The Top Ten P2P Trends of 2015


We live in a contradictory world, just as it is undoubtedly true that problems are worsening in the dominant system — including ecological destruction, increased social inequality, and increased state repression — just as true is the fact that there is an exponential rise in the creation of non-state, non-corporate initiatives in which citizens the world over are taking matters into their own hands. Many of the below trends were identified last year — we only mention them again here if they significantly matured.

Perhaps the main negative development in the field of p2p, and the commons, was the abandoning of the transformative change program by Syriza, which highlights the failure of the traditional Left to believe in its own promise for transition. This points to a strong need for a renewal of politics around a Commons Transition program. It is therefore particularly heartening to see the simultaneous creation this year of several local commons groups, such as Assemblies and Chambers of the Commons.

There is much to rejoice in the list below. There is now a palette of p2p-based solutions that can be used by those that are serious about reconstructing our world with distributed infrastructures, shared resources and commons, and livelihoods around such engagements.

We’re particularly happy this year to see the strengthening of post-corporate business eco-systems such as Enspiral that are co-creating commons. As we confront climate change, the capacity to drastically reduce consumption while supporting decent lives point to the need to use peer production to dramatically augment the “thermo-dynamic efficiencies” of our current production system. While we are in the early stages of a transition from the failing old system to a new one, the good news is that the transition has started nearly everywhere — civil society is responding to the combined market and state failures.

Refugee Action protest, Melbourne. Image by Takver

Refugee Action protest, Melbourne. Image by Takver

1. Poor-to-Poor, Peer-to-Peer: The year of self-organized mass migration and “trans-migrants”

This was the year in which mass migrations of millions of war refugees [1] were organized by social media (specifically through secret Facebook groups) and in which scores of citizens organized themselves through peer-to-peer networks to assist them. This is also the year of publication of a major book on transmigration, i.e. the movements of people who come to the West not to stay, but in rotational organization, often organized as ethnic and religious phyles, as documented in the book by Alain Tarrius, entitled, Etrangers de passage. Poor to poor, peer to peer [2] (Editions de l’Aube, 2015). The P2P in the subtitle is justified by the absolutely essential role that the Internet plays in all stages of these circuits — for example, from taking orders for Chinese electronics to warning at which market at which time they will be delivered. One example many Europeans may be familiar with are the indigenous people from Otavallo, Ecuador — with their pan-flute music and sale of Alpacca wool in many European cities with over 40,000 people — who are responsible for one third of the local GDP; and also the Sufi brotherhoods from Senegal, selling not-so-authentic luxury goods on the continent’s beaches. Tarius has uncovered many such circuits, linking the poor of the Global South, to the immigrant neighborhoods of Western countries.

From the ethnic and religious phyles described here — i.e. business ecosystems at the service of communities and their commons — we move to our next trend, which sees similar ecosystems now evolving for affinity-based peer production communities.


From left: Sophie Jerram (Letting Space), Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation) and Alanna Krause (Enspiral Foundation).

2. Inspired by Enspiral: The further maturation of post-corporate entrepreneurial coalitions

The ethnic and religious phyles cited above are mirrored by the strengthening of affinity-based commons-oriented business eco-systems.

We mentioned their emergence as one of the great trends of 2014, and they have mostly continued to grow and mature. Beyond the corporation, there are now budding seed forms of post-corporate business eco-systems that are creating livelihoods for productive communities and their commons, such as Enspiral with Loomio and the open hardware designs of Sensorica.

This year, I visited Enspiral in their heartland of New Zealand, seeing them up close and I very much liked what I saw.

Here’s a good description from Josef Davies-Coates:

Enspiral is made up of three parts: The Enspiral Foundation, Enspiral Services, and Startup Ventures. I’d say they’re the best current example of an Open Co-op, but how they actually describe themselves is as “a virtual and physical network of companies and professionals working together to create a thriving society” and as an “experiment to create a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.” A core part of their strategy is to open source their model. In short, not only are they doing almost exactly what United Diversity wants to do, they’re also building the open source tools actually needed to do it!

The Enspiral Foundation is the charitable company at the heart of the Enspiral network. It’s the legal custodian of assets held collectively by the network, and the entity with which companies and individuals have a formal relationship. Decisions are made using Loomio and budgets are set using Cobudget.

A network of professionals work together in teams to offer Enspiral Services, a range of business services under one roof. By default, members pool 20 percent of their invoices into a collective bucket, 25 percent of which goes to the Foundation. Loomio and Cobudget are then used to decide how to spend the rest. For Startup Ventures, Enspiral works with social entrepreneurs to launch startups who then support the work of the Foundation and Enspiral, as a whole, through flexible revenue share agreements: ventures choose their own contribution rate, usually around 5 percent of revenue.

Check our wiki descriptions of Enspiral, Las Indias, Sensorica, Ethos, and Fora do Eixo.

Ouishare and other partners organized a seminar to examine these new practices this December, here is their video presentation reflecting the emergences of these practices.

  • For P2P Foundation documentation on the new open corporate formats, see Open Company Formats and specifically on the post-corporate ethical entrepreneurial coalitions, see here.
collaborative technology alliance p2p

Tarragona Concurs Castells taken by calafellvalo, on Flickr.

3. The Collaborative Technology Alliance, digital synergy, and the blockchain: making the alternative P2P infrastructure interoperable

While it is too early to predict how successful this effort will be, I consider the meeting and the launch of this alliance, which brings together post-corporate alliances like Enspiral and a dozen others, to be a pivot. The aim is not to compete with hacker alternatives to Facebook, but simply to make already used technology — like Loomio and Cobudget for Enspiral — interoperable with each other. This is definitely the most realistic strategy to arrive at a interconnection of ethical and non-netarchical technologies.

A similar initiative is growing in France and the francophone world, under the name Synergie Numerique.

The City as a Commons Conference, Bologna, Italy

The City as a Commons Conference, Bologna, Italy

4. From Urban Commons to The City as a Commons: political commons transitions at the city level

This year the IASC, the venerable scholarly association which continues the work of Elinor Ostrom, held a memorable conference that sealed the evolution from paying attention to commons in the city to actually seeing the whole city as a commons. The work of Christian Iaione and his team at LabGov, co-responsible already for the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons, is exemplary for this trend, which is expanding in a number of other Italian cities (co-mantova, co-palermo, co-battaglia…). This evolution parallels the historic wins of the commons-oriented municipal coalitions in a number of Spanish cities, such as the En Comu coalition in Barcelona. In Saillans, France, and in Frome, UK — with their Flatpack Democracy Toolkit — civic coalitions displaced the political parties, and the big win of a progressive coalition in Grenoble, was also a vindication of citizen-centric attitudes by the political parties in this coalition.

Poster from Le Temps des Communs Festival

Poster from Le Temps des Communs Festival

5. The launch of independent, commons-centric civic organisations

I called for this about three years ago, but they are finally emerging.

A proto-Assembly of the Commons has been operating in Ghent, Belgium, and on the occasion of a big francophone city festival on the commons (Villes en Commun), Toulouse and a few other French cities launched Assemblies of the Commons. A Europe-wide Assembly meeting is planned at the EU-level. In Chicago, a Chamber of the Commons was launched and, just this month, a Commons Transition Coalition for Melbourne and other places in Australia. This means that commoners will increasingly learn to have a political and social voice.

  • For P2P Foundation documentation on P2P and commons movements, see our section on P2P Movements

POC21 Trailer: “The World We Need” from POC21 cc on Vimeo.

6. The Poc 21, OSCE Days and the blockchain-based open supply chains as important steps toward an Open Source Circular Economy was a great project by Ouishare and Open State that brought together a dozen sustainable open hardware projects in an attempt to interconnect them as a miniature circular economy, a proof of concept to be given to the COP21 organizers who failed once more to offer a real solution to climate change (though the imperfect agreement is, at least, a first positive step in the light of previous failures to even come to an agreement). Watch the video of the experience here.

The OSCE Days organized by Lars Zimmerman, et al, were also a great set of experiences that spread the message about the crucial necessity for open sourcing productive supply chains. The Provenance group has written an essential report outlining how the blockchain may play a vital role in this.

How the blockchain could function in this mutual coordination economy — particularly in the context of open source participatory and open value chains that operate as eco-systems — is the object of a White Paper by the Provenance group [3].

Also check the work of Bob Haugen, Lynn Foster, and others at Sensorica on Radically Distributed Supply Chain Systems and Network Resource Planning, in particular, the software projects around the open value flow projectsuch as Mikorizal, and converging projects like Wezer by the Valeureux group in France.

At the P2P Foundation, we theorized for the first time, the overall thermodynamic efficiencies that will come out of the open source stack and, with the help of the Blaqswans Collective, will be calculating the effects more seriously in the coming year.

