Could they possibly merge?

NS: I regard cooperatives as a kind of commons, a mode of commoning that has made itself legible to the industrial-era state and market. Compared to the visions of many commons activists today, however, the co-op tradition is quite conservative. I like its conservatism; it makes for fewer wheels in need of simultaneous reinvention. As a storyteller, I find it can be hard to tell stories about the more cutting-edge commoners because the challenges they are taking on are so hard, and so new, that people who lack an ideological commitment aren’t going to stick around for long. Cooperatives are a way of introducing people to a radical vision of the commons that also includes familiar stuff like Visa, Associated Press, and the credit union down the street. But I wouldn’t claim cooperatives are sufficient. They’re a starting point, a gateway to more diverse and widespread commoning.

Another concern: Cooperatives are all about old-fashioned property and ownership. I’m sympathetic to the “property is theft” vein of anarchism, but I also think it’s a mistake for commoners to relinquish ownership before the lords do—as the sharing economy proposed. That’s feudalism. Open-source software developers relinquished ownership over the code for Linux, and now it powers history’s most effective corporate surveillance tool, the Android operating system. As Piketty demonstrates, capital ownership (more than wage income) is the driving force behind economic inequality. The cooperative tradition is a way of distributing ownership more equitably. That will put us in a better position to shift toward a world in which property is less important and we can meet more of our needs through the commons. Commoners need to claim their rights from a position of strength.

MB: One of your chapters reviews the experience of one of your interviewers and the FLOK Society project in Ecuador. What is your evaluation of that experience?

NS: The experience of FLOK, which was an effort to craft a country-sized commons transition, was very instructive for me. It was a chance to see commoning presented as a comprehensive social vision, not just as a series of isolated interventions. Cooperatives were a critical ingredient in all that, of course. And of course, too, the Ecuadorian government’s follow-through was very limited. But that process led to the Commons Transition resources, which have been invaluable for articulating in a comprehensive way what all this is about. For me it was a magnificent education. Everyone should have that experience once in a while—to participate in crafting a plan for the future of the world.

MB: Your engagement is strongly linked to your faith. How can one be a progressive Christian in this day and age?  Do you link to particular elements in that tradition?

NS: The more I got to know the cooperative tradition, the more I found it to be bound together with religious traditions. I saw this especially in my own Catholic tradition, which produced such examples as the North American cooperative banks and the great Mondragon worker cooperatives, but similar examples can be found in so many other faiths as well. I wouldn’t say that cooperation is in any way reducible to religion or dependent on it, but as with so many other major forces in our world, religion plays a vital and mysterious role.

I was personally grateful to discover, through this work, some new patron saints. For instance, Clare of Assisi, co-founder of the Franciscan order, insisted in the Middle Ages that her nuns should have the right to self-govern, and that all voices should be heard. John A. Ryan, a prominent Catholic economist in the early 20th century United States, wrote beautifully about the moral education that comes through cooperative business. Albert J. McKnight, also a priest, brought a Pan-Africanist vision to the development of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. And those of us trapped in English are in dire need of more translations from the work of José María Arizmendiarrieta, the half-blind priest who founded the Mondragon co-ops. Each of these people turned to cooperative economics out of a deep-rooted faith that God has endowed each of us with the dignity to be capable and deserving of co-governing our communities.

MB: How do you see the coming ‘phase transition’ unfold? How optimistic are you that humanity can pull this through?

NS: I’m not big on predictions, despite the subtitle of the book. But what I do know is that, if we decide we want to practice democracy in richer ways than most of us do now, we’re capable of it. The past makes that clear enough. It’s perfectly possible that someday we’ll look back and laugh at the current condition of vast inequalities and autocratic corporations and the occasional ballot box. But at present it seems just as likely that we’ll give up on democracy entirely as that we’ll opt for ever more excellent forms of it.


The following excerpt is republished from Everything for Everyone, by Nathan Schneider:

Phase Transition

Commonwealth

The first time I saw it, I took the metaphor literally. “We will all meet in Quito for a ‘crater-​like summit,’“ the website said. “We will ascend the sides of the volcano together in order to go down to the crater and work.” Alongside those words was a picture of Quilotoa, a caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes where a blue-​green lake has accumulated in the hole left by a cataclysmic eruption seven hundred years ago, enclosed by the volcano’s two-​mile-​wide rim.

What the website beckoned visitors to was something less geologically spectacular than Quilotoa, but possibly earth-​shaking in its own right. The government of Ecuador had sponsored a project to develop policies for a new kind of economy, one based on concepts more familiar in hackerspaces and startups than in legislatures. The project was called FLOK Society—free, libre, open knowledge. Its climactic event, which took place in May 2014, was called a summit, but the nod to Quilotoa’s crater was a way of saying this wasn’t the usual top-​down policy meeting. Nor were the people behind it the usual policymakers.

Michel Bauwens, the fifty-​six-​year-​old leader of the FLOK Society research team, held no PhD, nor experience in government, nor steady job, nor health insurance. A native of Belgium, he lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife and their two children, except when he left on long speaking tours. He dressed simply—a T‑shirt to the first day of the summit, then a striped tie the day of his big address. His graying hair was cropped close around his bald crown like a monk’s. He spoke softly; people around him tended to listen closely. The Spanish hacktivists and Ecuadorian bureaucrats who dreamed up FLOK chose for their policy adviser an unemployed commoner.

If Ecuador was to leapfrog ahead of the global hegemons, it would need a subversive strategy. “It’s precisely because the rest of the world is tending toward greater restrictions around knowledge that we have to figure out ways of producing that don’t fall within the confines of these predominant models,” Ecuador’s minister of education, science, technology, and innovation, Rene Ramirez, told me. He and other government officials were talking about dispensing with such strictures as copyright, patents, and corporate hierarchies. “We are essentially pioneers in this endeavor. We’re breaking new ground.”

At first this was a subversion mutually beneficial to guests and hosts alike. Several months before the summit, Bauwens said that FLOK was a “sideways hack” — of the country, maybe even of the global economy. “It’s taking advantage of a historic opportunity to do something innovative and transformative in Ecuador.” He saw a chance to set the conditions for a commonwealth.

FLOK bore the style and contradictions of Ecuador’s brand at the time. The president, Rafael Correa, sometimes spoke in favor of open-​source software; WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been living in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012. Even while exploiting rain-​forest oil resources and silencing dissenters, Correa’s administration called for changing the country’s “productive matrix” from reliance on finite resources in the ground to the infinite possibilities of unfettered information. Yet most of the North Americans I met in Quito were out of a job because Correa had recently outlawed foreign organizations, likely for circulating inconvenient information about human rights.

As the summit approached, local politicians seemed to evade Bauwens and the team of researchers he’d brought there. Team members weren’t paid on time. Two dozen workshops about open knowledge took place across the country, with mixed response. By the time I met Bauwens in the gaudy apartment he was renting in Quito, a few days before the summit began, he looked exhausted from infighting with the Spaniards and wresting his staff‘s salaries from the government. “It’s going to be a much harder fight than I anticipated,” he said.

Bauwens had a knack for seeking out potent knowledge. He grew up in Belgium as the only child of two orphan parents. His curiosities drifted from Marxism as a teenager to, as an adult, various Californian spiritualities, which led him to Asian ones, then esoteric sects like Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. Meanwhile, Bauwens put his cravings to work in business. He worked as an analyst for British Petroleum and then, in the early 1990s, started a magazine that helped introduce Flemish readers to the promise of the internet. As an executive at Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecommunications company, he guided its entry into the online world by acquiring startups. And then, in 2002, he’d had enough. He quit, then moved with his second wife to her family’s home in Chiang Mai.

“Capitalism is a paradoxical system, where even the ruling class has a crappy life,” he says. He started to believe his unhappiness had cataclysmic causes.

For two years in Thailand, Bauwens read history. He studied the fall of Rome and the rise of feudalism—a ”phase transition,” as he puts it. It was an age when the previous civilization was in crisis, and he concluded that what led the way forward was a shift in the primary modes of production. The Roman slave system collapsed, and then networks of monasteries spread innovations across Europe, helping to sow the seeds of the new order. What emerged was an interplay of craft guilds organizing free cities, warlords ruling from behind castle walls, and peasants living off common land. As the feudal system grew top-​heavy, networks of merchants prepared the way for the commercial, industrial reordering that followed.

With the internet’s networks, he came to believe that industrial civilization faced a crisis of comparable import, as well as the germ of what could come next. He zeroed in on the notion of commons-​based peer production— the modes by which online networks enable people to create and share horizontally, not as bosses and employees but as equals. It was a new rendition of the old medieval commons, but poised to become the dominant paradigm, not just a means of survival at the peripheries. He set out to find examples of where this world-​transformation was already taking place. By seeking, he found.

The bulk of Bauwens’ oeuvre lives on the collaborative wiki that long served as the website of his Foundation for Peer‑to‑Peer Alternatives—the P2P Foundation, for short. Its more than thirty thousand pages, which he has compiled with more than two thousand online coauthors, include material on topics from crowdsourcing to distributed energy to virtual currencies. His life’s work takes the form of a commons.

Bauwens tends to talk about his vision in the communal “we,” speaking not just for himself but for a movement in formation. He borrows a lot of the terms he relies on from others, then slyly fits them into a grander scheme than the originators envisioned. Put another way: “I steal from everyone.” Nevertheless, one is hard-​pressed to locate any enemies; rather than denouncing others, he tends to figure out a place for them somewhere in his system.

It was in and for Ecuador, together with his team, that Bauwens mapped out the next world-​historical phase transition for the first time. He believes that cooperatives are the event horizon. They’re bubbles of peer‑to‑peer potential that can persist within capitalism, and they can help the coming transition proceed.

They can decentralize production through local makerspaces while continually improving a common stock of open-​source designs. They can practice open-​book accounting to harmonize their supply chains and reduce carbon emissions. Open intellectual-​property licenses can help them share their resources for mutual benefit. As these networks grow, so will the commons they build, which will take over roles now played by government and private markets. Soon all the free-​flowing information, combined with co‑op businesses, will turn the economy into a great big Wikipedia or Linux—by anyone, for anyone. The industrial firm, whether capitalist or cooperative, will dissolve into collaborations among peers. Bauwens calls this process “cooperative accumulation.”

Co‑ops are not an end in themselves. They’re not the destination. But they’re the passageway to a peer‑to‑peer commons. “We see it as the strategic sector,” he told me. New cooperative experiments were spreading from Mississippi to Syria, and here was a chance to show how they could grow to the scale of an entire country.

The Quito convention center is a two-​story complex with stately white columns and hallways enclosed in walls of glass. Visible just a few blocks away is the National Congress building, the supposed destination of FLOK Society’s proposals. Volcanoes stand in the distance behind it, the city rising up as high on their slopes as it can manage. During the four days of the “Good Knowledge Summit,” as the event was called, bureaucrats in business casual worked alongside hackers in T‑shirts to develop and distill the discussions into policy.

The opening night included bold pronouncements. “This is not just an abstract dream,” said Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s minister of knowledge and human talent. “Many of the things we talk about these days will become a reality.” Rather than tax havens, added the subsecretary of science, technology, and innovation, Rina Pazos, “we need to establish havens of open and common knowledge.”

Bauwens spent most of his time in the sessions on policies for cooperatives. In Ecuador, as in many places, it is harder to start a co‑op than a private company. The Canadian co‑op expert John Restakis, a member of Bauwens’s research team, called on Ecuadorian officials to loosen the regulations and reporting requirements on co‑ops, and to enable more flexible, multi-stakeholder structures. The officials pushed back; the regulations were there for a reason, after waves of co‑op failures and abuses. Restakis and Bauwens pressed on. They wanted Ecuador’s government to serve as what they called a “partner state,” nurturing commons-​oriented activities without seeking to direct or control them.

By the summit’s end, the working groups had amassed a set of proposals, some more developed than others: wiki textbooks and free software in schools, open government data, new licenses for indigenous knowledge, community seed banks, a decentralized university. Mario Andino, the newly elected governor of Sigchos, one of Ecuador’s poorer regions, wanted to develop open-​source farm tools for difficult hillside terrain. Before the summit, Bauwens visited Sigchos and received a standing ovation for his presentation. “We could be a model community,” Andino said. But there were no promises.

Over the course of his life, Plato made several journeys from Athens to Syracuse, in Sicily, with the hope of making it a model of the kind of society he described in his Republic. The rulers there, however, fell far short of being the philosopher-​kings he needed; he returned home to retire and compose a more cynical kind of political theory. If not quite so discouraged, Bauwens seemed adrift after the summit ended. The work of FLOK Society was now in the hands of the Ecuadorians, and by that time, there was little indication the government would take more from the whole effort than a publicity stunt. Bauwens was already starting to look toward the next iteration; thanks in part to the process in Ecuador, there were signs of interest from people in Spain, Greece, Brazil, Italy, and Seattle. The same month as the summit, Cooperation Jackson held its Jackson Rising conference.

“Recognition by a nation-​state brings the whole idea of the commons to a new level,” Bauwens said. “We have to abandon the idea, though, that we can hack a country. A country and its people are not an executable program.”

Excerpted from Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition That Is Shaping the Next Economy by Nathan Schneider. Copyright © 2018. Available from Nation Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Photo by thisisbossi

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Bringing platform cooperatives to Japan: Q&A with Mathias Sager https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/bringing-platform-cooperatives-to-japan-qa-with-mathias-sager/2018/09/16 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/bringing-platform-cooperatives-to-japan-qa-with-mathias-sager/2018/09/16#respond Sun, 16 Sep 2018 10:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72679 Nithin Coca: The Platform Cooperative Japan Consortium (PCJ) is the first organization in Asia focused on promoting the idea of platform cooperatives — businesses that bring the structure of traditional cooperatives, including worker ownership and governance — to the digital world. PCJ was founded by Mathias Sager and is directly connected to the New York City-based Platform Cooperativism network (Shareable is... Continue reading

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Nithin Coca: The Platform Cooperative Japan Consortium (PCJ) is the first organization in Asia focused on promoting the idea of platform cooperatives — businesses that bring the structure of traditional cooperatives, including worker ownership and governance — to the digital world. PCJ was founded by Mathias Sager and is directly connected to the New York City-based Platform Cooperativism network (Shareable is a member of this cohort). Originally from Switzerland, Sager has spent several years living in Japan. Besides his work with PCJ, he is an independent researcher, social entrepreneur, and leadership and strategy adviser for Japanese and global organizations. He is also pursuing a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Liverpool in the U.K.

The consortium has members from Japanese academia, the country’s existing cooperative sector and civil society. In a short period, they have already organized several events with the goal of introducing the platform cooperative idea to Japan, and localizing it as a solution for the country’s economic and social challenges. We spoke with Sager to learn more about PCJ and the potential for platform cooperatives in Japan.

Mathias Sager (fourth from left) at Platform Cooperative Japan Consortium event. Photo courtesy of PCJ.

Nithin Coca, Shareable: What is Platform Cooperative Consortium doing to spread the platform co-op idea in Japan?

Mathias Sager, Platform Cooperative Japan Consortium: Our mission is to support the cooperative digital economy through research, experimentation, education, advocacy, documentation of best practices, technical assistance, the coordination of funding, and events.

Our web presence is helping us to reach potential PCJ stakeholders. Currently, we want to extend our online visibility in the social co-op Fediverse and on Mastodon in particular as a Twitter alternative, where there is already a lively user base in Japan as well. Part of our work is to actively contact organizations and individuals who could potentially be interested in the Platform Cooperativism concept and in becoming a member of the PCJ Consortium. As we did in the past regularly, we continue to organize PCJ public events at which we present the concept and discuss with the audience. Besides own events, we welcome guest speaking opportunities as, for example, at the J-Global Institute of Collaboration or at Nerd Nite. Also, other events such as Social Innovation Japan provide a good possibility to spread the word further.

Can you explain more about the challenges facing Japan that platform co-ops could address?

Japan’s economic growth rate in the past 10 years has been averaging in between 0-2 percent range, with negative 4 percent being the lowest in 2009, after the Lehman shock. Japan is hyper-aging and its population is declining due to low fertility. With this aging population and declining working-age population, economic researchers estimate Japan’s potential growth rate no more than 1 percent.

It is deeply worrying today that youth in Japan are often unable to find regular jobs after graduation. Platform co-ops should be able to help this lost generation and provide the many free part-timers fairer job opportunities. It is not the younger talents who are in decision power — due to seniority-based promotion systems, only 9 percent of Japanese managers are below the age of 40, compared to 62 percent in India and 76 percent in China. Hidden under the low unemployment rates are often precarious labor conditions. Working poor comprise an increasingly larger segment of the working population. For example, it could be a promising way to form freelancer-cooperatives who create or work for platform co-ops. Platform co-ops could also emerge from rural revitalization initiatives.

The private and public sector are struggling to address the challenges in personal care, especially for the increasing number of elderly. In Japanese culture, women are still widely encouraged to stay at home. Although women are also used to drive corporate profits, they are not sufficiently supported in their burden of child-rearing mothers at the same time though. Japan’s corporations, long heralded for their lifetime employment strategy, demand long office hours, which keeps fathers away from their families. However, Platform Cooperativism can be an answer to these issues by responding to the desire for more work-life harmony for all. … Cooperatives, and platform cooperatives, can help revitalize the Japanese economy.

Doesn’t Japan already have a large cooperative sector? Can platform co-ops build on that?

Japan is known for its mostly consumer cooperative tradition. Indeed, roughly one-third of Japanese households belong to co-ops. Cooperatives have long been an organizational solution to labor exploitation. Platform cooperatives strive to bring the concept of ownership to the digital economy, exploring not just employee ownership but also user data ownership. We can revitalize cooperative idea with platform cooperatives that will speak to a younger generation because they understand that something is wrong. … Millennials, in particular, may appreciate the opportunities for a better work-life balance. Cooperatives might be able to provide such a balance in addition to purpose and identification. Furthermore, cooperative governance can be designed to reward performance, therefore supporting personal growth in many ways.

What are your future plans and how do you hope to engage your target audiences?

When presenting Platform Cooperativism as a fairer user-worker-owned model of running online platforms, I often hear answers like “that’s a great idea, but it’s too difficult to realize.”

While grassroots efforts are essential, the cooperative way should also be supported top-down as a political priority. A cooperative economy can not only be profitable but by not passing excess profits to just a few it is also able to provide for welfare benefits and community development where often tax paid government efforts failed in demonstrating sufficiently sustainable effects.

The movement is relevant for any individual and organization that is valuing sustainable online platform solutions. Cooperative values ensure that the prosperity and decision-making can be shared between value creators working together for mutual benefit and the transition to a more equitable platform economy.

Platform co-ops could be of local scope but are inherently able to function cross-border in the world wide web to build global membership bases. A parallel development and step-by-step convergence of national and international segments may provide a Japan specific avenue to keep the politics local and open up to international users for global cooperation at the same time. I had the idea to coin the term of “sato-digital” as derived from satoyama or satoumiSato () means village and yama () means mountain. One definition is “the management of forests through local agricultural communities.” More recently, satoyama has been defined not only as mixed community forests, but also as entire landscapes that are used for agriculture. In that sense, Sato-digital could be translated into, suitable to the platform co-op concept — the management of a digital business through (respectively “by, of, and for”) the local digital community and the broader platform co-op ecosystem in Japan.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Header image by Pawel Janiak via Unsplash

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The Not-for-Profit World Our Hearts Know is Possible https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-not-for-profit-world-our-hearts-know-is-possible/2018/09/15 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-not-for-profit-world-our-hearts-know-is-possible/2018/09/15#respond Sat, 15 Sep 2018 10:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72542 Presentation by Prof. Donnie Maclurcan (@donmacca) of the Post Growth Institute (@postgrowth) on the Not-for-Profit World model, designed in collaboration with Jennifer Hinton (@hintojen) and Sarah Reibstein (@sarahreibstein) Hosted at London South Bank University (@LSBU), 6th Oct., by Prof. Ros Wade (@RosWade1). Filmed by Jeremy Williams (@jeremy_willaims) of www.makewealthhistory.org. Event organised by Gudrun Freese (@doshorts)... Continue reading

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Presentation by Prof. Donnie Maclurcan (@donmacca) of the Post Growth Institute (@postgrowth) on the Not-for-Profit World model, designed in collaboration with Jennifer Hinton (@hintojen) and Sarah Reibstein (@sarahreibstein)

Hosted at London South Bank University (@LSBU), 6th Oct., by Prof. Ros Wade (@RosWade1).

Filmed by Jeremy Williams (@jeremy_willaims) of www.makewealthhistory.org.

Event organised by Gudrun Freese (@doshorts) from www.dosustainability.com.

Visit Postgrowth.org.

Photo by Medieval Karl

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Decentralising the web: The key takeaways https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/decentralising-the-web-the-key-takeaways/2018/09/14 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/decentralising-the-web-the-key-takeaways/2018/09/14#respond Fri, 14 Sep 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72506 Republished with permission from UK technology site Computing John Leonard: The Decentralized Web Summit is over – what’s next? Earlier this month a rather unusual tech event took place in San Francisco. The Decentralized Web Summit played host to a gathering of web luminaries such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Brewster Kahle and Vint Cerf. On... Continue reading

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Republished with permission from UK technology site Computing

John Leonard: The Decentralized Web Summit is over – what’s next?

Earlier this month a rather unusual tech event took place in San Francisco.

The Decentralized Web Summit played host to a gathering of web luminaries such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Brewster Kahle and Vint Cerf. On top of that, activists and authors and screenwriters such as Jennifer Stisa Granick, Emili Jacobi, Mike Judge and Cory Doctorow put in an appearance, as did cryptocurrency pioneers like Zooko Wilcox, blockchain developers, and academics.

Then, there was what the Guardian‘s John Harris calls the Punk Rock Internet – companies like MaidSafe and Blockstack who play by their own decentralised rules.

Oh, and there was a sprinkling of techies from Microsoft, Google (Vint Cerf and others) and Mozilla in attendance too, along with a handful of venture capitalists looking for opportunities.

Uniting this diverse selection of delegates was the challenge of fixing the centralising tendencies of the internet and web.

Simply put, the internet’s reliance on centralised hubs of servers and data centres means that the more servers you control the more power you have, with all the negative consequences that follow from the creation of data-haves and data-have-nots.

To redress the balance, data needs to be freed from silos with control handed back to users, but how to do that while retaining the convenience and ease-of-use of the current web?

Aside from the inevitable resistance by the powers that be, this turns out to be quite the technical challenge.

One task among a set of complex interlocking challenges is to separate data from the applications that use it. People could then store their personal data where they choose, granting or limiting access by applications as they please. For example, Berners-Lee’s Solid platform enables everyone to have multiple ‘pods’ for their data allowing for fine-grained control.

Another element is authentication, ensuring that the data owner really is who they say they are, while ensuring real identities remain private by default.

Networking needs to be peer-to-peer rather than hub-and-spoke, with copies of files stored across multiple machines for redundancy and speed of throughput in a manner that users of torrent-based file-sharing services will be familiar with, but adding far more control and performance features.

And above all it will need to be easy to use, low latency and simple for developers to create decentralised applications for.

Computing contacted a number of contributors to the Summit before and after the event and asked about their take on progress towards a viable decentralised web.

Pic credit Vitor Fontes. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold (W.B. Yeats)

14/08/2018 – The key takeaways

With the summit now over and the participants returned to their basement labs (or shiny new offices) it’s time to consider the takeaways.

Interest in decentralisation is growing

While the 2016 Decentralized Web Summit summit attracted 350 enthusiasts, 2018 saw more than twice that number, with 800 attendees across 156 sessions. Not huge numbers as tech events in San Francisco go (the ‘big one’ Oracle OpenWorld attracts an astonishing 60,000 delegates), but important nevertheless in that it brought together the founders of the connected world with those looking at new ways to reclaim the web’s original vision.

“There are dozens and dozens of new projects and protocols and our goal was to get them to a place where people could do real learning,” said Wendy Hanamura of the Internet Archive.

For Blockstack’s Patrick Stanley the seed planted two years ago is still growing strongly: “I was very impressed by the quality of attendees and felt that the spirit of the original vision of the web as a place where people can create was intact,” he said.

No project is an island

The web touches almost every aspect of modern life. Re-architecting such a system will be a huge undertaking, one far too big for disparate bunches of developers working alone. MaidSafe COO Nick Lambert was among many urging more collaboration.

“Certainly, there are some efforts to work together on problem solving, but this is not happening universally,” he said. “Everyone at the event was clearly united in a common purpose to make the internet more private and secure, but the key takeaway for me is how we foster greater cohesion among the different projects.”

Money: no longer too tight to mention

Concerns about attracting VC funding haunted 2016, but those worries have largely evaporated as a result of the crypto goldrush which has given a huge boost to the value of the tokens that support many projects. Booms can turn to busts, of course, and sudden wealth can bring challenges of its own, but for now the gloom has lifted.

While some fear an inevitable clampdown on cryptocurrencies by the authorities, OmiseGO’s Althea Allen, who chaired a debate on the issue, said the worst may not happen.

“What I took away from talking with those excellent thinkers was actually quite a hopeful picture for the future of decentralised finance,” she said. “By all their accounts, they have found regulators to be more open to the possibilities of crypto than we tend to assume, with less default bias toward corporate interests, and largely concerned with the same things that we are: security, privacy, consumer protections; generally speaking, making honest people’s lives easier and not harder.”

Awareness of the bigger picture

Mindful of the developing relationship with the authorities, governance was front and centre of many discussions, a sign of growing maturity in decentralised thinking. For Miriam Avery, director of strategic foresight at Mozilla’s Emerging Technologies department, valuable lessons can be learned from those working “in countries where corruption is blatant, regulation is ineffective, and centralised control points cause palpable harm.”

Their experiences may turn out be more universal than some might think, she said. 

“The threat model is changing such that these harms are relevant to people who are less acutely aware of their causes. For instance, the things Colombian Ethereum hackers are worried about are things that we should all be a little worried about.”

Avery continued: “At the same time, digging into these projects we can already see pitfalls in the ‘governance’ of the software projects themselves, from the prevalence of benevolent dictators to disagreements on the limits of moral relativism. There’s room to grow these technologies through healthy, inclusive open source communities, and I’m excited to see that growth.”

