[ox-en] Re: Effort Sharing
- From: Christian Siefkes <christian siefkes.net>
- Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2008 18:10:33 +0200
Hi Stefan, hi all,
[sorry, the mail I just sent got broken somehow. Trying again.]
Stefan Merten wrote:
2 months (76 days) ago Christian Siefkes wrote:
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
Yes. But that sharing of effort is nothing special but a common
characteristic of all types of work with a division of labor.
Nope. In capitalism, production takes place in order to turn money into more
money ("Wertverwertung", according to Marx), not because the producers care
for what they produce. The latter, if it happens at all, is entirely incidental.
Projects creating free software or open knowledge use a style which
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Heylighen> Francis Heylighen 
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.
But this is *at best* part of the truth. I agree those hints exist.
But I disagree that they play a major role in the sense that they
guide what volunteers do. From my experience volunteers not only
self-select *themselves* to do some effort but also *what* they do.
Exactly. The hints are hints which help them do so, nothing more, but also
nothing less. Indeed, every project is a "hint" that indicates "if you want
to do something that is similar to our aims, why not do it here?" But, of
course, whether people really do so or whether the decide to set up their
own project instead (or to forget the whole thing) is entirely up to them.
Take yourself as an example. Do you remember that I approached you on
using the Oekonux wiki to do all those definition pages? Though it was
obvious that this was a strong need for Oekonux, though it was obvious
that you are capable of doing a good job here you as an Oekonux
contributor decided to not help that common goal but instead set up
your own thing. I think this would have been no difference if I had
set up some to-do list with that entry.
Actually, it was the other why around--you asked me to abandon the project I
had started and to pursue some other, quite different goals instead. That's
not the way it works.
Hints are impersonal, they give people a chance to look around what is there
to do and then to decide for themselves. As you found out yourself, in peer
projects there are no "oversees" that can tell people what to do--people
decide for themselves.
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).
That implies that volunteers react to those hints. From my experience
I don't agree with this. May be you have different experiences?
Yes. For example, I'm on the mailing list of a medium-size free software
project [http://www.torproject.org/] and there are regularly (not
frequently, but from time to time) mails from people asking "I like the
software and I would like to contribute, what can I do?" (or "I'm using the
software and would like to give something back, what can I do?") Then
somebody points them to the task list
[http://www.torproject.org/volunteer.html.en], and, if they have the energy
to follow this up, they self-select themselves for a task. Of course, there
are also people who come up with their own ideas (with about the same
frequency, I would guess), but even they typically refer to the agenda or
the goals of the project.
Anyway, Heylighen doesn't use "hint" in the narrow sense as you seem to
understand it. Every missing feature of a program that you notice is a hint
indicating how/where this software could be enhanced; every bug is a hint
indicating where it needs to be improved. Whenever you discover and report a
bug, or whenever you discover it and submit a patch for it (which I have
done quite often), you have followed a hint which the developers of the
program left (though they didn't leave it intentionally).
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
That's IMHO only half the truth. There is always the motivation to
tackle a new problem, use a new tool / technology or something
similar. In the contrary: If you are really good at something there is
a chance that it gets routine, you get bored from it and look for new
challenges. Also part of Selbstentfaltung. Computers are useful here
in that they have a great potential of automation.
Always doing the same stuff will certainly not help you to improve your
skills, and I suppose that people seldom look for new challenges in doing
things which they do quite badly (at least not for long). So I don't think
there's a contraction.
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
Sorry, but there is no logical need to couple contributions to use of
a product. Using a product and contributing to its production are two
completely different things and I can not see the slightest necessity
to artificially bind them together. At least not on a societal level.
That's just what I said--for goods that can be copied freely.
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.
See above on the coupling of contributions to and use of a product.
Well, I still look forward on hearing your proposal of how a project
producing food, or bicycles, or whatever else that cannot be copied freely,
can ensure that everybody gets access to their goods without introducing
some such coupling. And don't tell me they have to invent a fabber first, so
the foods/bicycles/whatever can be copied freely (or almost freely). That's
evading the problem, not solving it.
Even this is not true. More bandwidth is only useful for faster
operation. It's not an absolute need.
Actually I'm talking about upload/download volume, not about upload/download
speed. Every byte you download, somebody else has to upload to you (and the
other way around). That can't be changed.
Effort is not limited to material production. Effort is also done in
digital projects. In that respect I can not see the slightest
difference between virtual and less-virtual projects.
