Characteristics of Peer Production

Peers support each otherSummary of the characteristics of peer production, first part using Meretz’s work, the second part from my own studies:

A. The social logics of peer production

It is important to see the value inversion that occurs in peer production. Though it is integrated in the dominant economic model and embedded in the strategies of business firms, there are numerous inversions in the logic of value and production:

  • Beyond Exchange: Commons-based peer production is not about exchange. Giving and taking are not coupled with each other.
  • Beyond Scarcity: Peer production is marked by anti-rivalry (sharing does not produce a loss, but a gain), i.e. because the knowledge, code or designs are shareable they can be used,copied and modified by everyone.
  • Beyond Commodity: Because the result of the production is shareable and anti-rival, and there is no tension between supply and demand, there are not produced for exchange value directly, but for use value.
  • Beyond Money: Money is only one of the possible drivers for the contributions, many other motivations become productive factors.
  • Beyond Property: Peer production uses licenses that make the contributions available to all possible users, creating a new form of universal common property; this means that there are no direct returns for property.
  • Beyond Labor: Because of the multiplicity of motivation, and production for need and use, peer production is not marked by labor for gain.
  • Beyond Classes: Contributions become agnostic to whether waged labour is involved; traditional division of labour and the command and control exercised by the firm is secondary; new meritocratic and ad hoc hierarchies replace them (cfr. supra returns on property are inoperable).
  • Beyond Exclusion: Peer production systems are designed to enable the maximum number of contributions with the lowest possible treshold of participation.

However, none of these social logics operate in isolation from the larger economy. The participating companies operate in a commodity (I. exchange) economy and seek to create strategies based on market scarcity within the field of abundance created by their commons. These companies pay salaries to their developers or freelancers sell their labor and generate monetary income. These corporations are still generally owned by shareholders hence operating within the classic class dynamics. Meritocratic selection has its own exclusion biases, and many open source companies use dual licensing and other strategies to protect their property. Hence, every non-market social logic operates in relation to market dynamics.

B. Innovative Aspects of Peer Production Practice

Peer production carries with it many different fundamental innovations, that are starkly different from traditional business practice. Here are a number of these practices, contrasted with the practices of the market and the business firm:

  • Anti-Credentialism, refers to the inclusiveness of peer production: What matters is the ability to carry out a particular task, not any formal apriori credential (≠ credentialism).
  • Anti-Rivalry, see also Anti-Rivalness of Free Software: Sharing the created goods does not diminish the value of the good, but actually enhances it (≠ rivalry).
  • Communal Validation: The quality control is not a ‚a priori‘ condition of participation, but a post-hoc control process, usually community-driven (≠ hierarchical control).
  • Distribution of Tasks: There are no roles and jobs to be performed, only specific tasks to be carried out (≠ division of labor).
  • Equipotentiality: People are judged on the particular aspects of their being that is involved in the execution of a particular task (≠ people ranking).
  • For Benefit (benefit sharing, benefit-driven production): The production aims to create use value or ‚benefits‘ for its user community, not profits for shareholders (≠ for-profit).
  • Forking: The freedom to copy and modify includes the possibility to take the project into a different direction (≠ one authorized version).
  • Granularity: Refers to the effort to create the smallest possible modules (see Modularity infra), so that the treshold of participation for carrying out tasks is lowered to the lowest possible extent.
  • Holoptism; transparency is the default state of information about the project; all additions can be seen and verified and are sourced (≠ panoptism).
  • Modularity: Tasks, products and services are organized as modules, that fit with other modules in a puzzle that is continuously re-assembled; anybody can contribute to any module.
  • Negotiated Coordination: Conflicts are resolved through an ongoing and mediated dialogue, not by fiat and top-down decisions (≠ centralized and hierarchical decision-making).
  • Permissionlessness: One does not need permission to contribute to the commons (≠ permission culture).
  • Produsage: There is no strict separation between production and consumption, and users can produce solutions (≠ production for consumption).
  • Stigmergy: There is a signalling language that permits system needs to be broadcast and matched to contributions.

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