Archives for category: philosophy

There’s a risk of making a fetish of process over product, of the act of collaboration over the artifact that results from it. How important is it that a product was produced through an open, distributed network if, in the end, it serves the interests of the status quo? If it’s just another widget, another distraction, an added value that some giant conglomerate can take advantage of, as in some cases of crowdsourcing? Does open collaboration serve a purpose or is it more like a drum circle, way more fun and interesting for the participants than for those who are forced to listen to it?

Excellent and provoking question from Collaborative Futures, the 2010 transmediale book sprint project. We’re almost done writing this year’s book, An Open Web. Wondering if we can work that line in somewhere…

TEDxKreuzbeg by Igor Schwarzmann / CC BY-SA

Last night I had the honor of speaking at TEDxKreuzberg, which was a lot fun and the perfect opportunity to polish up some ideas and practice pontificating in front of a crowd. My talk was about Designing for Collaborative Consumption, and it was inspiring to hear such positive feedback to the design challenges and concepts in general. You can find the text of my talk below.

Thanks so much to the organizers Peter, Christoph, and Hans, and to the host, betahaus, for such a lovely evening!

Designing for Collaborative Consumption.

Firstly, I’m a remix kid. I come from the generation of sampling. So the talk you’re going to hear is a remix of arguments made by lots of great and interesting people, notably Aristotle, the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, Lawrence Lessig, Sean Bonner, Fight Club, Bruce Sterling, and the authors of a book that helped bring these ideas together, Collaborative Consumption.

I hope to remix these thinkers to provide some context and examples and then push the concepts further by offering some design challenges.


The 20th century was the era of hyper-consumerism. I won’t be the first nor last person to say we’re still in deep in extreme consumption and overproduction. You know the stats: basically, the world is ending, and we, the insatiable consumers of the world, are at fault.

We want things, we buy things, we throw away things. And what’s worse, this endless cycle pitched at “good for the economy.” It’s our duty to BUY BUY BUY.

If you have to buy things all the time, then there are traditionally two types of solutions for what to do with all the junk you collect. You either dispose of it – by selling or throwing it away – or you store it.

Designing for the Dump:

The first solution, disposal, is very attractive to business folks. It’s a very lucrative. It means that you will buy an inferior product one day, turn around to throw it away the next, and then buy a new thing, preferably the upgrade from the same company. (cough, Apple!)

The name for this unsustainable design principle is planned obsolescence. Objects designed for a limited lifetime. And unfortunately, it’s the most predominate business strategy of our time.

We can see the remains of this throw-away culture in the paper coffee cups we drink from every day, to the shitty IKEA furniture that falls apart one year later, to the smartphones we replace faster than we can remember their names.

Designing for the dump means an overflow of junk in our homes, on the streets and landfills the world over.

Rise of the Self-Storage Industry:

So, maybe you’re a little more sensitive about throwing away good stuff the day after you unwrapped it. You want to keep it for a rainy day, or for the memories, or in the hopes that one day you’ll repair it and you’ll be so grateful you have it.

Enter the self-storage industry. It’s booming profits off the charts. Not only in the hyperconsumption nation of the US, but also in a country I always thought was more thrifty and consumption-conscious: Germany.

If self-storage is any measurement of junk we own and don’t need, then what does it mean that within 10 years, Germany went from having 0 self storage facilities to 70? In Europe, it went from a handful in the UK to well over 1500 across the continent.

We’re buying more stuff. So much so, we can’t even manage to keep it all in our homes, and have to pay a premium rent to store it elsewhere.

No matter where our stuff is, we still have to exert a lot of energy and euros to just maintain our collection of must-haves objects. As Bruce Sterling says, every moment devoted to stumbling over and tending to your piled debris are precious hours in our mortal lives, and time not spent with family, friends, your society, yourself.

Fight Club: The things you own end up owning you.

With so much effort invested in junk, you have to ask yourself: who is being owned by whom?

So, with all this doom and gloom, is there any reasonable way to take action? And even if a few dedicated, environmentally-aware kids take a stab at changing this horrible scene, can we even make a difference?

