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[ox-en] Material peer production (Part 1: Effort Sharing)

Christian Siefkes wrote:
If we want to extend peer production to material production, it is these
traits we have to preserve. In my book,
<> "From Exchange to
Contributions", I discuss in detail how this can be done. I'll try to give
a short overview on this mailing list. Still, the topic is too complex for
a single mail, so there will be three more mails to follow, one for each of
the three traits.

The first characteristic of peer production is that the effort required to
reach the goals of a project is shared among those who care enough to
contribute. How this sharing is organized depends on the kind of project.

Projects creating free software or open knowledge use a style which
<> Francis Heylighen [2007]
describes as "stigmergic" (hint-based). The work done in in such projects
leaves "stimuli" or hints motivating others to continue. Examples of such
hints are to-do lists, bug reports, and feature requests in free software
projects; or "red links" to missing articles and listings of "most wanted
articles" in the Wikipedia. They point participants and potential
participants to the tasks that are worth doing.

This hinting system also serves as an informal mechanism for prioritizing
tasks: the more people care for a task, the more likely it is to be picked
up by somebody (since the corresponding hints tend to become more visible
and explicit, and since people are more likely to pick up a task they wish
to be done). And since everybody is free in choosing the tasks they want to
do, participants will generally be more motivated than in a market-based
system, where they have to follow the orders of their boss or customer.
They also tend to pick up those tasks they think they are good at, ensuring
that the different talents and skills of people are applied in the best
possible way.

For projects producing freely copyable goods, such a hint-based system with
unconditional access and voluntary contributions is very reasonable. There
is no need to exclude non-contributors from the benefits from the project,
since admitting them doesn't cause any additional cost (or only a very
small one), and every additional user might sooner or later decide to
follow one of the hints and become a contributor. And even non-contributing
users are often beneficial for the project, since they might increase the
motivation of contributors (it feels good to know that there are people out
there using your software or reading your texts).

Things change if the costs of admitting additional users become so high
that you can no longer rely on mere hints and voluntary contributions to
make up for them. In such cases, more explicit agreements about how to
distribute effort will become necessary. In the BitTorrent example,
admitting more users mainly requires additional _bandwidth_, hence users
are expected to contribute bandwidth. In material production, a main
bottleneck is _effort_--time spent on behalf of a project, doing tasks
that are required for reaching the goals of the project (in the bicycle
example, such tasks might include designing, assembling, and producing
bicycles; and building, cleaning, and maintaining a factory where the
bicycles are produced). Everybody who wants to benefit from the project (to
get a bike) might thus be expected to _contribute some effort_ to the
project (other resources are required as well, but this will be a topic for
part 3). Thus, the tasks required to reach the goals of the project are
distributed among those who want to benefit. (You think it's crazy to have
to spent effort for every little thing you want to get? Bear with me, we'll
come to that in the next part).

Distributing Effort Through Weighting Labor

A project could distribute the effort required for production more or less
evenly among those who want to benefit, asking everybody to contribute
roughly the same amount of effort. But how to compare efforts? Effort is
_time_ spent on behalf on the project--time spent doing _tasks_ required
to reach the goals of the project. Both these factors are important. If a
project would just measure _time_ spent for the project regardless of the
_tasks_ people are doing, it would probably have trouble distributing all
the tasks it needs to be done, since there will be some popular tasks that
attract more volunteers than necessary, while there won't be enough
volunteers for other, unpopular tasks.

This problem can be addressed by balancing the _time_ factor with the
_task_ factor. I call this the _weighted labor_ approach: the _time_ spent
on behalf of the project is multiplied with a factor expressing the
_popularity of the task_ they are doing. If there are more volunteers than
necessary, this factor (the _labor weight_) is decreased; if there aren't
enough volunteers, it is increased. Thus a popular task (say, programming)
will end up with a lower labor weight (say, 0.5), while an unpopular task
(say, garbage removal) will end up with a high labor weight (say, 2.0).
This means that if you are expected to contribute ten _weighted hours_ to
the project, you'll have to decide whether you would rather spent twenty
hours writing software or else five hours removing garbage (provided that
you are capable of doing either)--if you pick the unpopular task, you'll
benefit by getting more time for other activities outside the project.

Such a _task weighting_ system has some similarities to the __hint__-based
task distribution systems described by Francis Heylighen. High labor weights
are hints pointing people to the tasks that are especially wanted.

