Felix Stalder on Thu, 6 Jun 2002 09:16:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Open Source Intelligence

Open Source Intelligence
Felix Stalder and Jesse Hirsh
First Monday, volume 7, number 6 (June 2002),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_6/stalder/index.html

The Open Source movement has established over the last decade a new
collaborative approach, uniquely adapted to the Internet, to developing
high-quality informational products. Initially, its exclusive application
was the development of software (GNU/Linux and Apache are among the most
prominent projects), but increasingly we can observe this collaborative
approach being applied to areas beyond the coding of software. One such
area is the collaborative gathering and analysis of information, a practice
we term "Open Source Intelligence". In this article, we use three case
studies - the nettime mailing list, the Wikipedia project and the NoLogo
Web site - to show some the breadth of contexts and analyze the variety of
socio-technical approaches that make up this emerging phenomenon.

= Open Source Collaborative Principles
= A Few Examples of Open Source Intelligence
= The Future of OS-INT

In the world of secret services, Open Source Intelligence (OS-INT) means
useful information gleaned from public sources, such as scientific
articles, newspapers, phone books and price lists. We use the term
differently. In the followings OS-INT means the application of
collaborative principles developed by the Open Source Software movement [1]
to the gathering and analysis of information. These principles include:
peer review, reputation- rather than sanctions-based authority, the free
sharing of products, and flexible levels of involvement and responsibility.

Like much on the Internet in general, including the Open Source Software
movement, practice preceded theory also in the case of OS-INT.

Many of the Internet's core technologies were created to facilitate free
and easy information sharing among peers. This always included two-way and
multicast communication so that information could not only be distributed
efficiently, but also evaluated collaboratively.

E-mail lists - the most simple of all OS-INT platforms - have been around
since the mid 1970s [2]. In the 1980s, bulletin boards, FidoNet and Usenet
provided user-driven OS-INT platforms with more sophisticated and
specialized functionality.

In the 1990s, many of these platforms were overshadowed by the emergence of
the Word Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee's foundational work on Web standards was
guided by a vision of peer collaboration among scientists distributed
across the globe [3].

While OS-INT's precedents reach back through the history of the Internet -
and if one were to include peer-reviewed academic publishing, much beyond
that - a series of recent events warrant that it be considered a distinct
phenomenon that is slowly finding its own identity, maturing from a
practice "in itself" to one "for itself."

The culture of the Internet as a whole has been changing. The spirit of
free sharing that characterized the early days is increasingly being
challenged by commodity-oriented control structures which have
traditionally dominated the content industries.

At this point, insatead of being the norm, free sharing of information is
becoming the exception, in part because the regulatory landscape is
changing. The extension of copyrights and increasingly harsh prosecution of
violations are attempts to criminalize early Net culture in order to shore
up the commodity model, which is encountering serious difficulties in the
digital environment [4].

In other areas, years of experience with the rise and fall of
"proto-OS-INT" forums has accumulated to become a kind of connective
social-learning process. Uncounted e-mail lists went through boom and bust
cycles, large numbers of newsgroups flourished and then fell apart due to
pressures from anti-social behavior. Spam became a problem. Endless
discussions raged about censorship imposed by forum moderators,
controversial debates erupted about ownership of forums (is it the users or
the providers?), difficulties were encountered when attempting to reach any
binding consensus in fluctuating, loosely integrated groups.

The condensed outcome of these experiences is a realization that a
sustainable, open and collaborative practice is difficult to achieve and
that new specialized approaches must be developed in order to sustain the
fine balance between openness and a healthy signal/noise ratio.

In other words, self-organization needs some help.

The emerging field of OSI-INT is made up of numerous, independent projects.
Each of them, such as the Nettime e-mail list, Wikipedia and the NoLogo.org
Web site which will be discussed in the following, has a distinct history
that led them to develop different technical and social strategies, in
order to realize some or all of the open source collaborative principles.

Open Source Collaborative Principles

One of the early precedents of open source intelligence is the process of
academic peer review. As academia established a long time ago, in the
absence of fixed and absolute authorities, knowledge has to be established
through the tentative process of consensus building. At the core of this
process is peer review, the practice of peers evaluating each other's work,
rather than relying on external judges.

The specifics of the reviewing process are variable, depending on the
discipline, but the basic principle is universal. Consensus cannot be
imposed, it has to be reached. Dissenting voices cannot be silenced, except
through the arduous process of social stigmatization.

Of course, not all peers are really equal, not all voices carry the same
weight. The opinions of those people to whom high reputation has been
assigned by their peers carry more weight. Since reputation must be
accumulated over time, these authoritative voices tend to come from
established members of the group. This gives the practice of peer review an
inherently conservative tendency, particularly when access to the peer
group is strictly policed, as it is in academia, where diplomas and
appointments are necessary to enter the elite circle.

The point is that the authority held by some members of the group - which
can, at times, distort the consensus-building process - is attributed to
them by the group, therefore it cannot be maintained (easily) against the
will of the other group members.

If we follow Max Weber's definition that power is the ability to "impose
one's will upon the behavior of other persons," [5] this significantly
limits the degree to which established members can yield power. Eric
Raymond had the same limitations in mind when he noted that open source
projects are often run by "benevolent dictators" [6]. They are not
benevolent because the people are somehow better, but because their
leadership is based almost exclusively on their ability to convince others
to follow. Thus the means of coercion are very limited. Hence, a dictator
who is no longer benevolent, i.e. who alienates his or her followers, loses
the ability to dictate.

The ability to coerce is limited, not only because authority is
reputation-based, but also because the products that are built through a
collaborative process are available to all members of the group. Resources
do not accumulate with the elite. Therefore, abandoning the leader and
developing the project in a different direction - known as "forking" in the
Open Source Software movement - is relatively easy and always a threat to
the established players. The free sharing of the products produced by the
collaboration among all collaborators - both in their intermediary and
final forms - ensures that that there are no "monopolies of knowledge" that
would increase the possibility of coercion.

The free sharing of information has nothing to do with altruism or a
specific anti-authoritarian social vision. It is motivated by the fact that
in a complex collaborative process, it is effectively impossible to
differentiate between the "raw material" that goes into a creative process
and the "product" that comes out.

Even the greatest innovators stand on the shoulders of giants. All new
creations are built on previous creations and provide inspiration for
future ones. The ability to freely use and refine those previous creations
increases the possibilities for future creativity. Lawrence Lessig calls
this an "innovation commons," and cites its existence as one of the major
reasons why the Internet as a whole developed so rapidly and innovatively

It is also important to note that an often overlooked characteristic of
open source collaboration is the flexible degree of involvement in and
responsibility for the process that can be accommodated. The hurdle to
participating in a project is extremely low. Valuable contributions can be
as small as a single, one-time effort - a bug report, a penetrating comment
in a discussion.

Equally important, though, is the fact that contributions are not limited
to just that. Many projects also have dedicated, full-time, often paid
contributors who maintain core aspects of the system - such as maintainers
of the kernel, or editors of a slash site.

Between these two extremes - one-time contribution and full-time dedication
- all degrees of involvement are possible and useful. It is also easy to
slide up or down the scale of commitment. Consequently, dedicated people
assume responsibility when they invest time in the project, and lose it
when they cease to be fully immersed.

Hierarchies are fluid and merit-based, however and whatever merit means to
the peers. This also makes it difficult for established members to continue
to hold onto their positions when they stop making valuable contributions.
In volunteer organizations, this is often a major problem, as early
contributors sometimes try to base their influence on old contributions,
rather than letting the organizations change and develop.

None of these principles were "invented" by the Open Source Software
movement. However, they were updated to work on the Internet and fused into
a coherent whole in which each principle reinforces the other in a positive
manner. The conservative tendencies of peer review are counter-balanced
with relatively open access to the peer group: a major difference from
academia, for instance.

Most importantly, the practice of Open Source has proved that these
principles are a sound basis for the development of high-end content that
can compete with the products produced by commodity-oriented control
structures [8].

