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Archive for the ‘p2p’ Category

 

Speaking of public education, undoubtedly one of the most significant steps in democratising educational resources in history has been the establishment of the public library system. Unlike schools, libraries promote self-directed learning and are thus less susceptible to authoritarian control. Like mentioned in the above video, file-sharing networks can be seen as a continuation of the idea behind public libraries. They take the idea one step further, though: on the file-sharing networks the available content is not limited by the budget constraints and possible ideological inclinations of bureaucrats.

This video is a recording of a speaker’s corner session at the 2012 World Library and Information Congress in Helsinki on August 15, 2012. Guest speakers include Hanna Nikkanen, a Finnish journalist who’s written extensively on issues around freedom of information, and Anna Troberg, president of the Swedish Pirate Party.

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Dmytri Kleiner, of Telekommunist Manifesto fame, and Jacob Appelbaum, one of the developers of the Tor Project and former WikiLeaks spokesperson, discuss here the implications of the capitalist mode of production and class society on surveillance and censorship on the Internet, particularly in view of current social media platforms and the increasing privatisation of the cyberspace. The discussion took place at the re:publica 2012 social media conference in Berlin on May 4, 2012.

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Michel Bauwens from The Foundation for P2P Alternatives discusses in this keynote speech the current proliferation of peer production practices and peer-to-peer culture that he dubs the “third revolution in human productivity” (the first two being the inventions of slavery and capitalism), in which intrinsic motivation replaces extrinsic motivation as the driver of production for the individual. He also discusses the implications of this shift to the notions of property and governance. The speech was held at the IT-University in Copenhagen on September 22, 2011.

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This is a keynote speech by researcher, engineer and thinker Vinay Gupta held at Camp Pixelache in Helsinki last Friday. In it, Gupta uses projects he’s been personally involved with, such as the hexayurt and STAR-TIDES to show how peer production principles can be used to solve crises from the level of the individual up to the global level. He also discusses game theory and how cooperative networks are beginning to outcompete states and large corporations.

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Michel Bauwens is the founder of The Foundation for P2P Alternatives and one of the leading proponents of peer production principles today. Recently, he’s been publishing a series of articles on the Al Jazeera website on the various ways he sees the proliferation of peer production is currently in process of changing our societies. Now, he’s gathered the points in those articles into a lengthy essay published over at Shareable. I can only quote a short excerpt here, but I recommend reading the complete essay for the sheer breadth of the argument Bauwens is constructing.

“And what are economies of scope? As a teaser, for now, this short definition: “An economy of scope exists between the production of two goods when two goods which share a common cost are produced together such that the common cost is reduced.”  In other words, something that brings down the common cost of a factor of production, not by producing more of a unit but through shared infrastructure costs.

[…]

Indeed, economies of scale work well in periods of energy ‘ascent’, when more and more energy is coming online, but they work less and less in periods of energy  ‘descent’ when the overall supply of energy and resources are diminishing. What you need then are economies of scope, when  you can ‘scale up from one’, as with today’s emerging “making on demand” infrastructure.

Economies of scope is exactly what peer production (in its different iterations of open knowledge, free culture, free software, open and shared designs, open hardware and distributed manufacturing, etc.) is all about.

Let’s recap what is wrong with the current global system, which is entirely predicated on economies of scale, and actually in many instances makes economies of scope illegal.

  1. Our current system is based on the belief of infinite growth and the endless availability of resources, despite the fact that we live on a finite planet; let’s call this feature, runaway ‘pseudo-abundance’.
  2. The current system believes that innovations should be privatized and only available by permission or for a hefty price (the IP regime), making sharing of knowledge and culture a crime; let’s call this feature, enforced ‘artificial scarcity’.

Peer production methodologies are based on the exact opposite economic and social DNA. Peer production communities believe that knowledge is a commons for all to share, and hence, no innovation can be withheld from the human population as a whole.