No? The why aren't free bicycles already spreading in the same way as free
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
Can you give any logical reason for this? I mean beyond "who does not
work may not eat"?
"If nobody prepares the meal, nobody will have to eat." Since apparently
there is work to do (effort to spend), why not distribute it in a fair way?
Of course, this distribution of effort is only a problem if it doesn't
distribute itself spontaneously. If everybody picks up the tasks they like
to do and, as a result of this, all the tasks which people need do be done
get done, then effort distribution will no longer a problem and coupling
won't be needed anymore. That's the nicest scenario, indeed.
But what do we do in situations where such an ideal matching doesn't emerge?
Just give up and let capitalism run its course?
And now you regulate the price of labor by a market. The supply side
is the popularity thing while the demand side is the "needs of the
No, a market requires independent buyers and sellers. If something (goods or
tasks or whatever) is merely divided up between a group of people, that's
not a market because there is no independence. A group of people preparing a
joint dinner and distributing the tasks necessary for preparing it among
themselves are not a "market" (not even if those who want to eat more have
to prepare more).
If you now factor in that the popularity of a task says nothing about
the skill set needed for it you end up with a plain labor market. On
the one side you have projects - in capitalism called employers - and
on the other side you have potential contributors - in capitalism
called employees. Employers compete for employees and vice versa.
Classical example of price building.
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).
It's really funny but now you are introducing the societal average
necessary labor by generating general factors.
If you remember Marx, you'll know that in capitalism it's not the popularity
of jobs that determines how much people are paid (nobody wants to be a
cleaner, and yet, they are paid very little). Instead, it's _simple_ vs.
_complex_ labor -- all simple tasks (which anybody or almost anybody can do)
pay roughly the same, since people are competing for jobs and if you can
only compete for simple labor, your negotiation power is very low (if you
ask for better payment because your job is unpopular, somebody else is
likely to get it instead, and you'll learn the hard way that job popularity
doesn't count in capitalism). If you qualify for some complex job, your
negotiation power is much better, since only people who have acquired
comparable qualifications can compete with you (and people will hardly
bother to get such qualifications unless they can expect better payment),
hence your payment will generally be better.
But in the peerconomy, it's not really people competing for tasks, but
rather tasks competing for people who will do them. You don't compete with
other people in order to be able to work (as in capitalism), since the work
necessary to produce goods is simply _divided up_ among the people who want
them. The risk of unemployment (not being able to sell your labor power and
hence not being able to get the things you need or want) does not exist, so
you don't have accept any conditions which anybody dictates you (in fact,
there is nobody who could dictate conditions, just you and your co-prosumers
dividing up the work it takes to reach your goals).
Hence, the leveling tendency of the capitalistic necessity to sell your
labor power never emerges, and therefore it is really the preferences of
people about which tasks they like and don't like that determines the
"weight" of tasks, i.e., whether you have to work longer or shorter in order
to do your part.
(Another important difference of the fact the work is merely divided up is
that, while you'll have to work a little, you probably won't have to work
very much. While in capitalism you sell your labor power, and accordingly
your employer determines how much you work--you might prefer to work less,
but unless you're in a privileged position you often won't be able to do so.)
I find it most interesting on how quickly you are reinventing the
fundaments of capitalism here. AFAICS your only advantage over LETS
schemes is that you don't take concrete labor time as the basis but
add in some societal factor. Though that makes it even more similar to
capitalism :-/ .
A problem with LETS is that they don't have a model of cooperation (they
basically assume that everybody produces in isolation), while my model is
all about cooperation. Another problem is that they still presuppose
_exchange_: in order to participate in a LETS, you need to offer something
that others want to have. But in my model, you don't exchange anything with
anybody, you just need to be ready to contribute your part to the overall
effort (by picking up some of the tasks than need to be done). Hence the
problem that every market, or LETS, participant faces ("What can I offer
that the others need, and how can I convince them that they need it?"),
simply does not emerge.
What if many people want a certain good and not all of their wishes can be
satisfied, e.g., due to limited resources?
I'd suggest to leave this case to capitalism until peer production can
So people either have to work much more than they prefer, or else aren't
able to satisfy their essential needs? So it can continue destroying nature
until there is nothing left to destroy?
I hope you're not really as cynical as that...
|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian siefkes.net ---------
| Homepage: http://www.siefkes.net/ | Blog: http://www.keimform.de/
| Peer Production in the Physical World: http://www.peerconomy.org/
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and
security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and
starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we
were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there
is no reason to go on being foolish forever.
-- Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness