Open Source, Grassroots Control, Building Communities of Trust

Across the CTCNet and AFCN member listservs today, Michael Miranda jumpstarted a couple of discussions. One was about how communities choose technology solutions to individual, organizational, and public spaces. In particular, the decision for the state of Illinois to implement SimDesk as an app serving the information needs for citizens. The other discussion focussed on Open Source and the GPL as a philosophical choice to maintain local control and to combat the potential for communities to be closed out.

The abstract below is from “Managing the Boundary of an ‘Open’ Project” look at how social cohesion occurs in an anarchic / decentralized system.

Theorists have speculated how open source software projects with porous boundaries and shifting and indeterminate membership develop code in an open and public environment. This research uses a multi-method approach to understand how one community managed open source software project, Debian, develops a membership process. We examine the project’s face-to-face social network during a five-year period (1997-2002)to see how changes in the social structure affect the evolution of membership mechanisms and the determination of gatekeepers. While the amount and importance of a contributor’s work increases the probability that a contributor will become a gatekeeper, those more central in the social network are more likely to become gatekeepers and thus influence the membership process. A greater understanding of the mechanisms open projects use to manage their boundaries has critical implications for knowledge producing communities operating in pluralistic, open and distributed environments. It also contributes to our theoretical understanding of how network structures help shape the construction of new social orders.

Thinking Chaordically: The future of Communities and Technology was the foundation of a closing plenary delivered by Andrew Cohill at a CTCNet Conference in San Diego in 1998 (??). Here is a brief excerpt:

Dee Hock, the former CEO or VISA, the multinational credit card company, coined the term chaordic alliance. A combination of the words chaos and order, Hock’s vision is to creat a new organization that is based not on traditional, hierarchical, topdown decision-making, but rather on shared purpose and consensus.

A chaordic alliance does not rely on heroic leadership to make decisions (and having the organization blindly follow), but rather the alliance does only those things that all the partners agree to in advance–that is, the organization initiates actions and activities only when all members of the alliance agree. This is a fundamentally different approach that discards the I win–you lose antagonism for a collaborative model based on I win–you win. Consensus is most likley to be reached when all parties find something of value in the outcome.

Other thinking from Cohill:
Communities, Technology and Governance: A Vision for the Future

Here is another interesting website in this realm:
The Art of Chaordic Leadership

Chaordic Commons

Controlling Ideas Through Copyright

What happens when ideas (the currency of cultural grow) get controlled to such an extent that one is uable to express thought or even build a body of critical work. Below is a snippet The Guardian which deals with the art world, but could easily be talking about any mainstream media, corporate image, etc:

An interesting result of the growing power of the market is that artists and their dealers are looking for ways, through copyright law, to con trol what is written or broadcast about the work, so as to prevent critics who might feel less than prostrate admiration for it from saying anything about it at all. On TV, if you can’t show, you can’t tell. I have seen quite a lot of this in recent years; it is here to stay, and getting worse. Sometimes the results look merely silly, as when the American conceptual artist Mel Bochner, whose work (consisting of vaguely related words printed in capitals on canvas in various tasteful colours) we filmed in the last Whitney Biennial in New York, waited until a few days before broadcast to announce, through his agent, that he “did not wish to participate” in our film. Never mind.

And later

I think the drift of such examples (and there are plenty of others) is clear enough. The art world is now so swollen with currency and the vanity of inflated reputation that it is taking on some of the less creditable aspects of showbiz. Hollywood doesn’t want critics, it wants PR folk and profile-writers. Showbiz controls journalism by controlling access. The art world hopes to do the same, though on a more piddly level. No other domain of culture would try this one on. No publisher, fearing that an unfavourable review, would attempt to stop a book critic quoting from some novel. No producer would make a guarantee of innocuousness the price of a critic’s ticket to the theatre. It just wouldn’t happen. But in art, it can. And since it can, as Bill Clinton remarked in another context, it does.