In fact, withholding a life-saving or world-saving innovation is seen as unethical, and this represents a true value inversion. And peer production designs for distribution and inclusion, i.e. small scale, even personal fabrication. Planned obsolescence, which is a feature and not a bug of the current system, is totally alien to the logic of peer production. In other words, sustainability is a feature of open design communities, not a bug.

[…]

So, what are the economies of scope of the new p2p age? They come in two flavors:

  1. The mutualizing of knowledge and immaterial resources
  2. The mutualizing of material productive resources

The first principle is easy to understand. If we lack knowledge as individuals (and nobody can know everything) as a community, local or virtual, it is much more likely that someone knows. Hence, the mutualizing of knowledge and ‘crowd-accelerated innovation’, now already a well-known feature of the collaborative economy. But the advantage of scope is created when that knowledge is shared, and thus, it can be used by others. With this social innovation, the common cost of the joint production factor that is knowledge, is dramatically reduced.

Take the example of the paradigmatic Nutrient Dense Project.

This global community of agrarian workers and citizen scientists is interested in experimenting with better nutrients to obtain better quality food. Hence joint research can be carried out to test various nutrients in various soils and climate zones, and they will instantly benefit not just the whole participating community, but potentially, the whole of humankind. Strategies that are based on privatizing intellectual property, cannot obtain such advantages of scope, or at least, not at that level.

[…]

The second principle, of mutualizing physical productive resources, is exemplified [in] collaborative consumption. The general idea is the same. Alone, I may lack a certain tool, skill, or service, but seen from the point of view of a community, it is likely someone else has it, and that other person could share, rent or barter it. No need to all possess the same tool if we can access it when we need it. Hence the proliferation of p2p marketplaces.

Let’s take an illustrative example: car-sharing. Car-sharing projects can be mutualized through the intermediary of a private company which owns the cars (fleetsharing, like Zipcar), through p2p marketplaces which link car users to each other (RelayRides and Getaround), or through nonprofits or public entities (Autolib in Paris). But they all achieve economies of scope. According to a study cited by ZipCar, for every rented car, there are 15 fewer owned cars on the road. And carsharing members drive 31% less after they join. So, in 2009 alone, car-sharing diminished global carbon dioxide emissions by nearly half a million tons.

Imagine similar developments in every sector of production.

So, what will the new system look like if economies of scope become the norm and replace economies of scale as the primary driver of the economy and social system? We already mentioned the global open design communities, and we suggest that it will be accompanied by a global network of microfactories, who are producing locally, such as the ones that the open source car companies like Local Motors and Wikispeed are proposing and which are already prefigured by the networks of hackerspaces, Fablabs and co-working spaces.”

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Dmytri Kleiner, author of the Telekommunist manifesto, discusses in this talk the Internet from the point of view of political economy. He argues that the Internet is inherently communist by nature, being based on direct peer-to-peer communication, or mesh topology, with users engaged in the production of social value as equals. He then discusses how capitalists have tried to co-opt, with some success, the Internet by introducing a different topology, the star topology, by way of services based on the centralised structure of the World Wide Web. Only by this kind of topology where the capitalists position themselves as the mediators of all communication are they able to extract profit from the network. This also explains why the copyright capitalists are so hostile towards file-sharing networks. The talk was held at the SIGINT 2010 conference in Köln on May 23, 2010.

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The Global Square is the name of a social networking platform in development that is targeted at the Occupy and indignant movements as well as other activist groups. The developers have notched up the level of ambition quite a bit since I last blogged about it in January when the project was dubbed “a Facebook for the 99%” by the media. Now the goal seems to be to create a kind of self-sufficient “Internet within the Internet” that satisfies not only the communication needs of occupiers but also the needs related to the development and organisation of new forms of living. Most of the work done on the platform so far has been conceptual, so there’s not much to show in terms of actual implementations yet. Therefore, the developers are currently on the lookout for coders to join in the project. Here is the call-out they released a few weeks ago:

“TheGlobalSquare aims to be the first massive decentralized social network in the history of the Internet. We are aware of the difficulties we must overcome, but we believe the Internet Community has reached a point where such an initiative is possible. It is possible because we are more united; censorship and repression have created stronger bonds between those who care about freedom and the free flow of information. How can we achieve this goal?