The door needs to be wedged open, or it will be slammed shut again

Another Mozillan, software engineer Irakli Gozalishvili, said: “It was reassuring to see that the community is actively thinking and talking about not only making decentralised web a place that serves people, but also how to create technology that can’t be turned into corporate silos or tools for empowering hate groups.”

Scaling up

Any decentralised web worthy of that name needs to be quick and responsive at scale, said MaidSafe’s Lambert. “There is a long way to go to create a user experience that will encourage everyone to adopt the decentralised approach.  For example, none of the demonstrations at the summit were able to show scalability to millions of users.”

Front-end focus

The decentralised web, with a few notable exceptions, is still very ‘engineering-y’ with most of the effort going into the back-end rather than the user interface. The networking may be futuristic but the front end is (with a few honourable exceptions) still Web 1.0. Which is fine at the development stage but projects will soon need to move on from demonstrating capabilities to making apps that people actually want to use.

Creating an easy onramp is an essential step. Mozilla is piloting decentralised web browsing via WebExtension APIs, the first of the ‘major’ vendors to do so, although others have been working in this area for a while, notably the Beaker browser for navigating DAT sites and ZeroNet.

A long list of necessary developments includes a human-readable decentralised replacement for the DNS system, search engines, and proof that crypto-based incentive systems for the supply and demand of resources can make for a scalable economy.

And the next Decentralized Web Summit? Hanamura wouldn’t be drawn on a date. “We’re still recovering from organising this one,” she said.

Enthusiasm is not sufficient fuel

06/08/2018 – Maintaining the momentum

If the 2016 Decentralized Web Summit was a call to action, in 2018 it’s all about working code. That’s according to Wendy Hanamura, director of partnerships at the Internet Archive, the organisation that hosted both events. However, there’s still a fair way to go before it goes anything like mainstream.

The Internet Archive’s mission is to preserve the outputs of culture, turning analogue books, files and recordings into digital, storing digital materials for posterity and preserving web pages going back to 1996 in the Wayback Machine.

Unsurprisingly given its aims, the organisation is sitting on a mountain of data – more than 40 petabytes and rising fast. It has recently started experimenting with decentralised technologies as a way of spreading the load and ensuring persistence, including file sharing and storage protocols WebTorrent, DAT and IPFS, the database GUN and P2P collaborative editor YJS.

And it’s open to looking at more in the future. “We’re glad to be in at the ground floor,” said Hanamura. “We have no horse in the race. We’re looking for all of them to succeed so we’re looking at different protocols for different functions.”

Wendy Hanamura

Despite some substantial progress, few decentralised projects could yet be described as ‘enterprise ready’. More work is required in many different areas, one of which is providing more straightforward ways for non-technical users to become involved.

Hanumara pointed to developments among big-name browsers including Firefox, Chrome and Brave as among the most promising for improved user experience. Mozilla demonstrated a Firefox API for decentralised systems at the event.

“Participants were able to talk to each other directly browser to browser without a server involved, and they thought that was tremendously exciting,” she said.

Collaborations

For Ruben Verborgh of the Solid project, the cross-pollination required to overcome some of the challenges is hampered by the diversity of approaches.

“Ironically, the decentralised community itself is also very decentralised, with several smaller groups doing highly similar things,” he said. “Finding common ground and interoperability will be a major challenge for the future since we can only each do our thing if we are sufficiently compatible with what others do.”

While it’s still too early for projects to merge or consolidate around standards, Hanamura said she witnessed “lots of meetings in corridors and deals being struck about how you could tweak things to work together.”

“That’s another way you can make it scale,” she added.

Maintaining momentum

The summit had strong ideological underpinnings. Hanamura described it as “an event for the heart. People came to share,” she said.

The strength of small open-source projects with big ideas is that they can easily sustain shared ideals, but this can be hard to maintain as they evolve, she went on.

“Many founders said governance was their biggest worry. You need a team of developers who believe in you and are willing to work with you – if not they can fork the code and create something very different.”

In 2016 the main concern was very different: it was funding. The success of cryptocurrency token sales (ICOs) have removed many of these worries, at least for some. A lot of money has flowed into decentralised technologies, for example Filecoin recently raised $230m in an ICO and Blockstack made $50m. But this can be a double-edged sword as rapid expansion and bags of cash make team cohesion more challenging to maintain, Hanamura believes.

“It makes it a dangerous time. We came to this with a purpose, to make a web that’s better for everyone. So we need to keep our eye on the North Star.”

Once the technologies hit the mainstream, there will be other challenges too, including legal ones.

“As this ecosystem grows it has to be aware of the regulations on the books around the world but also those pending,” said Hanamura. “We have to have a strong voice for keeping areas where we can sandbox these technologies. We need a governance system to keep it decentralised otherwise it can get centralised again.”

It’s gonna take a lot of thinking through

01/08/2018 – Why is decentralising the web so hard to achieve?

Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues faced a number of tough challenges when inventing the web, including having to build early browsers and protocols from scratch and overcoming initial scepticism (his original idea was labelled ‘vague but exciting’ by his boss at CERN). The nascent web also needed to be brought into being under the radar, and the terms for the release of its code carefully formulated to guarantee its free availability for all time. It took 18 months to persuade CERN that this was the right course.

Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. The decision to make the web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it,” said Berners-Lee in 1998.

The original web was designed to be decentralised, but over the course of time it has been largely fenced off by a small number of quasi-monopolistic powers we know as ‘the tech giants’. This makes designing a new decentralised internet  – one that’s ‘locked open’ in the words of the Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle – a challenge even more daunting than those pioneers faced. The problem is the tech giants are very good at what they do, said Jamie Pitts, a member of the DevOps team with the Ethereum Foundation, speaking for himself rather than on behalf of his organisation.

“One of the key hurdles to decentralisation is the lock-in effect and current excellent user experience provided by the large, centralised web services,” he said.

“Decentralised web technology must enable developers to produce high-quality systems enabling users to search, to connect with each other, and to conduct all forms of business. Until that happens, users will continue to be satisfied with the current set of options.”

While a subset of users is worried about power imbalances, surveillance and lack of control and transparency, the fact is that most people don’t care so long as there are bells and whistles aplenty. A tipping point must be achieved, as Althea Allen of OmiseGO put it.

“The only thing that will force those decentralised systems to change on a fundamental level is a mass shift by consumers toward decentralised systems.”

Selling ads and services through the centralisation and mining of data (‘surveillance capitalism’) has made the tech giants very powerful, and it can be hard to see beyond this model.

“The monopolisation that can occur in a rapidly-advancing technology space poses one of the greatest challenges to decentralisation,” said Pitts.

