[iDC] Writing about the sociable web

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Fri Jun 22 05:48:51 EDT 2007

Thanks to Christiane for this fascinating overview. I believe however that
the dark period of TINA is passed, and that we are seeing a flowering of
participation, which, even when it is embedded and used for profit by
others, is a fundamental civilisational advance. And rather than complaining
about the inevitable cooptation of these new processes, I think it is more
fruitful to seek how to strengthen the seeds of the greatest autonomy. Using
them just as they are using us, is I believe a useful motto.

Yesterday I read an absolutely landmark essay by Adam Arvidsson, which is
the best summary I've seen about the big challenge to the market that the
new participatory modes represent, entitled The Crisis of Value. I wrote a
longish response to it, rehashing some of his points then adding my own 'p2p
theory' perspectives to it.

>From this, a small excerpt about the 3 kinds of economies created so far by
peer production: the sharing economy, the commons economy, and the
co-creation/crowdsourcing economy. For material-objective reasons, i.e. the
stronger links that have to be forged between people producing in common,
they have the best chance of achieving the greatest autonomy within the
given system. Such commons-oriented production is predicated upon either an
abundance (immaterial) or a distribution (slicing up of physical resources),
so that it is under the control of the participating individual. Such
communities are best placed to set the agenda of collaboration with their
institutional ecologies. In the sharing and co-creation economies on the
other hand, it is more a classic balance of power relationship, and there
also we see a learning and self-defense culture arising, a process of
adaptation between the realms of sharing and the realm of proprietary
platforms/attention markets. By no means is this a unilateral domination of
the private sector, but again, rather than complain the task is to have a
literacy of cooperation and sharing rights, something of the order of what
Trebor is trying to achieve.

Here's the excerpt on the 3 economies, which I believe is a useful typology:


One, the sharing economy, which is primarily about sharing one's creative
expression, not geared to the production of common value directly. Such
individuals or groups generally produce for their own use value and
enjoyment, for the alternative recognition systems that you mention
(knowledge, relationship, reputational value). Expected monetary returns are
marginal to the main motivation. In this scenario, I believe that the
individuals have weak links to each other, and they are happy to accept that
the platforms that enable such sharing are created by others, presently by
the Web 2.0 proprietary platforms. These in turn, use the aggregated
attention to fund and profit from these platforms. In my opinion, it is
governed by a social contract which says, from the point of view of the
users: it is fine that you provide such a platform, and that you profit from
it, provided our freedom to share is respected as well. Such netarchical
platforms are then driven to the contradictory positioning of having to
stimulate community and freedom (let's call it the dolphin type of behavior,
based on the notion of the abundance of sharing), with the fight for
marketshare with other attention aggregators (let's call it the shark type
of behavior). The tendency to protect the turf through closure, as against
the total freedom of movement of the users, has to be kept in balance with
the kind of freedom demanded by the users, who could move away to another

Two, the commons economy. Here there is a much more conscious collective
construction of common value, think of Linux or Wikipedia. Such construction
is only possible by forging stronger links, driven for example by the need
for consensus on Wikipedia pages. Such more strongly linked communities
often have their own infrastructure. Nevertheless, such communities, and the
individuals involved, also tend to appreciate, under certain conditions, the
involvement of commercial entities, which can strengthen the project. Such
companies create derivate business strategies, based on creating relative
scarcities around the common pool, in return for some kind of support for
the common efforts. This is in my view the underlying social contract of
this second form, i.e. the need for the profiting parties to create some
kind of return flow to the commons and their communities.

Third,  the crowdsourcing economy (more generally, the co-creation economy
whereby for-profit entities integrate the demand and opportunity
participation in their own business models and value chains).  Given that
both the sharing and commons oriented value creating models show that
innovation is becoming social, it is normal that existing institutions, in
particular the for-profit business companies, seek to integrate such social
innovation in their own value chains.

What does it mean that innovation is becoming social? It means that
innovation is less and less an internal affair, paid for by corporate funds
and their R & D departments.  It means that it is more and more an emerging
quality of the networks itself, arising from the multitude of interactions
within and between individuals and communities. It means that it can arise
without the intervention of capital or the state, or for that matter,
academia. It means, amongst other things, that the capital needed for
starting an internet company has decreased by 80% in 8 years. The role of
capital therefore shift to being an a priori enabler of such social
innovation, such is the role and strategy of crowdsourcing, and of a
posteriori captation of value, as is the case with the sharing and the
commons models. Dare we say that capital is more parasitical in such
context. To return to the crowdsourcing model, this is the most direct model
of trying to integrate these innovation processes right in the value chain
of the corporations, but it is also the one were the underlying social
contract is the shakiest, because the 'exploitation' is the most visible. It
is in this context that the value creators, the participating public, most
clearly sees that the value they are creating is being used with the most
little return.

We must also note that monetary value that is being realized by the capital
players, is – in many if not most of the cases,  not of the same order as
the value created by the social innovation processes.  The
user-producers-participants are creating direct use value, videos in
YouTube, knowledge and software in the case of commons-oriented projects.
This use value is put in common pool, freely usable, and therefore, does not
consist of scarce products for which pricing can be demanded. The sharing
platforms live from selling the derivative attention created, not the use
value itself. In the commons model, the abundant commons can also not be
directly marketed, without the creation of additional 'scarcities'. Finally,
as Adam Arvidsson shows, even in crowdsourcing, the value may often not be
in the product design themselves, but in other forms of value, such as
branding, etc…

