Since 1999 starting with Free Software the Oekonux project is analyzing the existing phenomenon of peer production. One important goal was to understand how peer production works and what the underlying principles of peer production are.

Now it seems to be about time to go to the drawing board and create some sketches of how this future peer production society might look like. While the discussion probably takes place mostly on the main mailing list this page is meant as the home for the results of the respective discussions.

These subpages currently exists:


External openness

One crucial aspect of all peer production phenomenons is external openness. This means that the general public is entitled to use the products of peer production as they like. If there are limits of usage set by licenses or other means they result from the logic of peer production and are not alienated from peer production. Examples the clauses to include the source in the GPL or CC-SA.

On the other hand for a project which generally produces goods for common use the lack of external openness makes sense to do exchange with the outside (only?).

External openness thus needs to be part of every concept.

Internal openness

All peer production phenomenons have internal openness. This means that the general public may contribute to the production process.

Internal openness thus needs to be part of every concept.

Based on Selbstentfaltung

The success of peer production is largely related to the Selbstentfaltung of the producers. Selbstentfaltung in this sense is only possible when people volunteer for a task. I.e. they are not directly of structurally forced to work on a task.

Each concept needs to make the Selbstentfaltung of the producers possible.


Here are some of the challenges which need to be addressed.

Availability of means of production

On a scale relevant to global society peer production appeared in the realm of digital goods (Free Software, Wikipedia, OpenAccess, ...). Nowadays digital goods can be reproduced easily by digital copy. The ease of digital copy is arguably an enabler of peer production. In particular it eases external openness.

For digital goods the machinery part of the means of production in the rich countries is part of the general infrastructure. This is not the case for other means of production. In particular contemporary means of production for physical goods are not part of the general infrastructure.

How might this develop in the future?

Relationship to money

How can the relationship between peer production and the still dominant system of money can be understood? What are ways of coexistence not damaging peer production? What are models to pour money into peer production projects without damaging them? What are goals of such pouring?

Societal need in peer production

Peer production projects meet societal needs - otherwise their products wouldn't be used. It seems like peer production meets many societal needs quite well. Is this true? How does this emerge? Can this be generalized and if so why?

See also Balancing societal need and Selbstentfaltung.

Enough volunteers

Many peer production projects are done by volunteers and in fact Selbstentfaltung is best expressed by volunteering in a peer production project. What happens if there are no or few volunteers for a project? What if the production of that project is important to others? Does this problem arise at all and if so under which conditions?

Keep benefits of capitalism

Though capitalism arguably has many drawbacks there are also a lot of benefits. What are these benefits? Do they survive in peer production, are they replaced by even bigger benefits, or are they destroyed? How can the latter be prevented?

"Where do the rolls come from?"

This is a general question on how basic human needs like eating are met - which is easy in capitalism.

"Where do the bananas come from?"

This is a general question on how human needs are met when they require complex world wide cooperation - which is easy in capitalism.

"How is the steel mill run?"

This is a general question on how huge machinery which needs to be centralized for technical reasons is run - which is easy in capitalism.

"How is the toilet cleaned?"

This is a general question on how basic needs in a private household are met.

Explicit governance

In capitalism a lot of things are "governed" by the political economy (of which money is a trivialized expression). If that political economy is replaced what needs to be subject of a governance system then? How can governance support peer production? What forms of governance are in place in existing peer production projects and how do they work?

Supporting the flow

In peer production there are often flows of produced goods which support further peer production. In capitalism that flow of goods is organized by exchanging abstract labor. What are possible impediments of such a flow of goods and how can they be removed?

Production of physical goods

Both, physical and information goods need means of production to be produced. Though through digital copy the production of copies is easy both, physical and information goods need a physical substrate to be used by humans. Is there really a fundamental difference between physical and information goods? If so, how can the difference be characterized?

Alienated uses of peer products

Generally for peer production products there may be a way to use them in an alienated way. For instance they can be sold in a domain different from peer production. Such an alienated use of peer products can be seen as an abuse. What are forms of abuse? Under which conditions such abuse is possible? What impact on a peer production project such abuse has? How can abuse be prevented?

Including masses

Every major change in history must include the mass of the people somehow. Though peer production and its products by themselves are already rather convincing to many people the question how masses can be convinced to engage in a new mode of production still stands.

Lack of Free time

There are cases in production when over a given period enough labor force is needed to complete a task. Such time limitations may come from human needs such as health care as well as from aspects of the production process such as physical or natural timing which can not be changed. Though there might be enough persons who might want to spend their labor force in Selbstentfaltung they might not be able to do this because they have limited time. What to do about this?

This can be seen as the human side of Availability of means of production.

Governance in non-voluntary projects

In a simple peer production project participants volunteer to be part of the project. However, there are project-like structures like cities where people do not really volunteer to participate in - they just live there. Thus the fact of volunteering is not present. What consequences has this? In particular what does this mean for the governance of such projects?

This can be seen as a special sort of explicit governance.

Balancing societal need and Selbstentfaltung

In general societal needs exist independent of whether Selbstentfaltung is able to supply or not. The fundamental problem is that societal needs may differ from volunteer needs. In a peer production based society thus there need to be mechanisms of some kind to make sure that societal needs are cared for. What could be such mechanisms? How can it be made sure that they don't damage Selbstentfaltung?