A Few Examples of Open Source Intelligence

< nettime >

Nettime is an e-mail list founded in the summer of 1995 by a group of
cultural producers and media activists during a meeting at the Venice
Biennale. As its homepage states, the list focuses on "networked cultures,
politics, and tactics" [9]. Its actual content is almost entirely driven by
members' submissions. It is a good example of true many-to-many

Nettime calls its own practice "collaborative text filtering." The filter
is the list itself - or to be more precise, the cognitive capacities of the
people on the list. The list consists of peers with equal ability - though
not necessarily interest - to read and write. The practice of peer review
takes place on the list and in real time.

The list serves as an early warning system for the community, a discussion
board for forwarded texts as well as a sizeable amount of original writing,
and, equally importantly, an alternative media channel. This last function
became most prominent during the war against Yugoslavia, when many of
members living in the region published their experiences of being on the
receiving end of not-so-smart, not-so-precise bombs.

By March 2002, the number of subscribers had grown to 2,500. The number of
people who read nettime posts, however, is higher than the number of
subscribers to the list. Nettime maintains a public Web-based archive that
is viewed extensively, and some of the subscriber addresses are lists
themselves. Also, as a high-reputation list, many of the posts get
forwarded by individual subscribers to more specialized lists (another kind
of collaborative text filtering), in addition to being published in print
and other electronic media.

The majority of subscribers come from Western Europe and North America, but
the number of members from other regions is quite sizeable [10]. Over the
years, autonomous lists have been spun off in other languages: Dutch,
Romanian, Spanish/Portuguese, French and Mandarin. A Japanese list is
currently in preparation. Despite its growth and diversity, nettime has
retained a high degree of coherent culture and developed an original of
technology-savvy, leftist media critique, stressing the importance of
culture and social aspects of technology, as well as the importance of art,
experimentation and hands-on involvement. This flexible coherence has been
strengthened through a series of real-life projects, such as paper
publications including a full-scale anthology [11], and a string of
conferences and "nettime-meetings" in Europe during the 1990s.

Since its inception, the list has been running on majordomo, a then popular
open source e-mail list package, and assorted hypermail and mhonarc based
Web archives. Technically, the list has undergone little development.
Initially, for almost three years, the list was open and unmoderated,
reflecting the close-knit relationships of its small circle of subscribers
and the still "clubby" atmosphere of netculture.

However, after spam and flame wars became rampant, and the deteriorating
signal/noise ratio began to threaten the list's viability, moderation was
introduced. In majordomo, moderation means that all posts go into a queue
and the moderators - called "list-owners," an unfortunate terminology -
decide which posts get put though to the list, and which are deleted.

This technological set-up makes the moderation process opaque and
centralized. The many list members cannot see which posts have not been
approved by the few moderators. Understandably, in the case of nettime,
this has led to a great deal of discussion about censorship and "power
grabbing" moderators. The discussion was particularly acrimonious in the
case of traffic-heavy ASCII-art and spam-art that can either be seen as
creative experimentation with the medium, or as destructive flooding of a
discursive space. Deleting commercial spam, however, was universally

In order to make the process of moderation more transparent, an additional
list was introduced in February 2000, nettime-bold. This channel has been
carrying all posts that go into the queue prior to moderators' evaluation.
Because this list is also archived on the Web, members can view for
themselves the difference between what was sent to the list and what was
approved by the moderators.

In addition to increasing the list's transparency, having access to the
entire feed of posts created the option for members to implement parallel
but alternative moderation criteria. In practice, however, this has not yet
occurred. Nevertheless, giving members this option has transformed the
status of the moderators from being the exclusive decision makers to
"trusted filters." It has also provided the possibility for forking (i.e.
the list splitting into two differently moderated forums).

Nettime is entirely run by volunteers. Time and resources are donated. The
products of nettime are freely available to members and non-members alike.
Even the paper publications are available in their entirety in the nettime
archives [12]. Reflecting its history and also the diversity of its
contributors and submissions, nettime has maintained the rule that "you own
your own words." Authors decide how to handle redistribution of their own
texts, though to be frank, it is hard to have control over a text's
after-life once it has been distributed to 2,500 addresses and archived on
the Web.

Despite its many advantages - ease of use, low technical requirements for
participating, direct delivery of the messages into members' inboxes - the
format of the e-mail list is clearly limited when it comes to collaborative
knowledge creation.

Moderation is essential once a list reaches a certain diversity and
recognition, but the options for how to effect this moderation are highly
constrained. Nettime's solution - establishing an additional unmoderated
channel - has not essentially changed the fact that there is a very strict
hierarchy between moderators and subscribers. While involvement is flexible
(ranging from lurkers to frequent contributors) the responsibility is
inflexibly restricted to the two fixed social roles enabled by the software
(subscriber and moderator). The additional channel has also not changed the
binary moderation options: approval or deletion. The social capacities
built into the e-mail list software remain relatively primitive, and so are
the options for OS-INT projects using this platform.

< wikipedia.com >

Wikipedia is a spin-off of Nupedia. Nupedia - the name is a combination of
GNU and encyclopedia - is a project to create an authoritative encyclopedia
inspired, and morally supported, by Richard Stallman's GNU project [13].
However, apart from being published under an open license, Nupedia's
structure is similar to the traditional editorial process. Experts write
articles that are reviewed by a board of expert editors (with some public
input via the "article in progress" section) before being finalized,
approved, and published. Once published, the articles are finished. Given
the extensive process, it's not surprising that the project has been
developing at a glacial pace.

Wikipedia was started in early 2001 as an attempt to create something
similar - a free encyclopedia that would ultimately be able to compete with
the Encyclopaedia Britannica - but it was developed via a very different,
much more open process. The two projects are related but independent -
Nupedia links to articles on Wikipedia if it has no entries for a keyword,
and some people contribute to both projects, but most don't.

The project's technological platform is called Wikiweb, named after the
Hawaiian word wikiwiki, which means fast [14]. The original software was
written in 1994 but recently rewritten to better handle the rapidly growing
size and volume of Wikipedia.

The Wiki platform incorporates one of Berners-Lee's original concepts for
the Web: to let people not only see the source code, but also freely edit
the content of pages they view. In the footer of most Wikipages is the
option to "Edit this page," which gives the user access to a simple form
that allows them to change the displayed page's content. The changes become
effective immediately, without being reviewed by a board or even the
original author. Each page also has a "history" function that allows users
to review the changes and, if necessary, revert to an older version of the

In this system, writing and editing are collective and cumulative. A reader
who sees a mistake or omission in an article can immediately correct it or
add the missing information. Following the open source peer-review maxim,
formulated by Eric Raymond as "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are
shallow," this allows the project to grow not only in number of articles,
but also in terms of the articles' depth, which should improve over time
through the collective input of knowledgeable readers.

Since the review and improvement process is public and ongoing, there is no
difference between beta and release versions of the information (as there
is in Nupedia). Texts continuously change. Peer-review becomes
peer-editing, resulting in what Larry Sanger, one of the original project
leaders, hailed as the "most promiscuous form of publishing."

At least as far as its growth is concerned, the project has been very
successful. It passed 1,000 pages around February 12, 2001, and 10,000
articles around September 7, 2001. In its first year of existence, over
20,000 encyclopedia entries were created - that's a rate of over 1,500
articles per month. By the end of March 2002, the number of articles had
grown to over 27,000.

The quality of the articles is a different matter and difficult to judge in
a general manner. Casual searching brings up some articles that are in very
good shape and many that aren't. Of course, this is not surprising given
the given the fact that the project is still very young. Many of the
articles function more as invitations for input than as useful reference
sources. For the moment, many texts have an "undergraduate" feel to them,
which may be appropriate, since the project just finished its "first year."
However, it remains to be seen if the project will ever graduate.