“Aggregation of capital and talent results from the network effect of a successful commercially-run service, and developers and users can become locked-in. While many of their needs of users may be met by the dominant content provider, search engine, or social network, the monopolised network becomes a silo.”

Moreover, the suck-up-all-the-data model has proven to be highly lucrative for the big boys, and while alternative economic methods for paying participants involving cryptocurrencies and micropayments are emerging, none has yet proved itself on the wider stage.

“There need to be viable business models for app developers that do not depend on advertisements or exploiting user behaviour and data,” said Blockstack’s Patrick Stanley.

On the systems side, there is a necessity to rethink the architecture to avoid central hubs. One of the toughest problems is achieving reliable consensus: with nodes seeing different versions of the ‘truth’ (i.e. what events are happening and in what order), how can one ‘truth’ be agreed upon without reference to a central arbiter? And how can this consensus be secured against faults and bad actors?

This longstanding conundrum was finally solved by the bitcoin blockchain a decade ago, and many efforts are ongoing to make it more efficient and a better fit for the decentralised web, the IoT and other applications. However, other projects, such as IPFS and MaidSafe’s SAFE Network, don’t use a blockchain, arriving at different methods for achieving consensus.

There are many ways to skin the decentralised cat – and that is another issue. What do people want, is it privacy, autonomy, security, an alternative economy, all of the above? Where are the tradeoffs and who decides the priorities? And how can the various strategies work together?

The problem is too big for one player to handle. MaidSafe’s David Irvine sees collaboration as key to any solution, which was one reason why the firm open-sourced all its code.

“We want to collaborate with other companies in this space. We have the scars of developing specific functionality and are happy to work with companies to integrate that functionality where it makes sense.”

Pic credit Rene Böhmer. A decentralised web can also be a place to hide

31/07/2018 What might go wrong?

Technology is morally agnostic. Nuclear power provides the raw material for nuclear bombs. That new road can carry serial killers as well as saints. And while a decentralised web would redistribute power over personal data, it could also provide a convenient hiding place for the bad guys.

Danielle Robinson

It’s high time technologists started to see this issue in the round, said Danielle Robinson, co-executive director, of Code for Science & Society, a non-profit supporting collaboration in public interest technology.

“When technology is built, the biases of its creators are often embedded into the technology itself in ways that are very hard for the creators to see, until it’s used for a purpose you didn’t intend,” she said during an interview with Internet Archive. “So I think it’s really important that we talk about this stuff.”

The increased privacy and security built into decentralised web technologies makes it easier for anyone to collaborate in a secure fashion. And that includes hate groups.

“They’re on the current existing web, and they’re also on the decentralised web, and I think it’s important for our community to talk about that,” she said. “We need a deeper exploration that’s not just ‘oh you know, we can’t control that’.”

In a separate interview, Matt Zumwalt, program manager at Protocol Labs, creator of Inter-Plantetary File System (IPFS), argued that proponents of decentralised web need to think about how it might be gamed.

“We should be thinking, really proactively, about what are the ways in which these systems can be co-opted, or distorted, or gamed or hijacked, because people are going to try all of those things,” he said.

The decentralised web is still an early stage project, and many involved in its creation are motivated by idealism, he went on, drawing parallels with the early days of the World Wide Web. Lessons should be learned from that experience about how reality is likely to encroach on the early vision, he said.

“I think we need to be really careful, and really proactive about trying to understand, what are these ideals? What are the things we dream about seeing happen well here, and how can we protect those dreams?”

Mitra Ardron, technical lead for decentralisation at the Internet Archive, believes that one likely crunch point will be when large firms try to take control.

“I think that we may see tensions in the future, as companies try and own those APIs and what’s behind them,” he said. “Single, unified companies will try and own it.”

However, he does not think this will succeed because he believes people will not accept a monolith. Code can be forked and “other people will come up with their own approaches.”

30/07/2018 Blockstack on identity and decoupling data

Authentication and identity are cornerstones of decentralised networking. Through cryptography, I as a user can verify who I am and what data I own without reference to any central registry. I can use my decentralised ID (DID) to log on securely and perhaps anonymously to services and applications with no third party involved.

Identity is bound up with another tenet of decentralisation: separating the data from the applications. Applications are now interfaces to shared data rather than controllers and manipulators of it. Without my express permission, apps can no longer use and retain data beyond my control.

Coupling data to ID rather than apps was the starting point for the Blockstack platform, as head of growth Patrick Stanley explained.

“Blockstack is creating a digital ecosystem of applications that let users fully own their identities and data on the Internet. User data – like photos and messages – are completely decoupled from the applications. Apps can no longer lock users and their social graph in, since they no longer store anything.”

Storage is taken care of elsewhere, in a decentralised storage system called Gaia. As apps are now ‘views’ or interfaces you don’t need to log in to each individually.

“People use applications on Blockstack just like they would with today’s Internet. But instead of signing up for each app one-by-one with an email address and password — or a Google/Facebook log-in — users have an identity that’s registered in the blockchain and a public key that permissions applications or other users to access pieces of data.”

That’s lots of positives so far from a user point of view, and also for developers who have a simpler architecture and fewer security vulnerabilities to worry about, but of course, there’s a catch. It’s the difference between shooting from the hip and running everything by a committee.

“Decentralisation increases coordination costs. High coordination costs make it hard to get some kinds of things done, but with the upside that the things that do get done are done with the consensus of all stakeholders.”

There are already privacy-centric social networks and messaging apps available on Blockstack, but asked about what remains on the to-do list, Stanley mentioned “the development of a killer app”. Simply replicating what’s gone before with a few tweaks won’t be enough.

A viable business model that doesn’t depend on tracking-based advertising is another crucial requirement – what would Facebook be without the data it controls? – as is interoperability with other systems, he said.

And the big picture? Why is Blockstack sponsoring the event? Ultimately it’s about securing digital freedom, said Stanley.

“If we’re going to live free lives online, there needs to be protocol-level safeguards to ensure your data stays under your control. Otherwise, the people who control your data ultimately control your digital life.”

Independent but interconnected

27/06/2018 OmiseGO on the importance of UI

OmiseGO, a sponsor of the Decentralized Web Summit, is a subsidiary of Asia-Pacific regional fintech firm Omise. Omise is a payments gateway similar to PayPal or Stripe that’s doing brisk business in East Asia. Omise enables online and mobile fiat currency transactions between customers and participating vendors, and OmiseGO, a separate company and open source project, aims to do the same with cryptocurrencies too.

