Researching The Commons

The Commons keep attracting the interest of researchers from multiple perspectives. A very interesting example of this is the Quality Commons workshop that took place a few days ago (28/29 of Jan 2010) in Paris. This workshop, an initiative from the Centre for Research in Social Simulation, approaches from a multidisciplinary perspective the problem of defining quality collectively, especially concerning common goods. That is, the process of emergence of quality when it is not defined by the top but constructed in a decentralized way:

“In many areas, people collectively develop shared representations of the quality of artefacts. Scientific communities produce collective evaluations of what counts as good research in their field. Teenagers evaluate music, fashion, and what is ‘cool’ amongst themselves. Families develop shared opinions about what is good and bad, which they transmit to their offspring. Collaborative annotation systems allow large communities of Web users to rank the quality of content in a decentralised way.”

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The workshop has had pretty interesting talks, as we can see from the list of presentations, such as:

  • Food quality as a public good: cooperation dynamics and economic development in a rural community
  • Scientific Collaboration, Publishing and Education in the Future
  • Crowdsourcing Real-Time Impact Factors and a Semantic Research Database
  • Simulating cultural dynamics in peer production environment

However, there is one in particular that should be stressed over the others: Open sourcing financial functions and institutions:

“Peer-to-Peer technology has created disruptive outcomes for both media distribution (bittorrent), knowledge creation and distribution (wikipedia) and money lending (zopa). Also open source software powers the web (apache). What binds these advances together is a commitment to decentralisation and opening of the social structures that produce the quality outcomes we all benefit from. Neither capitalist monopoly practices nor socialised central control are productive and hence peer production is taking an increasing role in our lives. The question I want to ask is “can we extend these trends to provide the functions of financial institutions?”. Put simply could we envisage a P2P open source bank or money system? I would like to provoke a debate – is this a viable and desirable project and what would we need to do, now, to bring it about?”.

This full paper is available, together with the others, in the public workshop proceedings of the workshop.

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