Community in a Decentralized System

Just watched Kerry’s speech at the DNC and thinking through the dynamics of party politics. Would a decentralized, anarchistic system be any better? Or would we simply be buying into a system of competing “individual” inerests rather than public goods. Would direct democracy give us more connected candiates or are those vetted through a party system really speak to gretter concensus.

So what does this mean for communication practice. If you dismantle shared communication venues (i.e. mass media) in favor of decentralized and indvidual consumption does any sense of public space or community remain? Or do new communities emerge? What is the nature of a community based on consumption of content, goods, ideas rather than real day-to-day experiences and reality.

The Induce Act: A view of technology that is anything but neutral

This recent Salon article written by Siva Vaidhyanathan confront the underlying assumptions of the Induce Act and its view of P2P as an inherently criminal technology. If passed this act will make community based efforts like The Digital Bicycle illegal. Again big corporate power and the federal government working to squelch the grassroots.

Here’s the problem: No technology is neutral.

The idea of technological neutrality is most succinctly expressed by the slogan “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The slogan may be simplistic, but the theory is pretty powerful. It influences many of our debates about technology and policy, from guns to automobiles to encryption.

The problem with technological neutrality is that people create technologies and people use technologies. And people are not neutral. They have cultures and values and expectations.

A Couple of Intersting Titles from O’Reilly

While I haven’t read these titles – they seem like something to put on the to get list:

We the Media: Grassroots Journalism for the People and by the People
Grassroots journalists are dismantling Big Media’s monopoly on the news, transforming it from a lecture to a conversation. Not content to accept the news as reported, these readers-turned-reporters are publishing in real time to a worldwide audience via the Internet. The impact of their work is just beginning to be felt by professional journalists and the newsmakers they cover. In We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, nationally known business and technology columnist Dan Gillmor tells the story of this emerging phenomenon, and sheds light on this deep shift in how we make and consume the news

and this one
Peer-to-peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies

Discussing Social Media

From the Many2Many blog – most of this post is about social media from a commercial perspective – but these bits are interesting:

Social media are another example of the demand side supplying itself. We’re seeing this with open source software, with new standards like RSS, and with the new media we call blogs. We’re even seeing it in movies such as Outfoxed, and with Internet radio (in spite of destructive fear-based regulation). None of these things came from the Big Boys. They came from you and me and the rest of us here.

This part may be especially interesting in thinking through the new landscape of where community media and technology may be heading:

There is little point in defining Social Software, Media, Search, Computing or Networking, except that new language parallels innovation. Here’s my way of mapping the space, feel free to modify and make your own.

Social Software, a term coined by Clay Shirky, is the design of systems that supports groups with an underlying value proposition of building social capital…
Social Software is not that new, but its currently a growing and evolving sector marked by a high level of cross-polinization. The level of innovation defys easy categorization.

Properties include people-centricity, low communication costs, low transaction costs that encourage adoption, easy group forming, triads rather than pairs, treating groups as first class objects in the system and adapting to the social network (heterarchy) rather than requiring it to adapt it it (heirarchy). Second order effects include emergence, reputation, different values at different scales, transparency, decentralization and fun parties.

Other dimensions to view this space include enterprise vs. consumer, how connections are formed, different values at different scales, what markets are cannibalized, what cultures (not markets, but don’t reach for your gun) are served and open vs. closed.

These dimension easily blur. Take for example the distinction of enterprise vs. consumer. Social Software adoption is being driven in the enterprise from the bottom up. Initially, it users as developers bringing in their own tools like personal publishing and wikis plus (shameless plug here) enlightened companies serving both users and enterprises at different scales.

JD’s New Media Musings

J.D. Lasica is a veteran journalist who writes frequently about the impact of emerging technologies on our culture. He is currently completing a book for John Wiley & Sons on the digital media revolution. 

JD covers a wide range of issues around culture, technology and convergence.  He has an amazing set of links at his site.  Check it out.

Community Media: Moving to Confront an IP-Enable World

Just returned from the ACM conference in Tampa. Presented on the Convergence, Emergence & Empowerment panel with Dirk Konig, Nettrice Gaskins, and Fred Johnson. Hope that the powerpoints will be posted soon. Community Media folks seemed eager to explore the possiblities of the online file sharing environ. Passed out lots of 10speed and cbcmedia cards.

Seems like the future of an IP-enabled world was the big buzz and all the CMC movement seems poised to move forward. Jeff Chester’s opening pre-conference panel “Shaping our Digital Destiny” addressed many of the issues facing communities in a conglomerized world dominated by cable interests. Andrew Afflbach from Columbia Telecommunications Corporation presented some great technology vision, Nick Miller policy, and Inja Coates (MediaTank) an achtivist on the ground perspective.

A panel entitled Caution: Convergence Ahead also debated where these technologies were talking folks. Fred Cohn, Deputy Manager from the City of Monterey presented the fantastic gigabit ethernet I=Net and Cora Wilson from NATOA painted the picture for PEG in the coming years.

Clearly the convergence at all levels (tech innnovation, policy, and program)is starting to shake itself out. Clearly community media folks are starting to think through what these issues mean for them. The question will be what will happen as content becomes less centrally controlled and users interact in with content in individualized ways. What does this mean for public space, interests and ideas.

Thanks to Jason Daniels for giving me a really good metaphor for all of this. Think of all of this stuff as a chess board. There are many players, many strategies and many possible ways to victory. Community Media is a rook = pretty powerful at moving in certain directions. Community Tech a bishop = also powerful for moving in complementary directions. By combining these two we get a queen – the most powerful piece on the board. With this power, we can be ready and flexible for any possible opposition or strategy and our chances for winning much stronger. Thanks Jason!!!!

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