Peer production is distributive, not just collaborative

There is a dense but very high quality essay on Mute, by Simon Yuill, that delves into the history of open/free and collaborative art practices of the last decennia, showing how the musicians and other examples of art communitues pioneered much of what was later also expressed in the free software community, and based on similar notions of craft.

The essay covers livecoding, notational production, hacklabs, hackmeets, etc…

Essentially, “livecoding is a form of performance in which the artwork is expressed in software code that is written and re-written live during performance. Many livecoding artists write their own software tools to support this way of working.” Notational production happens if “the output of production is notation, as code that not only creates a product, but enters into an active life beyond its initial implementation.”

What is most important about the essay however, is that Simon teases out a characteristic of peer production that has been insufficiently stressed, and that makes it immediately distinct from mere collaborative production. Namely the following, it is distributive, in the sense that it not only produces something for other to use, but for others to reproduce or re-use, re-fashion in other ways. This is why code and notation is so important, as it ensure that others can built and change on the earlier contributions.

See below for a key paragraph explaining that quality.

Simon writes:

If livecoding is one of the most emblematic artistic manifestations of FLOSS, hacklabs have become one of its most emblematic social forms. Whilst they may not occupy identical trajectories, they nevertheless overlap and compliment one another in many significant ways, and central to this is their shared principle of ‘enabling the possibility of production by others’. This is an issue of distribution, not simply distribution at the level of product, in the way of piece of software can be easily distributed for example, but at the level of practice. The practice itself is inherently distributive, for it integrates the distribution of the knowledge of how to produce into that which it produces. Whilst this allows for possibilities of collaborative production, it should be seen as distinct from collaboration in itself. For whereas a practice that is collaborative coheres the production of many under a single goal, thereby directing the disposition of their labour, a practice that is distributive enables the disposition of labour by others under their own direction. This is facilitated in the output of production as notation, as code that not only creates a product, but enters into an active life beyond its initial implementation.”

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