OII SDP 2007 (XVIII): Making the Tragedy of the Commons into a Comedy

Lead: Lewis Hyde, Wendy Seltzer, Rob Faris

Recent years have seen the idea of “the commons” as a form of ownership being discussed in a number of areas. Many environmental issues are usefully approached in terms of common assets, from aquifers to wetlands, from the oceans to the atmosphere. People who think about technology find themselves more and more speaking in terms of a commons, especially in regard to broadcast spectrum, the architecture of the internet, and software. Arguments that arise out of biotechnology–about seedlines, patented drugs, the ownership of genetic materials and so forth–also benefit from a clear model of what it means to place limits on the market and hold some things in common. Finally, many of the recent turf battles around intellectual property have hinged on whether creations of the human mind and imagination should be treated as proprietary goods or not.

Peter Barnes, in his new book Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons offers a simple definition of the commons as “the sum of all we inherit together and must pass on undiminished to our heirs.” Somewhat more prosaically we might say that a commons is a social regime for managing a collectively owned resource.

This session will provide some definitions, history, and theory about the commons as a form of ownership. Participants will read a chapter from Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks that deals with commons-based production in the information economy. With Benkler’s work providing one concrete example of a modern commons, the discussion will open up to consider when the commons might be a useful way to manage our shared wealth, and when it might not.

  Excludable Non-excludable
Rival Wine Fishery
Non-rival Cable TV
Copyrighted work
Public defense

Possible solutions to underprovision

  • Put prices on consumption
  • Put direct rewards on provision, such as peer-to-peer networks that reward people that share more files by making downloading faster;
  • Put indirect rewards on provision based on a reputation system, as it happens in the free software sector, where you’re more likely to get contracts the more you contribute to the project

But there’s more than underprovision: preserving the integrity of the Commons is also a must, e.g. preservation of the air quality

How to convert private property into Commons?

If information is really non-rival and non-exclusive, how to try and expand the scope of the Commons?

  • One way could be to extend Fair Use in a Copyright environment.
  • Another example is the Open Access movement, specially when they ask research funders to include the diffusion of results (to the public domain) in their funding strategies.
  • Anti-DRM initiatives.

What’s next?

What do we want to live to the public sector? What should be managed by the government? What should be managed by private trusts? It seems that in the Internet the Tragedy of the Commons is subverted and the more people benefits from the Commons, the more the Commons benefit from it.

On the other hand, do we need more IGF meetings or shoud the herd manage themselves (cite by Jonathan Zittrain) and try and deal with spam and so?

My reflections


Barnes, P. (2006). Capitalism 3.0. A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons. (pages 3-8 and Chapters 5 and 6). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. Retrieved July 10, 2007 from http://capitalism3.com/files/Capitalism_3.0_Peter_Barnes.pdf
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. (Chapter 9). New Haven: Yale University Press.

More info


SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

Open Education 2006 (II): eduCommons and MIT OpenCourseWare

Here come my notes on the Open Education 2006: Community, Culture, and Content that we are attending:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Concurrent sessions

eduCommons: Lessons from the Field
John Dehlin, COSL/Utah State University

John briefly explains the main features of eduCommons, firstly stating that it is open source: runs on Python/Zope/Plone. He shows import/export tools, licensing, the workflow of publishing, del.icio.us bookmarking/tagging, multiple languages viewing (through a Plone plugin), etc.

As per “strategic” purposes, on how to begin, where to head, some hints:

  • Starting from scratch to produce materials might cost more than reusing/sharing
  • It’s good marketing/branding for your university to show online who you are, what you do
  • OpenCourseWare enters directly the web 2.0 track, with RSS, del.icio.us, blogging, wikiing, etc.
  • You must sit with the Faculty, talk with them about pedagogical goals, what would be the benefits of opencoursewaring for the professor (“what’s in it for me”), how to do it, etc. Some supporting staff is actually required for the professor to go OCW. Depending on the complexity of the materials to be issued (html, presentations, video) more support is required.

After the first programming/launching stages, funded by “seed capital”, the eduCommons tool/project is expected to be supported by volunteers of the eduCommons community of users.

Main comments by the audience:

  • Are we undermining our business model? Will libraries be all we’ll need?
  • What’s the difference among OCW managing system and LMS? Are they mergin?

Intellectual Property in Open Educational Resources
Lindsey Weeramuni & Steve Carson, MIT OpenCourseWare

Intro to MIT OCW’s goal: publish all of MIT’s courses (so far, 1449 of 1800). But, what is course ware? And most important, what is not? No MIT education, no interactive classroom environment, no degree-granting. It’s “just” material publication under a CC NC-BY-SA license.

[legal] Requirements:

  • Ownership of primary content
  • Ownership of third party embedded content, toughest part, but becoming “routine”
  • Licensing both to end users

How to move from C to CC?

The deal: how to clear “IP objects”.
The clearing includes only embedded objects, not recommended readings or the like, that might be subject to IP rights (i.e. articles in not open-access journals, book chapters, etc.).
Publication managers and department liaisons identify sources fo all third party content. Then the IP team seeks permission for all objects assigned to this process. IP audits are also performed biannually.

What makes a project available?

  • Planning materials: syllabus and calendar
  • Subject matter: lecture notes, reading lists
  • Learning activities: homework, exams, labs

Stressing on relevant objects, negociated with the publications manager and the faculty. If it’s not relevant we can (a) look for it wherever else with IP rights already cleared (i.e. Flickr image) or (b) just skip it.

Three approaches to third party content:

  • Remove it and put a citation of or link to its original source in its place
  • Replace it with an original commissioned image
  • Request permission

What more?

  • Leveraging other OER: Open Access Journals, Open Object Repositories, Open Textbooks (Connexions)
  • Blanket Publisher/Industry Permissions
  • Sharing previously cleared content among OCWs


Web 2.0 for Development related posts (2006)


[Via Sierto]
[Via autounfocus]

Based on MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Open Learning Support (OLS) provides “a space where individuals can connect to share, discuss, ask, answer, debate, collaborate, teach, and learn”.

I’ve sometimes said that MIT’s Intellectual Commons project lacked of a human contact: we’ve got content and technology but no feedback, no trainers at all.

Well, it looks like people at OLS (Utah State University) are filling the gap and are providing OpenCourseWare learning materials with an environment where learners can get in touch with experts and ask doubts, be provided with advice, etc. and experts can provide advice, and train (call it online volunteering ;)

I’m really hopeful seeing things like this. Bringing this to the underdevelopped countries is each time nearer! :)))


MIT’s sharing knowledge

See if I can make a list of things that MIT is carrying out in the field of “sharing his knowledge” and “applicable to e-learning for development”. Some copy-paste from institutional sites, some comments by myself, some by Octeto:


Intellectual Commons
MIT makes materials freely available to strengthen overall university commons.

  • Commiting to integrating educational-technology deeply into on-campus education
  • Creating major, shared campus-wide educational resources
    It includes OKI, OCW, DSpace and .LRN

Related posts in ICTlogy


Open Knowledge Iniciative (OKI)

It is a collaboration among leading universities and specification and standards organizations to support innovative learning technology in higher education.
The result is an open and extensible architecture that specifies how the components of an educational software environment communicate with each other and with other enterprise systems. OKI provides a modular development platform for building both traditional and innovative applications while leveraging existing and future infrastructure technologies.

Related posts in ICTlogy


OpenCourseWare (OCW)

Is a large-scale, Web-based initiative to provide free, worldwide access to educational materials for virtually all MIT courses.

OCW is not a course or distance learning, but it is courseware.

Rather than substitute for the experience of being a student at the Institute, OCW will provide students, faculty, and other interested parties throughout the world free and valuable educational materials.

Related posts in ICTlogy



A durable electronic archive for 10,000 MIT research papers and other publications per year. DSpace is a groundbreaking digital library system to capture, store, index, preserve, and redistribute the intellectual output of a university’s research faculty in digital formats.
Developed jointly by MIT Libraries and Hewlett-Packard (HP), DSpace is now freely available to research institutions world-wide as an open source system that can be customized and extended.

Related posts in ICTlogy



Is open source software and a development kit for supporting innovation in collaborative education and learning and research communities. Originally developed at MIT as part of the Intellectual Commons, .LRN is now backed by a worldwide consortium of educational institutions, non-profit organizations, industry partners, and open source developers. .LRN capabilities include course management, online communities, learning management, and content management applications.
In other words:

  • A fully open source eLearning platform
  • A portal framework and integrated application suite to support course management and online communities
  • A set of best practices in online learning shared in the form of source code

Related posts in ICTlogy



It serves as the hub application for information exchange. It provides online news, event and course information, along with interactive discussion forums and students contact information. In a nutshell, everything needed to maintain and run the fast-growing course site.

As I understand it: .LRN manages the course learning environment (contents, interaction, etc.) and Caddie.NET manages the course site or information environment (information, news, etc.)

Related posts in ICTlogy


The digital revolution is not (only) the fourth industrial revolution

In 2016, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum wrote a seminal article called The Fourth Industrial Revolution, where he stated that what [he] consider[s] to be the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before and that there is an ongoing digital revolution [that] combines multiple technologies that are leading to unprecedented paradigm shifts in the economy, business, society, and individually. It is not only changing the “what” and the “how” of doing things but also “who” we are.

I mostly agree not only with Schwab’s former statements, but in what he presents in his work in general. The problem is with its title and the bias that the title itself and people later have put on the concept: that the digital revolution is about the industry, about firms, about productivity, about jobs, about the GDP.