More questions

Option to fork

Forks are an important concept of contemporary peer production projects. Though forks are relatively seldom their possibility is certainly an important aspect in contemporary peer production projects. What are the preconditions for forks? How can these preconditions be met by an alternative?

More Selbstentfaltung

Some tasks which are societal useful are hard to conceptualize as Selbstentfaltung - see "How is the toilet cleaned?" for an instance. What means do exist to make them Selbstentfaltung?


Contemporary peer production projects usually rely on the technology of digital copy. Digital copy is a technology invented with computers and since the Internet came into existence digital copy is possible on a global level. Contemporary peer production projects rely on digital copy by using it as a reproduction technology making copies from original digital entities to use them elsewhere. Arguably peer production would not exist without this technology. Does the further development of peer production depend on developments in technology? Which technologies would support peer production best?

Leveraging diversity of Selbstentfaltung

What Selbstentfaltung is a very individual question. What is a horror to one person might be Selbstentfaltung for his neighbor. How can this diversity of Selbstentfaltung be leveraged? Is that an answer to the question in More Selbstentfaltung?

Building means of production from the ground up

The history of Free Software is a history of building the means of production from the ground up: The GNU project started with implementing a compiler (GCC), an editor (Emacs) and an operating system (which became GNU/Linux then). What does this mean for other fields? Is this a strategy which can or even should be copied?

Learning from capitalism

Capitalism is the most recent mode of production which came into being as a germ form. What can be learned from the history of capitalism? How did capitalism take over exactly? Who were involved and what were the influences?

Limits of the drawing board

A complete society is a very complex thing. To describe a new society completely thus probably makes no sense. What are useful limits of such a description?

Leveraging capitalism

How can capitalism be leveraged to support peer production? What can be done to leverage the productive capabilities of capitalism for peer production beyond its current limitations?

Form of means of production

Means of production are formed by the society they are made for. Thus a peer production based society needs different means of production than for instance capitalism. How can such means of production evolve?

Prior work

Interesting examples

OpenAccess movement

Scientific results are information goods. Nonetheless scientific results often need a huge amount of investment often paid by the state. Scientific results are thus an example where the production of information goods is expensive.

The OpenAccess movement now works for making the results of science Freely available to benefit the scientific community as well as the general public. The OpenAccess movement thus shows a way how a limitation of peer production can be circumvented. In this case the power of states is leveraged to Free the results.

Community around micro air vehicles (MAV)

There is a very open source like community around micro air vehicles (MAV). However, there are similar communities - for instance around rockets. Here are a few points which seem to be necessary for this type of peer production:

  • "Sexy" topic

    The topic of such flying robots is obviously pretty sexy for a couple of (technical) people. It's certainly an interesting challenge to build machines which can fly autonomously and do useful things. This challenge is certainly an important part of Selbstentfaltung.

  • Low entry barrier for experiments

    For MAVs there are pretty cheap kits which are cheap enough for hobbyists. They are sold by companies. To put it more theoretically: The means of productions are cheap enough for hobbyists.

  • Option to persue own experiments

    The mentioned kits allow for own experiments. Probably the software running on these MAVs is the key factor and it is easy to modify the software and try it out practically.

    If that option would not be built into the mentioned kits the Selbstentfaltung mentioned above would have no chance to be lived practically. Such an open platform inviting experiments seems really crucial.

  • A medium to network

    Of course for building a community you need a medium to build it in. Of course today the Internet with it's various facilities is the platform to build this.

Also see thread starting at Archive_ox-en:06075.html.

Strategic ideas

Let capitalists build fundaments

For material products one way to leverage capitalism for producing things not yet possible to produce purely in peer production is to develop the design of a material product and then have capitalists produce and sell the resulting material good on that basis.

If building means of production from the ground up makes sense then it would be best to design basic material means of productions first and to make capitalists produce them.

The question then is what can be considered basic material means of productions today.

Enable the unemployed to peer produce

The challenges lack of Free time and enough volunteers address the problem of enough human work power being available at all and at the right time. On the other hand unemployed people often have lots of free time and also would love to do something useful.

One strategy could be to enable unemployed people to engage in peer production projects. Those institutions which care about unemployed people would be the "natural" institutions to support such engagement.

This way the unemployed would do something useful which also could help them finding a new job. At the same time the idea of peer production would be spread to people which are unaware of it now.

Peer production as a legal concept

As of now the concept of peer production is not well reflected in contemporary law. Since in capitalism law is the basis for many interventions a legal concept of peer production would be very useful. That would be the basis for many other strategies rooted in strategic interventions by the state.


Withering away

The simplest idea of how a fundamental change happens is of course that the germ form proceeds through its dominance step and step by step replaces the old form. The basic principles of the old form would wither away that way.

One element would be that with the expansion of the peer production sector the importance of money declines. To a small degree this is already the case for existing peer production products.

Using coercion to balance societal need and Selbstentfaltung

Generally balancing societal need and Selbstentfaltung is a hard problem. One approach is to accept that coercion is needed in any case. The question then would be how this coercion could be designed to make it compatible with a society based on peer production.

An explicit governance scheme coercing people explicitly to care for societal needs seems to be better because this can be controlled by politics. Schemes which work somehow automatic - like capitalism does - introduce a layer of abstraction which is quickly beyond human influence.

Oekonux/DrawingBoard (last edited 2010-08-02 17:29:21 by StefanMerten)

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