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<nettime> A Reflection on the Activist Strategies in the Web 2.0 Era
Tatiana Bazzichelli on Thu, 8 Jan 2009 09:58:31 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> A Reflection on the Activist Strategies in the Web 2.0 Era


I would like to share with the Nettime readers a personal review of
the past Activism-Hacking-Artivism Camping, the first collective
meeting of the Italian aha {AT} ecn.org mailing-list, which focuses
on hacktivism and netculture. I would also like to propose some
reflections on social networking vs. freedom of communication in the
Web 2.0 social platforms, which was a much discussed issue during our

*A Reflection on the Activist Strategies in the Web 2.0 Era*
Towards a new language criticism
by Tatiana Bazzichelli

// A networking art platform //

The ahaCamping took place on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of October 2008
at the S.A.L.E independent exhibition space in Venice (The Salt
Warehouses, Dorsoduro 187-188). It was organized and managed directly
by the subscribers of the AHA mailing list (aha {AT} ecn.org), which is
hosted by the Italian independent server Isole Nella Rete (Islands in
the Net). The AHA mailing list is the core of the networking project
AHA:Activism-Hacking-Artivism (www.ecn.org/aha), which I founded in
Rome in 2001 and later developed in Berlin from 2003 to 2008.

The AHA project is a networking art platform created to promote
hacktivism and art on the Internet related to the Italian net
culture and underground movement. AHA project has contributed to the
creation of a network of relations and practices through exhibitions,
conferences, workshops and international meetings. The project
received an Honorary Mention in the Digital Communities category of
the Prix Ars Electronica, at the ARS Electronica Festival in Linz (AU)
in September 2007. The key aspect of the AHA project is the community
of the mailing list aha {AT} ecn.org, created on the 30th of December
2002. The mailing list is moderated by three women: Eo_Call, Lo|Bo
and me (T_Bazz), and it is part of the neighbourhood mailing-lists of
Nettime. The aim of the aha list is to encourage participants to think
about art as an open network of practices and interventions, providing
the possibility of sharing ideas, creative works and projects on art
and hacktivism.

// The AHA Camping and the development of Hacker Ethics //

In March 2008 we had the idea of organizing the ahaCamping. During
Turin's Share Festival (www.toshare.it/eng), some members of the AHA
mailing-list met to discuss the topics of a future common initiative.
Subsequently, we discussed the purpose and details of the Camp on the
mailing-list, as well as on an open wiki platform later developed by
the subscribers themselves: the ahaCamper (www.ecn.org/aha/camper).
The core themes of the ahaCamping were the analysis of Web 2.0
platforms, the relationships between artistic activities and media
strategies, the issue of surveillance in the net and urban space,
the Post-Fordist analysis of the precarious collective movement, the
experimental artistic possibilities offered by social networking, and
the concept of porn and sexuality as an open platform of intervention
for fluid (and queer) identities.

The AHA Camping was inspired by the (mainly Italian) activity of
organizing Hackmeetings, the annual national hacker meetings, which
take place in different Italian city every year (www.hackmeeting.org).
The basic idea of hacker ethics (for the Italian community) has a
strong political and activist meaning and it is strictly related
to the idea of sharing knowledge, developing free software and
fighting for social and political rights. The Italian Hackmeetings are
therefore different from other International experiences, such as for
example the CCC Camp in Berlin. The entrance fee for the hackmeetings
is minimal and they are organized directly by the participants (which
are part of the Hackmeeting mailing list).

The Spanish hacker scene has adopted the same "bottom-up
strategy" since 2000 (see www.hacklabs.org/en and
www.sindominio.net/hackmeeting) as well as some international hacker
meetings called Transhackmeeting, which took inspiration from the
Italian ones. The first Transhackmeeting took place in Pula, Croatia,
in 2004, and the last in Oslo in 2007 (www.transhackmeeting.org).

The AHA community decided to meet in Venice last October, inspired
by the same background which has animated the hacker and activist
scene since the beginning of ‘90s (from the Cybernet BBS networks
to the Italian Social Center scenario). To set up the meeting, we
worked together with the S.A.L.E. collective, an independent local
exhibition space, which is at the core of many student social and
political activities in the city of Venice.

After three days of workshops and talks, much interesting input was
developed but one of the most interesting discussions concerned the
definition of our project as a "networking platform", as the word
"networking" has been completely overused after the emergence of the
Web 2.0 phenomenon. Since 2001, AHA project has been defined as a
social network which critically deals with art and activism. What
does it mean to speak about networking and hacktivism today? I have
been asking myself this question for many months as I have begun to
analyze the emerging of the Web 2.0 phenomena and the actual meaning
of "network effects".