There have been two major revolutions in the history of humankind: the Neolithic Revolution or Agricultural Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. The latter has been divided into three (sub)industrial revolutions. Calling the Digital Revolution not the third major revolution in humankind, but the fourth phase of the Industrial Revolution is, to me, misleading.

Let us see, in Table 1, a summary of some characteristics of the Industrial Revolution and its four sub-revolutions. It does not aim at being a perfect or an unquestionable description, just a general approach to the phenomenon:

Topic / Stage First Second Third Fourth
Working system Factory Division of labour Ford system Kanban Robotics, artificial intelligence
Production Mechanization Mass production, assembly line Electronics, PC, Internet, ICTs Cyber physical systems, nanotechnology,
Energy Water, steam and coal Oil, hydroelectric, electricity Renewables and smart grid Renewables and smart grid
Transportation Steam engine, railroads Internal combustion engine, roads Electric transportation and logistics Autonomous transportation, drones
Communication Steam printing Telephone Communications andcomputing Internet of things

Table 1. The four industrial revolutions.
Adapted by several sources by Ismael Peña-López.

This is not exactly what Schwab describes in The Fourth Industrial Revolution, but it is definitely what most people have in mind when speaking about the also called Industrial Revolution 4.0. Even Schwab’s World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution itself falls into the bias for the industry. Out of the nine areas of focus of the Center (Accelerating Innovation in Production for Small and Medium Enterprises, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Autonomous Vehicles, Blockchain, Digital Trade and Cross-Border Data Flows, The Future of Drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace, Internet of Things and Connected Devices, A New Vision for the Ocean, Precision Medicine) only the later two are slightly society-centered and not mainly economy-centered.

It is only shocking to speak about a revolution that is going to change “everything” and then only point at issues that, although of the direst importance, only affect a part of our lives. Complementing that approach, we could have a more comprehensive look at what the digital revolution is already changing or has a lot of potential of changing. To do such exercise, we can look at what changed in the former two biggest revolutions: the Agricultural Revolution and the first two Industrial Revolutions. In the table that follows (Table 2) four stages are characterized: the Paleolithic, taken as a starting point for humankind; the Neolithic, as the outcome of the Agricultural Revolution; the Industrial Age, as the outcome of the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution(s); and the Information Age, as the outcome of the Digital Revolution. Of course these are just approximate definitions whose purpose is to highlight the importance of the Digital Revolution beyond the boundaries of the industry or even the Economy.

Topic / Age Paleolithic Neolithic Industrial Age Information Age
Relationships of production Recollection Submission of nature Submission of energy Network
Relationships of experience “Biological” Public sphere Institutionalized / intermediated Liquid
Relationships of power Brute force Hierarchies & Nobility Bourgeoisie Digerati
Economy Nature Land Capital Relationships / knowledge
Who supports Diffuse Central knowledge Scientific knowledge Digital commons, AI
Living Nomadic Settlements Cities Ubiquity / No spaces
Culture “Utilitarian” Art Entertainment Artivism / Hacktivism
Work Generic Division, specialization Substitution physical labor Substitution intellectual labor
Learning Informal Centralized Industrialized Self-directed, heutagogic

Table 2. The three main human revolutions.
Source: Ismael Peña-López.

It is obvious that the use of some concepts is far from “correct” (for instance, the row that depicts Culture is more than arguable, among many others). The aim of Table 2 is to move away from the instrumental changes of our society (e.g. whether we will drive our own cars or they will have a high degree of autonomy) and put the focus instead in the changes of paradigm that may come with the Digital Revolution (e.g. will spaces matter at all?). It is, thus, a material for reflection. And a call to put under the spotlight societal changes, not only economic, industrial or production changes.

And, when we look at how humans will relate one with each other, how humans relate with nature, how we produce things, how the balances of power may change, etc. the potential of change is astonishingly high. We may be facing a radical transformation. And we should be driving it, instead of be driven by it.

Related readings


DemocraticCity (I). Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities
Chairs: Arnau Monterde

Gemma Galdón, Eticas Research & Consulting
Cities: smart vs. democratic?

Different concepts of what a smart city is from 2000 to 2012. If in 2000 the definition is based on efficiency and integration of data, in 2012 the definition includes citizen empowerment. But all of them have a certain degree of technophilia, that technology will solve all of our problems.

The smart city, all in all, is an overdose of sensors that gather data everywhere, all the time.

There is a risk in too much trusting technology: if we do not believe well how technology works, we may incur in making worse decisions, in buying in any kind of technology just because, with no objective reasons to buy it.
Smart cities run on data, smart is surveillance. So we have to aim for a responsible smart city, taht takes into account:

  • Legal issues.
  • Acceptability issues.
  • Responsible innovation.

