The role of the public sector in promoting peer production

In my recent contribution to the Re/Public issue on Wiki politics, I wrote:

“In the modern view, individuals were seen as atomized. They were believed to be in need of a social contract that delegated authority to a sovereign in order to create society, and in need of socialization by institutions that addressed them as an undifferentiated mass. In the new view however, individuals are always-already connected with their peers, and looking at institutions in such a peer-informed way. Institutions therefore, will have to evolve to become support ecologies, devising ways to create infrastructures of support.”

I also argue that there is a new role for the state, beyond the binary choice between privatization and regulation, a now triarchical choice can be made for a third option, nl. supporting the direct social production of value.

One of my favourite implementation of this vision are the extraordinary policies of the city of Brest, in French Brittany, where an active policy of support for the social production of culture has created a dynamic scene of internet-enabled social activities.

Recently, the UK has launced a consultation on the very related topic of how to promote public service content. The controversy is reported on in an excellent contribution by Martin Springer at Repositorium, which I recommend reading.

He cites a particularly critical intervention, pointing out the dangers of centralized intervention and control in the context of distributed content creation.

This aforementioned designer Mark Splinter says that:

“… you cannot recognise the next Big Thing, and you certainly cannot create it yourself. Only by limiting the dominance of lowest-common-denominator commercial thinking, and offering a leg-up to those creative people without the bureaucratic knowledge to progress, can you nurture true innovation.”

Martin Springer then concludes with his own recommendations, which include a public DRM infrastructure:

* Mistrust central authorities (e.g. “creative experts”)

* Foster open standards and Open Source software projects which aim to decentralize digital communication environments

* Make sure that creators and producers can use a public service infrastructure to control the copyright of their Works and Productions in the digital space. Such an infrastructure could be based on Open Source software and open standards.

* Break the monopolies created by the players who collect the money from the consumers (e.g. operators of mobile networks, manufacturers of operating systems, content aggregators cooperating with advertisers) by promoting an open platform for the payment of digital media services (e.g.

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