2.1.D. P2P as a global platform for autonomous cooperation

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2.1.D. P2P as a global platform for autonomous cooperation

We have described peer to peer as the technological infrastructure of cognitive capitalism, and as an alternative information and communications infrastructure. But is also emerging as much more than that: as a whole set of enabling technologies that allow global affinity groups to work and create value together on a autonomous basis.

Let's quickly review what we have already seen, but in this new context.

As a technological infrastructure we have seen how grid computing can function as a way to combine untapped resources that lay dormant throughout the network. Since human processing power is inherently slower than computer processes, no single user uses his resources to the full, and this capacity can now be combined in common projects. Using this methodology any community can now mobilize vast 'super-computing'-like resources. Filesharing is also an example of the same ability, which can be extended to any meshwork of devices that can be connected. Resources that can be shared are computer processing power, memory storage, any content located on any participating computer, and collective monitoring through all kinds of interconnected sensors. The key role in this systems is that any participant automatically becomes a provider. Any user of the Skype telephony networks also offers his PC as a resource for the network, as does any filesharer, or user of Bittorrent. This obligatory participation can be generalized because it comes at no extra cost to the owner of the technological resource.

As a information and communications infrastructure it enables any group to communicate and create online knowledge collectives and to become a publisher. A combination of the open source infrastructure consisting of the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, the MySQL database system, the PHP publishing system (the four together are grouped together under the concept of the LAMP infrastructure) combined with BitTorrent, allow for full-scale broadband multimedia webcasting. In addition, self-publishing, i.e. the publishing of fully-fledged print or e-books through printing-on-demand systems that do not require the intermediation of a formal publishers , is rapidly becoming an accepted means of distributing books, and it is practiced even by established authors, when they want to reach specialized audiences that are not of interest to a traditional publisher.

Social mobile computing enables dispersed groups to act in a coherent fashion, it is a powerful agent of mobilization. Such mobile or non-mobile networks are also known as 'group forming networks' since they enable the formation of subgroups. All kinds of social software has been developed to enable the emergence and management of webs of cooperation which go beyond information sharing. Amongst these are the various forms of social networking software that are based on the theory of 'six degrees of separation' which says that anybody in the world is connected to anybody else through no more than 6 steps. Friends-of-a-friend software is a fast growing segment. These type of software is often coupled to 'presencing' software which allow you to know, who is also visiting your webpage, whom of your friends is available for instant messaging, and mobile proximity alert services which tell you if one of your associates is close by, by using 'geo-location' services such as GPS (Global Positioning Systems).

A crucial ingredient are the social accounting tools, which allow anyone to judge and know about the degree of participation and trustworthyness of other members of the network, through communal validation processes. Similar in intent are formal ratings systems, such as the one used by Amazon to rate books, often used to gauge the reputation and trustworthyness (eBay, Slashdot's karma system).

Automatic referral systems or recommendation systems look to like-minded users by presenting each other's tastes, a system also used by Amazon. Google's success in present the most appropriate results is to a large degree the result of its decision to rank any resource accoding to the 'collective wisdom' of web users, i.e. calculating the pointers from other webpages. The latter are called 'implicit' referral systems since they do not require any conscious decision by users. Sites are learning to use the collective judgment of their participants through opinion sites (Epinion), through social bookmarking sites, with collective online publishing systems such as Slashdot and KuroShin using self-evaluation ratings.

A number of companies such as Groove and Shinkuro, aim to develop fully fledged cooperation environments .

The point of all the above is to show how software is being created that has at its aim to enhance various forms of collaboration. We are only at the beginning of a process whereby participation becomes embedded in most of the new software , a move away from the individual bias which was originally at the basis of personal computing.

Howard Rheingold and others, in an excellent overview of Technologies of Cooperation, has outlined seven dimensions of such cooperative ventures.

1) the structures are dynamic and evolving, not static.

2) The rules are not imposed by any outside authority, but emerge from the group itself

3) The resources are made available to the public, not kept private or available through sales

4) Tresholds are kept as low as possible, so that anyone can participate

5) Feedback becomes systemic, through the use of social accounting software and other forms of 'participation capture'

6) Memory is becoming persistent, and no longer ephemeral as it was in the first phase of everchanging URL's

7) Identity is derived from the group and participation in the group

Howard Rheingold has also distilled seven recommendations to anyone thinking of launching technology-enabled cooperative ventures:

1) shift from designing systems to providing platforms. The system must allow emergent structures decided upon by the participants

2) engage the community in designing the rules: the protocol must be democratically arrived at

3) learn how to tap invisible resources

4) track thresholds and phase changes: this is important as online communities evolve through various phases that have different rules and success factors

5) foster diverse feedback loops

6) convert present knowledge into deep memory: through archiving, persistent addressing, version control and archiving, contributions are never disgarded but remain available

7) support participatory identities, through keeping track of contributions so that this process acts as a recognition for the participants.

It is important to envisage the availability of such an ecology of cooperative tools as enabling autonomous cooperation and peer production, and not just as an auxiliary to the corporate world. In our overview of the emergence of P2P in the economic sphere we will see that this is not a pious wish.