How We Work to Build the P2P Foundation Knowledge Commons

Gordon Cook, who distributes an influential newsletter to the telecommunication sector, already paid attention to the content of our work in the August-September issue of the Cook Report, which compares the P2P Foundation approach to that of John Robb, and contains a long and detailed interview on our vision and practice. This interview will be serialized September 5 and onwards.

Gordon has now also finished a follow-up second issue, which focuses solely on how we have approached the building of our knowledge commons, and presents this ecology in a most detailed manner. Though we did not invent anything new, the manner in which our knowledge is organized and interconnected transcends its parts, and may offer some inspiration to others working to create knowledge commons.

You can obtain the pdf version by request from the editor at cook at

1. Excerpt from the introduction: A Tour of the Rationale, Structure and Maintenance of the Peer to Peer Foundation Wiki

Gordon Cook:

“As the global disruption from the crash of 2008 continues with unemployment in the United States at levels not seen since the Great Depression, and with the increasing likelihood that policy in Washington in the near future will do nothing about it, the question of understanding and facilitating the transition to the post-crash economy becomes more relevant. It seems ever more likely that things will become more tribal and more local. With globalism’s approach to the economy in general having made traditional jobs harder to get, we live in a world of hollowed out nation states, that can be hopefully transformed into resilient communities. In such a world, one must wonder where new and unexpected jobs will come from. It is clear that there are some as yet some unrecognized possibilities out there.

Such possibilities were called to mind via an August 9 link on John Robb’s blog Global Guerrillas: — “Foldit Game. Using online games to solve extremely complex scientific problems. “These links demonstrate another proof of concept that massively multiplayer online games can do real world work. For example, you can have the objective to build a company or alternative economy as an MMOG that can sop up the world’s cognitive surplus and deliver substantial income to the players.”

“An interesting question: Do we really have a cognitive surplus in the world? We certainly have a bunch of highly educated people who no longer have employment and we have a fire hose of information from the Internet waiting to be organized.”

It is in this context that I have decided to examine the process used by Michel Bauwens in the creation of his Peer-to-Peer Foundation wiki. In the remainder of this October issue, I will explain how Michel works because I believe that there may be an employment role for Internet cyberiansa role that is not yet really understood. Consequently, this article will examine the process that Michel uses in the creation of his wiki, a process that I believe can be replicated to create dozens, or maybe hundreds, or maybe even thousands of other wikis to bring together rapidly emerging knowledge in a way that is useful to the people involved.

There are really two stories in what Michel Bauwens is doing. The first is the grand intellectual synthesis involved in his capture of what he calls the emerging p2p political and social economy. That story in itself is covered in the July 2010 issue and is highly significant.

But as I looked further into his wiki, encyclopedia, “cathedral” or whatever you choose to call it, I began to wonder how the edifice was put together. When I first ran into Michel in the winter of 2006-2007, what he had created seemed like a large web site. Now, when I took a really close look three years later, there was this huge edifice. Rather like an iceberg. The part above water is large but what extends beneath is simply immense.

As I followed his twitter updates I could see what he meant when he said that he was continually building, polishing, expanding the P2P Wiki. The more I browsed, the more I wondered how he obtained and structured this huge mass of material. It was only when I was on the home page and looked at his links that I realized what, together with his daily blog readings, was going on.

He was using an entire suite of tools in new and unique ways where the product of the suite was greater than the sum of its parts. I knew the tools with the exception of . I knew of but had never played with it. When I saw what he was doing with , I realized that it was being treated in a way similar to a library card catalogue. His own reading was indexed and tagged so that it could be gathered as mini database inside the wiki, and the bookmarks of those in his network are used as an automatically updated current awareness index.

Thus, he does his own scanning but is virtually assisted by 150 or so other people whose bookmarks he scans and uses as he sees fit. I asked Michel: “I think what i am seeing is that you have developed an intriguing way of interweaving all of these tools. The interweaving is what does not seem to be widely grasped. Most folk don’t know it’s possible. The fact that you can blend them all together to make something out of the combination that is more powerful than any of the parts is, I think, noteworthy.”

2. Executive Summary

“We explore how Michel Bauwens has used a set of tools in order to create his rather extraordinary wiki. He has done this by means of unusual and creative use of tagging and bookmarks – using media wiki as software, by means of update announcements on Twitter, a mailing list that ties his community together and a daily blog that offers substantive pointers and excerpts to what is community is discovering as well as a Ning social networking site for community wide announcements.

In doing the first interview with Michel we developed a hypothesis with which he agreed: namely that he is using tools available to anyone but using them in a rather unique way to develop a methodology for organizing information on the Internet a new form of digital library. We explored these ideas in follow-up interviews with Michel and have used them in this issue to present what could be seen as a user manual for the wiki or a guidebook to the way in which it has been established and structured. We show the way in which the Wikimedia software allows the creation of subject categories that become a series of very useful databases for collecting and organizing specified related areas of interest. Reading about Michel’s approach should give insights into how people can begin to organize online communities in cooperative collaborative information sharing and problem solving.

After reading this you will understand the component parts and sections, and the basic structure of the peer-to-peer foundation wiki as well as how to login and begin to enter on material. But more important overall is the idea that it is worthwhile to explain so that broader range of other people can examine and test these ideas for themselves. The question to be pondered is the extent to which it may make sense to apply Michel’s methodology to one’s own fields of interest. But there is broader question as well. Is this is an emerging way of organizing the fire hose of information that comes from the Internet? The ultimate issue of course is how can people who organize his material for a community and be compensated for doing so? It seems that with the increase of knowledge there is a broad need for this activity and certainly with the global downturn there is more and more of what Clay Shirky has called the ‘cognitive surplus” of people with excellent qualifications to undertake this kind of activity. We conclude with a discussion with Michel where he explains how in the 80s and 90s he got in to this kind of information management first with the United States Information Agency and later in the early 90s with a Special Library for British Petroleum. In the mid 90s he became involved in his own start ups and worked briefly for Belgacom eventually leaving there and going to Chang Mai Thailand. After a two-year sabbatical he founded the Peer-to-Peer Foundation community.”

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