I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P (part II)

Notes from the I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P conference held in Barcelona, Spain, on March 31st, 2009. For more information about the event please see I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P (part I).

The Bank of Common Knowledge
Olivier Schulbaum, Platoniq

There’s more in P2P than file sharing — and way more than music or movie “piracy” —. Can P2P networks change citizenry, engagement or governance? Is it a new way of thought? Is it citizenship empowerment?

Relevant questions to pose to ourselves:

  • Can we create culture together?
  • Is self-management and self-government possible?
  • Are the commons or public ownership possible?

P2P is shared resources in the digital era. Can it be translated into the analogue world?

Olivier Schulbaum presents the Bank of Common Knowledge, a project that applies P2P tools in the “analogue” world to work with and create communities that share knowledge. Tools emanate from the free software movement, enacted by a network of volunteers.

The Bank of Common Knowledge (BCK) works at two levels: cells, that cluster interests and experts in long-term exchange experiences; and microtasks, aimed to quick exchange of knowledge. Besides these two main axes, other models apply: consultancy, handbooks, etc.

One of the main goals of the BCK is to replicate it elsewhere or to apply it to different environments (the University, the corporation…), as though as benchmarking other experiences like banks of time, etc.

Framing a P2P Society
Ismael Peña-López, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

(see I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P (part I)).

Liberty, equality and P2P
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation

How do we change the society? We come from a tradition where “there is no alternative” to the economic and social system we’re living in. It was believed that only power could bring change in. But the end of slavery at the end of the Roman Empire was a matter of a social change that emerged bottom-up, not top down from the power. The Industrial Revolution was also a grassroots approach to disclose new patterns of doing things, in this case moving from land to capital.

We now see new patterns emerging, new forms of property and new ways of producing and of social practices. We are building a new society which sees new ways of disaggregation, highly decentralized organizations. People aggregate to create added value.

Three new things emerging today:

  • The ability to create in common
  • The ability of participants to manage the processes, to govern themselves
  • The ability to protect the resulting value from private appropriation

P2P is a third mode of production, governance and property.

Centralization is no more needed: we can broadcast our needs and people will aggregate around tasks according to their profiles and the described needs. Indeed, we have design from inclusion, where design itself is collaboration based.

  • No more division of labor, but distribution
  • No exclusivity, but inclusivity
  • No composite tasks, but granular
  • No finished products, but unfinished artifacts

If we lower costs of access and transaction, motivation will enable the emergence of common interests and cluster communities together.

If a traditional for profit company faces an open community, it is likely to loose: Britannica vs. Wikipedia, Explorer vs. Firefox, etc.

Key factors of success:

  • Motivation, based on self-interest — not extrinsic, enforced, monitorized motivation
  • P2P brings externalities into the system
  • P2P makes it possible to create things that the market cannot commoditize and/or set prices in exchange of it
  • Innovation stays within the system and is added up to the process — it is not taken away from an external owner

Open design and open innovation as the core of the evolution forward of P2P production.

The crisis of value: “making things is not more interesting”, as added value in manufactures is dropping. Marketing information does not make any much sense any more, as information is abundant, the information economy just will not work. Only open design will work.

Business models move along two axes: open vs. close and paid vs. free. Traditional business models work on a paid+closed basis. The free software business model works on an open+paid model: you charge not on the product, but on services around it. Closed+free is based on a portfolio approach. Last, open+free is based on common value.

The role of capital has changed: to innovate, in many cases you don’t need capital any more. There is a divorce between entrepreneurism and capitalism.

The core value of the whole system will be the P2P process, based on a gift economy, on values, and away from a market based core paradigm, where everything is a commodity.

To enable a P2P society we need distributed institutions.

Q & A

Enric Senabre: Isn’t it fragile to have everything distributed, dis-allocated, in remote places? A: Opennes creates value, and closeness captures it. Communities can create the necessary social struggles to avoid fragilities to break. On the other hand, struggles of control are needless if everyone gets its benefit/profit from the community.

Enric Senabre: sharing and helping as way of living isn’t an ancient concept, religiously talking? A: It is scarcity that creates hierarchies. It is very different being a teacher or a facilitator than being a guru or a priest. There’s an ethic or moral difference there.

