Frederick Noronha on Sat, 10 Jun 2006 12:33:07 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Virtually obsessed... with the peer-to-peer world
Virtually obsessed... with the peer-to-peer world

Michel Bauwens, 48, turned his back on a senior corporate position,
and moved from his homeland of Belgium to another contentinent... and
a very different way of doing things.

Today, researching the P2P movement worldwide is a virtual obsession.
Pun intended.

"We both have one thing in common," he whispered to me conspiratorily
as we were finishing our chat, "we're information gluttons."

So what's the idea behind Michel's and the 2000
pages of wiki-based information it contains?

Let's hear him explain: "The basic idea I had was that there's a new
social movement emerging, which is really about extending the realm of
participation to the whole of life. We live in a representative
democracy, which says you can vote every four years, and choose which
people who exercise power on your behalf... now we're building tools
and resources which say everybody needs to be involved, and everybody
should have a voice."

This movement takes varied forms, and comes in different shapes. It
basically has a free-and-open paradigm, which ensures that people can
work together and create a pool of resources that they can use.

"There's the participative processes itself. There's peer production
(working together). And there's peer goernance (how you manage that
kind of cooperation). The result of all these processes is the
commons," he adds.

Michel sees that a whole lot of action is taking place on the ground.
But there's a catch. There's no place where you can find this
information easily. It's all scattered across the globe. To make
things worse, one end of this global movement doesn't recognise the
other end.

"People in open politics, open money, participatory culture,
participatory spirituality... they don't realise that they are doing
something broadly similar and they can all reinforce each other," he

So go to and see the way he's trying to link them
all together. By information.

"There's a newsletter, which is a thematic weekly. It's consolidated
information, focussing on one topic each week. Everything goes out in
electronic form. We also have a blog, which is a day to day
commentary. You can find it at ," says Michel.

[If you want a copy of his newsletter, contact to subscribe.]

So Michel is trying to build an "ecology" with all this information he
puts together. Material goes into the newsletter and the blog. Then,
he puts it up in a more structured format on the wiki (which has a
functional and a topical area).

"My goal is to documenting commons-related project worldwide," says
he. Anything that's collaboratively produced in common. It could be
from the realms of peer production, peer collaboration, peer

"Take the case of Apache, Mozilla, and the Debian Foundation. How do
they manage to have tonnes of people working together (over such
ambitious but scattered voluntary projects)? How does that work?" he
asks with obivious curiosity and admiration.

Michel is very modest about the fact that he's collating material from
the internet "which is all there". Although in a hard-to-find,
scattered way.

On his site, he has a P2P (peer-to-peer) movements' directory, a
webcast directory, P2P encyclopaedia with about 800 terms explained.
Right from concepts like the open car project, to open ecology.

Open car? What's that?

"Some people, including expert designers working with major
corporations, are volunteering their time to design freely-sharable
plans for a environmentally-friendly solar car project. The car isn't
physically being made, but it's part of the open design movement," he

"There are 35 terms around 'open'. And another 25 terms that start
with 'participatory' -- right from culture, spirituality. Seven or
eight terms are related to commons, from fields relating to books and
the science commons," says Michel.

Open and free software is like the raw-material, he beliees. This
allows groups to communicate and then freely engage to build something
in common.

He has been keenly keeping track of ideas such as peer mentoring in
education too. Time? All this takes upto six hours per day. He does a
thorough job, maintaining a full index of everything published in two
years. "By now the wiki has 2000 pages of information. It explains
concepts like the open text book movement, and how these are related
with other such movements," says he.

Recently, he launched a regional section focussing on
French-Italian-Spanish. "Keeping this ecology alive it's mostly
cutting-and-pasting. I'm a librarian by training. So I choose the
relevant citation, and put it in the right topic. You can do that
pretty fast," says he. But he's obviously doing a very thorough job.

Which was the most exciting idea he came across?

"To me, the most exciting is open spirituality. It's a process of
co-operative enquiry. It assumes nobody has The Truth. Instead, you
agree to a certain practice, say meditation. Then, you all do it
together, and build a dialogue around spiritual experience. Its goal
is to build a contributory spirituality. Every religion approaches
life in a different way," he says.

Some insight: "You realise, when you do this work, how strong this
movement is. Two years ago, the anti-globalisation movement didn't
know it was connected to the Free Software movement. Now they know."

It's all about people creating something in common, and creating a
universal thread through that. "We all think we are doing a small
thing and that we are a small group, but if you look worldwide, this
is a very strong global movement," he adds.

He doesn't think there's any bizarre ideas here. But there's some
interesting practical theorising here, like the concept of prosumers
(who blur the dividing line between consumers and producers). Or
proams (professional amateurs).

Says he: "There are six volunteers that do a lot of work, and two
dozen who do a little. I call myself the chief pleader -- instead of
chief leader."

Michel started off as a librarian, working for the US Information
Agency. Then he shifted to being knowledge manager for British
Petroleum. He also created a Wired-like magazine in Dutch, and built
two dotcoms -- one on extranet-intranet issues, and the other on

"My last job was as e-business strategy manager for a telco. That was
a 25,000 people company in Belgum. I got tired of the corporate world.
So, in 2002 I took a six months holiday, and came here in March 2003.
Then, I took a year's sabbatical. This followed with a year on reading
and a year on writing. This year I've put everything on line. Next
year I plan to physicalise all things -- with conferences and
face-to-face meetings of participants," he laughs when it's pointed
out that he obviously believes in a lot of careful planning. Says he:
"I used to do scenario planning and read a lot of science fiction

He points out that in the 1950s, a lot of 'time capsules' were buried
across the globe, but people simply forgot where these were located.
"Memories of humankind is very shot. We are now making nuclear waste
dumps where the half-life is tens of thousands of years. How would
people remember where these are," he worries.

Michel quotes an anthropological perspective that sees four ways of
interacting -- equality matching (as in the gift-economy of tribal
societies), authority ranking (in feudal societies), market pricing
and communal shareholding.

He believes that peer-to-peer could be the "new form of communal
shareholding". And, he hopes this new form will "contaminate the

Unfortunately, we've got it all wrong, he says. "We treat rival
(one-use) resources as if they were non rival -- we destroy nature.
And we treat non-rival resources as if they were rival -- we make
information scarce," he says.

"But I'm not a pessimist. Our environment is going down, and
inequality is growing. But the alternative is there. It's very strong.
When you create free software, you're already creating an alternative.
In Belgium, you have peer-to-peer conflict resolution among students.
In Canada you have peer-to-peer mentoring. And, in Thailand, you have
peer-to-peer knowledge management," he argues.
Frederick 'FN' Noronha   | Yahoomessenger: fredericknoronha     |
Independent Journalist   | +91(832)2409490 Cell 9822122436

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: