Connectivity Parties, For-Benefit Organizations, and Post-Modernism

I spent some time today with Gerry Gleason, who was in town for the weekend. I was telling him about a Coding Sprint Blue Oxen was planning, and he asked what those were. When I explained them to him, he said, “Oh, we used to do those for NFS. We called them Connectivity Parties.” Back then, folks would gather together at conferences, set up a bunch of hardware, and code away. Yet another demonstration of the timeliness of good patterns, regardless of what they’re called. Of course, the ubiquity of high-speed wireless and four-pound laptops make it much easier these days.    (4PK)

Gerry had two other language-related insights. We spoke about the problem of non-profits getting caught up with the language of business, and thus losing sight of the importance of things like volunteerism, caring, and so forth. I pointed out that the term, “non-profit,” immediately frames these organizations in the language of business. Gerry told me that he had had this conversation with Phil Cubeta in the past, and that they had come up with the term, “for-benefit.” I like it. Even though Blue Oxen Associates is an LLC (a legal for-profit), I think I’ll start referring to it as “for-benefit,” because that captures the essence of what we’re trying to accomplish.    (4PL)

On a more scholarly note, Gerry is reading Ken Wilber‘s Integral Psychology, which has a chapter on modernism and post-modernism. Wilber says that out of modernism emerged three distinct disciplines — art, religion, and science — and that science (and by proxy, rationality) eventually trumped the other two. Postmodernism disputes the distinctions between those three fields. However, many people — both critical theorists and scientists — misinterpret postmodernism as a rejection of science. I don’t think science and postmodernism are orthogonal. You can be a good scientist and reject the notion of universal objectivity. The problem is with framing. “Postmodernism” is framed as a reaction to “modernism,” which is historically accurate, but which undermines the essence of its underlying values. I recognize, without irony, that this is a postmodernist interpretation of why postmodernism is misinterpreted. I’ll shut up now.    (4PM)

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)