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Data. Together. Let's read about it

Commons (August 21)

🎬 Recorded Call


Sometimes, instead of ownership, we talk about a "commons". How ought the commons to be governed, and by whom?



  • These readings talk a lot about commons versus privatization/enclosure. Should we take a step back and review how goods are characterized? (Spectrums of excludability and rivalrousness give us private goods, club goods, common resources, and public goods.) Does that level of distinction matter?
  • Ostrom presents traditional solutions to common pool resource allocation problems as 1) not taking into account transaction costs and 2) unrealistically constraining the assumed rules of transaction. Together, these render the ‘solutions’ unworkable.
  • She suggests instead that the academic community study real-world examples of success and failure, where success means "institutions that enable individuals to achieve productive outcomes in situations where temptations to free-ride and shirk are ever present."
  • She found that institutional details are important. Previous scholarship not so interested in this. Not in our reading, but in Ostrom’s later work we find her 8 principles for how commons can be governed sustainably and equitably in a community:
    1. Define clear group boundaries.
    2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
    3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
    4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
    5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.
    6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.
    7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
    8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.
  • Does the neo-liberal utopian decentralized ethos of non-regulation interfere with Ostrom’s 8 principles of how to govern a common pool resource? ie, we can make decisions about how to build a mesh network using those guidelines, but if that results in total anonymous use of that resource, what happens when the tribe can‘t tell when a member is using the resouce to damage the community (a light example: I don’t know which neighbor is bullying my child)?
  • Linebaugh tracks the history of enclosure in England over time, in part via a specific history of an area called Otmoor. He proposes that poverty increases as the concentration of wealth moves into fewer and fewer hands via land division.
  • "Why did it take 7 or 8 centuries to enclose England where in Russia it took a generation and in Iraq it took just over a century through bombing?"
  • De Filippi proposes that the history of communication is conflict between centralization and decentralization.
  • De Filippi: "The success of Wi-Fi has proven Coase's defense of a market-based approach as the sole alternative to exclusive licensing to be overly simplistic. Against the backdrop of traditional economic theory, open spectrum policies has shown that commons-based approach to many-to-many communication infrastructure can actually work in practice. Through packet switching, best-effort delivery, as well as innovative radio transmission and banDCidth managements techniques, Wi-Fi has successfully verified Ostrom's claim that users themselves can create and enforce rules that mitigate the over-exploitation of the commons, confirming the point that orthodox economists usually overlook the practical failures of privatization and government regulation (Ostrom, 1990). In many regards, though property-based allocations of spectrum and exclusive licensing still have the upper half, it has often come short of fostering public interest goals, by creating a very significant underutilization of public resource.54 Moreover, not only does the regulatory focus on exclusive licensing create an enormous opportunity cost by favoring established players over innovative new-entrants (such as community networks), it has even been argued by human rights NGOs that it may actually breach the international law on freedom of expression (Article 19, 2005)."


