Researching P2P Value (1): Interview with researcher Karthik Iyer

The P2P Foundation participates in a EU-funded research project on value in contributory communities called P2P Value.

Here is a first interview with a researcher connected to the P2P Foundation network, Karthik Iyer:

1. Can you re-introduce the P2P Value project to our readers and explain your part in it ? What stage is the research in right now ?

The P2P Value project is an ambitious European research project that aims to understand the way in which value is created and exchanged in peer 2 peer communities and projects. The goal is also to use the findings to build a techno social platform that can facilitate better collaboration through greater value creation and sharing in communities.

The project is organized in work packages and we just completed the first major milestone which is creating a well laid out theoritical foundation backed by some test cases

2. How has the project, and your part in it, defined value, and how does it specifically apply to peer production communities ? What are the various measures of value in p2p ? Do you see any major change in the interpretation of value, in the period before the emergence of such communities and the period after its emergence ?

The P2P Value project has given me an interesting forum to understand the various ways in which value can be created which fundamentally differs from non p2p modes of production and distribution. For example Value when ones goes into an understanding of what Value is or what value can be one realizes that the answer is not as straight forward, If we start with the premise that “Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.

So from this premise value could be understood based on motivations for creation and consumption. From the context of this research two fundamental questions of value can be understood based on 1) Why are certain cbpp projects created ? and 2) why do people choose to participate in them ?

* Value Creation:

Motivations for creation could be analyzed based on political, economic, social, legal and technological dimensions

Political dimension : Creating new projects to control a technology , for example creating open derivatives of closed source platforms such as windows and office for low end disruption. FSF and OSI creating software based on divergent political motivations. CBPP creates value also through new markets disruption by targeting new segments where existing models do not want to create value (for example chrome books and linux software for low end computers which would destroy the wintel nexus)

Economic : The literature around the economic value dimension in CBPP deals with reduction of transaction costs and labour costs through open innovationleveraging network effects and to generate economies of scale and scope.

Social : Market mechanisms fail in a multitude of ways to provide people with the necessary products or services, so cbpp as a means for social production could add value by overcoming some of these limitations. The literature around governance by Ostrom is applicable, the value of non-excludability improves network effects, and social production could bring about governance measures that could enhance the fate of the commons .

Technological : The technological value of the commons is its ability to capture bottom up inputs for new innovation, the literature of is very relevant to describe how the commons improves technological innovation. Hal Varian descrbes in information rules that technological value as Reward = (Total value added to the industry) * (Our share of industry value), i.e. that commons increases the overall value in the industry and also enhances the organization that opens its technology to the industry.

Legal : The value in the legal dimension is creating a commons license that avoids lockins and creating a common pool resources that are both extendable and maleable. The literature around licensing and its role in forking and providing an open platforms is relevant to this dimension. Especially the work of Coleman 2009.

* Participation and value consumption :

Fundamentally value consumption can be can be understood based on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for participation in CBPP. Here participant could also be an end user as he is part of the ecology spreading the reach and understanding of a technology and facilitating network externalities.

Intrinsic motivation and value : The literature around value consumption based on intrinsic motivations deals with drivers such as need for a particular software solution , home ludens payoff (the works of Lakhani and Wolf 2005; Bates et al. 2002; Shah 2006; Hars and Ou 2001 delves into greater details) gift culture (the works of Hars and Ou 2002 exemplifies how this is sustainable) and social standing, the paper by Bitzer and Schrettl 2004 is very relevant to this discussion.

Extrinsic motivation and value : Various papers have been written around extrinsic motivation and value consumption in the commons. Some of the notable factors are to make a profit by selling the software one day (Lakhani and Wolf 2005) , to gain financial benefits (Hertel et al. 2003) , to improve future job prospects (Bates et al. 2002; Ghosh et al. 2002; Hars and Ou 2001) and to signal capability to potential employers (Lerner and Tirole 2004).

3. What have you learned from the work of the other researchers in the project ? Any highlights you like to share with our readers ?

The P2P value project is a beautiful congregation of diverse minds, I especially liked the works of Adam Arvidsson, Primavera de Fillipi and Melanie Dulong. They each brought a very different perspective on value from a political economics, legal and technological point of view, which reiterated the fact that future value regimes will have to encapsulate these different aspects of P2P for communities to succeed.

4. One of the aims of this project was to design guidelines promote greater collaboration in a p2p environment ? why should this be different from traditional projects ?

In traditional projects the notion of value is unidimensional and is often related to economic benefits. In P2P projects the motivations for participation and the nature of collaboration is much more than money or in a physical environment as described in the previous sections. So unless a techno social platform encpaulates the true nature and aspirations of its participants (which is quiet different from traditional projects) it will continue to be less efficient in terms of scaling and outreach, a majority of p2p projects fail due to this.”