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[ox-en] Impressions from the Free Culture Research Conference in Berlin

Hi list!

This is really a rich autumn in terms of conferences around peer
production. The CPOV conference in Leipzig, the FCRC_ in Berlin last
weekend and the upcoming conference in Amsterdam. And when I think of
the CPOV in Amsterdam and the Hull conference in spring then it is
even a rich year.

One of the interesting things is that for instance on the `Free
Culture Research Conference`_ there were a couple of talks which could
have been given on an Oekonux Conference very well. Seems like we
adopted some topics very early when we had our first conference in
2001 :-) . Of course I kept a couple of speakers as `possible
speakers`_ for [ox5].

However, in contrast to the Oekonux conferences the named conferences
are real academic conferences. I think there are two main differences
to highlight. The first difference is that the slots for speakers are
really short. In Berlin there were three speakers in 1 1/2 hours
leaving 20 minutes per presentation which is little if you have a
complex topic. It also doesn't allow for larger discussions with and
in the audience which we value high in Oekonux conferences.

The second difference of course is that the activists of different
kinds are not represented in the speakers. Thus there are only
academic presentations which are of course interesting - otherwise I'd
not attend such conferences - but they are still only academic. For
scientists there *is* an alienated incentive to gather academic merits
by presenting the results of their work on such a conference and this
alienation may shine through once in a while.

Well, but that's not the point of my post. In fact I want to share
some impressions from the `Free Culture Research Conference`_ with
you. First here are some facts about the conference. It took place
2010-10-08..09 in Berlin at the Freie Universität. According to the
organizers about 200 persons attended the conference. Compared to
similar events it was my impression that lots of women attended the
conference. I have no hard numbers but I could imagine that the female
part was about 50%. Well, a friend said "well, the conference is about
culture...". I'd like to add that besides interesting talks I was
really pleased to meet so many friends again in Berlin. I'd also like
to add my thank you to the organizers of the conference.

One of the most interesting panels titled "New Forms of Production"
was right in the beginning of the conference. The utmost interesting
talk of Peter Troxler was titled `Commons-based Peer Production of
Physical Goods - Is There Room for a Hybrid Innovation Ecology?`_.
Peter reported results from three studies about FabLabs [#]_. I don't
remember the exact number but so far the number of FabLabs on this
planet seems to be still small - in any case much less than 100.
FabLabs in this sense are shops where there are these cool machines
often called fabbers or 3D-printers which materialize physical goods
From digital designs.

Those FabLabs are publicly funded and though they are made for the
general public they are most frequently used by students. When the
maintainers of the FabLabs are asked what they provide they replied
infrastructure - i.e. the machines -, expertise and the FabLab
network. Unfortunately I can't say much about this network but
`Peter's paper`_ may contain more information about this.

When the maintainers are asked what they provide their service for,
there were two types: One type replied that they provide
infrastructure for people to produce stuff, the other type replied
that they provide infrastructure for people to produce *cool* stuff
(aka innovation).

When asked what the maintainers take pride in running those FabLabs
they replied that they take pride in the effects that using the
FabLabs has on users. The pain of the maintainers is the funding. They
are running on subsidies with no idea how to continue when the
subsidies run out. There is also a tendency in the FabLabs to say "we
don't want to be business".

Peter also gave a number of examples where designs created in FabLabs
were interesting for business. One example was a small walking robot
which has been designed and created in a FabLab but was so interesting
for a company that they asked for permission to use the design.
Another example was about a FabLab in Indonesia where it helped to
produce cheap leg prostheses.

After the talk there were lots of questions from the audience and
later on in a private conversation with again highly interesting
answers. One question was about the cost models of these FabLabs.
Peter said that there are basically two models. One is similar to a
normal business where you need say $1000 per day for energy, wages,
amortization, ... The other model is more like "let's have some space
where we can *build* our fabbing machines ourselves". Yes, people
really build their materializers themselves! The latter approach of
course lowers the barriers to have neighborhood FabLabs.

Another question about the business model was what about charging the
users for using the FabLab. There are various opinions in the FabLab
scene. One is that FabLabs *should* be free of charge. Another one is
that charging say $20/half day is really ok. Another alternative are
companies - i.e. not FabLabs - which sell the production of customer
designs. So effectively there is a continuum from totally free of
charge to selling some production capability.

Another question was about the costs of the raw materials. According
to Peter the raw material varies from scrap materials you can obtain
without costs to high-priced raw materials for special machines.