On 6/22/07, Christiane Robbins <cpr at mindspring.com> wrote:
>  There have been several instances in this discussion where I have wanted
> to make a timely contribution … if only the obligations of first life would
> ease up!   So ... please consider this response to not only Trebor but to
> other posts in this exchange as well.
> Once again, it may well be beneficial to invoke an historical perspective
> on the culture of the Internet – the web 0.0, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and so forth.
> In response to Trebor's earlier statement:
> The ideology of most dominant Web 2.0 commentators is build on the
> logic of capital as a necessity. The fact that their writing causes interest
> mostly in entrepreneurs and business consultants shows that their
> pro free-market economics interests are well catered to by this group that
> also often aims to teach business how to run a "smooth show,"
> understand the cultural habits of youth, and still profit nicely.
> Ahhhh, yes … and no … as this has been the case on the dominant realm of
> the internet since approx. 1996-97 with, as we know, the advent and
> implemention of B-2-B.  To quickly re-cap:  this overwhelming force of
> entrepreneurship and commercialization eclipsed the ideologies (as
> neo-liberterian as most were) and idealism of web cultures.  Couple this
> with the concurrent rise of neo-liberalism ( in the USA and globally ) as
> well as the regressive policies implemented and ideologies advanced by the
> Bush administration in the USA.  As such, there has been little-to-no
> advance  and even less cross-visibility to models that do not speak of an
> economic imperative. Conversely, there has been a retrenchment of spirit,
> ideals and viable infrastructures for the forms of the non-profit sector
> that advanced during the 60's and 70's and which gave rise to organizations
> such as KPFK/KPFA, etc.
> These principles initially and visibly began to erode in the early 80's in
> non-profits with the introduction of corporate business principles and
> financial gurus such as Peter Drucker – to get things in order.  This new
> order quickly formed a Parthenon to non-profit administrators then dependent
> upon federal, state and local public funding, as corporate and foundation
> funding.  The public funders increasing sought matching funding from their
> corporate and foundation "partners."  For organizations such as KPFK/KPFA -
> who were already marginalized as leftist's threats to the viability of
> capitalist socio-economic structure – their ability to raise necessary
> funding in such a climate was clearly jeopardized.  Their abilities and
> support to do an end-run around the system is evidenced by their continued
> and principled existence.  The individual sacrifices necessary to such a
> commitment are self-evident.  The underliying questions are where else do we
> find that today … and how do we as a society/culture offer reciprocal due
> respect and value?
> Getting back to the 80's reframing of the public realm - I do know this to
> be the case as I was a witness .  As a very young and naïve curator I
> attended a number of those management seminars as part and parcel of my
> "professionalization"  via the Museum Management Institute. Clearly, the
> stance of corporate America was to get those young, chaotic, upstarts in
> line or else all hell might break loose.  This was especially true as Ronald
> Reagan initially took office in 1980 in the USA. The relevant analogy here
> revolves around the same quest for control of the "chaos" inherent in the
> early days of the internet.  In the 21st c, it appears that the quest for
> control does not come neatly packaged under the  rubric of stereotypic
> governmental totalitarianism.  Rather, it insidiously appeals to an
> individuals' own self-interest and economic ambitions as a mode of
> self-control in the service of the dominant socio-economic realm.  Rather
> old stuff on a grand scale to be sure!
> In the USA and specifically for media (experimental) and individual
> artists, this flourish ( arguably ) of public support finally concluded for
> the most part in the mid 90's.  The "old-fashioned" notion of Public
> Funding, Public Service was successfully undermined and often derided as
> anachronistic.  This then permutated into a collective form of a narcissism
> invisibly cloaked (maybe not so much!) by an economically driven careerism
> and the opportunities afforded by gold-rush days of .com … which extended
> into the increasingly privatized public sector (including the academy.)
> Such was the nascent growth of neo-liberalism.  One did not have to loose
> their principles – so to speak.  You just had to (re)frame them within an
> economic format that would make things operable within the dominant economic
> system.  It was practical, one could get things done relatively quickly and
> could "succeed," leading to an increasing flow of capital into the
> non-profit sector. Certainly, the stinging echo of the 60's phrase "selling
> out" took on a whole new meaning.
> But the permutation into a more "refined" realm social and cultural
> entrepreneurship developed during the 90's and is flourishing today –
> especially in California and the Bay Area.  Within a particularly American
> frame – it simply made sense.  Within a frame of 60's ideology it simply was
> a mode of a well-fed survival – a compromise to be sure, but what other
> choice did one have?
> However, now we find ourselves in an ever-present world of surface play –
> which unquestionably lends itself to the B-2-B underpinnings and profit
> margins of social networking.  The complexities, which contribute to this
> construct, range from the ever-growing power and agency of a rather perverse
> melding of the database, surveillance and consumerism. Could it be that our
> "products" – aka - "our selves" could be considered as cultural artifacts of
> digital media and technological practices that exist as yet another form of
> corporate branding?  I brand … therefore … I am.  And, if one were to accept
> this position, isn't that in essence the most accurate reflection of digital
> media, cultural, social  visual practices today?
> I fully realize that this is nothing new, artists have been raising these
> issues for 20 years +.  Barbara Krueger's " I shop therefore I am"  was
> created when – in 1985?  However, the more salient question is – who has
> been watching and who has been listening to them amidst an ever shrinking
> support and audience for " that type of work? " When will we  have a public
> sector which supports (through funding) sustained forms of critique as one
> of many forms necessary to advancing understandings of the world.  Quite
> simply, we are left with surface play – with decoration – which is always
> fun and whose nano-second shelf-life is well-suited for our ADD attention
> spans.  When we become so totally dependent upon the industries, the tired
> clichés and intimidations associated with of biting the hand that feeds you,
> become so relentlessly obvious as to render them mute.  But even in their
> muteness, can the neo-conceptual strategies so evident in digital art
> practices save the day or do they simply extend the surface curvature?
> These conceptual practices have been evident in digital media /art practices
> – but have they been evident in the spheres of digital communication
> practices, analyses and social networking?
> Fernanad Braudel has written " Multinational corporations (some
> significantly larger than many countries) and the blind market forces of
> late capitalism have fabricated a borderless accelerated space based solely
> around the transformation, manipulation and flow of capital.  Silently the
> world has slipped out from under us as we dreamt our televised dreams, our
> souls shanghaied by a culture of greed that is adrift on a reality that has
> become severely overexposed.  We now confront a reality that has become
> psychically overstuffed; a mad accumulation of reality that is bifurcating
> between the real as we know it, and the teleschizoid assemblages that we
> have yet to fully formulate."
> No longer do we have the utopian notions of the buddy system which seemed
> to proliferate during the days of the early Internet where anything went –
> at least for a couple of years.   However, we do have a memory of a time
> past which gnaws at a future… a future that has been burdened by our own
> creations …creations  that may have been absconded with and nullified by our
> own ambitions, greed and carelessness.   At the same time our conscience
> pulls at us back.  We have been faced with a system in which culturally
> embedded protocols, signs, referents, are endlessly being recycled with the
> hope that some overlooked freak mutation might catch fire…. again … and
> again … and again. But to what end is the ever-ready question.  Is the
> social play only as viable as long as the money holds out to support its
> technological infrastructure? Or do we rediscover that "old-fashioned"
> notion of public service – despite the seduction of possibly making millions
> ( yes, the ante is certainly up – at least seemingly for guys in the 18-33
> demographic ) When  ( and how ) do we collectively give value to the
> currencies embedded in public service and alterity that will be necessary to
> not only establish but to maintain it's centrality.?
> All to say, in response to Trebor's question What would it take to build a
> public, independent, non-profit MySpace?  One reply might be Idealism, an
> idealism that takes on the material form of a nourishing infrastructure and
> public initiative to secure long-term committed public funding – without
> purse strings attached to congressional or corporate oversight – and to
> clear and unfettered channels of distribution.
> Now … I'm hoping that this might engender any number of varied responses.
> Your move.
> All best,
> Chris
>  On Jun 21, 2007, at 10:43 AM, Trebor Scholz wrote:
>  Hi Alex,
> I really appreciate that you bring up the issue of social class and
> I'd add gender--difference in general, alterity.
> The ideology of most dominant Web 2.0 commentators is build on the logic
> of capital as a necessity. The fact that their writing causes interest
> mostly in entrepreneurs and business consultants shows that their pro
> free-market economics interests are well catered to by this group that
> also often aims to teach business how to run a "smooth show," understand
> the cultural habits of youth, and still profit nicely.
> Much of the most visible writing about the sociable web reduces
> networked publics to their function as consumers, ignoring them in their
> role as lovers, parents, citizens, or working poor. In the few cases
> that people are addresses in these roles, the commentary comes from a
> market perspective.
> The sociable web can do more to represent people's lives and rights and
> their well-being; it is not merely an engine for wealth production. We
>  should not give up on fundamental human desires. On the contrary, we
> should formulate and collectively demand ethical ground rules of the
> social web!!
> I'm not talking about ethics in the sense of religion and also not about
> ethics as an overarching set of moral norms that can be arbitrarily
> plugged in to manipulate people toward ideological ends. An ethics
> rather, that grows out of specific situations and leads to a call to the
> right not to be mistreated. What constitutes betrayal or even evil in
> relationship to the corporate social operating systems that we partake
> in? For me, the impotence of Facebook users with respect to their
> communal captivity is deeply puzzling.
> Online social life can also be supported by public, independent
> initiatives or hybrid forms. How can we apply the principles of public
> broadcast media (i.e. KPFA or even NPR) to social networking? What would
> it take to build a public, independent, non-profit MySpace?
> I'm sorry that this note lacks examples. I'll also not be able to
> respond right away as I'm off for some time in the woods but I look
> forward to your response.
> -Trebor
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>  *Christiane Robbins*
> **
> *- JETZTZEIT** -*
> ... the space between zero and one  ...
> *Walter Benjamin*
> **
> The present age prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the
> original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence for in these days
> illusion only is sacred, truth profane.
> *
> *
> *Ludwig Feuerbach, 1804-1872,** *
> *German Philosopher *
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