Acting CIO of the Commons

This thought experiment starts in the metaphors of business.  How do we structure organizations and construct authority?  Businesses are structured for top down control as are most of our modern institutions, but the commons is different and we need to be aware when we reach the limits of our metaphors and need to create something new.  We need to imagine our way to the structure or a Global Wisdom Driven Organization.  When you don't have ways to force or push people into imposed structures, you need to pull them together by some other means.  That means is vision.  The best corporations are led by vision.  Emerging leadership thinking realizes that it is ineffective to use force to get people to cooperate with collective goals.  The blatant unfairness of sharply stratified incomes and wealth as wealth collectively created with large inputs from the commons make the whole process into a collective psychological game.  Why should anyone cooperate with a class that contemptuously treats them as raw materials, just another factor of production.

I propose that the commons needs a CIO.  The commons being multiple in itself, there is no reason to think this should be a singular position where competing visionaries have to engage until one emerges victorious.  It is the vision that needs to be singular in the way it constitutes a shared space of engagement, an open field.  I become an acting CIO by participating in the construction of a vision of what can be done now and in the near future.  This field is inclusive of all open source software and the peer produced resouces like Wikipedia, Open Street Maps and many many more.  The scope is so vast and constantly growing that it will always be difficult to know the boundaries.  In this chapter, the author puts on the hat of acting CIO and begins to articulate a vision.  If you're like me, you'll have strong opinions about what is important and what needs to be done next, and if you do, then put on a hat and join the fun.  There's plenty of work to go around.  We will need to keep up with each other and to work to construct collective understandings.

Multiple centers can and do emerge, and sometimes they later merge and sometimes not.  In the open source world, we also have a word for when a singular project becomes two.  We call that a fork, and it doesn't happen very often.  In the commons, it is very resource intensive to fork projects.  It splits the attentions of one community of users and developers into two smaller groups and makes confusion and headaches for those spanning groups, and other projects that depend on them or provide support to them.  There is a kind of marketplace functioning, but it isn't much like markets that operate primarily in terms of scarcity and rivalry.

If we want to understand why, we have to look directly at how information and knowledge is fundamentally different than material goods, and how their respective marketplaces might differ.  The raw material here is data, information in it's raw form, and this kind of information is always too abundant.  But this raw form is completely contextual.  In semiotic terms, it is signs without objects or interpretants.  When we load the data into information processing networks, and some of the data is interpreted as programs, then those programs can construct interpretations of the actual signs and objects.  Ultimately, information systems are supporting sign systems for human intelligence so the signs that are important and in the commons of human language and interpretations.  When we talk about rival and non-rival goods, we are refering to this distinction.  Physical objects like a car, a house or food to eat are consumed in their use, but information is not.  You body copies billions of bits of DNA every time a cell divides, and computers can make exact copies of any binary data with almost no cost.  Just like with our cells, making copies is fundamental to how they work.

Imagine a map of all the open source projects, both in the original code sharing sense, and now in the sense of creating crowd sourced and collectively produces information resources of all sorts.  It could never be complete as projects come and go continuously.  If I had to be CIO of the whole thing, I'd never be able to know what all my people are doing.  That's ok in a large organization, even moreso when its structure is a decentrallized network.  The component technologies of kernels, networks, file systems, languages and much much more are actually very mature technologies, if you can call five to ten years mature.  The entire space of wiki platforms is maybe fifteen years old, so the its cards all the way down that I am writing this on isn't a newcomer at seven or so years in the making.  On the other hand, it incorporates innovations that make it something quite new in the history of wiki that are not entirely built.

I focus on the data platform because that is what will best support the most needed developments to support the producers of the information commons.  The Decko platform is what you would build to support Wikipedia if you hadn't already invested many man-years of development in your current platform.  It is what a team is building Wikirate site with, a cloud-sourced platform where contributors build an database of corporate performance ratings based on the measurements valued by the knowledge producers.  It is what we can build a platform for the peer production of democracy with.

We will need many tools to support the processes of our networked organizations of peer production, and they all can be well supported by the card based data platform.  Let's list some of the main processes necessary to acheive and maintain the structure necessary for us to continue to do the work:

  • We need sustain ourselves.  We need to produce value and realize it in currencies that we we can exchange for the necessities of living.  Dignified work and a fair participation in the common wealth.
  • We need to produce and reproduce the skills necessary to do the work.  Produce a skilled labor force.
  • We depend on and support the institutions that produce a healthy, educated and independent population.  Produce an available labor force.  Produce citizens committed to maintaining the common weal.
  • We need to see what we are doing together.  Produce an active collective vision of the work.

A corporation implements information systems to support different aspects of its operations, and it is the same with the commons.  The list above can be made to roughly correspond to the departments of a typical organizational structure, but there are fundamental differences.  A corporate structure has the purpose of excluding, and in the commons we are structuring and designing for inclusion.  The only thing a corporations wants to include is profits, and the revenues that make for profitable operations, and any costs that can be excluded register the same way in the production of profit.  We create and enhance a commons by including objects, by including more of those objects and including them in more ways.  The commons of human knowledge and wisdom is greater by inclusion.  In this context, sharing knowledge grows this commons and makes it of greater value to all.