Public Sphere, Digital Commons, Information Society

These concepts are one foundation / pillar to this work. Some references:

Slashdot and the Public Sphere
http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue5_9/baoill/

The Public Sphere Project (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility)
http://www.cpsr.org/program/sphere/index.php

CyberDemocracy: Internet and the Public Sphere
http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/gaynor/ep.htm

Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention
http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/papers/habermas.htm

Vermont Media & Democracy Conference – 6/18/04

Attended the June 18th Vermont Media & Democracy Conference in Burlington, VT a couple of weeks ago. Jeff Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy gave the keynote. These are my notes from his comments:

the cable / telecomm industry is pushing forward with aggressive, commercialized strategies and community communication folks should be aware of this

There is still space for grassroots communities to define new methods especially with broadband and wifi, but the space is closing down. VT is clearly leading others in their statewide telecomm polices. Important to follow the development of the architecture of new communication services, infrastructure, etc – make sure we control capacity, have access, and challenge the commercial / business plan model of these industries. We need to advocate for public space.

These entities are defining the architecture. Some commercial sites to check out (they are defining next wave of cable technology use):
www.ellacoys.com
www.opentv.com
www.extendmedia.com
www.twowaytv.com
www.Visibleworld.com
www.nds.com (Rupert Murdoch Interactive)

Should be aware that FCC has regulated cable in such a manner that they are not obliged to be common carriers. Once telcos get fiber in the ground, they too have had this obligation waived. This means that broadband content will be controlled by those who own the pipes and they can manipulate access to content and services in ways that meet their commercial needs. They will control and manage the traffic.

So when communities go up for refranchise, they should demand open access to all resources (video servers, bandwidth, Electronic Program Guide, software that controls operations, etc.). And communities should fight any technology that consolidates control and denies public services. San Jose, CA is doing just this – Fiber For Our Future (www.tricitybroadband.com )

Emergence, Convergence and Empowerment: Media Cultural and Global Issues

Check out the above webspace described as:

Converging media empowerment strategies, aesthetics and development activities are showing up from divergent places or sites around the globe. In some cases, entirely new media forms of expression and delivery are evolving from technology centers, media arts centers and cable access centers independently and simultaneously. This web site and workshops are intended to focus on new media developments from the standpoint of social and cultural practices rather than simply technology. It provides news of efforts internationally by ICTs [Community Technology Centers, Community Media Centers, Telecenters, and Indymedia Centers etc.] to act as agents of progressive social change by organizing or supporting “local” actors — neighborhoods, grassroots groups, regions and communities – in their efforts to “jump the scales” of local politics and transcend political borders. To move between the local and the global, to gain voice and make connections with other “local” actors who share similar or complementary objectives and political projects. Finally it will serve as a primer for people trying to sort out the crazy salad of acronyms now appearing — ICTs, CMCs, CTCs, MMC, IMCs, PACs ………

Techology – Mirror or Sword?

Thanks to Dirk Konig at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center for bringing this to my attention.

During the 2003 meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society, UN Secretary-General delivered the addressed linked above to the gathering of government, business and civil sector representatives.

In speaking about the emerging information society, Annan stressed the power of technologies to “advance the cause of freedom and democracy, vehicles with which to propagate knowledge and understanding.” Yet he also spoke about the various divides that still exist (technological, content, gender, commercial) and the potential of the various sectors to create “an open, inclusive information society”.

Yet the most powerful part of Annan’s delivery was this:

Yet even as we talk about the power of technology, let us remember who is in charge. While technology shapes the future, it is people who shape technology, and decide what it can and should be used for.

So let us embrace these new technologies. But let us recognize that we are embarked on an endeavour that transcends technology. Building an open, empowering information society is a social, economic and ultimately political challenge.

For some theoretical thinking in these directions these two essays can provide some grounding:

Bertoldt Brecht – “Radio as an Apparatus of Communication” – http://www.tonisant.com/class/2001/fall/brechtradio.htm

Hans Mangus Enzenberger – “Constituents of a Theory of the Media” – http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1567

For more writing on WSIS look here and some small reflectiosn from me here.

Blogs & Public Discourse

In searching for information on Michael Moore’s Farhenheit 9/11, I came across a number of blogs discussing the power of this film. Clearly I’ve just entered the realm of blogging and am starting to see how these spaces are the new town square. This is where public sphere, public discourse is happening.

