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October 6, 2004 » 4:45 pm

Blue Oxen and the Commons

There’s a fascinating discussion going on in the GivingSpace collaboratory about the commons, instigated by Phil Cubeta. Since that discussion is really focused on the Omidyar Network, I thought I’d throw in my two cents by describing how I see the Blue Oxen Collaboratories fitting into this discussion.    (2DK)

We currently host 22 alpha collaboratories, some of which are private spaces for organizations. The vast majority of them are public, however, and we encourage all of our groups to have public spaces. In fact, we will probably mandate that all of our organizational members have at least some public space in order to use our infrastructure.    (2DL)

We have not yet explicitly licensed the content of those discussions. It’s not an easy problem, although I suspect one of the Creative Commons licenses will work. However, we do know what principles we want the license to espouse:    (2DM)

  • You own your own words.    (2DN)
  • You’re speaking in public, so react accordingly.    (2DO)

Blue Oxen is interested in open discourse, the free exchange of ideas, and most importantly, collective learning. We’re not interested in demanding royalties from someone else’s idea, just because that idea was formulated in our space. We’re interested in facilitating a better ecosystem, and we’re betting that we will benefit far more from a better ecosystem than we would by making claims on other people’s IP.    (2DP)

“Facilitating the ecosystem” is something people hear me say often. It’s why all of our research is available under a Creative Commons license, and why all of our software is developed as Open Source. It’s why we emphasize interoperability with our tools, and why we’re doing our best to make it easy to export content from our collaboratories over to other sites. Our goal is to improve collaboration, and a policy of openness enables us to do that.    (2DQ)

All that said, it’s not as simple or as easy as it sounds. For example, what do you do about requests to remove content from a Wiki or one of our mailing list archives? (We discussed this issue a few months ago at the Collaboration Collaboratory.) Also, what about governance? Our collaboratories are not the commons. Although we try to be as open as possible, I’m not inclined (as of yet) to make the space entirely self-governing. That said, because our tools are Open Source and because we share our knowledge openly, people have the flexibility to create a self-governing commons using our tools and knowledge. In this way, we’re supporting the creation of commons. Again, it’s all about the ecosystem.    (2DR)

There’s also the question of sustainability. We’ve obviously closed off potential sources of revenue by being as open as we have. I strongly believe that we can not only sustain ourselves. We haven’t proven that yet, but I’m confident that we will soon enough.    (2DS)

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