There is one clear advantage we have, in our generation: the power of the network.

We can be leverage our networks. Unlike any generation that came before, we can better provide and share infrastructure thanks to network technology. We can buy, build, and collaborate locally and efficiently. We can shop smarter, share better, and use our networks, both online and off, to reduce waste, improve the economy and environment, spare our bank accounts, and even have a good time and make new friends doing it.

That’s collaborative consumption, and I want to talk about its wonderful opportunities.

So, I’ve said a lot of scary and depressing stuff. But there is good news. Values are shifting.

Think about this co-working space, betahaus. You can rent a desk and share office infrastructure together with fellow digital nomads. No one, besides the people who actually the run the space, have to own any of the equipment, and even they can lease or rent it from other companies.

Let’s take an example of an office printer for a betahaus resident. Maybe once in a great while you actually need to print something. Do you really want to own a dedicated device for printing stuff? I mean, you have to refill it, repair it, and lug it around whenever you move, and one day, dispose of it.

A huge advantage with a place like betahaus is that they make it easy and attractive to share these resources, and by doing so, they make it more efficient (and let’s be honest, more fun and social) for all of the people working here.

Let’s think for a second about other types of resources. Who needs to own a moving van? Not many folks. That’s why services like Robben & Wientjes, the moving truck rental company in Berlin, are successful. The same holds true for platforms like the US-based Zipcar, a car sharing service. Or airbnb and Couchsurfing. Or even the Bahn bikes, Mitfahrgelegenheit, and stuff-sharing sites like NeighborGoods.

All of the many, many sites out there now make it easy to offer, find, and share goods and services: flexibly, agilely, and socially.

Here’s another example: the common household drill. How many of you own a drill? Can you even remember the last time you used it? Did you know that on average, a household drill is used a total of 5-10min its entire lifetime? That gives you what, like 20 holes max? Is that really an efficient object to purchase, maintain, and care for?

What if instead of all that time it spent idling on the shelf, it could be generating value, either by renting it out for cash or just helping out a neighbor?

Products like household drills, or moving vans, or a bike in a city you’re visiting aren’t necessarily desirable to own. Instead, isn’t it just better to accessing them? Aren’t the rights to use and access something more important than owning it?

I think this is a mantra for our times:
On the whole, you find wealth much more in use than in ownership.

You know who said that? Aristotle. A Greek philosophy who wrote that more than 2000 years ago.

Actually, the stuff I’ve been saying about sharing drills and expensive machinery and even lodging won’t have sounded foreign or even futuristic for many of the generations that came before us.

Practices like barn raising or the rise of cooperative individualism from the Great Depression are just a few examples.

The values of sharing resources goes back a long way.

What I’m talking about isn’t new, but I’ll argue that nowadays, thanks to networks, we can do it even better. And there are business strategies and creative opportunities to be had in modern collaborative consumption in addition to sharing economy.

Characteristics of Shared Objects:

So, can we distill any important characteristics of Collaborative Consumption? What are the rules of the game? Here’s a start.

Critical Mass
Firstly, you need enough goods or services on offer to make the platform attractive enough for users. Supply draws more demand. Couchsurfing isn’t going to work with two couches on offer.

Idling Capacity
This is about spare cycles. All the unused, material surplus that bolsters collaborative consumption. And it not just about products that sit unused on storage shelves, but also untapped skills, times, spaces. These resources have to be available, like in the drill example, and sharable.

Commons Governance
For these platforms to work, you need appropriate mechanisms for collaboration within legal, social and technical frameworks. There are great tools for this, and definitely the potential to develop more. Conflict resolution has to be cheap and easy, and resource providers need ways to participate in the decision-making process.

This is one of the most important pillars of collaborative consumption. Without trust, you don’t have continued and meaningful participation and growth. Trust has to be cultivated and facilitated. It’s not just available instantly, but grows organically through the service and positive experiences. Clearly defined boundaries of who’s participating and a way to key at bay trolls, spammers, and frauds, and other elements that harm the community. This requires effective monitoring and reputation management, plus graduated sanctions for people who violate community rules.

