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Andrius Kulikauskas * Social Infrastructure for Virtual Flash Mobs (was: Re: [ox-en] Conference documentation / Konferenzdokumentation)

Social Infrastructure for Virtual Flash Mobs

Andrius Kulikauskas [ms at]

Minciu Sodas Laboratory,

In 1998, I founded Minciu Sodas, an open laboratory serving and
organizing independent thinkers. In order for independent thinkers to
find and support each other, we have innovated in open economics,
intellectual property law, and social organization.

In my workshop, I presented - in rambling fashion - our laboratory's
theoretical ideas and practical experience in organizing "virtual
flash mobs" and the economic value that we see in them. I spoke of the
social infrastructure that we have found crucial or helpful in
organizing ourselves.

Most importantly, I invited and involved others at the conference to
work together. I argued with many about the importance for social
networking that our venues be, by default, in the Public Domain,
rather than copyright, copyleft or Creative Commons. George Pleger of
Creative Commons was most encouraging that I present an alternative
"decision chart" that might address my needs and those of others. I
share my ideas on this. Thank you also to Franz Nahrada, George
Dafermos and others for stimulation, support and encouragement.

Support for each other's projects

My central question is: How might we organize ourselves to support
each other for our projects? At our lab, we have recently been guided
by the vision of a "virtual flash mob", which we might suddenly
declare to bring us together online to support one of our causes,
perhaps by spreading news about an upcoming event, seeding a wiki for
a new project, developing a new idea, appearing for an online chat, or
looking for partners for a new proposal. In a sense, what we are
developing is a project management system for openly working together
- a vision that Bala Pillai of MindEcos, Joy Tang of OneVillage.Biz
and Franz Nahrada of ERDE have all described the need for.

Assembling people

In practice, social networking is a long term investment, and depends
on involving a wide variety of people over a long time. In a
conversation - as short as five minutes, or as long as an hour - it is
possible for a person to learn enough to decide if they might be
interested. I have found it very effective to ask people to allow me
to sign them up for one of our discussion groups - in English, German,
Lithuanian or some other language - as a good way to keep in touch. I
let them know that I keep the volume of letters under control, so that
they do not go over an average of five letters a day. In the group,
the subscribers are exposed to a few letters each day about our topic,
which is "caring about thinking" and supporting independent thinkers.
This is quite an open topic, and difficult to get a feel for.
Typically, after three months or more, they may feel inspired to
write, and I can respond and be supportive, knowing that I am
investing my energy in the people who are ready for that.

Therefore, my purpose in a first conversation is to know if we can and
should stay in touch. I simply need their email address and their
permission, based on their clear understanding of the volume of
letters they will receive, and their ability to unsubscribe. Often, I
try to bring out their personal interests, so that I can show how they
might relate to "caring about thinking", and they can decide if such a
broader outlook might be of interest to them.


When a participant first speaks up in our group, then I know that they
might participate more actively, and so I try to encourage them,
support their projects, and draw them out. We might think of this as a
process of helping each person openly present themselves.

In working openly, we focus our attention on the information that they
wish to share publicly, rather than privately. As a social networker,
I may think of myself as presenting others with a questionnaire. What
questions are most important? We need to ask the questions that best
help people to work openly. These questions should help people get
things done right away. I share my experience regarding that.

A) Agreement to work openly

As a social networker - and social hacker, my main idea is the we give
priority to working openly. I organize our laboratory's discussion
groups so that all may view the archives. Furthermore, our rule is
that every letter sent to our groups enters the Public Domain except
when the letter explicitly states otherwise. We make this rule
prominent in our welcome letter, each group's website and in the
footer of each letter.