Read our P2P Lab articles on the topic here:

  1. Article [2015] “Design global, manufacture local: Exploring the contours of an emerging productive model”. text
  2. Article [2015] “Towards a political ecology of the digital economy: Socio-environmental implications of two competing value models”. text

7. Platform Cooperativism, Commonfare, and the new mutuals for precarious labor

Last year, we made a call for the convergence of the cooperative/solidarity economy models with the open commons model, i.e. for Open Cooperativism, and the Commons Strategies Group published a very good report on it, Toward an Open Cooperativism. This year, the realisation that the sharing economy is becoming dominated by huge monopolistic and extractive groups like Uber and Airbnb (the theme of the OuishareFest 2015 was “Lost in Transition” and referred to this) has created a first important reaction, i.e. a push for Platform Cooperativism, with thousands of attendees invited to New York City by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider.

In platform co-ops, whose functions is to ease exchanges amongst peers, the commons’ part is the platform itself, which is owned by the different stakeholders, or at least those that most directly produce the value together. Amongst the examples cited in New York City were Stocksy, an artist-owned stock-photography website, and Resonate, a cooperative music streaming platform. Last year, we also mentioned Commonfare developments, which denotes the new solidarity mechanisms being instituted by precarious but networked workers, with examples such as the Dutch Broodfonds, the German Solidago, and the health-sharing ministries in the U.S. like the Freelancers Union, but also more commercial variants like Friendsurance.

This year, what has come to the fore, especially in the Francophone world, are the mutuals for independent workers, such as Coopaname, which allow independent workers to ally themselves and be part of the more official social solidarity mechanisms instead of being second class citizens as ‘independents’. The Belgian think-tank Saw-B has an excellent report on their emergence and growth (see Organisations solidaires pour les travailleurs de l’economie collaborative) and pinpoints the strategies to make them evolve into real labor mutuals (“mutuelles de travail”).

Important this year has been the news on the announced basic income experiments in both the Netherlands and Finland, but the utmost caution is advisable here as there are most likely projects that aim to do away with the basic social protections of the welfare state, and not improve on it. The announced 800 Euro amount in Finland probably can’t even cover rental costs.

Video for the Mutual Aid Network’s Crowfund Campaign. Contribute here!

8. The Emergence of Meta-Economic Networks for ethical value streams

As we argue in our 20-minute introductory video to the P2P Foundation strategy for change, millions of people are already involved in solving the three systemic crises caused by the present dominant system, i.e. they are working on sustainability, solidarity, and openness. The problem being however, that the three streams are not connected to each other, but even within them, fragmentation reigns. As I was told by Jason Nardi, the community-supported agriculture movement in Italy alone probably has a dozen different ordering systems. Thus, it becomes more and more important to not just align the initiatives as organisations, but to create integrate value streams for the ethical economy.

The most advanced practical project is probably the Mutual Aid Network in Madison, Wisconsin, which is already expanding beyond the city to places as far away as South Africa (Bergnek project). Very advanced conceptually, having developed ten criteria to assess commons-centric economic players, is the project in Lille, northern France. And certainly worth mentioning is the integral accounting method developed for a Common Good Economy by Christian Felber in Austria used by 300+ companies. The solidarity economy movement itself is now working on developing “solidarity districts.”

  • For P2P Foundation documentation on open value accounting and streams, see our section on P2P Accounting
Wikihouse NZ at the Makertorium at Te Papa. read more here.

Wikihouse NZ at the Makertorium at Te Papa. Read more here.

9. The Cosmo-Localization of WikiHouse, and other seed forms for a new wave of open platforms for sustainable living and housing

There was a time where we could think of projects like the Tabby, RiverSimple, or Wikispeed, i.e. the open source car projects, as people wanting to simply produce their own cars. And the same could be said of WikiHouse. But visiting the latter in Christchurch, New Zealand, I had a epiphany of sorts. That is far from what they are… they are, in fact, potentially and emergently, open platforms for sustainable living and housing, integrating the world’s knowledge so that every ethical entrepreneur can start building sustainable housing. In this, they are the budding business eco-systems of tomorrow, getting ready as seed forms to replace the extractive industrial system. Watch out for the new system of production, where “what is light is global and what is heavy is local,” called Cosmo-Localization by our Melbourne-based friend José Ramos.

The Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland has a regular column visiting such innovating seed platforms.

  • For P2P Foundation documentation on sustainable housing, see our section on Housing

10. The initiation of a legal tradition for the Commons

For several years, we have been collating the evolution of a new law of the commons on our P2P Foundation website, but David Bollier has published a synthetic overview this year that does a lot to advance our understanding of this trend. See David’s work as compiled in the Law for the Commons Wiki.

The new book by Fritjof Capra and Ugo Mattei, The Ecology of Law: Toward a Legal System in Tune with Nature and Community [4], is another illustration of this trend, and the progressive Catholic journalist Nathan Schneider has argued that the Pope’s latest encyclical, Laudate Si, is part of that same evolution.

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