The Boston Globe published:

Whether this is a useful addition to the political process is subject to question. But the most fervent blog proponents have been talking like apostles. Blogs, they predict, are harbingers of a new, interactive culture that will change the way democracy works, turning voters into active participants rather than passive consumers, limiting the traditional media’s role as gatekeeper, and giving the rank-and-file voter unparalleled influence.

It will be interesting once the power of these spaces are understood, what regulatory and corporate control will find to squelch this “speech”.

FCC Commission Michael Cops (the lone voice fighting to keep our communication structures open), wrote this recently in the Mercury Sun News:

The Internet was designed to defeat government or business control and to thwart discrimination against users, ideas or technologies. Intelligence and control were consciously placed at the ends of a non-discriminatory network. Anyone could access the Internet, with any kind of computer, for any type of application, and read or say pretty much what they wanted.

Later in the article he writes:

Think about what could happen if your broadband provider could discriminate. It could decide which news sources or political sites you could view. It could prevent you from using children’s Internet filtering technology that it didn’t sell or that filtered out its own Web sites. It could prevent you from using spam-jamming programs to block its spam. It could impose restrictions on the use of virtual private networks by telecommuters and small businesses to keep them as paying customers of the public network. It could limit access to streaming video to protect its core content business. Sound far-fetched? It’s already beginning to happen.

This Internet may be dying. At the behest of powerful interests, the FCC is buying into a warped vision that open networks should be replaced by closed networks and that the FCC should excuse broadband providers from longstanding non-discrimination requirements.

For academic look at blogs visit In the Blogshere

Communication Creates Culture

This interview excerpt of Siva Vaidhyanathan from Paul Schmelzer’s Eyeteeth Blog (link above – you need to scroll down the page a bit) gets at the root of why community communication systems are so crucial. It is about preserving the ability for culture to happen.

Siva Vaidhyanathan: Both democracy and creative culture share this notion that they work best when the raw materials are cheap and easy and easily distributed. You can look at any cultural development that’s made a difference in the world—reggae, blues, crocheting—you can look at any of these and say, y’know, it’s really about communities sharing. It’s about communities moving ideas between and among people, revision, theme and variation, and ultimately a sort of consensus about what is good and what should stay around.

Later he writes:

This sort of creative circle–the drum circle or the blues-singing circle–is simply the most vivid image we have of these sort of creative communities. These creative communities are all over the place. Anyplace artists gather, any place musicians just jam for the fun of it… I think that this is a powerful form and a powerful habit. It’s also an important part of being human. It’s the essence of being cultural.

We’re not missing those communities; we’re just not investing in them and celebrating them like we should. Because the form of cultural production that this country and therefore the world has decided to celebrate, protect and promote is the industrial form. It’s the form that says: it’s gonna start with a piece of paper by a scriptwriter, it’s going to go through a series of meetings, it’s going to be produced step by step with the contribution of hundreds or thousands of people with hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and then be distributed to millions of people, perhaps billions of people, in a form that the institution that produced it dictates.

And of particular relevance to community communication centers, like LTC:

Nonetheless, it’s this notion of working from the common cultural phenomena that we share to build new and special things. That’s what we have to focus on. That’s why we need a low barrier of entry to creative processes. That’s why we need free and cheap access to cultural materials. Free and cheap access can come a number of ways: through electronic networks, through networks of friends sharing material, through public libraries, through universities, through schools, through churches. These are all institutions built for sharing. One of the things I’m concerned about is this ideology of the industrial production and dissemination of cultural products is infecting some of those institutions as well.

And to support the idea of building infrastructure that is open and able to be used by all:

Culture is anarchistic. Culture builds itself without leaders. Culture proliferates itself through consensus and revision. Culture works best when there is minimal authority and guidance.

And then in terms of supporting local control and diversity:

First of all, the very fact that so many media companies have merged into so few, has increased their political power or the political power of each one of them, that has radically altered all of these regulatory systems and phenomena. Secondly, our goal should be diversity and distribution of culture. Our goal should be cultural democracy. Our goal should obviously be real political democracy. We can’t have either one of those if we have a limited number of voices on our airwaves. We can’t have either of those if there isn’t some sense of the local, some sense of the specific. ….

So, we need to ask bigger questions about all of these things. Shouldn’t our priority be diversity? Shouldn’t our priority be some sort of local input on matters of culture and politics? Shouldn’t we allow churches across the United States to set up small radio stations to serve their constituents? Shouldn’t we allow activist groups to do the same? Shouldn’t we allow Native American groups, whether they are on their own nation’s land or not, to operate in the same ways? Shouldn’t we actually be looking for lower levels of regulation? Shouldn’t we be chopping up our spectrum in such a way as to maximize the number and variety of voices? The FCC and Congress are doing just the opposite. This does speak to the same problem. We need to examine all of these issues as cultural policy, and we need to come up with a set of principles about the cultural policy we choose to live under.

Selected Commentary to Media Tank Posts

Senate bill bans P2P networks
By Declan McCullagh, CNET News.com, 6/23/04
Popular file-trading networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus would be outlawed under a new bill that enjoys broad support from top Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Their legislation says “whoever intentionally induces any violation” of copyright law would be legally liable for those violations, a prohibition that would effectively ban file-swapping networks and could also imperil some consumer electronics devices. http://news.com.com/Senate+bill+bans+P2P+networks/2100-1027_3-5244796.html?tag=nefd.pop

If we think P2P will remain as an open system, this clearly begs the question. Jeff Chester (Center for Digital Democracy), Lawrence Lessig, and Siva Vaidhyanathan all have written on these corporate and regulartory trends.

Media companies take wireless route to consumers
By Sinead Carew, Reuters, 6/23/04
Time Warner Inc. and Walt Disney Co. already ply their wares in cinemas, on television and over the Internet. Now they’re reaching into the mobile phone in your pocket. Some phones can already display pictures and replay video clips, but as networks get faster, it will be possible to watch live newscasts or even a whole movie on wireless gadgets. With such advancements, at least half a dozen media companies are looking at new ways they can use wireless to boost their profits and extend the reach of their brands. http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=5498032

Clearly the corporate sector is eyeing the currently unregulated 802.11 WiFi spectrum. If community activists are not careful, this public resource will go the way of other spectrum resources.

Should Comcast get tax break? Not without public-access TV By Dan Berger, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/21/04 As the state Senate considers a proposal for establishing a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone in downtown Philadelphia for Comcast Corp., it bears noting that Comcast has not been a good corporate citizen for the residents of Philadelphia on several issues, including the establishment of public-access cable television. Philadelphia, Comcast’s flagship city, remains the only large city in the nation without this community-based form of communication. It’s time for the cable giant to live up to promises it made to Philadelphia in 1983. http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/8972921.htm

Philadelphia has had an incredible group of media activists working over the last couple of years to confront these sorts of control.

. . . begin

In 2003, I drafted a brief piece on community technology and its relationship to public discourse. This piece can be found at: Community Technology and Public Discourse.

I have just reread this work. It is interesting to see where my thinking on this has progressed. In the last year, infrastructure development at LTC has progressed dramatically. The Community Software Lab continues to expand its tools and activiites and with the recent re-launch of the MVHub plans are in place for a community web portal. The tools are there, the challenge now is to harness them for further community development. [Dan MacNeil, David Seigal, and Eric Milosevic] should be appauled for their work in pushing these activities forward.

Also during the last year, LTC has launched the Digital Bicycle as a means explore methods for sharing and distributing media content via the Internet. Initiated by Daniell Krawczyk, this work was prompted by the need to more efficiently share youth media generated at the various Youth Channel members (the Youth Channel is a group of communtiy media centers working to create a youth media culture within these centers). One of the first concrete projects prompted by the Digital Bicycle is a BitTorrent project initiated in collaboration with the Commonwealth Broadband Collabortive.

To date the CBC has used Internet distribution to share three of its “First Tuesday” programs. In addition to BitTorrent, FTP access has also been used. At the CBC, Nettrice Gaskins, Saul Baizman, and James Fishwick have been critically engaged. Ginny Berkowitz and Jim Youll at Cambridge Community Television have also actively worked to think through these mechanisms.

I hope to use this space to continue exploring (and sharing) my thoughts on new opportunities for what I am currently calling Community Communications.