The backbone of OmiseGO is the OMG blockchain which in turn is built on Ethereum. The goal is to provide seamless interoperability across all blockchains and providers. OMG uses Plasma, an enhancement designed to speed up transactions on the Ethereum blockchain, and the company counts Ethereum’s founders Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood among its advisors. While it’s very early days, in the long run OmiseGO wants to extend banking-type services to the billions of ‘unbanked’ people by cutting out the financial middleman who don’t serve those people, and also giving the ‘banked’ an alternative.

The current Internet has too many middlemen of its own, meaning that equal access does not mean equal control, explained OmiseGO’s head of ecosystem growth Althea Allen in an email.

“The decentralised web is crucial is providing equitable agency within the systems that internet users are accessing. Sovereignty over your own data, money and communication; access to information that is not censored or manipulated; the ability to control what aspects of your identity are shared and with whom; these are essential freedoms that the centralised web simply will not provide.”

However, if the alternatives are awkward and clunky, they will never take off.

“It is difficult, though not impossible, to create a decentralised system that provides the kind of user experience that the average internet user has come to expect. Mass adoption is unlikely until we can provide decentralised platforms that are powerful, intuitive and require little or no change in users’ habits.”

Team OmiseGO

Blockchains are a powerful tool for decentralisation as they can help keep control of events and processes across the network, but that depends on how they are used. There’s a lot of ‘blockchain-washing’ out there, Allen warned.

“Blockchains are not intrinsically decentralised – they can absolutely be private and proprietary. Many institutions, old and new, are showing an interest in adopting new technologies such as blockchains, maintaining the same centres of power and influence, and putting an ‘I blockchained’ sticker on them – essentially, appropriating the rhetoric of decentralisation without actually adopting the principles.”

Asked about the plethora of competing decentralised approaches, Allen said she believes this is positive, but sharing ideas is vital too.

“Cooperation is crucial for us to move the space forward, while healthy competition encourages the exploration of many different possible solutions to the same problems. We work particularly closely with Ethereum, but the success of our project depends on a thriving ecosystem (which extends well beyond crypto or even blockchain technology). To this end, we make a concerted effort to work with projects and individuals in many fields who are contributing to building the decentralised web.”

26/07/2018 MaidSafe on collaboration

As we mentioned in the introduction, a decentralised web will require a number of different interlocking components, including decentralised storage, decentralised networking, decentralised applications and decentralised identities.

MaidSafe, one of the event’s sponsors, is trying to cover all but one these bases with its autonomous SAFE Network, replacing the Transport, Session and Presentation layers of the current seven-layer internet with decentralised alternatives to create a platform for applications. The project is currently at alpha test stage.

So it’s all sewn up then, no need for further collaboration? Not at all said CEO David Irvine, who will be speaking at the event, pointing to the firm’s open-sourcing of its PARSEC consensus algorithm and its invitation to other projects to help develop it. It’s just not always easy to organise joint ventures he said. The summit will bring together many pioneers and innovators (70-plus projects are represented) with each pushing their own ideas for redefining the web.

“[Everyone’s] so passionate about improving the internet experience, we are defining the rules for the future, and everyone has a point of view. That does mean there are some egos out there who are quite vocal about the merits of their approach versus others, which makes for good media stories and fuels hype, but it’s not what we’re really focused on.”

Within any movement dedicated to upending the status quo, there lurks the danger of a People’s Front of Judea-type scenario with infighting destroying the possibilities of cooperation. Amplifying the risk, many projects in this space are funded through cryptocurrency tokens, which adds profiteering to the mix. It’s easy to see how the whole thing could implode, but Irvine says he’s now starting to see real collaborations happen and hopes the summit will bring more opportunities.

“We’ve already been talking to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid project at MIT, and we have a growing number of developers experimenting with applications for the platform,” he said.

MaidSafe’s David Irvine

MaidSafe has been a fixture in the decentralised firmament for a while, predating even the blockchain which is the backbone of many other ventures. At one time it had the space almost to itself but has since been joined by a host of others. Asked about his company’s USP, Irvine came back with one word: “honesty”.

We asked him to expand.

“There is far too much hype in the wider blockchain crypto space and we have always tried to distance ourselves from that nonsense. We’re trying to build something hugely complex and radically different. That doesn’t happen overnight, so you have to be upfront with people so they are not misled. Sure we’ve learned along the way, got some things wrong, but whenever we have we’ve held our hands up and that has helped us.”

And the big-picture goal?

“In essence, privacy, security and freedom. The technology we are building will provide private and secure communications, as well as freedom through the unfettered access to all humanity’s data.”

25/07/2018 Kahle and Berners-Lee on the need for decentralisation

Organiser the Internet Archive directed us to some recent statements by founder Brewster Kahle. Here Kahle outlines some of the problems with the existing web.

“Some of the problems the World Wide Web that we’ve seen in the last few years are the surveillance structures that Snowden gave light to. There are the trolling problems that we saw in the last election. There’s privacy aspects, of people spilling their privacy into companies that sometimes aren’t the most trustworthy. There’s advertising technologies being used against users. There’s a lot of failings that we’ve seen in the World Wide Web.”

To be successful, the decentralised web will need to encourage “lots of winners, lots of participation, lots of voices” he said.

“So this is a time to join in, to find a place, get knee-deep in the technologies. Try some things out. Break some stuff. Invest some time and effort. Let’s build a better, open world, one that serves more of us.”

Open source principles are essential but not sufficient. There must be a focus on performance, functionality and new ideas.

“We’re only going to survive if the open world is more interesting than closed app worlds … what I would think of as a dystopian world of closed, segmented, siloed, corporately-owned little pieces of property. I’d much rather see an open, next-generation web succeed,” Kahle said.

Tim Berners-Lee

As ‘Father of the Web’ (Mk I), Tim Berners-Lee has become increasingly disillusioned with his offspring. Around the time of the previous Decentralized Web Summit in 2016, he said: “The web has got so big that if a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites you go to, they have tremendous control over your life.

“If they can spy on what you’re doing they can understand a huge amount about you, and similarly if a government can block you going to, for example, the opposition’s political pages, they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.”

Since then, of course, many of the things he warned about have become evident in increasingly obvious and frightening ways. And in the US Congress recently scrapped net neutrality, doing away – in that country at least – with a longstanding principle of the internet, namely that ISPs should treat all data equally.

So, are there any positive developments to report over the last two years? Berners-Lee remains hopeful.

“There’s massive public awareness of the effects of social networks and the unintended consequences,” he told Computing. “There’s a huge backlash from people wanting to control their own data.”

In part this awareness is being driven by GDPR coming into effect, in part by news headlines.

Meanwhile, there’s the rise of “companies which respect user privacy and do not do anything at all with user data” (he namechecks social network MeWe to which he acts as an advisor), open-source collaborations like the data portability project (DTP) led by tech giants, and his own project Solid which is “turning from an experiment into a platform and the start of a movement”.