Both Nupedia and Wikipedia have been supported by Jimbo Wales, CEO of the
San Diego-based search engine company Bomis, who has donated server space
and bandwidth to the project. The code-base was rewritten by a student at
the University of Cologne, Germany, and for a bit more than one year, Larry
Sanger held a full-time position (via Bomis) as editor-in-chief of Nupedia
and chief organizer at Wikipedia. In January 2002, funding ran out and
Larry resigned. He now contributes as a volunteer. There are currently
close to 1,200 registered users, but since it's possible to contribute
anonymously, and quite a few people do, the actual number of contributors
is most likely higher.

Wikipedia has not suffered from the resignation of its only paid
contributor. It seems that it has reached, at least for the moment, the
critical mass necessary to remain vibrant. Since anyone can read and write,
the paid editor did not have any special status. His contributions were
primarily cognitive, because he had more time than anyone else did to edit
articles and write initial editing rules and FAQ files. His influence was
entirely reputation-based. He could, and did, motivate people, but he could
not force anyone to do anything against their will.

The products of this encyclopedia are freely available to anyone. The texts
are published under the GNU Free Document license [15]. This states that
the texts can be copied and modified for any purpose, as long as the
original source is credited and the resulting text is published under the
same license. Not only the individual texts are available, the entire
project - including its platform - can be downloaded as a single file for
mirroring, viewing offline, or any other use. Effectively, not even the
system administrator can control the project.

The scale of people's involvement in the project is highly flexible,
ranging from the simple reader who corrects a minor mistake, to the author
who maintains a lengthy entry, to the editor who continuously improves
other people's entries. These roles depend entirely on each contributor's
commitment, and are not pre-configured in the software. Everyone has the
same editing capabilities.

So far, the project has suffered little from the kind of vandalism that one
might expect to occur given its open editing capabilities. There are
several reasons for this. On the one hand, authors and contributors who
have put effort into creating an entry have a vested interest in
maintaining and improving the resource, and due to the "change history"
function, individual pages can be restored relatively easily. The latest
version of the platform has an added feature that can send out alerts to
people who request them whenever a specific page has been changed.

The other reason is that the project still has a "community" character to
it, so there seems to be a certain shared feeling that it is a valuable
resource and needs to be maintained properly. Finally, in case of read
differences over content, it's often easier to create a new entry rather
than to fight over an existing one. This is one of the great advantages of
having infinite space.

So far, self-regulation works quite well. It remains to be seen how long
the current rate of growth can be sustained, and if it really translates
into an improvement over the quality of the individual encyclopedia
entries. So far, the prospects look good, but there are very few examples
of the long-term dynamics of such open projects. Given the fact that its
stated competitor, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, has been publishing since
1768, long term development is clearly essential to such a project.

< NoLogo.org >

NoLogo.org is perhaps the most prominent second-generation slash site. This
makes it a good example of how the OS-INT experience, embodied by a
specific code, is now at a stage where it can be replicated across
different contexts with relative ease. NoLogo.org is based on the current,
stable release of Slashcode, an open source software platform released
under the GPL, and developed for and by the Slashdot community. Slashdot is
the most well-known and obvious example of OS-INT, since it is one of the
main news and discussion sites for the open source movement.

Of particular importance for OS-INT is the collaborative moderation process
supported by the code. Users who contribute good stories or comments on
stories are rewarded with "karma," which is essentially a point system that
enables people to build up their reputation. Once a user has accumulated a
certain number of points, she can assume more responsibilities, and is even
trusted to moderate other people's comments.

Points do have a half-life however. If a user stops contributing, their
privileges expire. Each comment can be assigned points by several different
moderators, and the final grade (from -1 to +5) is an average of all the
moderators' judgments. A good contribution is one that receives high grades
from multiple moderators. This creates a kind of double peer-review
process. The first is the content of the discussion itself where people
respond to one another, and the second is the unique ranking of each

This approach to moderation addresses very elegantly several problems that
bedevil e-mail lists. First, the moderation process is collaborative. No
individual moderator can impose his or her preferences. Second, moderation
means ranking, rather than deleting. Even comments ranked -1 can still be
read. Third, users set their preferences individually, rather than allowing
a moderator to set them for everyone. Some might enjoy the strange worlds
of -1 comments, whereas others might only want to read the select few that
garnered +5 rankings. Finally, involvement is reputation- (i.e. karma-)
based and flexible. Since moderation is collaborative, it's possible to
give out moderation privileges automatically. Moderators have very limited
control over the system. As an additional layer of feedback, moderators who
have accumulated even more points through consistently good work can
"meta-moderate," or rank the other moderators.