Another question was about using industrial robots in such FabLabs.
Peter told us that at the moment the automotive industry is throwing
out the last generation of industrial robots replacing them by newer
models. FabLabs may have them for free of buy them for low prices.
However, industrial robots are scary machines. In contrast to the
3D-printer type of machines it is well possible that an industrial
robot kills a person during operation.

As I said this was one of the most interesting talks to me and I'd
suggest that you check out `Peter's paper`_ for more details. Though
the other talks were also interesting I'll report only briefly about
some of them.

One of the few more theoretical talks was also in this panel. Ignacio
de Castro Arribas' talk titled `Productive Paradigms in the Digital
Era: Antirivalry, Prosumption and Network Effects`_ considered the
concepts named in the title and discussed them in the light of peer

One of the interesting ideas was that prosumption strengthens the
paths of prosumption. I.e. Ignacio sees a positive feedback cycle in
prosumption models. An interesting insight was that the limits in peer
production (projects) are a result of the respective architecture. If
you improve the architecture then you can increase peer production.
When thinking about it I notice that in the history of big Free
Software projects there were indeed changes which changed the
architecture of the project to allow more peer production.

Ignacio also distinguished peer production from hybrid production
wherein peer production goes together with alienated labor. He said
that if you need capital for the production then you have hybrid
production. Check out `Ignacio's paper`_ for more details.

Cornelia Zacharias gave a talk on `Harvesting the Creative Commons -
Comparing Netlabels and Indie Labels`_. She made a study where she
compared netlabels with independent labels - where independent really
means independent from the major labels. Personally I find netlabels
an interesting concept since to me they seem to be the analogon to
Free Software distributions: They gather material quality-check it and
then distribute it on a peer production basis.

One of the prominent findings was that (in Germany) the indie labels
are happy with the GEMA (= German collecting society) whereas the
netlabels rely on Creative Commons licenses. An interesting finding
was that some of the current maintainers of netlabels had been indie
label operators formerly but felt ignored by the traditional music

Cornelia found that there are really two universes. Netlabels and
indie labels have different customers / users and there are different

IIRC the only talk about a Free Software phenomenon was given by Louis
Suarez-Potts. In this talk titled "Making It New:" he
talked about the history of Here is a quick history
From my perception: started as StarOffice written by a
Hamburg based company a long time ago. It was an interesting product
but was never able to compete with the M$ office package. Then Sun
bought the company and re-released the product as as
Free Software.

Louis told that at some point had 150 payed developers
but no community. Louis said that you have to create a manifesto to
have a community. This needs not be a written text but can be a
manifesto by action. For example this happened when Linus Torvalds
started Linux. Having a manifesto "after the fact" is much harder to

An important distinction Louis made between commodities and peer
production products is that commodities are not interested in history
and consequences of a product. In fact it is normally not possible to
learn about the history of a product nor to learn about its future (as
waste). Free Software - and other peer production products - give an
option to learn about history and consequences, however.

Louis emphasized that centralized infrastructure is crucial. For
instance modern cities could not exist if there weren't centralized
power grids. However, centralized infrastructure like Facebook is
dangerous because you don't control the means of production.

Louis had also a couple of insights which are not really new to us.
For instance he said that Free Software puts the means of production
into the hands of the people. He said that in Free Software projects
consumers and producers merge - although you are not required to
produce. He said that freedom is cool but not enough. Things need to
work and in the end this is more important than freedom. Another
insight was that a community works because the community members have
common interests.

Another talk I attended was given by Mayo Fuster Morell. In her talk
titled `Commercial providers of online infrastructure for online
creation communities`_ she compared Flickr and Wikihow. Mayo's claim
was that it depends on the type of governance whether we can talk of
commons-based peer production or not. Check out `Mayo's paper`_.

Another interesting talk titled `Managing Boundaries between
Organizations and Communities: Comparing Wikimedia and Creative
Commons`_ was given by Leonhard Dobusch and Sigrid Quack. They
compared the two organizations being interested in the relation of
informal communities and related formal organizations. Unfortunately
at this point in the conference I had a hard time following the
presentations because I were so full of impressions.

.. _Free Culture Research Conference:
.. _FCRC:

.. _possible speakers:

.. _Peter's paper:
.. _Commons-based Peer Production of Physical Goods - Is There Room for a Hybrid Innovation Ecology?:

.. _Ignacio's paper:
.. _`Productive Paradigms in the Digital Era: Antirivalry, Prosumption and Network Effects`:

.. _Harvesting the Creative Commons - Comparing Netlabels and Indie Labels:

.. _Mayo's paper:
.. _Commercial providers of online infrastructure for online creation communities:

.. _`Managing Boundaries between Organizations and Communities: Comparing Wikimedia and Creative Commons`:



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