Guest Blogger: Michel Bauwens on Peer to Peer
13 June, 2007
The NSW KM Forum is a supporter of this year’s KM Australia conference. The following is guest blog by Michel Bauwens on Peer to Peer who will be making a key note presentation at KM Australia. An event brochure with all the conference details is available. Book your ticket by Friday and mention that you are a member of the NSW KM Forum to receive a 15% discount on the conference and masterclasses.
Peer to peer is about a fundamental reorientation in the nature of human relationships, which is having profound effects on the way we live and work. More and more, the underlying logic of our technological and organisational frameworks is the distributed network, which is characterised by the freedom that the agents (individuals) have to take action and relate without the prior control of either hierarchies or decentralised groups. Distribution indeed differs from decentralisation in that the hubs, the nodes with a lot more connections than others, are constituted voluntarily. The distributed internet and web, along with the explosion of collaborative and social softwares, creates the possibility for the global coordination of small groups. The level needed for creating innovative projects, for example internet companies, has fallen by 80% in just eight years.
This has led to two main effects: individuals can share their work more easily, and communities of peer producers can create highly complex services and products; organised under the aegis of a new type of for-benefit institutions. The effects of peer production, which has shown itself to be a highly effective way of producing immaterial products such as software and knowledge, is to create not only asymmetric competition between for-profit companies that are losing out from their for-benefit competition; but also changing the rules of competition between for-profit companies. Choosing practices inspired by the three new emerging paradigms gives an advantage of those not employing them. Using open and free modes of access tends to work better than closed modes and walled gardens. Using participation by users and communities enriches any company’s offerings, and being able to create or use a commons creates superior dynamics than the use of private exclusionary forms of property.
Note the radical implication of peer production in a context of near zero reproduction costs that are characteristic of the immaterial economy and of any design driven material production. Pricing, hierarchy and democratic negotiation between groups are tools to allocate scarce resources, but what happens when resources are not scarce? How is peer governance different from the scarcity modes of management? What sense does it make to use proprietary licenses for non-rival goods that can be copied through simple software commands?
Innovation is changing as well. Rather than being an internal characteristic of an institution, it becomes an emerging property of the networks in which the institution or its individuals are engage. In many cases, innovation is the constant practice of the new peer-based communities. Gatorade, the sports bra, the mountain bike, and many more popular contemporary products and services are the results of this type of innovation.
Can knowledge management remain the same in such a context? Does it not become the creation of a permanent network for constant peer to peer learning and exchange? Does it not abolish fundamentally the boundaries between the interior and the exterior? Does it not become in practice a constant engagement with communities, both inside and outside?
These are some of the important and urgent questions that need to be explored by the KM community, and which the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives has been exploring for a number of years.