OECD’s principles:

  • Notice.
  • Purpose.
  • Consent.
  • Security.
  • Dislcosure.
  • Access.
  • Accountability.

Carlo Vercellone, Centre d’économie de la Sorbonne
Welfare systems and social services during the systemic crisis of cognitve capitalism

Can we move from a traditional welfare system into a commons-based welfare system? Can we build a smart city based on this approach?

Social welfare services should not be regarded as a cost whose funding should depend on wealth created by the private sector, but instead be recognised as the driving force behind a development dynamics based on knowledge-intensive production and behind an economy whose main productive force is the intellectual quality of the labour force (or, as it is usually called, using an ambiguous expression, human capital).

We are witnessing the growth of the intangible part of capital. The driving sector of the knowledge based economy correspond most closely to the public services provided by the welfare state. It supports a mode of development based on the production of man for and by man (health, education). The aim of capital is not so much to reduce the absolute amount of Welfare expenses, but to reintegrate them within the financial and mercantile circuits.

There are two opposite models of society and regulation of an economy based on knowledge and its dissemination. A rentier model of ‘accumulation through expropriation’ of the commons, and a model of common-fare organized around the priority to investment in non-mercantile collective service and in the production of man for man, and the establishment of an unconditional Social Basic Income (SBI) independent from employment.

Francesca Bria, NESTA
Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

The making of the Internet of Things and Smart Cities implies the industrialization of the Internet and the convergence of energy, logistics, communications, IP network as a service platform, data-intensive welfare and money and payments systems.

What are the problems?

  • City infrastructure lock-in: the black box city, vendor lock-in, proprietary and non interoperable technologies, public and user data lock-in.
  • Digital panopticon, algorithmic governance based on deep personalization, behavioural profiling, pervasive surveillance.
  • Financialization that comes with smart city: project financing, debt financing, smart bonds, etc.
  • Austerity policy: financialisation of welfare, outsourcing of public services, etc.

Building democratic alternatives:

  • Technological sovereignty and alternatives to platform capitalism.
  • Network democracy and infrastructures for citizen participation.
  • Data politics: data ownership, data portability, encryption, standardises identity management, citizen control, regulate identity marketplace.
  • Anti corruption measures.

Evgeny Morozov, Author & Editorialist

Why all these issues matter in the context of the city?

It seems that the smart city could be an answer to many problems that we found as society. But it is an answer with a very strong baseline: the city is a place for consumption and entertainment. And smart cities are specifically addressed to answer all problems by improving consumption and entertainment.

For instance, personalization may sound appealing, but overindividualization makes it more difficult to think about the city as something that is a common project with your neighbours. Individualization makes it more difficult to think in public terms, but in term of how easy it is now for me to consume or be entertained.

Another issue is data and infrastructure ownership: smart city companies are not city companies. Companies own the infrastructure and the data, not cities. And most companies have nothing to do with the city. Thus, most cities have not the ability to harness technology. Citizens have to contest the fact that data will be privatized and ceased to be theirs.

Most services that companies provide to smart cities are not free, despite the fact that they do say so. These companies are not the new welfare state.

Xabier Barandiaran, Floksociety
Wisdom of crowds and free knowledge open commons against the ‘smart ass’ city

Cognitive capitalism is the set of processes where the private accumulation of capital is made by means of control (production, accumulation, restriction, privatization) of the signs: exploitation of immaterial goods that act upon the mind, attention, imagination and social psique, and including nature and machines. Cognitive capitalism exploits the intellect of the citizen, social communication to extract value, exploits popular knowledge and culture, controls the wisdom of crowds, sets up artificial barriers where there were none (because goods and assets were immaterial), etc.

There is the risk that some supposedly initiatives of the collaborative economy are not genuine: AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber are not really open or transparent, nor collaborative, etc. but just another approach of cognitive capitalism.


Q: What is the transition like towards a new kind of smart city? Gemma Galdon: by getting rid of automatisms when it comes to using personal data, by being critical, by looking for real alternatives to automatization and data collection.

Q: Any model of open data alternative to the ones used in mainstream smart cities projects? Gemma Galdón: yes, there are alternatives but the more radical alternative is whether we can do things without using personal data. Not using personal data in different ways, but with no data at all. Indeed, the vulneralibilization of data is a collective thing: if I make public my data, I am also making available data from my family, friends and acquaintances.

Q: How can you measure the value of Wikipedia?

Q: How do you explain the success of initiatives like AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber? Francesca Bria: they are not only technological platforms, but they are markets, they act as marketplaces where the rules of the game are set by their owners. They are successful because the work well upon network effects, including a certain “social lock-in”: “everyone is in there” or “everyone is using it”. Evgeny Morozov:


Network democracy for a better city (2015)