  • Review of Elinor Ostrom Governing the Commons: against the tragedy of the commons, took seriously game theory and prisoners dilemma as well as view that private/public were the only public examples
    • MZ: Make sure we talk about: is data or knowledge a common? the readings focus on natural resources
    • MHz: also how about the relationship between the traditional economic descriptions of goods
    • JV: thinking about and reflecting on peer-to-peer systems (e.g., torrent seeding ratio), does prioritizing solve the problem, access, motivation... in the game theoretic descriptions
    • B5: people participating in the system have some local knowledge that offers something important. How does that relate in a distributed projects development? (maybe Berners-Lee SOLID does look at this). Language around this emerging in development
    • DC: Would the edited collection intro (knowledge commons) be helpful given the context we are looking at? I think the Common Pool Resource definition is careful (and canny and frustrating!)
      • "Common-pool resource is a "natural or man-made resource system that is sufficiently large as to make it costly (but not impossible) to exclude potential beneficiaries from obtaining benefits from its use"
        • author uses a systems dynamics definition: resource systems "are best thought of as stock variables that are capable, under favorable conditions, of producing a maximum quantity of a flow variable without harming the stock or the resource system itself" (e.g., fishing grounds, irrigation canals, oceans)
        • resource units "are what individuals appropriate or use from resource systems"
        • process of withdrawing units from a system as appropriation
        • those who "arrange for the provision of a CPR" are providers whereas "anyone who actually constructs, repairs, or takes actions that ensure the long-term sustenance of the resource system itself" are producers (these can be the same individuals, but it is not required)"
    • MZ: found something missing from those descriptions, something would lie to dig into... feels like missing language
    • RB: Chap 2 has some hints (bridge and depletable resource)
    • Jcahill: modes of knowledge management and the rhetorical discussion-- a conflation or moral equivocation. Unimplementable knowledge strategies.
      • e.g., with tragedy of commons: is it a moral argument, an access argument, etc... (but used to advocate for control)
    • DC: Is Brendan and Jevi's earlier points a way to think about current examples closer to our work? (e.g., Jevi discussing BitTorrent!) Does this provide a way to transition to the de
    • B5: saw the principle of referees as related to code in use -- appears to provide language to this?
    • B5: tweet or E.O. Wilson quote: "paleo emotions, medival inst., god-like tech" has been high in mind, what about our institutions and innovation
    • Rob: for our context and drawing on earlier thoughts--who holds expertise and education within any groups, e.g., mesh networking expertise, writing software, networking tools... how does this role relate to the referee, and now add a distributed context
      • connected to Ostrom in first chapter: self-policing but also hiring and external arbitor
    • MZ: E.O.Wilson quote reflects a positioning of the readings: "medival institutions" but... Linebaugh shows how and what they offered with historical nuance!
      • In Mabey also
      • In Ostrom: informal instutions exist
    • DC: The Mabey reading is drawn on by Linebaugh, written from a naturalist perspective-- environment “product of being formerly common” -- talks about commons institutions "creating legacies of places" (quote: DC)
    • jcahill: tugging on this: thinking about common in space (and like arguments over things like 'walkability' in cities)-- a clawing back and reframing of issues as politics and severing of historical context
    • Rob: reading linebaugh-- made me think about the right to roam in UK (99% invisible podcast -, coming out of an repolitization of a depoliticization
    • DC: is our current moment (and going back to de fillippi article): does decentralization re-politcize a depolicized thing?
      • Rob: feel sceptical, "wonderfully perfect decentralization that broke down"-- is this a bad set up?
      • MZ: in a simplistic way, see mainframe, clouds, move back to decentralization cyclic pattern, seems real not just imagined. But also Wu's master swtich as a pattern of centralization (oral history of that)-- a lot of different meanings of decentralization (or how things get to be), a strong push for a lot a different decentralizations right now. Agree it isn't "a return" but also, things were more participatory, running your own infrastructure, knowledge that has been lost--people attempting to restore it
      • JCAhill: from chat "i wanted to bring up the EU bureaucracy's mixed bag of sometimes impossible legislative proposals for internet regulation lately (ex: the 1h deadline for anti-terror takedowns) and how schismatic and fraught the general discussion has become."
        • inability to let go of identities and how that relates to opposition/failure to come together around
        • long tail impact of this legislation? (political militancy versus operators/practitioners)
        • a pattern of removing from context of the political decision and where it is taking place
        • Look at figures like Stallman as a public figure whose dogma acheives specific aims
      • MZ: takes us to the De Fillipi article? owning infrastructure and the social function that plays?
      • b5: "enmeshing yourself in the mesh" and drawing people into these things can be challenging. e.g. professor working with artists and playing with decentralized harDCare.
        • Connection to Ostrom here about being careful when you abstract, also important to figure out how to draw people in
        • The Matrix, Rage against Centralization "Wake Up"
      • SYH: evolutionary cooperativism compared against game-theoretic models (malthusian), ostrom's reading, in comparison to altrusitic darwinian views, maybe like Kropotkin, Bookchin.
      • Kevin: Tying back to Matt's question about if knowledge is a depletable or scarce resource. Game theory predicates scarity, how does that relate to abundance economy, how would those rules need to change
      • Jevi: Maybe not depletable but access to it-- a relation there. Movement to privatize parts of the internet (quiet lately! hopefully!)
      • Jack: knowledge alone has blind spots-- to offer stuff aline with Jevi: knowledge, truth? opinion? autonomy, privacy
        • Something around privacy is maybe not a resource (but if data is a resource?)
      • MZ: Enclosure! offers something (wary of extending the metaphor too far). But with Data Together, the most at risk was the funding to produce high-quality resource
        • Rob: was there something in chapter 2 that talked about production/provision versus appropriators
        • DC: Page 30 around the CBR definition
      • MZ: most things are not non-rivalrous public goods, etc...?
    • DC: Why I like linebaugh: A recovery (retelling) of a history that allows us to think about the future-- what would that look like for this space? (What is this space--Data stewardship? Decentralization? Networks?)
    • MH: Different conversations emphasize different aspects (e.g., with different communities?) sometimes a focus on infrastructure. A space so wide between the protocol layer and the swirl we live in right now
    • MH post-session edit: I was trying (and failing, ha) to describe this problem: "Does the neo-liberal utopian decentralized ethos of non-regulation interfere with Ostrom’s 8 principles of how to govern a common pool resource? ie, we can make decisions about how to build a mesh network using those guidelines, but if that results in total anonymous use of that resource, what happens when the tribe can‘t tell when a member is using the resouce to damage the community (a light example: I don’t know which neighbor is bullying my child)?" As in -- I think there are different systems we're comflating. Governing a network infrustructure so that anyone has access to its knowledge is different than a one-to-one governance of fisherman governing water for their fish. If it was a commons, a group of people who wanted internet/knowledge would decide on rules for it, then hire umpires/caretakers (infrastructure specialists) to manage it for them, and enforce rules. But our systems come from infrustructure specialists, to some extent, deciding what's important for a larger community. Hmmm. HMMM. I might need to write a short essay to get my brain to explain what's on my mind.
    • B5: thinking about untold histories and a response to MHz-- how do we figure out how to include a not commonly included element in a story
      • e.g., Mastodon explosion because of Twitter frustrations
      • Could tell a few different versions of a story (is that a haze, but comfortable )
    • MZ: "blockchains are not decentralized" article/tweet yesterday, pointing out the bundling of politics into technical implementation
    • Jevi: policies based on metaphors can be harmful
    • Kevin: concrete example of fisherman, excited to talk to regular people and understand better why it should matter to them.

Future Threads

  • Further reading into knowledge commons and follow up topic: building aqueducts and maintaining bridges - knowledge as a commons that requires maintenance

    • Potential Reading? Intro/chapter one from Understanding Knowledge as a Commons
  • Tim Wu "The Master Switch"

Chat Log

00:11:40 b5: I second this motion. would love to have those PR’d into the repo!
00:13:10 dcwalk: happy anniversary!
00:13:39 b5: :)
00:17:03 Jeremy Cahill: for reference, the suggestion brendan was responding to (pre-recording, i think): adding extended readings that participants have done on their own for post-group reading.
00:18:31 b5: perfect moderator :)
00:19:17 Matt Zumwalt: do we have a notetaker?
00:22:53 b5: CPR “common pool resource"
00:26:13 b5: my seeder-to-leacher ratio on DC++ was always impeccable :)
00:26:50 Rob Brackett: I cannot claim such a reputation
00:27:28 dcwalk: can I jump on stack after next person?
00:27:42 Jeremy Cahill: re: matt, someone in the slack mentioned fisheries. i think riparian rights are worth discussing as a closer analogue to resource sharing over networks than, say, a commons in the sense of a designated tract of land. i'm not sold on the conventional tragedy of the commons framing being sufficient for discussion of linked data (ex. ipld), banDCidth, storage, revocable access, etc.
00:30:39 b5: right, that could totally be a DHT
00:30:46 b5: (distributed hash table)
00:32:45 dcwalk: fair enough! I Thought the intro/ch1? had some good bits (been awhile tho)
00:33:19 Matt Zumwalt: yeah. and aqueducts
00:34:51 Jeremy Cahill: followup note from last time: there's a #datatogether channel on patchwork now. patchwork messages have to be surfaced through http gateways that act as viewers, so it may be easiest simply to search #datatogether.
00:34:52 dcwalk: Just flagging that Jeremy Cahill has a raised hand within zoom!
00:35:15 dcwalk: yes! kinda hidden sometimes
00:37:36 Matt Zumwalt: follow up topic: building aqueducts and maintaining bridges - knowledge as a commons that requires maintenance
00:39:01 b5: if u click the “participants” button, it’ll bring up a list :)
00:39:03 Rob Brackett: Raised hand shows in the “participants” panel
00:39:04 dcwalk: ^^ Added into the notes
00:39:04 Rob Brackett: ha
00:42:00 b5: is on bittorrent
00:42:01 b5: :)
00:43:22 Kevin Nguyen: Don’t be a free-rider!
00:44:24 dcwalk: can you link it b5?
00:44:49 Rico Gardaphe:
00:45:56 Rico Gardaphe: better:
00:46:13 Seong-Young Her: The E.O. Wilson quote is from here:
00:47:55 dcwalk: ty all!
00:48:10 Jeremy Cahill: related to rob: seong and i discussed at length the need for any truly autonomous meshnet to take on huge infrastructure dependencies like power. professionalization of infra jobs, etc.
00:48:42 dcwalk: <3<3<3
00:49:39 Michelle Hertzfeld: And Ostom’s “And informal rules may exist that centralized authorities don’t see”
00:51:09 b5: So much that. I think EDGI (as an org) is my fun entry point for “different institution thinking”
00:52:19 b5: “product of being formerly common”
00:52:21 b5: HEAT
00:52:22 Matt Zumwalt: “creating legacies of new places”
00:55:02 dcwalk: I think I got a little tangled in the notes— jcahilj… help me clarify!
00:56:10 Matt Zumwalt:
00:56:35 Jeremy Cahill: many of the themes of new urbanist planning are based around how to claw back common spaces where they might not have been designed and demarcated long ago. this makes public works projects difficult in regions without a strong partisan base, because new public planning projects come with taxes, local politics, environmental politics, various politically-aestheticized terms of art
00:59:30 Michelle Hertzfeld: Jeremy, you’re up next
01:01:08 Rob Brackett: I guess I mean more philosophy, rather than praxis
01:01:33 Jeremy Cahill: thanks. i wanted to bring up the EU bureaucracy's mixed bag of sometimes impossible legislative proposals for internet regulation lately (ex: the 1h deadline for anti-terror takedowns) and how schismatic and fraught the general discussion has become.
01:01:34 b5: back when hippies ran the web
01:01:40 b5: :)
01:03:37 dcwalk: when you speak to that rigidity of views I think of this:
01:03:45 Michelle Hertzfeld: This reminds me of the earlier point on — “who is the expert?” — when the tech and process can’t be explained easily, or the space between the end result and the rule needed is so wide, can you implement Ostrom’s rules?
01:08:39 Jeremy Cahill: dawn: stallman is the example of a public figure in the cultural consciousness who comes to mind for me.
01:09:03 Jeremy Cahill: at least, ones whose dogma seemingly achieves very particular aims
01:10:38 dcwalk: From Jack:
01:12:52 Michelle Hertzfeld: +1 Seong :) I really like the overlap between institutionalism/Ostrom and emergence theory
01:14:00 b5: so so good
01:14:15 Jeremy Cahill: systems of sufficient generality to be useful across communities with different terminal values may not be preferred by any of them
01:15:04 Seong-Young Her: Here's an article from Ostrom (2012) that talks about the evolutionary view of commons:
01:15:55 dcwalk: thanks! added
01:17:32 b5: something around the abundance that is made scarce
01:17:42 Matt Zumwalt: ENCLOSURE!
01:25:43 Michelle Hertzfeld: For reference on economic types of goods: — note that what goes into each box I feel like is always up for discussion. For example, what this page puts in the ‘public goods’ box is not always put in that box in all examples
01:31:18 Jeremy Cahill: was this or something more particular what was meant by "DCeb drama" in the reading repo's issues?
01:32:48 dcwalk: - ^^ oh, no that was about the dBrowser
01:33:01 dcwalk: Matt Z can you drop a link?
01:33:45 dcwalk: I can do a wee set up for the next three topics (i think we need more readings :erp:!)
01:34:12 Matt Zumwalt:
01:34:47 dcwalk: ty!
01:38:08 dcwalk: Always great to see everyone :)))
01:38:11 Jeremy Cahill: \o

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