Infrastructure of sharing in the commons

What strikes me the most these days is that everyone is talking about sharing in the commons. There is an increased amount of contributions in the commons without any financial interests. People have discovered, that the value of information and knowledge increases when shared. This is the world I’ve been living in during the eight years, but now suddenly everyone is talking (and doing something) about it.

Even people I never thought could share any interests what so ever with Open Source or Open Content are talking about them or the events that appear in the edges.

There are people sharing their photos on Flickr. Sometimes, they share their rights to their creations through the built-in Creative Commons licensing functionality. They are connecting their latest Flickr
photos to their blogs, where they often share all their intellectual output under an Open Content license. The stuff one produces is now distributed, located in several different systems. There are people writing underlying software and standards, which are freely available under an Open Source license. Even complete repositories of Open Content for various fields like education has emerged. The stuff in the pipe is able to breathe more easily, as the barriers of sharing are disappearing.

Everyone is talking about Wikipedia. Yahoo releases a CC search engine. LA Times gives birth to wikitorials, where people could share the editorial responsibility. Microsoft deeply integrates RSS syndication as part of their next operating system. Impressive number of sites share and link together through feeds. Armed with new and better tools for searching and navigating the web, anyone can be the Livingstone or Columbus of our modern age: there is a vast sea of information and human beings with thoughts. Now humans have the tools necessary to wander deep into these unknown worlds.

What makes all of this possible is the emergence of an infrastructure for sharing in the commons.

Sharing infrastructure consists of several key elements that enable the network of information to self-organize, connect people together and turn the online unverse almost into a living organism.

There is a second layer building upon the World Wide Web. The complex system we live in is getting a lot smarter and starts to live a life of its own. We are like cells in a human body, possibly completely unaware of the system we are starting to be part of. This layer is more clever and more adapting than the underlying technical information infrastructure. What gave birth to it are several key elements:

  • Juridical foundations that made it easy to share intellectual property (FLOSS, Open Content)
  • Various technical foundations that enabled sharing information between networked systems (open standards)
  • Standards to structure content in such a way that it’s readable by machines (XML)
  • New online tribes that include sharing of information, knowledge and ideas as part of their core values (hackers, pro-ams, remixers, file swappers, bloggers and alike)
  • Political movements and ideologies that support the birth of a sharing economy
  • Peer-to-peer distribution of resources (Skype, Bittorrent etc.)
  • New business models that make it economically viable to share information

Building blocks for these were the numerous cases where pioneers teared down the walls that limited the possibility of humans to share ideas in an information network. The threshold is now gone.

The web is becoming increasingly transparent. Previously unconnectable black boxes are now able to tap into each other’s resources, no matter how different the technical implementations are. A completely new online ecosystem of people, software and content is here. The web is turning into a gigantic social software.

In the beginning, the web was mainly static. Websites had clear boundaries and required special tools to deploy. The only major connection between these islands was the simplest connection in the online universe: the hyperlink.

Now the web is turning into an dynamic archipelago, in which the static islands are connected together to form new functionality. Armed with open standards, the web is turning into a read/write platform. Anyone has the resources available to start a node on any of the islands. Google is venturing from island to island to draw a map of what we can’t see from the ground. The web is self-organizing and forming clusters of functionality which exceed the boundaries of a single web portal. From Google to folksonomies, we are discovering new ways to filter and search for information.

The dynamical characteristics sprung from the more intelligent connections between the islands: SOAP,  XML/RPC, RDF, RSS, Atom, web services, trackback and others alike. The islands start to form continents. Small pieces of Open Source find each other and form clusters, looking more like small pieces loosely joined. The FLOSS infrastructure is in place. In the veins of the newly created hubs we can see Open Content passing hands, growing like snowballs as they move on. Various standards form bridges and highways between our newly formed cities. Economy of sharing enables people to share and co-create together. Clouds form on the sky, like communities that form around interests and disappear in the wind, sometimes morphing into thunderstorms causing floods, shaking powerlines and ripping trees off the ground.

The infrastructure starts to be in place to give birth to a higher level of wisdom on the web. The roads between our online cities start to build and traderoutes form on a global level. There are smarter conversations happening between users and service providers. We are not alone anymore on our isolated islands as we load our aggregators, fire up our IM applications and share our ideas through our blogs.

The infrastructure of sharing in the commons is in place. Anyone has the possibility to take something in the commons, improve it and pass it along with moderate ease. The required pieces of software are freely available. We are getting a lot smarter and learning together as we go. As in the previous post, all higher understanding is dialogic in nature. More conversations means smarter people.

I greet Web 2.0 (or 3.0?) with passion and excitement. You, me and all of us are more social and connected than ever.

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