My first priority, in investing in a new participant, is that they
agree more broadly to such a rule. Official members of our laboratory
agree that all of their correspondence with our laboratory, including
private correspondence, is Public Domain except where the letters
explicitly state otherwise. Also, our members agree that our
laboratory may work to build relationships on their behalf. This
allows us to circulate content vigorously and broadly so that we might
find unexpected partners and integrate our efforts. We eliminate the
overhead of asking for permissions. I have also found this rule to
serve as an effective filter that lets us invest ourselves in those
people who know how to "work for free" and "give freely".

In order to leverage a wider network of partners, I have organized an
Open People Network that is based on this same principle. Participants
declare that the original content which they contribute to the venues
they specify - particular discussion groups, wikis, or even the entire
Internet - is in the Public Domain except as noted. They then confirm
their agreement by stating it some place on the web, preferably a
place that they control, so that they may change it as they wish. The
fact that their statement stays on the web is a confirmation that they
continue to agree to it. It also helps in contacting them, or learning
of their interests or wishes.

The "except as noted clause" is very important because it acknowledges
that typically material is mixed. We may not be able to freely share
all of it, either for our own reasons, or because it belongs to
others. In November 2002, I set up the website to encourage material to be
declared Primarily Public Domain, which is to say, Public Domain
except as noted.

A person benefits from such an agreement in that it enables me, and
other such organizers, to invest ourselves in them, respond to their
letters, monitor their work and reach out to them.

B) Self-presentation

The next most important questions have to do with how a person wishes
to be presented. What is their name, by which they want to
participate? What is their web presence: their websites, blogs, their
projects? In the Internet, links and references are the atoms of
promotion. In our correspondence, I mention individuals and link to
their projects as a most basic way of being helpful. We can also offer
free services, especially for projects generating content in the
Public Domain, so that our participants may have a stronger web
presence and be able to share more original content.

We also ask, what organizations do they represent, or are affiliated
with? We consider how we might work together.

C) Interests

I think the most exciting questions have to do with people's
interests. For our official members we phrase this as: Topics of
interest regarding which I want to be contacted by others.

We've collected and posted answers from more than one hundred official
members of our laboratory. Most people list several interests, and so
we have about three hundred in all. I have sorted through them, and
found it helpful to organize them in the following matrix of twelve

X                 Why are we       How do we         What form does
                  motivated?       respond?          that take?
................. ................ ................. ................
Practical issues  Endeavors. Bold  Activities. What  Projects.
                  goals that may   we do that is     Branded activity
                  be achieved,     open ended, such  we support and
                  such as:         as: banking,      associate
                  bringing         online activism,  ourselves with,
                  peaceful         web design.       such as: Art of
                  self-determination                 Linux,
                  to the Middle            , Mind
                  East.                              Colonies.
Personal issues   Social           Social solutions. Technologies.
                  challenges.      Strategies that   Tools as the
                  Issues that we   can be attempted  expression of
                  can address      and perfected,    their own logic,
                  together, such   such as: change   such as: concept
                  as:              management,       mapping
                  environmental    ontologies, open  software, object
                  issues, business economies.        technology,
                  communications                     wireless
                  problems,                          telecom.
                  thinking tool
Social issues     Personal         Self-improvements. Arts. Personal
                  challenges. What Ways that we can  talents that we
                  we personally    amplify our       may cultivate,
                  take up and      faculties and     such as: humor,
                  address for      ourselves, such   music, poetry.
                  ourselves, such  as: accelerated
                  as: becoming a   learning,
                  teacher, doing   emotional
                  God's will,      intelligence,
                  taking care of   flow states.
Philosophical     Life concepts.   Investigative     Sciences. Bodies
issues            Themes to        questions.        of knowledge to
                  ponder, such as: Questions to      study and
                  happiness, life, explore and find  advance, such
                  the universe.    answers to, such  as:
                                   as: How can a     anthropology,
                                   person be true to parapsychology,
                                   themselves even   quantum
                                   under unfavorable relativity.

Our complete list of interests can be accessed at:

Our interests are the fountain of energy by which we are able to "work
for free" on what we care most about. They are vital for us to
understand each other, and meet each other halfway to support each
other's projects, and to respond to opportunity for work for pay.

