Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Principles of tokenomics

This is an ongoing reflection on fundamental principles of tokenomics. 

We are document the main ideas on the OVN wiki, before we turn them into a post. 



Many have called 2022 the year of the DAO. As this new form of organization becomes more popular people experiment with tokenomics, which are rules of issuance and (re)distribution of tokens that represent various things such as units of account, store of value, means of exchange, access rights, etc. 

A tokenomic model describes an economic game that is designed to incentivize and structure some type of collaborative activity and the maintenance and development of the infrastructure that allows that economic activity to take place. In this post we are going to elaborate on the fundamental principles that should constitute the basis of any tokenomics.



  1. Do not create artificial scarcity 
  2. Tax the fruit of activities, not the process itself 
  3. others to come...



 This is where the rationale for every principle will be given.


See also



By AllOfUs

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Multitude Manifesto - Part 1

Things are changing fast. We are rewriting the Multitude Manifesto. You are invited to contribute. Start by commenting below. - last modified on Mar. 30 2011

Dear humans, 

We are at a crossroads.

Our society is evolving and if everything else maintains its course, we'll take a turn towards more freedom or we slide into tyranny. The chances seem to be stacked in our favor, the multitude, but we still need to do our best to escape tyranny. History is part destiny, part luck and in part man made.

Civilizations go in cycles. When development is not interrupted by exogenous causes, setting aside the possibility of a cataclysmic event, civilizations take shape, consolidate their structures and grow, get corrupted from within and collapse. We are at the latest stage.

We are witnessing the greatest socioeconomic transition in human history, set in motion by a new potential. On the one hand, this potential is actualized by us, the multitude, to build a p2p society. On the other hand, those in positions of power use this new potential to build a dystopian technocratic society. The left-right dichotomy of the past has been flipped sideways into a top-down antagonism, understood as a struggle between those who seek freedom through decentralization and those who seek domination through centralized control.
Every time a new technology is introduced, a new potential is created.  The invention of the telegraph allowed instantaneous long-distance communication, which changed the way governments and companies operated. Since digital technology connects individuals across time and space, it gives rise to a new form of organization, the open network.

The Internet acts as a medium where various types of catalysts (purpose, motivation, incentives) can sum forces from an arbitrarily large pool of independent actors, which can form massive ad hoc collaborative networks (collective intelligence), being able to rapidly channel tremendous amounts of resources (crowdsource), and to carry out very complex actions (swarm). Linux, the open source operating system, Wikipedia, the people's encyclopedia, and Bitcoin, the bankless cash, are just a few examples.
Sometimes, this coherence emerges and exerts a negative impact on society. Both constructive or destructive human swarms are now possible, being hard to contain by the centralized power structure that is currently in place, rapidly becoming obsolete.  

The possibility of stable, sustainable global-scale open networks is no more questionable, they exist in almost all spheres of human activity. If we listen carefully to Ronald Coase, we can also understand why they are possible. In essence, the Internet reduces transaction costs among individuals. We join other people into an arrangement, we join organizations, if we have more to gain than operating independently.

The type of arrangement depends on the type or the area of activity. Thus we can form private and public institutions, co-ops and non profit organizations. We live in cities, build nation states and form international alliances. Today we can also organize as global, transnational open networks. There is a blueprint for every type of organization, which prescribes a set of relations or roles, policies, methods and procedures, as well as capturing and redistribution mechanisms for valuables. People decide to restrict their individual autonomy by entering in relation with others according to an organizational blueprint, that is to join an organization, to increase their collective capacity beyond the sum of their individual capacities and, in doing so, to benefit from their collective output. If they don't gain in capacity and benefits, they will likely operate alone until a new form of organization that provides greater advantages emerges, if possible.

The Internet with the recent p2p technologies (blockchain and others) that the open culture has built on top of it make open networks a new possible arrangement, where the cost-s benefits ratio for a new type of global scale collaboration is favorable. Open networks do exist and some of them are highly innovative and very efficient in production and distribution, or dissemination, of their outputs. How can we understand this fact?

The open source movement has democratized 3D printing and drones and has created blockchain, which are some of the most disruptive technologies in the past two decades. Also, despite the negative press on Bitcoin and its energy consumption, it only represents a small fraction of the energy consumption of the banking system. It is also the most secure exchange network that humanity has ever built.

Yochay Benkler identifies two reasons for understanding why open networks can outcompete traditional organizations. The first one is related to what economists call information opportunity cost. In essence, it says that open networks perform better in complex situations where a lot of information needs to be processed in order to seize opportunities and produce good responses to events. The second reason refers to what economists call the resource allocation problem. Open networks do better in matching skills to tasks and allocating resources to the right activity.

In ancient times, the tribe's socioeconomic structure was effective when the in-group was less than ~150 people, and one could remember reputation, debts and favors for each member of the tribe. Since then, religions, nation-states, and corporations have all taken our ability to collaborate on synergistic goals to new levels of achievement. Today, Michel Bauwens speaks about peak hierarchy: horizontality is starting to trump verticality, it is becoming more competitive to be distributed, than to be (de)centralized. If we go back to Ronald Coase, hierarchies have higher costs due to excessive overhead for bureaucracy (an army of paper pushing middle men), a lack of transparency, coherence, speed & efficiency. Open networks seem to be poised for domination.

All these transformations are not the desire of a group of individuals. There is no ideology underlying this movement. It just happens because the conditions are right, because a new potential exists and people all over the world respond to it, intuitively understanding the benefits that it offers. But disruptive changes are usually met with resistance. Sooner or later those who benefit from the status quo come to understand the threat that the change poses to their situation and they start to oppose it. A conflict takes shape between them and those who already benefit from the new potential. The church opposed the enlightenment by denigrating the scientific method and by banning the printing press, trying to stop the spread of new ideas. Monarchs opposed the shift to a free market economy and to parliamentary democracy, fueled by the industrial revolution. Today, states go after cryptocurrency, which symbolizes the movement of decentralization. In all these cases a technology was at the heart of the movement: the printing press for spreading non-dogmatic ideas, the steam engine for spreading new modes of production, the Internet for facilitating new ways of organizing. It is easier to crash an organized movement based on ideas. History shows that it is almost impossible to stop a diffused transformation based on a new potential.

Fundamentally speaking the new potential comes from disruptions in three key areas:
Communication: The Internet makes possible many-to-many communication at global scale, in a p2p way (i.e. non-intermediated).
Coordination: The Internet makes possible stigmergic coordination, allowing huge numbers of individuals to swarm into action like never before.
Collaboration: The Internet allows many minds to think together, many arms to swing together. In other words, it gives rise to social intelligence, makes possible massive crowdsourcing and facilitates the deployment of complex activities based on stigmergy.

In sum, we are witnessing the emergence of a peer-to-peer society, which has its own load of good and bad. On the good side of things, it strikes a balance between the individual and communities. It transfers power to the individual, allowing open access to participation in all socioeconomic processes, within the boundaries of community, or network, self-imposed rules. 

At the economic level, individuals in a p2p society have the ability to coordinate their efforts, transact among themselves, co-create and distribute their creations, while bypassing hierarchical intermediary institutions, thus escaping the established power structure, which is designed to perpetuate economic dependence. We are witnessing the emergence of a new mode of production, commons-based peer production, the formation of a p2p economy, operating outside of the market and beyond the reach of nation states.

The powerful urge to escape bondage is putting pressure on the multitude to adopt a new culture, one that is compatible with the new modes of production and dissemination of essential goods and services, the open culture. This new culture is built on a new set of values such as sharing, openness and transparency. Sharing means new forms of property, commons and nondominium that are applied to open source technologies and blockchain networks. Openness means access to processes, permissionless. Transparency means unhindered access to information about pretty much everything related to the process.

An embryonic new world is already taking shape within the old world. The metamorphosis process has already begun its irreversible course. There is clear evidence that material resources are starting to flow from the old system into the new, including a massive transfer of talents and skills. For those who perfected the old system and have everything to lose, all their levers of power are simply melting in their hands. Their media is now called fake news, their financial system is called a scam, their politics is called a shared, their economy is synonymous with slavery and environmental degradation. The embryonic p2p society operates on entirely different principles and cannot be controlled from within the old system. It is transnational, i.e. beyond the power of the state and of any international institution -try to kill the Bitcoin network.

We are experiencing the largest social transition since the Industrial Revolution. But make no mistake, this is not the Great Reset you've heard about, quite the opposite.

Other parts to come:
  • History of the multitude movement
  • About power
  • System under siege, different angles of attack
  • System is fighting back, dead angles



Donate to this effort 
in ETH
in XMR (Monero)


By AllOfUs

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

What is p2p music?

The open culture rewires our society. p2p practices have been applied to all spheres of human activity, but our relation to music is still a one-way affair: a musician writes a song and you consume it passively.

By design, p2p processes allow many-to-many interactions. They brake the asymmetry between producers and consumers that we find in capitalism and socialism. In other words, anyone can engage in co-creation and the fruits of collaboration are not distributed as products but rather disseminated as commons. 

So what is p2p music? It must be open (not canned as a finished product) and participatory (allowing anyone to add to a musical experience).

If p2p music is not created to be distributed as a product, how can it  sustain those who engage in its creation and dissemination?

The video below explores these questions and more... Feel free to engage in this reflection by commenting below or directly on the video, on YouTube.


By AllOfUs

Networks of networks

This is just a first draft... I copied this text from an email and will add to it later. Last modified on Mar 02, 2022
Living systems theory is at the core of p2p. 
Life requires flow. Organized flows require support and structure.
All the p2p talk is about new forms of living systems, open networks. That's the new thing and the novelty makes this field interesting, because we need to understand the potential of these new creatures. Are they going to coexist with hierarchical forms of organizations and be dominated by hierarchies or are they going to dominate hierarchies? Is Bitcoin (or an OVN similar to it) going to replace banks in the future, which rule the world of exchange?  Are Youtubers going to crash mainstream institutional media?
Open value networks have always existed, but we have never considered them seriously for organizing society. What makes them interesting now? Their potential is much greater today, because the Internet acts as a medium that allows open networks to grow and spread to global proportions.

Coase made us understand why large scale networks can exist. Benkler showed us why they can out-compete hierarchies. But open networks are nothing like an open community, which can be seen as a unit. Open networks are fractal. They are made of smaller open networks and can themselves easily coalesce into larger open networks. In other words, open networks "try to discover" new ways to connect among themselves. It's in their nature.

This trend is clearly happening in the blockchain space, with new blockchains sitting on top of other blockchains (L2) or connecting/linking other blockchains together. Blockchains are open networks (the permissionless ones, not the fake ones).

I think that we should not need intermediaries to be able to connect open networks together.

Paula: Connecting networks (provided they are on the same platform?)

Open networks should not need to be represented on another platform to be able to connect. They should just plug into each other without the need of an intermediary platform. In other words, all open networks need to build their own "attachment sites" and share some type of protocol. This is how biology works, molecules and proteins interacting together based on their internal structure, their affinities, and based on some "rules" described by biochemistry. This type of permissionless linkage doesn't lead to chaos or disorder, if the affinities are well specified and the rules are clear. The fact that I am here typing on this keyboard is good proof that it works well enough. But unfortunately today we are still trapped in the platform paradigm. For example, and are interconnectivity services built with the wrong (platform) approach. They offer the connection as a service and act as a middlemen. Today there is a need for that, because every service has been designed as a stand alone, with little consideration for interoperability (other than providing an API to grow an ecosystem in which they are at the center), which is a platform mentality, wrong. All these connectivity services will be put out of business once the design paradigm shifts to consider interconnectivity as a design priority, which is the next logical step. A lot of web development effort today goes into integration. We see that with Discord, things like Bots or Webhooks, which do not necessarily depend on a third party but act as a direct pipe between Discord and Github for example.

These linkages among open networks allow new flows, of various types. 
New web3 crowdfunding platforms like Gitcoin play an important role today, they are a source of funding, which
  1. increases the metabolism of every network
  2. stimulates networks to build connections among themselves, if this flow feeds different networks at the same time

In neuroscience they say that neurons that fire together network together. Networks seem to connect if they are rewarded together based on their concomitant interaction with the environment. Luckily, Gitcoin has built a nice feature that allows grants (proposals) to be bundled together as collections, so that they can present synergy and be discovered by donors at once. This is a grant that sensoricans created, which can be put into a collection with other grants, perhaps TaoDao and use a portion of the funds to build internal structures for each of these networks that allows them to interconnect. Shared funding as a stimulus to grow new connections between open networks. 

By Tibi

Monday, February 15, 2021

Commons-based peer production can now scale

NOTE: Post inspired by a discussion on the Holochain Forum. This is the third revision, already passed the first draft stage. The text will continue to evolve based on feedback from readers, using the comments below or on various social media channels and forums. You can now share it with friends on social media.


Commons can now be broadened. We can now scale commons-based peer production and apply it to almost all spheres of human activity.  

Elinor Ostrom got the Nobel prize in economics for her work on commons, emphasizing on the role of governance to distinguish between community shared resources and open access resources. In essence, she demonstrated that in all cases of successfully stewarded commons, community members, the stakeholders, agree on some basic rules that regulate the use of the shared resource. These rules come from past observations and experience and are designed to preserve the share resource or to maximize the community's benefits from using it. They can take the form of rules, social norms, local customs or other cultural artifacts. But can any resource, currently under any form of property be turned into commons? For some type of resources governance in the commons property regime becomes too complex, difficult to implement and/or enforce, or too costly. Currently, these type of resources are manageable under private or public property regimes and cannot be, in practice, taken over under a communal stewardship. New technologies promise to change that.

Until recently, material commons could only exist in simple forms. The classical example is the pasture shared among a number of herders. It is considered a simple instantiation of the commons form of property because all the stakeholders have very similar motivations, they value the same aspects of the shared resource, and they make a very similar use of it. This type of resource is rivalrous and requires maintenance or replenishment. To avoid the tragedy of the commons for a shared pasture, it is not difficult to conceive a set of rules to govern its use in a sustainable manner, based on the shared reality of animal farming, using some simple metrics. For example, the herders can agree on a time-sharing scheme based on the type of animals and the headcount in everyone's herd. All herders value the shared pasture for its capacity to feed their animals, the metric being the quantity of nutritious grass per year, which can be easily estimated by all herders to avoid depletion.

In recent years, we've seen the emergence of digital commons and of commons-based peer production of digital goods and services, a new collaborative and commons-centric mode of production described by Yochai Benkler. In this particular case, the shared resources are non-rivalrous and exhibit very low costs of maintenance and reproduction. The abundant and almost maintenance free nature of these shared resources makes it easy to manage them and to coordinate economic, cultural and social activities around them. Based on these conditions, digital  commons-based peer production can flourish.

The rapid expansion of digital commons-based peer production has inspired many to dream about a future post-capitalist and post-socialist society. P2P Foundation is a leading think tank that paints the p2p vision and maps commons-based and p2p initiatives across the world.

At the core of any economic model lies a property regime, which is designed to incentivize social, economic and cultural participation, to reduce friction in production processes, and to allow an efficient allocation of resources in society. The current economy is built mostly on the private and public forms of property, and their derivatives. The commons form of property is only marginally present in the current economy. These property regimes are intimately meshed with other elements that form the current economic paradigm. A commons-centric p2p economy or society cannot be achieved simply by enlarging the pool of commons. The entire system needs to be adapted, to be able to function efficiently based on commons. It is highly expected that capitalism preys and encloses the commons that commoners create. This property regime is incompatible with the capitalist system, it can be tolerated but it can never become central in a capitalist society.

The p2p society project needs to

  1. demonstrate that we can steward complex forms of commons
  2. propose a sound socioeconomic system that mostly relies on commons

The second point is for another post, we'll only focus on the first one. 

As we mentioned earlier, simple forms of material and rivalrous commons (the pasture) are manageable and they do exist. Digital commons are also manageable and they are flourishing. But what about resources that exhibit more complexity for their use and maintenance? We find most of them today under the private and public property regimes. Is that by accident, by greed or enforced by shadow forces? It's always a combination of many things, in different proportions, but the main reason, in my opinion, is that they simply cannot exist as commons because they are unmanageable, we cannot coordinate use among peers in a sustainable way, or it is too costly to do so. The only way to maximize benefits that we can extract from these resources is to manage them privately or publicly, taking into consideration the adverse effects that these property regimes can generate. Nothing is perfect and most things are the way they are because they represent the best compromise.

Generally speaking, resources that exhibit a more complex structure do not have simple governance solutions as commons, therefore the tragedy of the commons cannot be avoided. These resources essentially become open access systems and are likely to be abused, since it is more difficult to get an insight into their use and their  degradation or depletion. You can be a militant Marxist and believe that capitalists are to blame for the failure of commoners. In fact, this is less about class struggle and more about our inability to manage complex commons. Let's illustrate that with an example. 

Mont Royal park

The city of Montreal is pierced at its center by an ancient volcano, which is now the Mont Royal city park, a place for recreation, sports and cultural activities. The green mountain has an impact on may people's lives. Neighborhoods surrounding the park benefit from fresh and cool air during the summer. The wooded slopes absorb the city noise. On the top, the majestic viewpoints delight the tourists, and at the bottom the Tam Tams wraps them up in the local alternative culture. Beaver's lake is where Montrealers prefer to go for picnic. The park is also a playground for animal lovers. In winter, the mountain is crisscrossed by skiers, hikers and jogger, and resonates with the laughs of kids on sleds. 

Needless to say, Mont Royal park is administered by the City of Montreal as public property. It is maintained with the assumed intention to maximize collective benefits,  fixing roads, building and repairing installations, cleaning the forest, cutting the grass, removing trash and snow, etc.  Additionally, the park needs to be well governed. Since we are in a multi stakeholder context (many categories of individuals with specific interests and needs) the municipality has created a set of rules to minimize abusive use of the park, enforced by a mounted police force. Is everyone happy? Hmm... not really.

People accept the situation because that's the way it is, that's how it's done in other places too, and they don't know any better. But if you really ask around, you'll find lots of people with lots of ideas about new things to do in the park, if only they could cut through the red tape. You'll also find some pretty happy people that had the privilege to get a maintenance contract or a license to operate a business in the park, and the unhappy ones that have been refused. Probably the best illustration of how new marginal activities can creep into the landscape is the history of the Tam Tams. There are tensions around a complex shared resource.

Let's suppose that we take the municipality out of the equation and turn Mont Royal into a commons. This means that we put all the stakeholders in charge. They need to find a way to provide access to use the park while maximizing the collective benefits. They also need to find a way to collectively maintain the park, to provide all the labor and the materials required. Maintenance needs to be done in a way that maximizes everyone's benefit as well. If one stakeholder group needs more grass space and another one needs a larger forest area the governance should provide a solution to compromise. Furthermore, suppose that the forest maintenance is passed to a "cleaner" stakeholder who's incentive is to sell the dead wood extracted from the park. What stops the "cleaner" from over exploiting the forest to the detriment of other stakeholders? Suppose there's an "animator" stakeholder who organizes cultural activities, music, dance, food, ... How can we make sure that noise pollution is kept at an acceptable level for the nearby residents?

Treating the park as a public property is probably the best compromise to maximize public benefits. Private property can also work, if the park is managed by a philanthropist that has the public interest at heart. The advantage of traditional property regimes is the centralized authority associated with them, the owner's exclusive rights for access and maintenance of the resource, which in turn reduces governance costs. These costs increase drastically in the more complex multi stakeholders commons situation.

The Mont Royal park is a simple example of more complex and unmanageable commons that would effectively become an open access system. In this scenario, we have multiple uses of the same shared resource and every stakeholder group has its own reality. We’re far from the more uniform example of the pasture, used by a number of herders that share the same interests, and value the same aspects. Technology is advancing and the costs of coordination have dropped drastically. Are there new tools that a diverse group of stakeholders can use to steward a complex shared resource and avoid the tragedy of the commons? One family of such tools is called network resource planning (NRP). We've already used them at a smaller scale and we are convinced that they do work.

NRP is for open networks what ERP is for a traditional enterprise. It allows peers to co-manage a peer production process, resources, activities, transactions, etc. As peers in a peer production process use the system to coordinate their activities they create data that can be used to visualize resource flows within the network and to better plan and coordinate activities. The system also captures various type of contributions to processes and projects, and offers a layer for benefit redistribution, which are algorithms that feed on the contributions data to allocate access to various forms of benefits.

Sensorica is a network of makers and collaborative entrepreneurs that share a physical space in Montreal. The Montreal lab is administered as a commons. It is legally represented by a Trust, a non profit organization called CAKE, also called the Custodian. But CAKE does not own the lab. Over the years people have made multiple uses of the lab: a place for coworking, meetings, prototyping, events, education, etc. These uses have been championed by groups of stakeholders who have specific interests and value the lab space in their own way. But the lab is a rivalrous shared resource: a public event can disrupt coworking or prototyping activities; some prototyping activities are noisy or dusty or smoky, which can interfere with meetings and coworking activities. Lab users have built tools and found ways to compromise. The lab is a shared resource listed on Sensorica's NRP. The NRP is used to plan and manage tasks within projects, which can be: offering educational courses, organizing public events and prototyping some hardware. The NRP is used by peers to log various individual contributions to projects, as well as the the use of shared resources, which includes the use of the lab. If a planned use enters in conflict with another one the system's internal logic should provide a way to resolve it. But most importantly, the system provides transparency into its multiple uses by multiple stakeholders. We can, for example, compare the use of the lab by those who engage in prototyping and those who organize events, and reason about what could be a fair use, in the context of the entire network. We can also interrogate the system about who is contributing more to paying the bills, cleaning, purchasing of equipment and materials. Extraction and contributions are made transparent. Moreover, a benefit redistribution algorithm is used to gamify access to the resource based on contributions to maintain or replenish the resource, and based on the respect or the harmony of use.

Sensorica is one network using one economic model, based on one economic reality, allowing peers to share resources and to engage in peer production. The NRP that sensoricans rely on is designed as a traditional server-client service (or app). Today, distributed ledger technologies (DLT) do to applications what the Internet has done to content. Many organizations that operate on specific realities and that are using specific economic models can use interoperable distributed applications (dapps) across the web. Thus, multiple stakeholders can intimately interact via dapps and steward their commons on which they base their production. In other words, if sensoricans can steward a lab as commons, using a server-client application, Montrealers can steward the Mont Royal park using a public blockchain-based dapp. 

The NRP absorbs the complexity inherent in some resources and hides it behind a user interface. This diminishes the cost for stewarding complex commons. Thus we can expand the pool of commons in society, to include more complex types of resources. The very possibility of pulling resources out of the public and the private regime opens the door for large scale commons-based peer production. In my opinion, this is desirable because it leads to a better allocation of resources in society, more sharing, lower redundancy and fewer externalities. 

Some preliminary thoughts about how to continue the development of tools to steward commons

What do we value?

The tools need to map the different stakeholder groups, based on what people value in a particular resource? In the case of the pasture (traditional manageable commons case) every herder values the same thing, the capacity of the pasture to feed the animals. In the case of the Mont Royal park, multiple stakeholders values a different things. The "cleaner" values the dead wood that he can sell. The " animator" values the scenery, the shadow of the trees, some installations. The local residents value the capacity of the forest to absorb sound and to refresh the air.

What do we measure?

The tools should be able to capture quantitative aspects about the resource's state and use. In the case of the pasture, the quantity of nutritious grass produced per year. In the case of the park, different stakeholders measures different things.

Governance and benefit redistribution / gamification

In the case of the pasture, the herders can agree to a time sharing scheme based on the type and number of animals that everyone owns. In the case of the park, by trial and error, stakeholders can reach a consensus if they base their reasoning on what everyone values and on everyone's metrics. The consensus is a compromise that brings more satisfaction than harm, it is formally implemented into the tool. An equilibrium can be maintained if metrics are used to keep what everyone values within the levels of acceptance. Once data about use and replenishment is captured and made available one can build all sorts of symbolic systems on top of it to nudge behavior and increase synergy. NRPs open a new space of possibilities. The tool can signal to stakeholders how to conduct their activities.

Interaction between traditional property regimes and commons

From Samuel Joseph: We see informal commons spring up in both private and public property. On Mont Royal, for example, there is a complex set of mountain biking trails which have been created and are maintained by users. In this case it seems the city turns somewhat of a blind eye to the situation. Indeed, I would suggest that it would be more complex for the city to govern those trails, because of liability, paying for staff, etc. So here we see a nice example of how the commons can in fact turn elements of a public resource into a commons. 



By Tibi

Inspired by Pospi and Bob, on a post from Holochain forum

Helped with feedback by Samuel Joseph, Michel Bauwens

If you find this interesting, please engage in a discussion below. Come back later, this post may evolve based on yours and other people's feedback.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

The la-la land in small scale collaborative communities

Since 2011, I have been involved almost full time on collaborative projects, with open and decentralized organizations. I can say that I've seen it all, but I am still trying to make sense of it all.

I recently realized something that plagues a lot of small scale collaborative organizations. As strange as it might seam, it's the good feeling that most of them nurture. To put it bluntly, these type of organizations often put the good feeling that members experience together before work. Members of these organizations often act to save the pleasure of being together, the friendship, while sabotaging their common goals.

We all want to feel good in our work environment. But we need to realize that the primary reason people get together in open and collaborative projects is to achieve something, not to have fun. There are plenty of other opportunities to have fun, at home with family or at a club with friends. Fun can also be a byproduct of working together, when everything goes well. But work is not always fun, it comes with responsibilities, sometimes we must do things that we don't like, sometimes it generates stress, sometimes we need to confront difficult situations and difficult people.

The problem is that most informal, small scale collaborative communities lose their ability to deal with negativity, which cannot always be avoided. When a negative situation arises, very often people go into hiding, try to cover it up, put on the proverbial fake smile, simply ignore the situation, or take the wrong approach in dealing with it, avoiding at all costs making things personal, even when the source/cause is a particular individual. Some people, we know them as the straight shooters, the community guardians or the barking dogs, identify the issue, call it like it is and point the finger. Very often, those who don't shy away from defending the community from wrong-doing find themselves attacked by other members for disrupting the good feeling. They become the problem, they feel victimized for having acted for the benefit of the community, they get frustrated, and some even quit. Such communities filter out these important individuals who fill the role of keeping things real, and attract people that avoid negativity. Some communities that I experienced feel fake, they are a place where everything is rose and must be kept rose. When the straight shooters and the barking dogs are neutralized, the community becomes a lame duck, widely exposed to abuse. What might happen, is that wolfs identify the widely exposed flock of sheep and infiltrate it. When they attack, the superficial sense of good feeling gets replaced with an overwhelming sense of insecurity, and the community disperses.

We also need to mention the tremendous amount of effort these communities spend to harmonize relations, which is not put into productive work. They are pretty heavy into forging a group identity and a sense of belonging. They spend a lot of time on training their members on non-violent communication. They heavily rely on face-to-face meetings to strengthen interpersonal bonds, which are costly (in terms of time and traveling), sometimes highly inefficient and excluding those who cannot be there but can still contribute.

Another important side-effect of too much bonding is the creation of collusion clusters, people that start protecting each others, covering each others up for their wrong doing to protect their friendship, even if that goes against the common goal. A strongly bounded community also develops a tribal mentality, which makes it less open to newcomers, who need to divert a large portion of their efforts towards gaining acceptance instead of doing productive work. There is an optimum of bonding in a collaborative community, beyond which things turn bad.

But it's not just people to blame here... We need to understand the socioeconomic dynamic. These types of organisations that form around a cause and don't generate (enough) tangible benefits for their members are held together mostly by good feeling, shared values and culture. People instinctively or consciously realize that in order to keep everyone engaged they need to keep everyone happy, they need to nurture a positive atmosphere. The game becomes: commit to some effort and you'll be rewarded in good feelings. Peer pressure gets biased towards maintaining the good feeling.

So how can we escape the spiraling down towards the la-la land?

In my opinion, we need to realize that the game played within small scale collaborative communities is only first order, mostly driven by irrationality. People are almost unconsciously driven towards this good feeling and want to preserve it. They end up reversing priorities, putting the good feeling before the work. They almost forget why they are there, which is to achieve something together in the first place, rather than just having fun. Shying away from negativity is also a natural, mostly irrational reaction. Dealing with negativity requires energy and guts, which come with commitment, with the realization that we are there to achieve something, and that something needs to be protected.

Small collaborative communities need to add a rational layer on top of the irrational first order, which amounts to a work ethic. Members need to be reminded that they are together first and foremost to achieve something, that work might be difficult, stressful, that they might have to deal with insecurity, to put up with problematic individuals, etc. The community needs to nurture a sense of responsibility and commitment to the cause, not just to naively promise fun and good feelings until the end of the project.

Inject more rationality and objectivity into your community and you'll avoid becoming a la-la land. Realize that your straight shooters and barking dogs are important assets. Nurture a work ethic of responsibility and commitment. All this should be enough to change the collaboration game to: commit to some effort and we'll achieve our collective goal, and perhaps have some fun on the way. Changing the game will affect the composition of your community. You'll most probably lose some people, those who have a really low tolerance to negativity, but you'll retain other people, those who are more goal oriented.

Building a more goal oriented community is an important step, if you aim at creating a more stable and capable organisation, that can generate tangible benefits for its members. As members start to benefit in a tangible way from their collaboration (generate earnings for example), they will stop putting the good feeling before the work, the collaboration game will shift again.

For more insights, also read my post Developmental stages and problems for open communities and networks.

By Tiberius Brastaviceanu

By AllOfUs