The Culture of Open Networks, or: Watch What You Tag

January 20, 2007

I'm getting into an excellent free pdf called "In the Shade of the Commons," a publication from the Waag Society, which bills itself as a small group of enthusiastic idealists ... with a mission "to make new media available for groups of people that have little access to computers and internet, thus increasing their quality of living."

They sound like a nice little bunch of information hippies in the Netherlands.

"We value information as a human resource of cultural expression rather than a commodity to be sold to consumers. ... We realize that intangible information resources raise the issue of a digital ecology, the need to understand ecosystems constituted by information flows through various media. " The Vienna Document
In the Shade of the Commons.

They have quite nicely put together a range of material about the fragility of openness in up-and-coming information societies and the need for "intellectual commons." My favorite part of it so far is the "Vienna Document," (quoted here) which summarizes a number of thoughtful progressive info-principles.

The lesson I'm taking away is not just that "information should be free" (ZZZzzzzzz.... ), but there is also need for a kind of "humane" network design that leverages openness in ways that are beneficial to more than just a select minority.

For those of us who design software (which is now 99% defined by networked computing), I think this has pretty hip implications.

I think it is brilliant to conceptualize information, as they do, as a product of "intellectual labor." In this light it becomes clearer how the information that we produce (in the context of, say, social tagging) can be evaluated as a product that can be shaped by the conditions in which it is produced, controlled, consumed and potentially misused.

Really, what is the most profitable thing to do with a massive database of human generated metadata? Exactly how often should we expect The Most Profitable Thing to line up with the most useful thing for real-live human beings?

Anyway, this line of thinking seems especially relevant to me now that I am so frustrated to discover that more than 1000 nptech tags are apparently not shown in some views of I can't really blame for whatever is causing this, but it is a reminder that we are trusting our attention data to the databases and algorithms of a corporation with no vested interest in the integrity or proper use of our data. It's enough to make me want to start googling for an open source alternative ... but then there goes my intellectual labor being photographed again ...