D) Channels

Next, we ask people for the means of communication by which they want
to be contacted by others, and which will be posted publicly. Email is
almost essential, although we do try to include those without email
access. But it is important to work through all manner of channels:
telephone, instant messaging, wikis and other websites. Travel - and
physical meeting - is the channel that most intensely integrates all
of our senses. Even more intense is our accountability towards each
other through shared moral experiences.

We customize our own social infrastructure, and allow it to unfold as
needed. Our minimal resources for organizing ourselves effectively
have forced us to find value in every step that we take to leverage
the content we are generating. In particular, we have avoided the trap
of enclosed, lifeless, centralized databases. Instead, we've taken a
dispersed, multi-site, multi-brand, multi-channel, multi-verifiable
approach. We have found wikis helpful for registering ourselves, but
have needed to combine that with confirmation pages at sites under our
own individual control. We have used chat to flesh out our interests
and arrange "virtual flash mobs", and have then posted the transcripts
to multiple discussion groups to get the word out. Our next steps are
to use Wikis for planning and scheduling virtual flash mobs. We have
created an online navigation system WOW (Working Openly WOW) for
amalgamating the scattered web pages of our participants. We will
further build open databases to point to pages on the web where we
find thank yous, kind words, helpful actions, and wishes regarding our
participants. We have set up a server dedicated to projects in the
Public Domain except as noted, and will be archiving materials that
our participants are generating, and presenting them on the Web and
with RSS, so that we can monitor our activity and respond. We hope our
server to become an "incubator" for such projects, and make use of the
ability to freely share data files. I wish to find useful ways to
exchange data with participants of other online projects, and explore
how we might further build infrastructure for our social networking,
relying on a distributed, minimalist approach.

How might we best share information about the venues where we are
active, the information streams that we monitor, and the presumptions
that others can make about our behavior?

E) Help with self-sustainment

These last two years, I have searched for ways for private interests
to benefit from sponsoring work that adds to the public wealth. This
is especially difficult in poorer countries, where we do not have the
luxury to separate our life goals from our chores of making a living.
How can we pursue both at the same time? This is complicated even
further when we pursue goals from which it is not appropriate to make
a living: "Money can bring people together, but you can't pay for
people to care". And we do not want to compromise our life goals, or
lose any creative rights to our work. Our solution is that "wealth is
relationships". If we work openly towards our life goals, then we can
at the same time build relationships with other people who are
likewise self-directed, self-educated, self-managing,
understanding-of-others. In this way, at no cost we are able to build
a network of people who know each other in terms of what they care
most deeply about. These people are then ready to organize themselves
opportunistically for all manner of work. I would share these results
from our paper An Economy for Giving Everything Away
[], as well as
subsequent ideas, such as large and small fractal teams, and virtual
flash mobs, and our practical experience in our work for various
clients. Our general outlook is that an "alternative economy" can be
organized one person at a time, by changing our behavior within the
current economic system to find ways to "work openly" within it, and I
wish to find the widest variety of people who work with this in mind.
At our laboratory's server, we are offering free hosting for
qualifying projects in the "Public Domain except as noted". We expect
to host sites for people of variety technical levels: blogs, wikis,
databases. We will also serve software developers who are developing
software or practicing new programming languages. We will organize
ourselves to help each other in these projects, and to do this fairly,
we plan to develop a "point system" for rewarding those who help, and
for taxing those who use extra resources. We will likewise include the
activity of our OpenPeople network, so that we know who to reward, and
who to tax. Our intent is to have an internal mechanism, an internal
economy, for rebalancing our efforts as optimal. I will report on how
this is working. To the extent that we can organize ourselves as a
community to respond, as we are with our virtual flash mobs, we can as
a group serve clients. One idea is to set up "corporate mirrors", open
spaces where customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, partners
might show, in the spirit of The Cluetrain Manifesto, how they
consider the corporation's vision and how they might best participate
in that. Our group could earn money, which would then go to cover
shared costs, and also those who have done the most work would have
the option to cash out their points. In this way, we would have an
alternative economy that is multi-dimensional, and reducible to money
only for certain clients, and only in large aggregates. Who are ideal
clients, what services might we offer, and how might we engage them?
In terms of sharing information, these questions are only relevant
when we are seriously investing in each other, for example, helping
each other find work. We list the services that we offer, our skills
and capabilities, - our resume or CV, our availability and desire to
participate - and where that might be found on the web, our preferred
work type and work conditions. What are the services and resources
that we desire, aside from money? These can fuel our alternative