Oliver Schulbaum: do we need a state of the commons? A: We need an enabling authority, an institution that fosters social innovation so that the community becomes more competitive. If you loose your job, the Welfare State will pay you to do nothing (which is better than starving). But if you can keep on contributing in an open system, you can do things, create value, get a reputation, continue to be active and productive. We need institutes of the commons, incubators and we have to create mechanisms, new ways of patronage so that people can contribute in projects.

Q: What are the risks of losing net neutrality? What other freedoms are in danger? A: The good news are that people have been able to create organized decentralized coalitions to efficiently fight for their rights.

Ismael Peña-López: we’ve talked about engaging and enabling motivation. What do we do with the failures of the P2P model, e.g. free-riders or people that objectively add little or no value? A: P2P processes (1) getting people (2) selection and (3) defending from your enemies or infections. Free-riding might not be an issue in a world of abundance, where there is no scarcity and no competition or for consumption. So, free-riding does not destroy P2P, to say the least. And it can even be a learning process. Of course P2P is not perfect, but it’s better than the existing system.

Q: How do we create social networks owned by the citizens, how do we gain autonomy from proprietary and closed platforms? A: sharing and commons modes are different, and we have to decide what model do we want. The P2P model can be based on both modes. And, indeed, communities have to be conscious that enablers (e.g. YouTube or FaceBook) do have to get support (funding) for their job.

Maria Jesús Salido: how far do have to go until the P2P model is fully sustainable? can it be applied in a mixed model where traditional capitalist systems live together with P2P initiatives? Can e.g. intellectual property rights, backing systems, etc. allow for P2P initiatives? A: It is possible to create P2P communities compatible with a non-P2P framework.

More Information

Michel Bauwens used an abridged version of the following presentation:


I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P (2009)

I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P (part I)

I+C+i logo

The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (Contemporaneous Culture Center of Barcelona) is organizing the Research and innovation in the cultural sphere conference (I+C+i in its abbreviation in Catalan) during the whole year 2009.

On March 31, 2009, there is a session belonging to the conference entitled I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P, chaired by Olivier Schulbaum and I, and imparted by Michel Bauwens.

I have been invited to provide a very brief framework about the subject, so that Bauwens can go straight to the core of the issue and deal with the revolutions that P2P can bring to the creation of culture, political and civic engagement and participation or the producing economy.

So, in 10 minutes I will present the main lines of the following statements:

  • Digital tools have reduced marginal costs of transactions nearly to zero, making necessary a redefinition of concepts such as firm, group, distance, original & copy, send, time, etc.
  • The most important commodity in the Information Society is information. It acts as input, output and capital at the same time and it is not scarce, but abundant. Value is not embedded in itself (as, say, food) but in being able to convert it into knowledge.
  • P2P is free circulation of information, based on two assumptions: information is abundant (valueless) and transactions are costless.
  • There is a huge potential in P2P to foster many advancements in society — way beyond file sharing — like government and politics (goverati, citizen mashups), education (casual and distributed education, deschooled society), science (open science, eScience, eResearch, grids) or production (design & fabs, networking), just to name a few.

Follow and participate

More information

Thanks go to Oliver Schulbaum for always counting on me.


I+C+i. Liberty, equality and P2P (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (IX). Interview to Jack Dorsey

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Interview to Jack Dorsey, Twitter, by Sebastián Muriel

Technologies like twitter are little demanding, the concept is simple, there is no need for abstraction. It’s use is pretty straightforward. We’re seeing that applications are becoming more transparent.

And not also technically, but personally: new tools are more transparent also in letting see who’s behind a certain tool (i.e. who’s the person behind a username).

Q: How do we extract knowledge from tools? A: Being aware of all technologies can be overwhelming, but you always have the possibility to turn some of your communication platforms off. Correct usage — or usage that benefits you — must be learned

We have to focus on the content, not on the tool.

Q: is it possible to override mass media through things like Twitter? A: The journalism industry is fed by professionals, providing factual reports, properly crafted. This is difficult to be overridden by casual citizen journalists. Sometimes you don’t want just news, but stories, full stories well built by professionals that gather more information and point you even to more information.

Q: Twitter and geolocalization? A: There’s a big difference between twittering “I’m having coffee”, which gives context to your live, and “I’m having coffee at this place in this city”, which is kind of an invitation to join. We should let the user the freedom to decide exactly what he is meaning to say. Besides, there are matters of privacy that you cannot take for granted… or simply forget about them.

You can’t empower people: you have to build tools so that people can empower themselves. But, the goal is that people stops talking about the tools they’re using, and begin talking about what’s going on life.

Twitter is not a social network, but a broadcast mechanism. In social networks you end up not interacting with a specific person, but with whole his network — which might be your initial goal, but also an inconvenient. In Twitter, we kept the conversation (not the network) as the goal, and this enables commercial uses and businesses entering the platform without having to bother about networking and many-to-many engagement. Twitter did not came up with Yammer in part because of this: Twitter’s aim is to be kept simple. If you have groups, you “think” your message, and this is not immediate and ends up not being simple to just write a message.

Twitter allows for real time enrichment of information.


e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (VIII). Conclusions

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Conclusions session, conducted by Francisco Pizarro, Centro de Iniciativas Emprendedoras, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

ICTs bring new ways of relationship, of production, of socialization. There’s a change of paradigm, an opportunity to innovate. We must empower not to worsen.

Empowerment begins with one self: if you want to change the world, begin with yourself. Get empowered to empower others.

We empower to innovate, or it is the empowered that innovates?

Empowerment for social change, for independence, for freedom, for democracy. For the local leaders, for the excluded ones.

We have to generate a technological culture, to raise awareness of new ways to engage, to participate. Though keeping in mind that technology is but a means.

ICTs opened windows to raise voices, to get funding.

A new society based on I+I: Information+Imagination.

    Summing up:
  • Change of paradigm: the paradigm 2.0
  • Change of paradigm can bring changes
  • We need leaders to foster empowerment
  • And empower leaders so that they can empower others
  • A need for a digital culture, to keep on working towards universal access


e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (VII). Round Table: John LeSieur, Vivek Vaidyanathan, Raul Zambrano

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Round Table, conducted by Ismael Peña-López, Open University of Catalonia

John LeSieur, People CD

It’s out of question that technology connects people in very powerful ways. The question is how we make sure that the end user provides a good delivery for them.

The Asperger syndrome is part of autism and implies poor or none interaction with the other. An autistic child — LeSieur’s grandson — was introduced to technology, but refused to use it after minor browsing. Order was a must for autistic people. Communication must be picture-like. Browsers just do not work this way. This was the birth of the ZAC browser, a browser specifically designed for autistic people, that allows browsing through icons and minimum clicks.

The ZAC browser was not part of a business plan, or project management plan, but a personal commitment, done on an trial-and-error basis. It was after a first success, that it was decided to share it for others.

There is 1 out of 150 autistic children worldwide. So it made sense to share it worldwide.

Some parents have reported notable improvements in the lives of their children — and their families’ — after having used the ZAC browser. The ZAC browser is used by 750,000 people worldwide.

Now People CD is focusing in technologies widely used, but that are not really designed for a broad range of end users, i.e. paralyzed people. And this software comes out free to be used.

Vivek Vaidyanathan, ICT4D Consultant

He formerly worked at IT for Change to help organizations work in their own domain without bothering about technology. IT for Change promoted the use of ICT applications in development projects. He is now working in “poverty mapping”, using Geographic Information Systems to show impact of projects in developing countries.

In India the debate is not about FaceBook or Twitter, but about issues of connectivity or content in local language. And even if there is a growing ICT Sector, it is not aimed towards the local user, or local development, at least not directly.

The government is now planning to provide universal connectivity though an ambitious telecenter plan. But, nevertheless, it is again a plan to develop more an ICT Sector or Industry rather than providing more and better services to the citizens in a most efficient way. Nevertheless, some interesting e-Government issues started to happen and, hopefully, they will pull other clever uses of ICTs, specially because it’s public information and in your local language.

There is a problem with the sustainability of these telecenters and their services: they all began as a citizen service, which was free, and now trying to turn the citizen into a customer has made of financial sustainability a big challenge. You cannot ask them to pay for what was free.

Besides financial sustainability, social sustainability has also to be taken into account. Many people are left out of the ICT revolution because serving them is just not profitable, entering a vicious circle of exclusion.

Last, technology people should not lead the change, but people that do know the real needs of the end user… but of course work with technologists to know what tools to apply.