The social potential embodied in Slashcode was available when Naomi Klein's
January 2000 book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies became a sudden
international best-seller. In the wake of the anti-globalization protests
in Seattle in November 1999, and after, the book began to sell in the
10,000s and later 100,000s. She found herself caught in a clash of old and
new media and facing a peculiar problem.

A book is a highly hierarchical and centralized form of communication -
there is only one single author, and a very large number of readers. It is
centralized because users form a relationship with the author, while
typically remaining isolated from one another. This imbalance of the
broadcast model is usually not a problem, since readers lack efficient
feedback channels.

However, today many readers have e-mail and began to find Naomi's e-mail
address on the Web. She started receiving e-mails en masse, asking for
comments, advice, and information. There was no way she could take all
these e-mails seriously and respond to them properly. The imbalance between
the needs of the audience and the capacities of the author were just too
great, particularly since Naomi had no interest in styling herself as the
leader or guru of the anti-globalization movement. (Of course that didn't
stop the mass media from doing so without her consent.) As she explains the
idea behind the Nologo.org:

"Mostly, we wanted a place where readers and researchers interested in
these issues could talk directly to one another, rather than going through
me. We also wanted to challenge the absurd media perception that I am "the
voice of the movement," and instead provide a small glimpse of the range of
campaigns, issues and organizations that make up this powerful activist
network - powerful precisely because it insistently repels all attempts to
force it into a traditional hierarchy" [16].

The book, which touched a nerve for many people, created a global,
distributed y"communityy" of isolated readers. The book provided a focus,
but nowhere to go except to the author. The Slashcode-based Web site
provided a readily available platform for the readers to become visible to
one another and break through the isolation created by the book.

The book and the OS-INT platform are complementary. The book is a momentary
and personal solidification of a very fluid and heterogeneous movement. The
coherent analysis that the traditional author can produce still has a lot
of value. The OS-INT platform, on the other hand, is a reflection of the
dynamic multiplicity of the movement, a way to give back something to the
readers (and others) and a connective learning process. More than the book,
Nologo.org fuses action with reflection.

Of course, all the problems that are traditionally associated with public
forums are still there, dissent - at times vitriolic and destructive - is
voiced, but the moderating system allows members of the group to deal with
differences in opinion in ways that do not impede the vitality of the
forum. The learning process of Slashdot, in terms of to how to deal with
these issues, benefited NoLogo significantly. Within the first year, 3,000
users registered on the site which serves requests of some 1,500 individual
visitors per day.

The Future of OS-INT

As a distinct practice, Open Source Intelligence is still quite young and
faces a few challenges.

First, there is the issue of scale. Compared to traditional broadcast
media, OS-INT projects are still very small (with the exception of
slashdot, which has about half a million registered users) [17]. Since
scale and exposure significantly affect the social dynamics, growth might
not come easily for many projects.

Second, there is an issue of economics. Most OSI-INT projects are pure
volunteer projects. Resources are donated. Wikipedia, for example, depends
on Bomis Inc. for hardware and bandwidth. NoLogo.org is financed through
royalties from book sales. Most OS-INT project have not yet produced any
revenue to cover some of the inevitable costs. So far, they have quite
successfully relied on donations (from sympathetic individuals,
corporations or foundations), but prolonged crisis of the Internet economy
does not necessarily make it easier to raise funds, which becomes more
important as the projects grow in size and the infrastructure/bandwidth
needs increase.

Compared to traditional production and publishing models, OS-INT projects
take part to a large degree outside the traditional monetary economy.
Contributors, by and large, are not motivated by immediate financial gain.
However, not all resources can be secured without money, so new and
creative models of financing such projects need to be found.

Slashdot, for example, which could rely for a long time on advertisement as
a main revenue source, recently had to increase the size of banners in
order to keep up with costs. However, it gave users the possibility to
access the site without advertisement - in exchange for a small
subscription fee.

