Architecture of Participation

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Tim O’Reilly, June 2004:

“I’ve come to use the term “the architecture of participation” to describe the nature of systems that are designed for user contribution. Larry Lessig’s book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, which he characterizes as an extended meditation on Mitch Kapor’s maxim, “architecture is politics”, made the case that we need to pay attention to the architecture of systems if we want to understand their effects.

I immediately thought of Kernighan and Pike’s description of the Unix software tools philosophy referred to above. I also recalled an unpublished portion of the interview we did with Linus Torvalds to create his essay for the 1998 book, Open Sources. Linus too expressed a sense that architecture may be more important than source code. “I couldn’t do what I did with Linux for Windows, even if I had the source code. The architecture just wouldn’t support it.” Too much of the windows source code consists of interdependent, tightly coupled layers for a single developer to drop in a replacement module.

And of course, the Internet and the World Wide Web have this participatory architecture in spades. As outlined above in the section on software commoditization, any system designed around communications protocols is intrinsically designed for participation. Anyone can create a participating, first-class component.”


J. Hofmoki:

"The key argument behind the ‘architecture of participation’, concept as formulated by O’Reilly in 2004, was that the rules and principles laid down by the founders of the Internet during its early formation period established a very favourable and, in fact, encouraging environment for joining the network, even by non-experienced users, and subsequent engagement by those most active in various collaborative undertakings. The silent feature of Internet architecture is that web activities that are intended to satisfy individual, egoistic interests, irrespective of their intentions, contribute finally to the increased collective value (O’Reilly, 2004).

Among the basic rules that shape the participatory structure of the Internet, the endto- end principle should be mentioned first (Salzer, et al, 1984). This states that the network, as such, should remain as simple as possible, whereas all specialized elements (network intelligence) should reside with the computers of end-users and their software programs and applications. Second, efficient data transfer has been achieved with the help of an open TCP/IP network protocol, under which neither diverse operating systems nor computer brands were discriminated by the network. Everyone was allowed to use and exchange data with others, because the protocols were made to share, not to exclude (Lessig, 2001). One also shall point out the simplicity of the HTML language and the open HTTP protocol, allowing for the flexible and unrestricted creation of new websites, and for the expansion and updating of their contents, even by the users with very limited experience.

The participatory architecture of the Internet has been further reinforced by its new technological platform, called Web 2.0. New tools and technologies are meant to enhance the exchange of information and flexible engagement in various collaborative efforts and events. These new developments within the Internet spectrum can be seen as the exemplification of an emerging complex social phenomenon, coined by H. Jenkins as participatory culture. It reflects an ongoing process, whereby fans and consumers are effectively encouraged to participate in the creation and exchange of the new media content (Jenkins, 2007:496). The participatory culture largely contradicts the traditional notion of ‘audience’, which implied the generally passive, static role of the recipient of information and cultural goods. Needless to say, the Internet network plays crucial role as an ‘enabler’, making such cultural participation and exchange possible on a massive scale, with maximum flexibility and efficiency." (