“These are exciting times,” said Berners-Lee.


John Leonard, Research Editor, Incisive Media

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The Smart City and other ICT-led techno-imaginaries: Any room for dialogue with Degrowth? https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-smart-city-and-other-ict-led-techno-imaginaries-any-room-for-dialogue-with-degrowth/2018/09/14 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-smart-city-and-other-ict-led-techno-imaginaries-any-room-for-dialogue-with-degrowth/2018/09/14#respond Fri, 14 Sep 2018 08:16:17 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=72670 An article by Hug March that was recently published at the Journal of Cleaner Production. Find the full article here. Highlights Smart City is a technology-led urban response to global environmental challenges. Smart City may imply technological determinism, privatisation and depoliticisation. ICT may open the prospect of alternative, non-capitalist urban transformations. Degrowth should establish a... Continue reading

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An article by Hug March that was recently published at the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Find the full article here.

Highlights

  • Smart City is a technology-led urban response to global environmental challenges.
  • Smart City may imply technological determinism, privatisation and depoliticisation.
  • ICT may open the prospect of alternative, non-capitalist urban transformations.
  • Degrowth should establish a critical dialogue with ICT-led urban transformations.

Abstract

“The 21st century has been hailed as the urban century and one in which ICT-led transformations will shape urban responses to global environmental change. The Smart City encapsulates all the desires and prospects on the transformative and disruptive role technology will have in solving urban issues both in Global North and Global South cities. Critical scholarship has pointed out that private capital, with the blessing of technocratic elites, has found a techno-environmental fix to both reshuffle economic growth and prevent other alternative politico-ecological transitions to take root in urban systems. Against this bleak outlook, the paper argues that these technological assemblages might be compatible with alternative post-capitalist urban transformations aligned with Degrowth. Through a cross-reading of research on Smart Cities with theoretical perspectives drawn from the literature on Degrowth, I suggest that Degrowth should not refrain from engaging with urban technological imaginaries in a critical and selective way. As the paper shows through alternative uses of Smart technologies and digital open-source fabrication, the question is not so much around technology per se but around the wider politico-economic context into which these technological assemblages are embedded.”

Introduction

“The 21st century will be marked by the critical role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in shaping urban responses to global environmental change. Cities will be both the locus of global environmental problems but also the places where many solutions to these challenges may emerge. The Smart City paradigm has become one of the most important urban strategies to foster green growth and to improve urban sustainability against the backdrop of climate change, austerity politics, inter-urban competition, aging population, rampant social inequality, rapid urbanization, aging infrastructures, high unemployment and stagnant economic growth (Glasmeier and Christopherson, 2015, Luque-Ayala and Marvin, 2015, White, 2016). The Smart City articulates a “fantasy city” and utopian vision based on the emancipatory role of technological progress that aims to be the “common sense” of how 21st century cities should look (Gibbs et al., 2013, Hollands, 2008, March and Ribera-Fumaz, 2014). In that sense, it “consists of a general but flexible narrative and a common set of logics” for anticipating uncertain global future crisis (White, 2016:574). Cities across the world have embarked on a “quest for technologically enhanced urban management” (Taylor Buck and While, 2015:3) to enable “a more efficient use and organization of urban systems” (Wiig, 2016:538). The global urban scene observes an inter-local competition to attract Smart City investments (Shelton et al., 2015), either to retrofit the existing built environment or to develop neighbourhoods or even to build new cities from scratch.

Since the past few years, the Smart City techno-utopian imaginary is strongly influencing urban debates and shaping contemporary urbanism. Concepts such as ICT, Big Data, sensors, Smart grids, Smart meters, Internet of Things, 3D printers, digital open-source fabrication, circulate not only among large private corporations, start-ups, urban planners, architects and policy makers but are also progressively making headway into the imaginaries of civic organisations, grassroots and social movements.

From a critical viewpoint, one may say that hegemonic corporate notions of the Smart City and cognate concepts built upon entrenched promises of capitalist technological solutionism, ecological modernization and depoliticized environmental improvement, leave small room for post-capitalist alternatives such as Degrowth. However, behind these urban techno-imaginaries and its fetishism of Smart City technologies, there may lay a set of spaces of intersection with non- or post-capitalist projects, which may open up new opportunities for alternative and emancipatory socio-environmental transitions. If cities are said to be both the locus of environmental problems but also the place where solutions may develop, and if techno-modernizing narratives such as the Smart City dominate this debate, how does Degrowth need to position itself in front of these technologically-led urban futures?

This paper aims to open up a critical reflection and dialogue on whether and how ICT and paradigms such as the Smart City may be compatible with an urban Degrowth transition. Through a cross-reading of research on Smart Cities and digital open-source fabrication with theoretical perspectives drawn from the literature on Degrowth, the contribution of this paper is double. First, it argues that Degrowth has paid insufficient attention to the question of technology on the one hand, and to the urban question, on the other hand. Second, it suggests that despite all the problems of urban techno-modernizing imaginaries such as the Smart City (which are identified) there are latent technological possibilities that could inform a Degrowth transition. Beyond presenting a comprehensive review of critical social sciences scholarship on the perils of the Smart City, this article reviews how Smart City technology could be appropriated by grassroots for a progressive urban politics. The example of digital open-source fabrication demonstrates that these technological assemblages could not only be seized to produce data, make visible hidden urban problems and organize contestation, but also to impact upon the way we design, produce and consume at the urban scale. Degrowth should not be a passive observer of this process but may help to inform a process of critical scrutiny, reworking and appropriation of those technologies to enable alternative urban transitions not dictated by the pursuit of economic growth but of socio-environmental justice. In short, this paper argues that a progressive, bottom-up and emancipatory appropriation (or subversion) of ICT and Smart City technologies is possible. However, the paper also shows that this engagement should not solely focus on the technological artefact alone but also on the broader urban political economic context it is inserted in.

After this introduction, the paper is structured as follows. In Section 2 I briefly review the main tenets of Degrowth, and I underscore the lack of engagement of Degrowth with the technological and the urban questions. Section 3 documents the emergence of the Smart City concept and shows how it is orchestrating urban transformations in the 21st century. After that, in Section 4 I carry out a comprehensive review of perils associated with current hegemonic understandings of technology-led urban transformations for a transformative and emancipatory socio-environmental Degrowth transition. In Section 5 I discuss how, within this heterogeneous, nebulous and ambiguous techno-utopian urban imaginary, we can find space for subversive, bottom-up strategies that could potentially be aligned with Degrowth. I end up with a concluding section where I argue for a selective and reflexive use of Smart City technology and ICT by Degrowth.”

Find the full article here.

Photo by TERRY KEARNEY

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