F) Decision-making

Our virtual flash mobs most simply reflect our ability to organize
ourselves. We have organized them, with greater or lesser success, to:

o    help Robin Good seed and stimulate the
     [URL: discussion boards

o    help Josef Davies-Coates spread the word about the WTF event in
     London, and encourage online participation

o    help Joy Tang of reach out and encourage the youth
     who are organizing themselves for the AIDS conference in Bangkok,
     Thailand in July, 2004

o    help Tav spread the word about the WTF 2 event in London, and
     encourage online participation

Currently, we don't have any real way of declaring virtual flash mobs.
What happens is that one of our members of the Open People Network
asks for one, and I declare it. If we're lucky, then a few people will
respond to our call.

However, the very notion of a virtual flash mob makes it easier to
spread the news. It helps make our desire real.

More importantly, this activity has drawn us together, making more
concrete who would like help, and what we find helpful. Our laboratory
involves 800 supportive participants who are subscribed to our
discussion groups, and 80 active participants who correspond or attend
meetings. Our virtual flash mob activity helps me focus my attention
on the roughly 16 participants of our Open People Network. They are
the ones who are generating inexhaustible streams of content, are
willing to place some of those streams into the Public Domain. This
means that we can invest in them as people who are "working for free"
and are self-directed. But also, these people typically are surrounded
by communities which they help attract and energize. We are finding
that the Open People Network and our related activity is attracting,
self-selecting, developing and promoting - in an open and inclusive
way - the natural and constructive leaders for our online society.

As we further develop our ability to organize ourselves we need to
consider how we might decide - clearly, effectively, definitely - on
our actions together. For this we need to share information about our
obligations that we take up for each other and our network.

Set of Individuals, or Commons?

At the Oekonux conference, I personally engaged others in an issue
that helps us consider our decision making. When are we acting as a
set of individuals, and when are was acting as a commons?

This question grew out of my ongoing desire that the Oekonux
discussion groups and wikis be venues that are Public Domain except as
noted. Currently, the materials are copyright by default, and that
taxes my participation as a social networker. As a social networker, I
seek to show the viability of "working openly" so that all may
integrate themselves into work-in-progress, both for free, and for
pay. I encourage participants of Minciu Sodas to
build relationships with each other, and my efforts depend on their
providing ample content that all may circulate without restriction. I
therefore establish discussion groups, wikis and other venues in which
the content is, by default, in the Public Domain, unless it explicitly
notes otherwise. I encourage our laboratory's partners and colleagues
to likewise place their venues in the "Public Domain except as noted"
and have established to make
this simpler. Many people don't understand why I need to work in the
Public Domain, and why I do not find Copyright, Copyleft or Creative
Commons helpful as a default. Each of these has its advantages. At
Oekonux, Georg Pfleger of the Creative Commons Austria pointed me to
the Creative Commons license selection process and encouraged me to
try to improve on that. At heart, the question is, When we work
together, are we thinking of ourselves as a "set of individuals", or
as a "commons"? Let us consider the two extremes. If, as an author, I
think of myself as one individual among many, then my work which I
share is my finished "product". My wishes will be definitive. I will
be held accountable for my content. I will fix the boundaries of my
work. I will share with those who share as I do. If my work has any
value, then I will require compensation. The law will protect my
rights as an individual, as affirmed by Copyright. Alternatively, as
an author, I may think of myself as a participant of the commons. I
share my "work-in-progress" so that I might involve others. My wishes
defer to the commons, except where my content states clearly
otherwise. I am not held accountable for my work, and I do not insist
on attribution. My work has no set boundaries, and is modifiable. My
work is for all, for those of every culture, not only those who share
as I do. I give without expecting anything in return. Morality
protects my work, and I declare it Public Domain. What the GPL,
Creative Commons and others have done is to show that we can actually
consider mixed modes. I've put together a list of questions to help us
consider our wishes as authors, and decide the extent to which we are
a "set of individuals" or a "commons".


Who is the author?

     Set of Individuals

               Express your wish definitely, simply, purely.


               Express your wish as a default "except as noted".

Who is accountable?

     Set of Individuals

               Insist on attribution.


               Do not insist on attribution.

Who sets the boundaries of the work?

     Set of Individuals

               Prohibit modifications.


               Allow modifications.

Who should the work unite?

     Set of Individuals

               Share alike = Share with those of the same culture of


               Share with all (of every culture).

Who should the work sustain?

     Set of Individuals

               Require reciprocity, negotiation.


               Presume nonreciprocity, giving.

Whose rights should be protected?

     Set of Individuals

               Rely on laws. License as Copyright (or Copyleft,
               Creative Commons, etc.).


               Rely on morality. Declare as Public Domain.


The crucial point here is that I'm thinking of the "commons" as more
than just a "set of individuals", or even all individuals. A "set of
individuals" consists of participants who may assume of each other
that they are all conscious, accountable, independent, equal, free,
able to negotiate, subject to legal rights, and able to form a "social
contract". A "commons" lets us care on behalf of others, those beyond
us - people who will come after us, and those who came before; those
who are not aware, mature, sane, conscious, responsible; our shared
culture, and even those outside of humankind, animals, plants, and all
of nature. I'll consider a few important examples of
licenses/declarations which interweave the viewpoint of "sets of
individuals" and of "the commons".

o    GNU Public License (GPL)

     o    AUTHOR: Set of Individuals

     o    ACCOUNTABLE: Commons

     o    MARKS BOUNDARIES: Commons

     o    UNITES: Set of Individuals

     o    SUSTAINS: Commons

     o    PROTECTS: Set of Individuals

o    Creative Commons

     o    AUTHOR: Set of Individuals

     o    ACCOUNTABLE: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    MARKS BOUNDARIES: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    UNITES: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    SUSTAINS: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    PROTECTS: Set of Individuals

o    Primarily Public Domain

     o    AUTHOR: Commons

     o    ACCOUNTABLE: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    MARKS BOUNDARIES: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    UNITES: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    SUSTAINS: Set of Individuals OR Commons

     o    PROTECTS: Commons

Organizing for Disintegration

Copyright and Public Domain both have their advantages. If our work is
a "finished product", then it makes sense to copyright that, as a way
for us to continue to participate in the life of our work. However,
more an more, our work is never finished, and what has value is the
work process itself, as it allows us to integrate others and create
together a shared framework for the coevolution of all of our
projects. This is the point of working openly. Here, Public Domain is
most helpful, at least as the default.

At Oekonux, it became apparent to me that the main argument against
the Public Domain is a concern that our material may, at some point,
or in some way, fall into copyright, and be lost to us. Thank you to
Franz Nahrada, Edward Cherlin, Marcin Jakubowsky, Stefan Meretz and
others for raising this question.

I think the way to answer this is to consider more broadly, how may we
act responsibly regarding the future of our work?

If we think of our work as standing by itself, then if we place our
work in the Public Domain, it stays there. Somebody may modify our
work and copyright their new work, but our original work continues to
be in the Public Domain.