Raul Zambrano, UNDP

Freedom as development: development deals with people having the options to do with their lives whatever they want (Armartya Sen).

In 1992 the UNDP decided to begin distributing information (part of the Agenda 21 agreed in Rio de Janeiro in 1991) by e-mail, instead of fax or postal mail. This cut down costs dramatically… provided the receiver had e-mail too.

People do not need technology, but have basic needs: water, food, a roof… How can we connect these basic needs with ICTs? There’s a big divide in the application of ICT4D: there’s people that would “rather buy rice and not computers” and other people that would install computers before knowing the real needs of the population. How to merge these two approaches in a middle ground?

“I don’t want this or that technology. I want education. With quality, low cost”. If we can bring this education through ICTs, then that’s good ICT4D. Why don’t we benchmark or do market studies to supply public services? “Would you be using this or that public service? Supplied to you this ir that way?”

Empowerment is also about sharing or distributing power. Public administrations have to share their power with the citizenry. ICT’s enable networking and clustering people around common problems. ICTs enable exchange, communication. ICTs should not replace human networks, but to empower them.

Democracy is that the civil society and governments work together. Thinking of them as opposite powers is either sick or sad (depending on how true it is).

By the way, there’s more technology that ICTs.

Q & A

Q: It’s true that ICT are means (not goals), but how do we design the methodologies, indicators, etc. without mastering them before? Zambrano: impact is usually measured by number of accesses (to technology), not effective usage; it measures quantity of use, not social impact. There’s a need for public policies to foster change, with investment, with regulation. Technology does not change human development, is the supply of services. Vaidyanathan: people want to copy models they see everywhere, but what they actually want is not telecenters, but what people are doing with them (e.g. accessing public services, connecting with their relatives). Is the government focusing on telecenters or in providing these services?

Ignacio Martín: if the democracy is shared power, is it power finite? is it not about creating “more” power and not sharing or distributing it? Zambrano: power, in a democracy, is representative. And there’s a divide between the elected (to whom I transferred my power) and the citizen. This “sharing” of the power is about bridging this gap, of having some feedback of the power I lent to my representative. If democracy impoverishes me, democracy is clearly not working. Some technologies enable if not a direct democracy, at least a mediated representative democracy.

Q: We use technology in a social environment. Does technology unify diversity? Is there a cultural imperialism embedded in the use of technology? Zambrano: It depends of your intentions. You can use technology to impose your culture, but you can use it too to preserve and even recover cultures in risk of extinction.

Ismael Peña-López: Agreed ICTs are tools. But how do we learn to apply them cleverly if we do not dedicate some time at learning or developing new tools just for the sake of it? LeSieur: the Wikipedia approach is a good one where a couple represented by service+technology was issued at the same time and a brand new ecosystem (i.e. wiki enhanced encyclopedia) came out of the blue. Vaidyanathan: the challenge is to start somewhere, just to start. And solve it on the run. Zambrano: It depends on the place. In developed worlds, the divide is mainly digital, so it’s relevant to do R+D on ICTs. But in developing countries, the divide is social and the digital divide becomes trivial. Then, it does not make any sense to think about technologies for the sake of them. And sometimes, it is even the contrary: people do have technology (e.g. mobile phones) but have no rights: it is pretty straightforward to use the existing technology to solve a social issue, a fundamental need.


e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)

e-STAS 2009 (VI). Workshop: The hurdle track from ICT to Human Development

Notes from Simposium de las Tecnologías para la Acción Social (e-STAS: Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) held in Málaga, Spain, on March 26-27th, 2009. More notes on this event: estas2009. More notes on this series of events: e-stas.

Funredes: The hurdle track from ICT to Human Development

Results from a project for UN-GAID.

ICTs are but a tool. But there are some barriers to them:

  • Physical access
  • Financial access, affordability
  • Sustainability
  • Functional basic literacy (read and write)
  • Content in local language
  • Effective usage
  • Technology appropriation, technological literacy
  • Use with sense, informational literacy
  • Social appropriation, content creation with sense for my community
  • Empowerment
  • Human Development


  • Education and culture: about networking, about information, about processes
  • Ethics: about networking, about information, about processes
  • Engagement, multistakeholder, committed, along the whole process
See also


e-Stas 2009, Symposium on Technologies for Social Action (2009)