Amongst the people I admire and have met are to French persons: Francois Rey and Olivier Auber. I visited Francois in his home in Carpentras, a very memorable experience, and Olivier came to visit me recently with his family in Chiang Mai, where we had extremely fruitful discussions.
What they share in common is a desire for true distributed architectures, that are not under the control of intermediary powerbrokers.
I must admit that I have often a more pragmatic approach. My take, if peer to peer being the relational dynamic emerging in distributed networks, is that we can use a quasi-commons and pseudo-commons approach, i.e. evolve self-organization even in proprietary platforms, simply using whatever works for our purposes of creating more autonomous human communities. That situation is far from perfect, but can be used to our advantage, and is a tremendous social advancement already, even in its imperfect forms. We have to develop a literacy of what constitute our common and different interests with such platform organizers, just as the workers had to negotiate with factory owners, until such time as we live in a society which is dominated by the peer to peer form.
At the same time, I agree with have to create and struggle for more autonomous and open social networks, but that will take time and effort. Both the imperfect social web, our efforts to change it to our needs, and the construction of more fully distributed peer to peer infrastructures, should proceed in parallel.
Francois and Olivier are more insistent on the latter, seeing the dangers of hybrid approaches where the interests of the platform owners, essentially selfish private-benefit corporations, constantly limit and manipulate our behaviours in view of monetizing them. Francois says we have to re-design the internet completely, while Olivier affirms that we really not have any true distributed architectures yet.
In our conversation, Olivier introduced the concept of anoptism. As our readers will recall, panoptism is the structure where only the hierarchy possesses the information about the network, while holoptism is the principle where everything is visible to all, and it is the principle of transparency and participation-capture which is designed in the new social web and peer project applications. Olivier insists that there is also always an invisible architecture, that we cannot see, but nevertheless influences and determines our behavioural choices. This is why, especially in ‘untrue’ or ‘incomplete’ network systems, there is always anoptism, invisibility, and that it is an urgent technical and political task to achieve transparency in these social protocols as well.
Which brings to an important new and related initiative, still in its budding stages, but already announced by Kasper Souren in his blog: Real Social. RealSocial.org is a similarly inspired initiative to define ‘true social networks’ and to give them a stamp of approval. It seems to me this is congruent with the efforts of Francois and Olivier, and I would suggest to evolve it in a kind of certification instrument for the peer to peer community. What are the criteria for ‘real social networks’ and ‘true distributed infrastructures’? What systems answer to those criteria. So just as we could judge free software by their licenses, we could judge social networks by the measure of individual and social autonomy that they allow.
Guaka (Kasper’s online name) writes that:
“I’m thinking of distinguishing Real Social and real social networks.
I’d consider CouchSurfing, BookCrossing, and all current ride share websites that I’m aware of, as real social networks. They lead to real life connections or actual forms of exchange, with less time spent offline than online.
I could think of three that would fit my criteria for being Real Social: BeWelcome, Ripple and Hitchwiki. The capitalization comes from the way the networks, its organization and the software is developed.”
A priority, it seems to me, is to start with work on a definition of what constitutes Real Social, or more formally, a Definition of Real Social Networks, in the tradition of the definitions we already have, such as:
1. The Open Standards Definition. By Bruce Perens.
A question that comes up is the following: should we distinguish between the technology layer, to arrive at a definition of ‘true distributed archictures’ and a separate definition for the requirements of Real Social networks, that would have the ‘social requirements’?.
In any case, thanks to Kasper for launching this initiative.
Progress will also be monitored through our Standards page.