How to Tie Benefits to Contributions

There are several ways of tying the contributions people are expected to
make to the benefits they want from a project. The first decision a project
will have to make is whether it wants to _correlate_ the amount of
contributions to the amount of benefits.

If there is no correlation, the effort required to reach the goals of the
project is shared more or less evenly among all who want to benefit, and
every contributor takes as much from the outputs of the project as they
like. I call this the  _flat rate_ model since it resembles the flat
pricing schemas popular, for example, for Internet access, where everybody
who pays a flat price is entitled to using as much, or as little Internet
connectivity, as they like.

Alternatively, projects can decide to correlate your contributions with the
the benefits you'll get (as BitTorrent does)--the more you want to take,
the more you'll have to contribute. If the effort required for production
is about the same for all the goods produced by a project, this means that
the effort you'll have to contribute depends on the number of goods you
want to get. All who want just a single bicycle contribute roughly the same
effort (as in the flat rate model), but those who want _two_ bicycles now
have to contribute twice as much, and so on. In this model (which I call
_flat allocation_), the overall production effort is shared by dividing it
by the number of produced goods, while in the flat rate model it is shared
by dividing it by the number of participants.

If a project produces multiple kinds of goods with varying production
efforts (bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and so on), they can generalize this
model by taking the relative _production efforts_ of the different goods
into account. If producing motorcycles takes (on average) three times as
much effort as producing bicycles, everybody who wants a motorcycle will
have to contribute three times as much as those who want a bike.

What if many people want a certain good and not all of their wishes can be
satisfied, e.g., due to limited resources? For example, in a seaside
community, more people might desire apartments and houses with sea view
than the available space allows. One possible solution would be to
distribute the available goods more or less arbitrarily, say by drawing
lots. But it might be better to resolve such conflicting desires in a
non-arbitrary way, by taking the respective strengths of people's wishes
into account--by asking them _how much they are willing to contribute_ in
order to get the desired good. If there is more demand for a product than
can be satisfied, the peer project can thus "auction" the product: it can
raise the relative _cost_ (the amount of required contributions) of the
product until sufficiently many of the prospective users get second
thoughts. I call this the _preference weighting_ model since the
preferences of people regarding the goods they want to get are "weighted"
(similar to the "weighting" of different tasks in the _weighted labor_
model discussed above).

Note that it is the _relative_ cost that is modified--if the relative cost
(expected amount of contributions) for one specific item is increased, the
relative costs of all other items will automatically fall, since the
overall production effort stays the same. With auctioning, the overall
production effort is still distributed among all who want to benefit, but
in a different way--those who get an auctioned good will have to contribute
more, while those who want other goods (which can be produced in sufficient
quantity) will all have to contribute less.

It is important to understand that no _exchange_ takes place between those
who produce a good and those who use it: increasing the _cost_ (expected
contributions) of a good won't increase it's _production effort_, and it is
the production effort which the producers get recognized as contributions.
If there was exchange, a higher cost for the consumers would go (wholly or
in part) to the producers, but this is not the case.

Both the weighted labor model and these flexible allocation models ensure
that everybody's preferences have free play. Nobody is forced to do a task
they do not really want to do or to live in conditions they don't really
like. You will hardly be able to get everything for free (as in free beer),
since even projects choosing the flat rate model will probably have to ask
for contributions to distribute the required effort. But with task
weighting and preference weighting, you can freely choose whether you
prefer more _luxury_ (and of which kinds) or more _laziness;_ whether you
prefer spending more time doing the things you want to do, or working for
the things you want to have; or whether you prefer living in a simple style
or doing some "quick-and-dirty" tasks so you can spend most of your time in
wholly other ways.


- Heylighen, Francis (2007). Why is Open Access Development so Successful?
  Stigmergic Organization and the Economics of Information. In B.
  Lutterbeck, M. Bärwolff, and R. A. Gehring (eds.), _Open Source Jahrbuch
  2007._ Lehmanns Media, Berlin. Web:

- Siefkes, Christian (2007). _From Exchange to Contributions. Generalizing
  Peer Production into the Physical World._ Edition C. Siefkes, Berlin.

Best regards

|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian ---------
| Homepage:    |    Blog:
| Peer Production in the Physical World:
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
We have come to expect, for better or worse, some sort of chronological
order in the books we read, for it is the function of literature to provide
what life does not.
        -- Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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