Instead, it is more realistic to consider our work as existing within
some broader initiative. For example, if a piece of software is
actually used, then it is continuously developed further, because the
needs of users and the technological environment do not stand still.
Software is released in new versions, and it also has a community
under whose attention the software develops.

Software likes to clump. It does not like to fork. A community wants
to gravitate around the best product. What can happen is that a
product in the Public Domain can be further modified and copyrighted
by a proprietary developer. That developer may win the hearts of the
community. The Public Domain version continues to exist, but the
community moves on. And so, the Public Domain software dies. If the
only survivor is the proprietary software, then people find themselves
forced to use it. In this way, the proprietary software takes over the
Public Domain software, which is especially frustrating for the
original developers. This is the reason that Richard Stallman created
the GNU Public License, so that if a software is modified or
incorporated by another, then the latter must also be under the GNU
Public License, and satisfy certain basic expectations of openness.

However, content behaves very differently than code. Code is
meaningful to the extent that somebody can understand exactly what it
is doing. Content, however, is often most meaningful precisely when we
don't understand why it works. Classics like The Bible or Plato's
Republic or Confucius' Analects are handed down with care through the
generations because we respect that they say more than we may claim to
understand. We don't yet have such expectations for code! - and we
won't so long as alternate programs can be used for the same purpose.
Furthermore, content likes to disintegrate. It is only with great
effort that content stays unchanged. Very often we may find less than
1% of content relevant to our purpose, and we are able to use it out
of context, unlike most code. It is useful to reassemble micro-content
for all manner of projects. It is vital to circulate micro-content
without restriction as a way to mark, find and strengthen
relationships and help us integrate each other.

Content-based and code-based projects are therefore different with
regard to their vitality. In a code-based project, a minor enhancement
can make the old software obsolete. In a content-based project, even
the most brilliant addition can be re-expressed, and the prior content
remains valuable as a source of micro-content. There is therefore no
real risk that Public Domain content will become trapped in a
proprietary variant. The primary risk is that, as a society, we do not
have the consciousness or simply the habit to dedicate our works to
the Public Domain. This is our current situation, and we move away
from it with each conscious dedication.

Most importantly, we should always consider what will happen to our
creative work when the current projects come to an end. We have so
many examples of abandoned projects. In the case of old software,
there is perhaps nothing to be saved. But when we have created content
that expresses our life interests, then surely that has lasting value.
If we want to share with those who live beyond our project, then we
must not think as a "set of individuals" but as a "commons". The
others in the commons will most likely have their own cultures of
sharing (their own licenses!). They will need to integrate those parts
of our work that they find useful, and ignore the boundaries that we
have set. They will decide for themselves what ideas, if any, to
attribute to us. We can't expect them to negotiate with us, but should
give openly so they might sustain themselves and their work. The legal
system will not help us, and we can rely only on morality that our
wishes may be respected.

I conclude with my wish that we appreciate the power of morality in
our work together. Legal systems are established to protect the rights
of individuals, but never directly the commons. Gandhi said, "there is
no morality without community", and it is the moral system that serves
to turn our minds to our shared responsibility for the "commons" that
goes beyond any particular individual. The legal system, and the court
system, is of so little practical use for most people, as it offers
its equal protection only in large cases. It is surprising, therefore,
why people run to it for defense of copyrights that are of so little
practical value that they would never actually go to court over them.
The moral system is a much sounder investment of our energy. Morally,
our wishes must be respected not only on those who know of them, but
even on those who come to learn of them only later, or who are linked
to us indirectly. But morality also allows for each person's best
judgment, thus building a true commons. We can mix our moral appeal
with particular wishes that we have as a "set of individuals". Our
moral maturity, our growth in awareness and consciousness, our
thoughtful action - these are the foundation for a social
infrastructure for virtual flash mobs.

My paper is in the Public Domain 2004.

Contact: projekt

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