Current limitations of peer production

And ideas on how to overcome them

Author: Stefan Merten
Date: 2009-03-27, Manchester
Organization: Project Oekonux


The source of the power

Criteria for peer production: Openness

  • External openness

    • I.e.: Everyone may use the results without restrictions

    • Implies: Results are available without conditions

    • Allowed: Conditions to keep external openness

      Exchange is no such condition

  • Internal openness
    • Everyone may contribute to the project

Criteria for peer production: Selbstentfaltung

  • Selbstentfaltung of producers

    • Work == fun

      No compensation needed for work pain

      BTW: Something the labor movement has enormous difficulties with

    • Implies: Volunteer producers

    • Not alienated from production process

      Producers control and manage production process as they see fit

    • Producers are not alienated from the products

      Volunteers select the product they like

    • Results in absolute quality

      Not only relative quality as in markets

  • Unalienated products
    • Products are not alienated from the users
    • I.e.: Use value based production

  • In other words: Freedom

    • Selbstentfaltung ultimately means emancipation

      That is why it is interesting for me

Power from a new mode of production

  • Powerful products
    • Successful products
    • Complex products
    • Major societal impact
    • Global use

  • Powerful producers
    • Happy producers
    • Volunteers can not be forced

  • Ultimately: A new mode of production
    • Undermining the stronghold of capitalism

Basis of contemporary peer production

Internet as technological basis

  • Internet enables peer production

    • Enables peers to find each other

    • Enables peers to work together

    • Major distribution channel

      Globalization at its best

  • Today Internet and computers are part of common infrastructure
    • I.e. no extra cost
    • On an industrial level
    • Even for the average household

  • Internet / computers are the technological basis of peer production

  • Internet / computers are the technological basis of peer production

    This new mode of production needed a technological basis

Skilled volunteers as human basis

  • Peer production mainly by volunteers

    • For instance in Wikipedia

    • Mostly in Free Software

      See respective studies

    • I.e. in Free time

  • Peer production partly in paid time
    • Either where peer production can be monetized by secondary effects
    • Or where sponsored by the state

  • Peer producers often highly skilled
    • Necessary for products like an encyclopedia, software, science...
    • At least some discipline needed for Open Streetmap

  • Free time of skilled volunteers as the human basis

Contemporary limitations

Availability of machinery

  • Internet is sufficient machinery for pure information products

  • But some products need expensive machinery
    • Also applies to some information products
    • Much research is based on expensive machinery

  • Expensive machinery is not simply available
    • Limits types of products producible by peer production

Availability of skilled volunteers

  • More volunteers would mean:
    • More labor force / more products
    • More diversity in Selbstentfaltung covering a wider range of products

  • Peer producers must earn money
    • Therefore they are not fully available for Selbstentfaltung

Tasks hard to conceptualize as Selbstentfaltung

  • Necessary tasks today may be
    • Boring
    • Dangerous
    • Dirty
    • ...

  • Hard to see as Selbstentfaltung

  • No problem: difficulty
    • Difficult tasks are a nice challenge for the real masters ;-)

  • Capitalism can structurally force people to do every task
    • But force destroys Selbstentfaltung
    • Thus force is not available for peer production

No principle limitation: Physical products

  • Information products are based on digital copy
    • But digital copy exists since 60 years
    • And is ubiquitous since 10-20 years

  • Today means of production for physical products are:
    • Not ubiquitous
    • Less universal than computers
    • Not part of common infrastructure

  • Physical peer products will exist when their preconditions are met

Overcoming machinery limitations

Cheap / universal machinery

  • Note: Computers are universal and (meanwhile) cheap

    Cheap and universal machinery seems to be a fertile ground

  • Cheap means: easy to get
  • Universal means: Useful to have
    • Like a car for many transportation issues
    • Fabbers, industrial robots, ... are universal

  • Adopt the Free Software strategy
    • Building the means of production from the ground up
    • Editors, compilers, operating system

More sophisticated technology

  • May solve many problems
    • Lower costs
    • Cheap / universal means of production
    • Enable physical peer production
    • Reduce unwanted tasks
    • Enable Selbstentfaltung by needing more sophisticated work

  • In short: More automation

Overcoming Selbstentfaltung limitations

Expanding Free time

  • Unconditional basic income from the state
    • However: Unconditional basic income destroys the basis of capitalism
    • Thus this won't happen

  • Lower average labor time

    An old labor movement demand...

  • Higher wages

    Another old labor movement demand...

    But this time not only for pleasure but to the help a new society

  • Lower costs by using results of peer production
    • Less need to work for money
    • Positive feedback cycle

Extending and using Selbstentfaltung

  • Lift skill level by Free education
    • OLPC (One Laptop Per Child)
    • MIT Courseware
    • Open Access
    • Open Textbooks

  • Leverage diversity of Selbstentfaltung
    • Selbstentfaltung is a very individual thing
    • What is horror for one person is pleasure for someone else
    • Open Streetmap fine for those strange people who like walking ;-)

Using capitalism

Learning from capitalism

  • Learn how germ form becomes dominant
    • Learn from history
    • Focus on strengths instead of weaknesses

  • Learn what functions a modern society needs
    • These must be replaced by peer production counterparts
    • Or may become superfluous - like banks

  • Make peer production sexy

Leveraging capitalism

  • Public peer product policies helps public recognition
  • Use capitalism for what it is (still) good
    • E.g.: Production of goods useful for peer production

Wrap up


  • Criteria for peer production must be met

  • Contemporary basis consists of technological and human means of production

  • Limitations result from the lack of means of production

  • Ideas exist on how to overcome these limitations

Thank you