Dmytri Kleiner on Tue, 6 Mar 2012 12:52:53 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Thimbl, Unlike Us & A Pair of Inconvenient Paradoxes

Thimbl, Unlike Us & A Pair of Inconvenient Paradoxes

The Institute for Network Cultures will be holding the 2nd Unlike
Us conference (1), "Understanding Social Media Monopolies and
Their Alternatives." I'll be there, representing Telekommunisten's
Thimbl(2), which will be present among many other projects.

Thimbl is quite different from the other projects. Conceived as an
artwork, a "performative economic fiction," Thimbl is a symbolic work
that artistically explores the obstacles faced by projects that seek
to create an alternative to social media monopolies.

Well-meaning technologists or social media enthusiastsÂinitiate most
projects, and as a result, they start in a rather irrelevant place:
technology. They start coding and architecting better solutions, to
the best of their ability, yet the primary problem they face is not

In Andrew Feenberg's McLuhan lecture at Transmediale 2012 (3), "10
Paradoxes of Technology," Feenberg describes what he calls the "The
Paradox of the Frame," and argues thatÂ"Efficiency does not explain
success; success explains efficiency."

Feenberg argues that certain technologies become efficient as
a result of further development and investment. However, these
technologies were chosen for development or investment in the first
place for social reasons, generally the choice is motivated by
political and economic reasons. The eventuallyÂsuccessfulÂtechnology
was oftenÂoriginallyÂchosen over more intrinsically efficient

This paradox is perhaps nowhere more apparent than it is in social
media. The Internet has always been about sharing, and decentralized
sharing technologies such as usenet, IRC and finger have been and
continue to be available. Yet, these technologies have not been chosen
for further development and investment once capital became the driving
force, centralized platforms like Facebook have.

Facebook was chosen because the choosers are venture capitalists who
need to have a means of capturing profit in order to have a return on
their investment. Thus, the more intrinsically efficient decentralized
technologies were not chosen, since they fail to provide the very
thing that capital requires; control and scarcity. As a result of
being chosen by venture capitalists, Facebook could obtain the needed
financing required to become efficient enough, despite the massive
disadvantages poised by its centralized architecture.

Facebook's business model of capturing and monetizing user data
and interaction was appealing to investors, and thus Facebook was
successful at attracting investment and financing development.

So, if Facebook was chosen because it allows investors to control
users and monetize their use of the platform, than newer, even better
designed open and decentralized alternatives, like the many that will
be presented at Unlike Us, will likewise not be chosen, as they are
no more appealing to venture capitalist investors than the classic
decentralized internet platforms were.

Thimbl addresses this by creating a decentralized microblogging
platform based on the old finger protocol, a platform for posting
status updates that was developed in the 1970s. The explicit point of
this is that the challenge faced by those working towards alternatives
to social media monopolies are not technological, the technology is
the easy part, the challenge is political.

The challenge is to overcome the hegemonic economic power of those
that finance these monopolies.

This is not a challenge that can be programmed around, it is a
challenge that requires a social solution. So long as the development
of our technological platforms are directed by the profit motive,
the platforms will need to engineer in the control and scarcity that
capitalism requires.

In there March 2011 Monthly Review article (4), John Bellamy Foster
and Robert W. McChesney, apply another paradox, The "Lauderdale
Paradox" named for James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale. Foster
and McChesney phrase the implications of Maitland's paradox as
"Scarcity ... is a necessary requirement for something to have value
in exchange, and to augment private riches". Their conclusion is
that the communications platforms must be removed from the domain of
capital, and be made available as a public good.

'An innovation is commercially developed, and a market created, only
by finding a way to âwallâ off a sector of public wealth and
effectively privatize and monopolize it, leading to huge returns.
Information, which is a public goodâby nature available to all and,
if consumed by one person, still available to othersâis, in this
way, turned into a scarce private commodity through the exercise of
sheer market power.' -- John Bellamy Foster & Robert W. McChesney

This is the real problem faced by those who seek to create
alternatives to social media monopolies. Any genuine alternative would
need to first identify, not a new way of developing and architecting
a technical solution, but a new way of financing the development at a
sufficient scale to rival the capital funded platforms.

'Communication is more than an ordinary market. Indeed, it is properly
not a market at all. It is more like air or waterâa form of public
wealth, a commons.' -- John Bellamy Foster &amp; Robert W. McChesney

Making something into a public good is a social choice, something that
society must undertake, it is not a technical innovation that software
developers can develop on their own.

As I wrote following Social Media Week back in October (5):

'Just like science fiction becomes reality when science transcends
the limitations that existed when the fiction was imagined, for
economic fiction like Thimbl to become reality, economics will need to
transcend the limitations that we currently face'

I'll be at Cafe Buchhandlung (6) around 9pm as usual, please come! And
if will be in Amsterdam , see you at Unlike Us. For those in Berlin,
be sure to checkout CiTiZEN KiNO âElectric Sheep Revisitedâ (7),
Wednesday, March 7th at TheaterKapelle








"Thimbl, Unlike Us & A Pair of Inconvenient Paradoxes" can be found online at:

Dmyri Kleiner
Venture Communist

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