Structure: Organizing humanity in a single collective
The Global Square is to be an easy to use social and work platform for individuals and groups. One of the main goals is that it should have very low barriers of entry for inexperienced users, making it as easy as possible for them to contribute work, interact and use the various tools at their disposal. Another goal is that the Global Square be expandable to allow global coordinated and efficient work in every system. TheGlobalSquare recognizes the principles of personal privacy as a basic right of individuals and transparency to all users as an obligation for public systems.
The Global Square is not exclusively for activists. While it will assist activists with the correct tools and virtual meeting areas, it will also be available to the global community. Although the structure is designed for organization and coordination of personal relationships, assemblies and action, the platform is also conceived for independent work systems, movements struggling for civil causes and more. As systems are added that encompass more aspects of daily life and political topics of wide interest, experts and users from all walks of life will be able to use the Global Square to discuss, create and learn. A first example of this is the News Commons, which will be a source of verified, crowd sourced and peer reviewed news on all topics. Other early basic systems to be created on the Global Square are the Global Market for establishing new methods of exchange and the Renaissance and Evolution Forums for testing principles for governance and law. Future systems could include topics such as communications, healing, food, arts, sports, sciences, trade, housing, and energy.
This is an open community where everyone is welcome. It is peer-to-peer, horizontal and non-hierarchical. This is a space where coders, designers, itechs, artists, activists and philosophers are invited to collaborate together. We believe it is necessary to concentrate and focus our energy, so if you are already in a group planning something similar or with the same objectives please participate to enrich both projects.

P2P based
With the support of Delft University of Technology, TheGlobalSquare will mainly be developed based on the existing peer to peer technology provided by the renowned file sharing software Tribler. Tribler is a project focused on decentralized social networks with years of expertise in peer-to-peer communication. By using this particular existing P2P technology it becomes virtually impossible to break or censor our network. The content files are not centralized in any physical server, so the network belongs to its users – a basic principle of participatory democracy applied to the on-line space. It encourages input from users from countries with censorship and blocking; with an ‘unblockable’ space to share all kinds of information and work collaboratively. It has been proven that WEB, as we know it, each day is more closed and subject to arbitrary and illegal blocking. A step beyond it is more than needed.

Open system
TheGlobalSquare will include authentication mechanisms, relational schema and communication protocols. Authentication and communications are up to whoever implements this specification to build a system. That will allow a project to be “TheGlobalSquare compatible” while supporting semantic data, currently visualized as RDF. The RDF vocabularies we develop to represent meaning and relationship are the common thread that enable uniting a variety of platforms. Any network is the sum of the technology supporting it as well as the actual connections made between individuals and groups within it. To succeed, we must be able to both leverage whatever currently exists as well as develop anything needed to build bridges between systems and people. There will be a blend of network protocols, web services, data stores, P2P clients etc. Tools for people across the planet to meet, share ideas and develop proposals must enable coordinated, effective, global action. TheGlobalSquare system will provide a unified way to manage communications between people within a radically heterogeneous vocabulary system.

Approach
Build something, get a real-world community to use it, and ask how we can improve it. Instead of detailing the design out from zero, we propose to build software and incrementally improve it. This requires a designed-for-evolution type of modern software engineering approach. Our goal is to have a functional prototype by March 2012. The Global Square will be a featured project at the Berlin Biennale from April 27, 2012 until July 1, 2012. To have something working in March, we need to be modest. We will start with a simple PC app. The first feature to create is an operational skeleton for an attack resilient social network: Users can add friends and send them messages in private. You can also leave messages on the people’s public walls. This first prototype should already have robust security and use Elyptic Key Crypto to secure all communication. Each user creates a public key upon installation. All private messages are encrypted for that person only. All friendships are initiated using spoofing-free mechanisms.