Design Challenges:

Building upon these principles and characteristics, I want to offer you a few design challenges.

Create open layers
Think about interoperability across key components. How can you use open standards to enable remix, modification, and improvements across products? How can open layers be applied to motors, power cords, outlets, connectors, joints, nibs for maximal customization and range of use?

Build modularity
Relatedly, shared objects should be easy to repair and amend. You shouldn’t have to throw away your entire phone because it’s scratched. Building modularity means fostering generativity.

Value added through usage
I think this is one of the most powerful design challenges. Think about an object that doesn’t depreciate with use, but is instead improved by it. One example is a baseball mitt. When you first buy it, it’s very stiff and hard to catch a ball with. Over time, with use, it becomes more flexible and a better product.

That’s just on the physical layer. What about value added on a data layer? Think about how objects can learn from behaviors the more they’re used. Like by collecting more data points. Or where the user contributes metadata, like marginalia, reviews, and fact checking for books.

Personalize shared objects
Are you familiar with these phones that hold multiple SIM cards? Those are really common in places like Africa where one device is used by multiple people. But each person inserts their own SIM card and all their address books and personal settings are ready for them. The personalization follows the user, not the device. Can we apply this to other devices and services? Cars, printers, refrigerator, coffee machines, or even drills?

Diversify Libraries
Libraries are not just for books. Think about other ways to pool resources, be it for commercial or community aims. You could have tool libraries, or ones for electronics, cooking appliances, moving boxes/materials, jewelry and accessories, holiday decorations, toys, you name it.

There is lots of potential. There are many business opportunities, as well as many challenges for creative and adventuresome people.

Let’s break the mold.

Don’t design for the dump. Don’t design for 20th century hyperconsumption. Design for things to last, to be shared, and to be part of the future, a future of collaborative consumption.

The figure of Death presides over the front entrance of a carnival sideshow whose spectators watch performers undergo unspeakable degradations so grotesquely compelling that the spectators’ eyes become larger and larger until the spectators themselves are transformed into gigantic eyeballs in chairs, while on the other side of the sideshow tent the figure Life uses a megaphone to invite fairgoers to an exhibition in which, if the fairgoers consent to undergo unspeakable degradation, they can witness ordinary people gradually turn into gigantic eyeballs.

— David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

While I don’t consider myself to be some sort of ascetic or societal recluse, I’ve found that more stuff equates to more stress. Each thing I own came with a small expectation of responsibility. I look into my closet and feel guilt. I glance into my desk drawers and see my neglect. When was the last time I wore this? Have I ever even used that?

Instead of trying to distribute my time too thin among all of my possessions, I will simply get rid of most of them. I will eliminate a large part of stress in my life and I will truly cherish the few things that I own. — Kelly Sutton on the Cult of Less

The numinous Cult of Less as well as enlightening scripture like Bruce Sterling’s Virdian Green piece have converted me. I’m all fired up and ready for the purge. Yesterday I packed up four boxes of clutter and useless junk. I’m freeing up space and time. And now I’m investing in the items that matter.

Last week I forked over 100EURO for a pair of shoes, but I wear them every damn day and have replaced three half-broken, crippling pairs in their stead. Old papers have been my bane as well, but thanks to access to a scanner, I’m saving the most valuable ones and tossing the rest. My closet is on a constant swap cycle: I offload a bag or so every few weeks and take in 2-3 well made items to replace them.

What is “sustainability?” Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.

In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and ship. They were rare and precious. They were closely associated with social prestige. Without important material signifiers such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, a coach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substance to your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself with a thick material barrier, you were inviting social abuse and possible police suspicion. So it made pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.

That era is dying. It’s not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form of material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you from want, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of humiliation, as anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV has now learned at great cost.

Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.

Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos, beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things. — Sterling

What about you? Up for drinking the Kool-Aid and joining the Cult of Less?

Update: Browsing around after writing this, I stumbled across Sean Bonner’s neat technomads blog. There’s also some fiery comments on BoingBoing. Most of them applauded the Cult of Less but a number of folks complained that “it’s nothing new” (whatever, neither are many great philosophies — that doesn’t make them less relevant) or that it’s impossible to completing fulfill the pledge of owning nothing (I often hear that sort of challenge when I tell people I’m vegetarian). It’s like if you’re going to take a stance for an improved lifestyle, people are ready to poke a hole in it and claim your commitment dead because you ate a gummy bear. It’s the spirit and effort to hold yourself to an ideal that matters. Of course there are compromises, but it’s that negotiation between idealism and pragmatism that is compelling. Strive to land on the positive side, although it may not work out every time.

All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why. – James Thurber

Travel and running, I find, are exhilarating. And lately I’ve been thinking about why. I attribute so many positive emotions to both activities, and more interestingly, I wonder why I associate them so strongly with one another. My conclusion? Both travel (especially of the roughing-it, backpacking sort) and running have an incredible capacity for self-affirmation.

What do I mean by that? Well, there are few other activities where the boundaries of your physical self are so defined and focused. Imagine sitting in your home or visiting your hometown. In your home, for example, you have your books and clothes and furniture and all the other items in life that you are responsible for and attached to you as property. In your hometown you have rich memories and social ties to people and places. In these cases, your boundaries of self seem to extend beyond your physical person. Your “circle of caring” goes beyond your body, beyond your immediate physical sphere, and instead encompasses a larger and more complex area. This extended sphere contains many pieces and contours, often shaping a landscape beyond your front door to cover your neighborhood, city, or even country. Especially when you care very much about your home, both your abode and the general environment and culture you live in, then your sense of ownership or stakeholdership is very real and external to your body. In this sense, your self is greater than the physical terminations of your body, and your psyche expands to mirror this stretched self.

Compare this experience with travel or running. When you’re traveling, you are limited firstly by the amount of physical property that falls into your immediate responsibility. You may have a backpack or suitcase and a few other items of value. But by virtue of travel, these objects are often compact and mobile, making your circle of caring more focused. Add to that the very obvious aspect of travel, namely encountering a new and changing environment, and you have a combination that is incredibly self-affirming. Frequently on the journey you will have to ask: ok, do I have everything? Wallet, phone, suitcase, check. The mental list of physical property is much much much shorter than when you’re at home; while traveling, the list is almost always exhaustive. In one breath you can say you have everything. Your physical sphere is agile and compact, whole and affirming.

While traveling, there is also the important psychological factor of processing new places, people, and customs. In encountering new things, you conduct numerous internal negotiations. Am I familiar with this? How does this relate to what I know? Do I like this or not? And each one of these negotiations, whether positive or negative, adds a layer of certainly and definition to your self. This is me, and this is not me.

I often experience the same sensation while running. And notably, it is usually more physically pronounced than in travel. When running, or in similar athletic activities, you have an acute awareness of where your body begins and ends. When your mind says go!, only a limited part of your self can travel with it. All the limbs and appendages and organs are on for the ride — but not your books or bills or heaps of dirty laundry. What’s more, you are moving through changing environments and negotiating the terrain. And all the while, you are aware of where you begin and end, what is you and what is not you. It is this unfolding yet focused experience of knowing that I find so thrilling and assuring. That’s why I hope to run for the rest of my life, and better yet, I want to run while traveling, exploring new landscapes and every moment know where I begin and end, and be affirmed by the knowledge of what is greater than me and what is contained in me.

What about you? Do you experience similar feelings, and if so, how do you find them?

Image: A Brand New Day by Thomas Hawk / CC BY-NC 2.0

A thesis paper, drafted during the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s interdisciplinary political salons, seeks to capture the complexity and importance of natural and knowledge commons. The manifesto, written jointly by the salon’s attendees and lead by Silke Helfrich, is a rallying call for the public to defend and strengthen these invaluable resources. Because such efforts build on the small contributions of many, David Bollier and I worked closely with Silke to translate the text into English in hopes of sharing the salon’s results with a wider audience.

Strengthen the Commons. Now!

”Commons are institutional spaces in which we are free.” – Yochai Benkler

Over the last two hundred years, the explosion of knowledge, technology, and productivity has enabled an unprecedented increase of private wealth. This has improved our quality of life in numerous ways. At the same time, however, we have permitted the depletion of resources and the dwindling of societal wealth. This is brought to our attention by current, interrelated crises in finance, the economy, nutrition, energy, and in the fundamental ecological systems of life.

These crises are sharpening our awareness of the existence and importance of the commons. Natural commons are necessary for our survival, social commons ensure social cohesion, and cultural commons enable us to evolve as individuals. It is imperative that we focus our personal creativity, talents and enthusiasm to protect and increase our social wealth and natural commons. This will required an eye on the goal to change some basic structures of politics, economics, and society.

More social prosperity instead of more gross domestic product!

When the economic growth curve drops and the GDP sinks, it seems threatening to us. Yet appearances deceive. The GDP merely maps production figures and monetary flows without regard for their ecological or social value; such numbers do not measure the things we truly need to live, they may simply count their destruction. Social prosperity cannot be measured through such means. A reduction in the GDP does not necessarily signal a reduction in the real wealth of a society. To recognize this fact widens our perspective and opens the door for new types of solutions.

The commons can help us overcome the crisis, but it requires systematic advocacy. This is our contribution to give the commons a voice.

What are the commons and why are they are significant? … to the complete Manifesto (pdf).

(Manifesto posted by Silke Helfrich on Commonsblog. Image: “Network of works produced in the ccMixter community” by Giorgos Cheliotis et. al. in Visualizations of remix culture from Remix Culture: Creative Reuse and the Licensing of Digital Media in Online Communities / CC BY 3.0)

Openness is a philosophy that is being used as the basis of how various groups and organizations operate. It is a relatively new term to describe a general way of doing things. — “Openness.” Wikipedia. Accessed 01.06.09.

Over the span of four hours, Dr. Christine Kolbe led us, the participants of last week’s Thinking Openeverything salon, along the many strands of “openness” collected over the past months. Together, we were trying to advance answers to core questions. Where does the term openness come from? What does it really mean? Is it unique to the digital age? What are the shortcomings and counter arguments to opening up everything? Are these processes viable models for society?

We first took a stab at these topics using a mediation technique called a spectogram, where we lined up according to our personal responses to the question How open are you? The majority of the room clustered around “above average” and “completely”, but a few outliers sparked comment when standing firmly at “not very”. One participant, finding himself hovering near “not at all”, explained that he sensed a generational gap between his traditional “keep your cards close” behavior and the more share-happy, digital native approach.

From these initial thoughts, we pieced together some conditions of openness. Most definitions included transparency, participation, and access. Feedback loops were also key, as they ensure communication channels between users and service providers — be they software companies, fashion labels, or governments.

Of course, no conversation about openness would be complete without recognition of the free vs. open debate. There is a critical distinction between the two terms, although they are often (wrongly) used interchangeably. Free describes an ideology and social movement bound by four unwavering freedoms guaranteeing access, distribution, modification, and even commercialization. Open is more about methodology, and as a term, it is by far less disciplined in usage. An open platform, for example, may grant gratis access to everyone but run proprietorially and prevent users from governing themselves. In such instances, you end up with cases like Facebook’s controversial Terms of Service, which allow the social networking company to data-mine its users’ personal information and sell it to marketers.

The ambiguities of the term “openness”, or its general lack of ideology, prompted one of the most intriguing questions at openeverything Berlin: Is openness a model for society? Certainly there are characteristics of openness that are and should be the aspirations of governments and communities, no-brainers such as transparency and participation. But how can these traits be implemented or maintained if there is not a rigid definition of openness or mechanisms to guarantee them? Unlike “free as in speech”, there are not systematized hacks and uncompromising rules to ensure something is open, and that it will stay that way. This fundamental shortcoming leads to deeper questions regarding the role of commons governance in general — a thoroughly under-theorized field, as commons researcher David Bollier rightly points out.

Overall, commons governance was a huge topic on the participants’ minds at openeverything Berlin. We took a look at how open projects are structured and how democracy plays out within them. It became clear that while many existing projects take steps in the right direction, a notable number are still reigned by benevolent dictators. Take for instance Wikipedia, which evokes a remarkable exception for its founder, Jimmy Wales. The rule, WP:JIMBO, stipulates that Wales may assert authority “on an ad-hoc basis: it is exercised when other decision-making structures are inadequate or have failed in a particular situation.”