When software developers created the principles of open source software, it was because they wanted this value of sharing code held in commons.  The corporate instinct is to exclude and to want to make any line of code developed on their nickle into exclusive property.  Sometimes on the theory that they will profit from it, but more often in a simple self-protective reflex.  In developing information tools and assets for the commons, we don't have that problem.  The Gnu Public License was designed first to include code into a space of shared code and second to prevent anyone from excluding derivitive works from the commons.  For someone acting in a CIO role for any knowledge commons, or wanting to provide tools for any such commons, the open source software movement is our labor force.

What we don't have yet is a financial system that matches our productions systems.  We have to exist in a finantial environment dominated by mono-culture currencies that are more suited to rivalry and scarcity.  We have abundance and attention.  We don't want to sell our attention to the highest bidder so they can pummel us with marketting pitches; we want to engage with passion in what really matters to us and our families.

We need to take social media back from the corporations.  We need tools like Facebook, but without exposing ourselves to the privacy invasion and push ads.  Tools like Twitter are more adaptable to these concerns, and the key will be in how the tools are used.  The core app of peer-to-peer democracy is a massive voter contact/registration support tool, but to the worker in a neighborhood polling citizens and getting them registered and to the polls this application connects all such workers in a social production network.  If I'm also involved in particular social causes and groups, I'm going to want one tool for managing my connections whether we are working on voter engagement or cleaning up the regional environment.  That's why we need any tools we develop to be maximally interoperable and networkable.  There will be many legacy tools already in use by groups actively engaged in the work.  There are institutions that support some tools, but they tend to exclude on some boundary (for example the academic digital libraries of peer reviewed papers are only available through pay-walls to intitutional members).

This diversity of existing practices is both a wealth and a burden.  The burden is in the massive effort needed to connect them into a coherent whole.  Fortunately, current practice in software design and implementation has come a long way.  We have some really good abstractions for networked computing and sharing object representations.  We use agile development methods to rapidly prototype applications that can be easily converted into networked resources.  In It's Cards all the Way Down, I write about a platform that I have contributed to in design and code.  This platform is a good candidate for a networked data abstraction that is needed to implement all of the other tools.  It doesn't have to be this tool or implementation, but the it needs to share the core of this data design.  Named networked data objects with structured relationships.  As I write this, Decko 1.0 is being planned and worked on, and we'll need to get to Decko Systems for the full networked model.

Another very helpful movement is the development of coding bootcamps.  This is a great way to develop skills in the community, but as a CIO, I'm even more interested in leadership development.  If I bring raw talent to a bootcamp and give them skills, the only path is into the corporate world.  You can follow up with incubators to teach entreprenuership, and that is all good as far as it goes.  I want to inspire them with my vision for what we can build in the Commons.  The invitation and opportunity isn't just to learn to code, but to find a path into leadership where we construct our vision for the future and implement it.  I want to draw a much broader spectum of talent into a program that will start with a basic technological grounding in coding websites, but has different tracks that concentrate on each aspect of the overall process of creating collaborative knowledge works.  Potential stewards of the commons might find work in product/project management after getting a background in current practices, or they might appentice on open source projects.  These are skill sets recognized in industry, and open source development is a bit of an industry in itself as corporate systems.

This is to say, these skills will offer opportunities for support by working in industry, academia or non-profits.  The bigger opportunity for support is in commons based industry.  Instead of getting a jobs, we can produce services in a peer-to-peer network.  Our member-based social media tools might be add-free, but say a company wants to sponsor an access portal that is branded and linked to company sponsored content.  We can sell that.  If the peer-to-peer network of precinct workers wants to sell voting lists or election day services to get out the vote, they can do that.  It is more likely that this network would fund-forward with their collective assets to support grass-roots candidates who represent their values.  When these candidates win, they are in a position to raise funds to pay back that debt and more to help fund-forward for other good candidates.  Again, some people in the network will get paid directly by getting jobs with representatives, advocacy organizations or parties, but that isn't the big opportunity here.


We need to create a new kind of currency system.  That also will mean new kinds of markets that are based on principles of inclusion and abundance in contrast to the only kind of money we have now that is based in exclusion and scarcitly.  This has been called a flowspace, and maybe others have their own name for something similar.  This step on its own has the potential to revolutionize economies and lead to much more balanced prosperity at a much higher median level.

We need to re-create social media so that it empowers people in collaborative networks.  We are tired of having our attention managed by others and want to take ownership of how information gets filtered.  We need to protect privacy when information is shared and agreggated so that it can't function to spy on and market to us.  Any value that can be gained with this aggregated data is reserved to the producers of that data and their common interests.  This can be realized by integrating flowspace/meta-currency based systems with the new social media tools.

The Commons co-exists with exclusivity and ownership, and it needs to be defended.  When something is rejected as waste, it is given to the Commons to care for.  Whether what is given is gift or burden is determined in the exchange.  Polution is a violence done to the commons when it becomes global in scale.  In that case, the only signal that industry understands is cost, and therefore we must find a way to price it into the market.  It is helpful to note here that the global financial markets are in-themselves a commons, and by the logic of the free-market industry should not be allowed to externalize these costs.  In other words, the market is thereby broken and doesn't function to fairly distrubute costs and benefites.  What is needed is a logic by which industry pays for what it takes and for the burden placed on the commons in rejecting waste.