Features after the March release
Using the Agile method we will focus on one feature or module for a few weeks, conduct tests, do a release and then focus on the next feature. By releasing in a 6-8 week cycle we can focus on coding and improvement. A goal is to have a smartphone app later in the year plus a standalone app with a usable GUI. We will start with the stand alone PC app, which later can be turned into an .apk for mobiles. Once the basic prototype is up and running, we can add features beyond social networking, for instance, Squares, Task Groups or Events with communication systems. Once that is up and running the focus could be on “distributed decision making and voting” and the various Systems such as News Commons.

The global square needs developers to turn ideas and dreams in reality!
For such an effort, we must count on the community of coders and developers. We are going to use a Tribler kernel based on Python. We urgently need the help of the community in order to implement all the features planned for The Global Square. If you have expertise in Python and P2P protocols you still have time and opportunity to join our project, a project which will hopefully change the dynamics of interaction among global society.

Various jobs require a combination of the following:

  • experience witH Free Software project basic operation
  • Python programming
  • network protocols, UDP message transfers
  • cryptography, pub/priv key management
  • SQLight, performance, transactions
  • epidemic gossip protocols, for global dissemination of crypted info
  • self-organising network programming
  • GUI in WxWindows
  • Android developer, mixed .py build chain (for later smart phone .apk)

To join:

  • Take a week to read the Global Square wiki and the other documents and understand the existing code.
  • Possibly work for a few weeks on prototyping
  • Feb – March 2012 availability
  • Join the mailinglist: theglobalsquare@lists.takethesquare.net
  • Introduce yourself :-)

General-contact: Pedro Noel info@theglobalsquare.org
Press Contact: Heather Marsh (spokesperson) press@theglobalsquare.org
Developers Contact: Johan Pouwelse and Ed Knutson (development coordinators) dev@theglobalsquare.org”

To elaborate on the call-out a bit, the project consists, as I understand it, of three distinct and more or less independent parts, a federated data exchange system, a p2p-network system, and an application layer that sits on the other two.

The aim of the federated data exchange system, known as the “Global Protocol”, is to define the structure of the data that is passed around in the network and the protocols that are used for accessing the data and communicating between nodes of the network. This will be done by using open standards such as XML/RDF. This will allow any existing social networking platform with an open API to plug in to the Global Square network, including Facebook and Twitter. This is really what sets The Global Square apart from other platforms, as it makes it possible to proliferate the network without forcing people to abandon their existing networks or to switch inconveniently between networks. It also makes the system more viable in the long-term as any new platforms that gain popularity in the future can be easily incorporated into the network.

The aim of the p2p-network is to distribute the data on the network across the individual nodes so that it will be extremely difficult to take down that data by a malevolent party, as it would involve essentially taking down every individual node which may be spread all across the planet. The p2p-network is based on the BitTorrent client Tribler which is being developed in the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Tribler is a fully decentralised system, meaning that it doesn’t require tracker servers to function (see a recent TorrentFreak article on Tribler here). Tribler has been in development for more than six years by a full-time team, so we’re talking about fairly mature technology here. Combined with mesh networking technology on the ground, the p2p-system makes the network highly resistant to shut down attempts by the authorities.

On top of the above systems come the actual applications that the users of the network will be interfacing with. Currently planned applications include a newswire, discussion forums and a global marketplace. Applications that facilitate decision making at the local occupations will likely be considered as well. And, this being open technology, anyone can develop the applications that they need.

Further details and developer information can be found in the Global Square wiki:
http://wiki.theglobalsquare.org

There’s also a discussion forum for developers and other interested parties:
http://forum.theglobalsquare.org

For those who want to plunge straight into the actual code, here are the repos related to the p2p-system:
Android app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-android
PC app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-pc
Dispersy (distributed permission system) protocol: https://github.com/whirm/dispersy

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