It is likely that OSI-INT projects, from an economic point of view, will
develop into a hybrid involving direct revenues (e.g. subscription,
advertisement), goodwill donations and volunteer efforts. How these
different elements will relate to one another will change from project to
project. There is a lot of room - and need - for creative experiments.

Despite these challenges, there are good reasons to be optimistic about its
future. First, the socio-technological learning process is deepening. The
platforms and practices of OS-INT are becoming better understood, and
consequently the hurdles for users as well as providers are getting lower.

On the users' side, the experience of learning how to deal with
participatory, rather than broadcast media is growing. Their distinct
character is being developed, mastered and appreciated.

For providers, the learning experience of OS-INT is embedded in
sophisticated, freely available GPL software. The start-up costs for new
projects are minimal, and possibilities for adapting the platform to the
idiosyncratic needs of each project are maximized. The resulting diversity,
in turn, enriches the connective learning process.

Second, as the mass media converges into an ever smaller number of
(cross-industrial) conglomerates, which relentlessly promote and control
their multitude of media products, the need for alternative information
channels rises, at least among people who invest time and cognitive energy
into being critically informed.

Given the economics of advertisement-driven mass media, it is clear that
the possibilities of an "alternative newspaper" is rather limited. OS-INT
platforms, by distributing labor throughout the community, offer the
possibility of reaching a wider audience without being subject to the same
economic pressures that broadcast and print media face to deliver those
audiences to advertisers, particularly considering the fact that paid
subscriptions allow access to advertisement-free content.

The more homogenous the mainstream media becomes, the more room opens up
for alternatives. And if these alternatives are to be viable, then they
must not be limited to alternative content, but must also explore the
structure of their production. This is the promise and potential of OS-INT.

The range of technologies are as wide as the range of communities, and a
close relationship exists between the two. Technologies open and close
possibilities in the same sense that social communities do. As Lawrence
Lessig pointed out, what code is to the online world, architecture is to
the physical world [18]. The way we live and the structures in which we
live are deeply related. The culture of technology increasingly becomes the
culture of our society.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference "Critical
Upgrade: Reality Check for Cyber Utopias" (Zagreb, 4-5 May 2002).


1. We use the term Open Source for its deliberate openness. Contrary to the
more narrow term Free Software, Open Source seems better suited to label a
general collaborative approach not limited to code. We acknowledge the
historical and ideological differences between the two concepts, but we
believe that they are of limited relevance in the context of the present

2. http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/#1970s, accessed 25 March

3. Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti, 1999. Weaving the Web: The Original
Design and the Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor. New
York: HarperCollins

4. Lawrence Lessig, 2001. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a
Connected World. New York: Random House.

5. Max Weber, 1954. Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society. Translated by
Talcott Parsons. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

6. Eric Raymond, 2000. "Homesteading the Noosphere," at

7. Lawrence Lessig (2001).

8. Often, but not always, these principles are supported by licenses
setting the legal parameters for what can, or cannot, be done with the
informational products governed by them. For an overview of the different
licenses, see the Open Source initiative's list of more than 30 "approved
licenses" at http://www.opensource.org/licenses.

9. http://www.nettime.org.

10. http://amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0203/msg00080.html.

11. J. Bosma, P. Van Mourik Broekman, T. Byfield, M. Fuller, G. Lovink, D.
McCarty, P. Schultz, F. Stalder, M. Wark, and F. Wilding (editors), 1999.
Readme! Ascii Culture and the Revenge of Knowledge. New York: Autonomedia.

12. http://www.nettime.org/pub.html.

13. http://www.gnu.org/encyclopedia/free-encyclopedia.html.

14. http://www.wiki.org.

15. http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki/GNU+Free+Documentation+License.

16. http://www.nologo.org/letter.shtml.

17. OS-INT projects take place on the Internet hence they still cannot have
the broad reach of traditional broadcast media.

18. Lawrence Lessig, 1999. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York:
Basic Books.

Les faits sont faits.

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