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
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.
Michel Bauwens used an abridged version of the following presentation: