Open Infrastructures I: conference report

This report on the conference in Manchester on November 3, on “Media Ecologies for Post-Industrial Production” should have been published 3 weeks ago, but got an erroneous draft status.

Without further ado:

This was an important week in the history of the P2P movement. I recently reported on the Free Culture Forum, which brought together people from various creative communities to hash out a common charter, and gave birth to the political expression of the free culture movement.

Equality important was the Manchester event on November 3, which I consider the birth of a “Open Infrastructure” movement. The event was co-organized by Phoebe Moore, a labour scholar at Salford University; Nathan Cravens, a Texan independent researcher on automated labour, and myself.

The title, perhaps counter-intuitively, was “Media Ecologies for Post Industrial Production”. But in other words, open infrastructures that contribute to the autonomy of communities taking care of their livelihoods, through action and production.

It had two tracks, separate in the morning, but which merged in the afternoon session. One on collaborative platforms for social action, and one on collaborative platforms for open and distributed manufacturing.

Common to both is that the new mode of peer production, centered on community-centered commons of knowledge, code and designs, create platforms where both voluntary contributors and members of entrepreneurial coalitions can add to the commons, and create action or business models that benefit from it, and do not harm or enclose it.

My own keynote presentation centered on the recently produced Open Everything map, and my analysis for a new structure of industrial production, which is already emerging at the margins, but which I would like to see embraced more and more quickly. I have personally little doubt that this will happen, in some form or other, but the modalities of for example community vs. entrepreneurial coalition vs. public authority support institutions, can still go in many different reactions. And, of course, those who extract rent from intellectual property monopolies, even if they are less productive and innovative, will not sit idly by.

I sat in the collaborative action thread, and while I cannot give credit and discuss every presentation, the OpenKollab team with Matt Cooperrider and Suresh was very impressive. But the highlight of the day was without any question the presentation of Sam Rose and Paul Hartzog, regular collaborators at the P2P Foundation, but who are also launching their own Forward Foundation. They are working on a software, Flows, which should made material production knowledge flows interoperable, by using ‘wrappers’, and have started gaining experience by creating networks for local food production in Michigan, where both live. This may not sound all to sexy, but it was the best presentation I have witnessed in my frequent travels and conference attendance in the last three years. It was a powerful presentation, visionary, practical, with two speakers who were well in tune. If I still had any doubts that a powerful p2p revolution was taken place, my intuition at the basis of the creation of the P2P Foundation in 2005 (though first formulated in 2002), then this was really the last nail in the coffin of any doubts. Not sure how good the video recording of their presentation will be, but if it is insufficiently clear, do it again, please, you owe it to the world.

We had many other good presentations, such as Smari McCarthy explaining Tangible Bits (I finally understand it!!), Eric Debruijn on RepRaps, a presentation of the new FabLabs initiative in Manchester, and many more.

One thing we did NOT achieve, was a process whereby the technical commonalities of the various projects, could have been synthesized in a common platform requirement specification, as was originally planned. Also, the skype based presentations, by Kirsty Boyle on OpenMaterials and Massimo Menichelli on Open Metadesign, could not attract an audience which was hooked on the track where real life presentators where speaking.

Why then, despite these weaknesses, was this conference a success and why was everybody energized and happy at the end of it. The main reason I think is the discovery that there is now a real community, of people who are working on similar things in several fields, share a mostly common vision, and start seeing and exchanging with each other through various venues, often, but not always, connected to the P2P Foundation.

The P2P Foundation is itself now also a community I think, not just readers of a blog, but people who continuously exchange knowledge and help each other out through the p2p research mailing list, participate in real physical events, and have many interesting connections not passing through the P2P Foundation, but also nevertheless connected to the same field.

My hope is that we should be able to do this again, a annual event around Open Infrastructures, where people from different platforms can exchange their experiences.

Despite the legal counter-revolution that is taking place, and that attempts to criminalize the free sharing of knowledge and rapid innovation in the service of the people in the world, a powerful movement is growing in the interstices, and interconnecting at a rapid pace, through both online networks, physical cooperative events, and lots of F2F connections.

2009 is a breakthrough year, for those interconnected projects and movements, and for the P2P Foundation itself. Not only does Topsy declare us a top 0.2% global Twitter influential, reaching a secondary audience of three quarters of a million; not only did our blog feed readership increase by 300% in the first nine months of the year; but a continuous stream of communication of doers and practitioners is coming our way. It’s no longer about reading and learning, but about constructing the very seeds of the world of tomorrow.

1 Comment Open Infrastructures I: conference report

  1. Pingback: P2P And Open Infrastructures: The Society Of Openness Comes Of Age | jatiN mahindrA doT coM

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