Rural Cooperation and the Online Swarm

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Also published in slightly modified form in:

  • Andrew Gryf Paterson. CONNECTIONS BETWEEN RURAL AND ONLINE COOPERATION IN FINLAND. In: Volume: ENERGY. Scientific and Artistic, Utopian and Critical Visions. Acoustic Space. Issue No. 8

See: Scientific and Artistic, Utopian and Critical Visions on Energy


"This article introduces and explores connections between rural traditions and contemporary projects of voluntary cooperation within emergent online network practices. The key examples are mainly from Finland, the Baltic Sea region, and USA. Reflections are made on the emergence of such connections during a trans-disciplinary seminar organised by the author. The main body of the essay mixes social and network culture history, including rural village community support, known as “talkoot” in the Finnish language, its establishment within cooperative development during the 20th century, and the information communications and technology society of contemporary Finland. Discussions of collaborative web platforms such as wikis, the BitTorrent protocol, and “crowd-sourcing” open up questions considering their relation to older cultural traditions. The paper concludes with contemporary examples of where traditions of rural cooperation have conceptually assisted several Finnish entrepreneurial and activist projects. Throughout the paper “the swarm” is identified as a concept worth exploring further to illustrate where the expansive potential of network culture meets concentrated local action."


Neo-traditional forms of talkoot

Andrew Paterson:

"In her article “Swarm Forms: On Platforms and Creativity”, Goriunova, defines the term “platform” as following:

- A platform differentiates itself from other websites by the relations of creative, social, instrumental, educational and historical character it establishes and is involved into. A platform is aimed at supporting and stimulating creative initiatives and work, and it provides a possibility for continuous exhibition of the artefacts, often accompanied by reactions to them, various discussions. Sometimes there is also a set of instruments for particular kind of creative work available. A platform often also puts efforts into translating digital creative processes into offline and more official cultural scenes, establishing connections between cultural movements of different times and orders. Most platforms organize (ir)regular ‘real-life’ gatherings such as festivals, concerts, workshops or those of a less formal nature [i].

When platforms such as Wikimedia software are set up on a server it first begins as a localized affair. Another self-constructed phrase in Finnish that attempts to conceptualize this platform situatedness might be: “Paikalliset tietotalkoot” (local knowledge work-party). Such a tietotalkoot may be installed and “called” for many specialized purposes, including creative processes, as Goriunova's paper's title suggests. Moreover, wiki platforms can, and often are, used to gather, organize, activate, and nourish offline activities. This activity also produces locally-specific knowledge which is valuable and shared in the process of collaborating. In the contemporary information and networked society, where knowledge connects power and opportunity, the practice of tietotalkoot has social, political and economical implications."


"The P2P theorist and researcher Michel Bauwens in his paper “The importance of neotraditional approaches in the reconstructive transmodern era,” located on the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives wiki website (also using Wikimedia software installation), asks “Can the transmodern peer to peer ethos be mixed with neotraditional approaches”? In other-words, can the distributed computer networks, with living labour sitting behind them--as exemplified in peer-to-peer media-sharing, open-source software development, and peer-production of value seen in wiki platforms--share similar, if wider reaching, goals with pre-modern social networks of help and support? [ii]

In Finland, where rural-based cooperative support is, for the majority of the population, only one or two generations removed, the connection between contemporary ICT-based and traditional forms of cooperation perhaps comes to mind easier than in other places. Certainly talkoot is a word which cuts across generations, managerial and political classes, and technological spheres.

To support this claim, it is appropriate for me to return to the Alternative Economy Cultures seminar. As a chair of the afternoon session, Roppe Mokka of Demos Helsinki (an independent think-tank on progressive democracy), shared the following anecdote when introducing Tapani Köppä’s presentation:

- This morning we [Demos Helsinki] were presenting to the parliament futures committee, what the next phase of the information society will be. Yes, it is going to be based on sharing. Alot of these things that are peer-to-peer, are very difficult to understand, but as soon as we showed a picture of talkoot, Juha Mieto and other Finnish parliamentarians suddenly captured what this is about, and you could see smiles coming to their faces, and they started explaining how fantastic it is to take part in these activities.

It was not the first time the connection had been made by members of Demos Helsinki: For example, they made the connection in conversations with the Bristol-based National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA), who have a remit to explore and foster all aspects of innovation in the United Kingdom.[58] Further, in late October 2008, one of Finland’s well-known technology bloggers, Tuija Aalto, researcher and journalist for YLE national broadcast corporation, wrote an entry titled “Crowdsourcing=Talkoot?” on her Tuija TV blog (now called Tuhat Sanaa). She qualified this by commenting that “Finns always knew how to get a big project done. Be it building a new sauna or an operating system: invite the whole community to do the job” [iii]. Aalto was particularly making the connection with a new business and organizational model called crowdsourcing, described by Brooklyn-basd culture and technology journalist Jeff Howe as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” [iv]

To support her inquiry, Aalto further included a short interview with Finnish film entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka, who was inspired by one of the first large online crowdsourcing projects in his sci-fi parody feature film series Star Wreck (1992-). Vesterbacka now also acts as marketing and PR person for such talkoot models via the Wreck-a-movie project, which facilitates collaborative feature film-making. In this case, open-source thinking and online networks are used to distribute and divvy up labour among many persons in different locations for the production of animation and feature-films. For Vesterbacka, the Finnish word talkoot is just waiting to expand beyond Finland, soon to enter into the world’s crowdsourcing vocabulary.

In principle, I agree with Vesterbacka’s claim. I have been suggesting several examples and associations of neo-traditional forms of talkoot throughout this article, such as its relation to wiki collaboration and the BitTorrent protocol. It is clear, however, that the word talkoot is already being used in contemporary Finland in a wider context than its usual rural and urban/domestic uses, and that new associations with online networks are already being made. Talkoot has in the last year or so, in Helsinki at least, entered other entrepreneurial and agenda-based contexts, such as for mobilising people and businesses."


"While the new adaptations of the talkoot concept are indeed full of collaborative promise for a new form of online and offline cooperativism for our times, these “new talkoots” do raise for me a critical question. When talkoot is referred to as a positive force today, who is benefiting? Private organizations or public bodies? If these are not open, and cooperative or voluntary forms of labour ventures, is it an appropriate use of the word?"


i. Goryunova, Olga. (2007). Swarm forms: On platforms and creativity. MUTE Magazine Vol. 2 #4. January 29.

ii. Bauwens, Michel. (2009). Importance of neotraditional approaches in the reconstructive transmodern era. Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives wiki webpages. URL: [March 15, 2010].

iii. Aalto, Tuija. (2008). Crowdsourcing = talkoot? Tuija TV Blog entry, October 26. URL: [June 1, 2009].

iv. Howe, Jeff. (2007). Crowdsourcing Blog. URL: [March 15, 2010].