In the definition of "Web 2.0" offered by Tim O'Reilly (first realized
in 2004 and then revisited in 2006), "Web 2.0 is the business
revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet
as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on
that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications
that harness network effects to get better the more people use
them. (This is what I've elsewhere called 'harnessing collective

But where is the real revolution? As Dmytri Kleiner discussed in
the article "Info-Enclosure 2.0" (Mute Magazine, January 2007),
"The Internet has always been about sharing between users. In fact
Usenet, a distributed messaging system, has been operated since 1979!
Since long before even Web 1.0, Usenet has been hosting discussions,
'amateur' journalism, and enabling photos and file sharing (…)". It is
clear that Internet as a place of open and free sharing has already
existed for quite a while. At the same time, notions of interaction
and collective participation have been central to 20th-century art.
The concept of networking has been practiced since the '50s – for
example, with the mail art experiments and, at the beginning of the
'80s, the Neoist-Network-Web visionary project and the idea of "open
situations". In the hacker and activist scene of the mid-'90s, the
concept of sharing knowledge and collective construction of data has
been fundamental to the creation of free software and the development
of the GNU/Linux operative system.

// A battle of language //

The crucial point is that today we are facing a battle of language.   
The real business revolution is the transformation of language.       
I personally attended the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin in 2007 and          
analyzed many presentations of the same event in 2008, and what       
I found incredibly surprising was that the language used by           
Tim O'Reilly and the other speakers was very close to the one         
used by the hackers in the '90s. Concepts like openness, Do It        
Yourself, sharing and social networking are now widely used by        
the inventors, developers and users of platforms like Facebook,       
YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, Del.icio.us etc. Sentences like “Open       
your data and services for re-use by others, and re-use the           
data and services of others whenever possible”, which once            
could have been perfect examples of what is literally called          
hacker ethics, are used today by Tim O'Reilly to define Web 2.0       

On the Tim O'Reilly Radar website is a section for "Open Source":
http://radar.oreilly.com/open_source/ in which we can read: "The
open source paradigm shift transformed how software is developed
and deployed. First widely recognized when the disruptive force of
Linux changed the game, open source software leverages the power of
network effects, enlightened self-interest, and the architecture
of participation. Today, the impact of open source on technology
development continues to grow, and O'Reilly Radar tracks the key
players and projects. O'Reilly has been part of the open source
community since the beginning--we convened the 1998 Summit at which
the visionary developers who invented key free software languages
and tools used to build the Internet infrastructure agreed that
‘open source’ was the right term to describe their licenses and
collaborative development process".

It is therefore obvious that the real business revolution of Web 2.0
is in the strategy of opening new models for the venture capital to
solve the dotcom crisis of the early 2000. And the first step towards
reaching this goal appears to work on re-appropriating the language
used in the first phase of networking culture and to create a new
rhetoric to describe the diffusion of a cloud of networking platforms.
Unfortunately these platforms of networking are not open at all as
they pretend to be, but they are controlled by business companies
mainly based in the Silicon Valley headquarters. This is something
similar to what already happened in California twenty years ago, when
one of the first collective IT amateur experiences, the legendary
Homebrew Computer Club (1975-1976), which promoted the motto "Computer
Power to the People", gave rise to twenty-three of the Valley's major
computer companies.

Another example of the re-appropriation of language is shown in a
recent post by Tim O'Reilly: "Thoughts on the Financial Crisis"
Facing the current world-wide economical crisis, he suggests "working
on stuff that matters". After the emergence of issues like the oil
price shock, global warming, the decline in US and European economic
competitiveness and innovation, the proposal is "to have robust
strategies" and work on saving lives, reduce our reliance on oil, be
prudent in what we spend money on, and get socially active – and do
this using the lesson learned from social networking. These strategies
recall some of the claims of activist and political groups active
among the underground culture in the '90s.

// Towards a new language criticism //

Last winter Bruce Sterling assumed that Web 2.0 is already dead,
reconstructing its short and glorious life during a video conference
in Turin (see http://dams.campusnet.unito.it). But considering the
increasing number of users in MySpace and Facebook, we should still
assume that something is going on. What would a valid strategy of
radical action be today after a new rhetoric of business has taken
over many of the original hacker and activist arguments? How should
hackers and activists respond to this appropriation of imaginary?
The answer is to reinvent new subversive strategies for discovering
"the bug in the system" by creating a new language criticism. Future
reflection on activism and hacker culture should therefore include
a deep study of the language and rhetoric of presenting conceptual
models and dynamics of networking.

This is what we discussed among other topics at the AHA Camping,
reflecting on the ability to face creatively the present development
of social (commercial) communities. My position is not to refuse
the very popular social networking platforms because commercial and
closed; rather, it is to try to construct new artistic and activist
experiments at the core of their system. It is necessary to criticize
the media, applying the Hands-On hacker attitude in new territories
of intervention. Tim O'Reilly is learning from hackers, but hackers
should be able to reinvent their strategies once again.

A new language criticism is needed!

Tatiana Bazzichelli

http://au.dk/imvtb {AT} hum

More info on ahaCamping:

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