Ubiquitous Commons
the commons in the age of ubiquitous technologies
"An emancipated society, on the other hand, would not be a unitary state, but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences."
–Theodor Adorno
The Commons

The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. The resources held in common can include everything from natural resources and common land to software. The commons contains public property and private property, over which people have certain traditional rights.

Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The crowdsourcing movement and among others Wikipedia are examples of the production and maintenance of common goods by certain communities in the form or videos, music, or encyclopedic knowledge that can be freely accessed by anyone without a central authority.

Caring for the commons is an act of individual stewardship (long-term care for a given resource for the benefit of oneself and others including the resource itself) and collective trusteeship. It is the very essence of being ‘whole’, the fundamental basis of interdisciplinarity. It is one of the few ways we have to acknowledge our debt to the past generations, and to embody our link to future generation. It shows we believe in ourselves as an enduring civilization, not an economy.

Digital Commons

Mayo Fuster Morell proposed a definition of digital commons as "as an information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community and that tend to be non-exclusivedible, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources".

Examples of digital commons are Wikipedia, a type of Free Software and Open-source hardware projects.

Digital Commons are usually enacted by assigning particular licensing schemes to data, content, information, knowledge and products (such as software), establishing the rights to use, reuse, remix, reinterpret them.

One of such licensing schemes is the Creative Commons.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Mountain View, California, United States, devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. An easy-to-understand one-page explanation of rights, with associated visual symbols, explains the specifics of each Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright, but are based upon it. They replace individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, which are necessary under an "all rights reserved" copyright management, with a "some rights reserved" management employing standardized licenses for re-use cases where no commercial compensation is sought by the copyright owner. The result is an agile, low-overhead and low-cost copyright-management regime, profiting both copyright owners and licensees. Wikipedia uses one of these licenses.

The concept behind the Creative Commons has been very well received, tuning in to the needs and transformations of society, which has transformed into the Knowledge, Information and Communication Society. Hundreds of millions of videos, images, articles, knowledge elements, software and other digital artifacts have been licensed under these schemes.

Given this, the concept is not without criticisms. From the idea of the redundancy of this concept over the one of copyright, to the potential harms coming from the proliferation of licensing schemes which are not interoperable, to the possibilities for license misuse and more, Creative Commons has been the subject of multiple critical debates, also spawning heated criticisms coming from more radical freedom of information advocates (for example Copyleft advocates, the Free Software Foundation and more), and from the subjects whose benefits and business models come from more traditional approaches to copyright.

That said, it must be noted how the Creative Commons have achieved the important goal of recognizing a global societal transformation, and have produced a process in which the rising importance of digital content in the protection of human rights – such as freedom of expression and of the right to education and information – have found a toolkit for their preservation and active enablement, both at technical, legal, social, political and psychological levels. In the process, they have also enabled the formation of entirely new business models, education/information/knowledge models, and creative industries for the arts, music, design, and more.

Copyright as an Open Protocol

In analyzing the architecture of the Creative Commons, it is interesting to note Joi Ito's vision, describing Creative Commons as a protocol, atop the stack of Internet protocols, which is usable to enable interoperable definitions of the rights of usage on content and information and, thus, the possibility for operators and users alike to know how they can use, remix, interpret, process and recombine such content.

“I used to work in mainstream media and with large corporations. And honestly I felt very stifled, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do without asking for a lot of permission. What I saw with the internet was that it was a great way for people to innovate, to think and create without asking permission, without having to wait until they are older. It was an amazingly open thing. And for me, innovation, whether it’s political innovation or technical innovation or any kind of positive change, is supported by this idea of the open internet.

We have various layers: very early we had the ethernet, and then we had the Internet protocol TCP/IP, and then we had the web and now we have Creative Commons, which is very similar because it’s trying to create an open protocol that allows things to connect without asking permission. Because in the past, you had asked permission to connect a modem to the Internet. Then you had to ask permission before you set up a site. And now you have to ask permission before you use somebody’s content. And the idea of Creative Commons is to make a protocol that makes it easy to connect without asking permission. This makes it impossible for large companies and governments to control the interconnect.

The non-profit things that I do and the for-profit things that I do are very similar because the for-profit companies that I invest in are trying to innovate in technology and social software by using the Internet. They are typically very small teams of people who create some product. And I think these small start-ups are creating the technology and the infrastructure that builds these open networks. And they have the DNA of the open networks. And the non-profits that I work in like Global Voices, Witness or Mozilla, Creative Commons, they are all non-profits that help try to coordinate all the people who are involved in trying to create this open Internet.

For me I think that the open internet is not only an important business thing, I think it’s the pillar for an open society in the 21st century.”

– Joi Ito on We Magazine

The Ubiquitous Commons

In these years we, as human beings and as members of local, global and translocal societies, are living yet another step in our social and political mutations.

From the notion of the Information, Communication and Knowledge Society we are moving onward to embracing the Network Society.

Network society is the expression coined in 1981 related to the social, political, economic and cultural changes caused by the spread of networked, digital information and communications technologies. The intellectual origins of the idea can be traced back to the work of early social theorists such as Georg Simmel who analyzed the effect of modernization and industrial capitalism on complex patterns of affiliation, organization, production and experience.