Openwashing also poses a threat to the idyllic fields of openness. Openwashing, derived from greenwashing, is a marketing phenomenon that seeks to pitch a product as open, although it is not. Since “openness” doesn’t have a strict definition or ideology, the term can be abused all the easier. Coca-Cola, for example, recently launched its “Open Happiness” campaign, which is supposed to “inspire people to say yes to the opportunities that summer brings” through ad spots and posters. I’m not hold my breath that Coke’s campaign will do anything truly open at all. It is, just like many other companies, simply riding a wave of cool. Open is vogue, and since commodification inevitably follows cool, we’ll be seeing more and more openwashing down the line, which will unvariably dilute “open” as a meaningful nomenclature.

But who controls that “right” definition of open in the first place? This was a closing point at the salon. While I personally think there’s good reason to protest against openwashing, what sort of legitimacy does our little Berlin gathering have in dictating a functioning definition of openness for the world? The lack of governing competence for the term might be another thread in openness’ undoing. While the Free Software Definition is curated by the Free Software Foundation, there is no responsible body for “openness”. Would an institutional caretaker improve or advance the concept? Or would it be best to leave the term as is — a loose description of methodology and characteristics? Time will help answer this “open question”…but rest assured we’ll continue tackling it at next month’s openeverything! (^_^)

So, is opennes a model for society? What do you think?


"be open. be free. be Berlin."

Openwashing: to spin a product or company as open, although it is not. Derived from “greenwashing

There’s a troubling trend surfacing in the marketing world, one that’s riffing off a now-familiar strategy, “greenwashing”. We’ve all seen products coated in greensheen, the misleading marketing ploy that spins a product as environmentally-friendly in order to woo eco-cozy customers.

Now, there’s a whole new buzzword bingo game in town, and it’s all about transparency, access, and believe it or not, “openness”.That’s right. Companies are courting openness like it’s the new green.

Take, for example, the above (badly-photographed – sorry!) advertisement from the Berlin Partner GmbH, a promotional arm of Germany’s capital.

Their new slogan, “be open. be free. be Berlin,” is designed to evoke coolness and inspire acceptance with the young and wired generation. I think it’s pretty illustrative of what I’m calling openwashing. Reading through the campaign’s Terms of Use, for example, I’ve come across these gems:


The user is not permitted to download content of any kind from the website and/or to copy and/or otherwise reproduce it, unless this is explicitly permitted on the website and/or made possible (e.g. the ability to send a link to a success story by means of a function provided for this purpose on the Website).


Changes or modifications to the website or parts of the website are not permitted.

So, let me get this straight. Users can send in lots of stuff and build the value of the campaign with their content, but they can’t use any of it once it’s uploaded? At least the Berlin Partner don’t claim exclusive usage rights for users’ own submissions, but they do restrict those users, and everybody else, from being able to do much of anything with it. Plus, Berlin Partner retains all the user content, even if you send them a termination of contract.

I don’t really want to bash Berlin Partner too badly, because I think the campaign’s concept is kinda neat. But I just think they should be consistent with their messaging.

But this is not the only example of openwashing, and in fact, there are instances that make a better case for illustrating what I’m talking about. Take a look at The Guardian’s “Open Platform”…and Dave Winer’s rebuttal of the misnomer.

On a meta-level, openwashing probably isn’t a bad thing. Openwashing is a side effect of customers’ growing desire to have transparency and access in their services. It’s signaling that openness is an important feature for today’s end-users. And just as environmental awareness carved a niche for green products, perhaps a similar thing will happen for openness.

So, on the one hand, I’m finding these slogans disheartening and disingenuous. It’s frustrating to see merchants of cool co-opting “openness” for closed products. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing for the Free Culture movement at large. The more frequently companies resort to openwashing, the greater the weight they’re indirectly giving these issues. It might be opportunistic, but the more companies perceive openness as sexy, the more, I hope, these principles will actually be implemented.


Last night we kicked off the openeverything focus series, a Berliner initiative to explore and promote “openness” in a range of fields and applications. About 30 guests joined us in christening oefb, which willl be held regularly every fourth Thursday of the month in newthinking store.

Jonathan Gray (UK) from the Open Knowledge Foundation wowed us with the depth and breadth of his organization’s work, a non-profit championing open knowledge from “sonnets to statistics, genes to geodata”. OKFN excels in demonstrating how information, when licensed openly, can be remixed in unexpected and stunning ways. My favorite was the sculpture of crime statistics, but Jonathan also mentioned the great visualization work of OKFN board member Hans Rosling and the UK’s impressive neighborhood watch system FixMyStreet, as prime examples of mashable data sets.


OKFN is also generating public domain calculators designed to tell you in a mouse-click the copyright status of a particular work. These calculators are based on simple flow charts provided by legal experts in various jurisdictions. Jonathan told me all they need is a skeleton of the legal structure scribbled on a napkin, and OKFN will build the code around it. So if you’d like to get involved, join the list!

Sebastian Moleski also took the stage to tell us about the unprecedented 100,000 image donation from the German Federal Archive to Wikimedia Commons, which marked the largest contribution to the Commons to date. The photos are truly breathtaking, varying from not-so-ordinary street scenes to famous German sights and figures. All of the photos are high quality and licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 Germany license.

Beim Festumzug anlässlich des 750jährigen Stadtjubiläums von Berlin stellte eine Abordnung aus dem Bezirk Erfurt Arbeitsplatzcomputer aus Sömmerda vor (Bild 183-1987-0704-077)

We summed up the evening by announcing the fusion of oefb and the CC Salon Berlin. As was discussed, a lot of high-profile adopters are opening up their content and platforms, like Al Jazeera,, and YouTube. And some in cases, these works have monetized in unprecedented ways; reports that NIN’s Ghosts I-IV beat out chart-toppers Coldplay and Death Cab for Cutie for the  best selling mp3 album in 2008…and you could have downloaded the whole thing for free.

So there was a lot to ponder and a lot to celebrate at the first openeverything focus + CC Salon. Come join us for the next one on March 26 in newthinking store, where we’ll be talking about Open Design.

To conclude, I’d like to give a shoutout to the fabulous people behind openeverything in Berlin; thanks for *everything*! Andrea Goetzke, Martin Schmidt, Christine Kolbe, Linda Löser, Cecilia Palmer, Nicole Ebber, Kai Uhlemeyer, and newthinking for always giving us a place meet!

Image: “Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1987-0704-077, Berlin, 750-Jahr-Feier, Festumzug, Computer“by Thomas Uhlemann, made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany License by the Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Bild 183-1987-0704-077

Imagine Couchsurfing…for drills.


A platform with profile pages, ratings, and social networking for any physical objects, be it household appliances, office supplies, or exotic and rare rentals. Users upload information about objects they own, which can be searched and requested by other users. The objects are lent out to members of the community, circulating, say, a projector to a college student giving a class presentation, to a start-up CEO traveling to a trade fair to pitch her company. The goal is to help individual users: you can borrow commonplace, pricey, or obscure items for a limited time, while also ensuring that things on your shelves don’t collect dust unused.

That’s the idea behind Public Private Property, a concept recently presented at openeverything berlin. The platform runs on trust and transparency, just like many communities like Couchsurfing do. In the same way that nearly a million people offer their couches overnight, free of charge, to perfect strangers, Public Private Property relies on trust systems, openness, and reciprosity for its success.

Objects are stickered with QR codes, linking to profiles and giving you a quick overview of the object’s history, owner, and lending conditions. Backing the system are standardized contracts that operate on layers similar to Creative Commons, so users can easily understand the terms of use, and so can lawyers and machines.

I’m very curious to see where this project and idea go. The future of hyperlinked objects is upon us — let’s see if it’ll take your couch on a journey instead of you.

Image: “Couchsurfing Drill” by thornet, remixing “A 1960s Bridges electric drill” by bowbrick both available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 License.