The term network society, nettsamfunn, was coined in Norwegian by Stein Braten in his book Modeller av menneske og samfunn (1981). Later the term was put to use in Dutch by Jan van Dijk in his book De Netwerkmaatschappij (1991) (The Network Society) and by Manuel Castells in The Rise of the Network Society (1996), the first part of his trilogy The Information Age.

Van Dijk defines the network society as a society in which a combination of social and media networks shapes its prime mode of organization and most important structures at all levels (individual, organizational and societal).

It is easy to see how this process is currently going ahead at full speed, with profound impacts and transformations on the ways in which we work, relate, care for our health and well-being, express, ensure our rights, relate, share information and knowledge, educate ourselves, consume and, in general, live our daily lives.

In the Network Society Information and Knowledge are ubiquitous.

Services like Google, Facebook and Twitter create a knowledge/information, identity and information/updates ecosystem which is spread across devices and modalities which interact with what we know about the world and its inhabitants, and also transform the ways in which we experience places, locations, events, monuments, tourist locations, restaurants, venues and more.

Messaging applications reach us ubiquitously. Imagine running in a park, within nature, and receiving an important message from the office: the park instantly – if temporarily – disappears, replaced by an ubiquitous office, from which we interact with colleagues and co-workers.

Devices, sensors, gadgets and wearable technologies (and, soon, prosthetics and bodily add-ons and plugins) interconnect our bodies, emotions, medical conditions, movements, feelings and more to the network, exposing them on social networks, sharing them with services of the most varied kinds and more.

CCTV cameras, security and surveillance schemes, algorithms and processes of various types provide even more ways in which information and knowledge are generated with every one of our gestures, movements, clicks.

This condition is far from being transparent and clearly understandable.

The information we produce – wether we realize it or not, wether with an explicit click or by behaving in certain ways which can be algorithmically interpreted – is sold and purchased millions of times without us realizing it. And, most of all, without being able to have our say about it,wether it is to preserve our privacy, to create our own business model or in the desire to be able to determine just how our information is used, as individuals, and as members of a society, culture, organization, nation or else.

The terms of service documents which we sign for when we register to online services are not enough: barely accessible and understandable without professional legal advice, they are also too many and well-placed so that they become just too many to read, or they pose a condition of exclusion from the services which they relate to.

On top of that, these services are of peculiar types. For example Facebook. With its 1.3 billion subscribers and its policy of expansion to provide authentication facilities to millions of websites, apps and other services (even ones in the physical space), it is not a mere web application, but an identity provider and a massive societal connector. Thus, this problem cannot be simply dismissed with banal answers such as “You don't like what Facebook does with your data? Unsubscribe!”

On top of that, the interface politics and policies of these operators dedicate major efforts to the creation of visual, interaction and relational narratives which convey the supposed controllability of the publicness and privateness of these online spaces. These are opaque situations, in which an expectation of controllable publicness and of privateness is created in billions of users which is instantly betrayed, with algorithms and processes systematically abusing these expectations.

On top of that, humanity is delegating the preservation of global visual and textual cultures to private services: we produce images, texts, movements in space, videos, representations of traditions and heritages; we put them onto operators' servers or in the cloud; they give it back to us with an arbitrary license. We, as a society, remain the authors but loose the possibility to control our culture.

Ubiquitous Information and Knowledge is different from the content which can be handled using, for example, the Creative Commons or other current licensing schemes. It is not about mp3s, JPEGs, GIFs, PDFs, MOVs or other digital formats.

It is about the data, information and knowledge produced by bodies, locations, movements, desires, expectations, cultures, which are created, reproduced and mediated ubiquitously, online, through mobile applications, sensors, cameras, augmented reality, maps, Internet of Things, and more, consciously and unconsciously, and about the ways in which these information and knowledge are used.

This is still uncharted territory: laws, regulations, practices and common understandings still live in a grey area which is undefined and not-perceived.

Ubiquitous Commons is the commons in the age of Ubiquitous Technologies.

To start a shared, global, dialogue about these issues and about their impacts we propose:

  1. the design and creation of an international legal toolkit using which people and organizations will be able to affirm how they wish the information and knowledge produced under these schemes and modalities shall be used;
  2. the design and creation of a series of technical/technological tools to establish a “protocol” using which people and organizations may declare how these kinds of information and knowledge have “some rights reserved”;
  3. the design and implementation of the schemes according to which these information and knowledge may be “protected” or “published”, across civic uses, private ones, limited private (with a specified set of subjects..), public domain or else;
  4. a series of accessible, usable, inclusive ways in which people and organizations will be able to use the Ubiquitous Commons in their daily lives and practices.
.oO Links


Human Ecosystems

Art is Open Source

Ubiquitous Commons in Sao Paulo

Ubiquitous Commons in Rome

P2P Ethnography and the Ubiquitous Commons

.oO Info


contact Ubiquitous Commons

The introductory sections on The Commons, the Digital Commons, and the Creative Commns are the result of a cut'up and remix from the following Wikipedia pages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons