P2P And The Social Cloud - The Emergence Of Peer Economic Systems - Part 1
Social networking services available on the web are based upon proprietary software which have the ultimate purpose of advertisement-driven profit which implicitly demands tracking user activities. On the other hand, in order to allow people's collective intelligence to fully develop by means of their self-organized social networks, communication in social networking software must be independent of intrinsic intermediaries, free of external influence.
Photo credit: Dzmitry Stankevich
In order to overcome these limitations, it is desirable to develop free and open source information technology tools that encourage large scale, dynamic social interactions and stimulates popular collective intelligence.
This open approach has the potential to facilitate the emergence of peer economic systems.
Rafael Pezzi introduces in this white paper a new concept for designing social networking services, not provided by centralized servers, but by nodes of the network forming a cloud of computers owned by individuals who are all joining the network.
Just like in cloud computing, where computer services are provided by an interconnected network of servers, the Social Cloud concept envisions services provided and maintained by a human-powered social network.
The basic idea is very similar to P2P file sharing, but in addition to files, people will also exchange ideas, products, and services in the physical world.
In this two-part paper you will also find information on the technical aspects for implementing a social cloud network based on existing technologies, a description of the software layer required to provide advanced functionality to the basic social networking layer, and some examples of how peers and communities can interact to generate a complex web of relationships.
In Part 2 you will also find more in-depth information on the hardware required to run the social network client and its possible implementation for communities with limited economic resources.
Information Technology Tools For a Transition Economy
by Rafael Pezzi
Although there are growing concerns regarding the eminent energy crisis followed by a discussion that is mostly focused on the development and use of new sources of energy, there is negligible mainstream attention given to the possibility that it may not be feasible to convert all of our energy supplies to renewables while still supplying a growing demand. This article discusses this possibility with its economic effects and how information technology may assist in the transition to a sustainable economy while still improving the welfare of the population.
This transition may be catalyzed by the implementation of peer-to-peer social networking tools designed for the purpose of cultivating popular collective intelligence, facilitating the development of self-organizing, resilient local communities.
There is increasing evidence linking human activities to the disruption of Earth's ecological systems such as the effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gases to climate change.
A significant portion of greenhouse emissions originates from food production, transportation systems, and electricity generation, designed to sustain large urban areas - which for the first time in history holds more than half of the human population.
Among other problematic issues one can mention:
- The destruction of natural ecosystems following urban development,
- extensive agricultural and farming strategies,
- water contamination by human,
- feedstock animals, and
- industrial wastes.
Nevertheless, there is still hope that humankind may undergo a transition to sustainable use of ecosystems.
At the root of this problem lies our society's dependency on non-renewable resources to maintain an ever expanding economic system. According to the Living Planet Report, issued every two years by the World Wildlife Fund, as of 1986, our civilization consumes more resources than natural systems can sustainable provide.
On a historic perspective, one may notice that the apparent abundance of energy stored in fossil fuels along years of geological and biological activity modelled our society in such a way that it is now utterly dependent on this non-renewable, environmentally deleterious resource.
Of the 5√--1020 Joules of energy consumed by humankind in 2005, 84% was obtained from the combustion of fossil fuels.
There are growing concerns regarding the emergent energy crisis. Although the discussion is mostly focused on the development and use of new sources of energy, negligible attention is given to the possibility that it may not be feasible to convert all of our energy supplies to renewables while still supplying a growing demand.
The problem becomes even larger when raw materials are also put on the balance. Thus, as we recognize our technological and natural limitations and the dependence of the global economy on the environment, it becomes evident that a fundamental restructuring will inevitably take place in the economic system as we further advance beyond Earth's natural limits.
After careful observation, it is not difficult to realize that the recognition of environmental limitations leads to
an inversion of the values as compared to those followed by the global economy during the last century. A transition to a sustainable state is inevitable.
However, it may happen either by voluntary choice (Source: From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy), or we will be forced into a failed state following the aggressive depletion of natural resources. In both cases we are faced by major changes, thus we should all get used to the idea. If we are to revert the situation and avoid the second scenario, it is desirable to encourage this transition before is too late.
This change have major implications not only in industrial processes, which must be redesigned, but also the transportation system and food production / distribution networks must be redesigned in order to achieve sustainability, avoiding the inevitable collapse following the systematic dependence on non-renewable resources.
This is a modification that will finally revert to changes in the lifestyles of developed societies, which will move in the direction of simpler living standards. It also suggests that, on the average, people will work and live closer as compared to the trends observed during the last decades. In this scenario, local production of food and consumer goods are preferred over centralized mass production, since in the later situation, goods must travel large distances in order to reach the destination.
Indeed, the possibility of a collapse following the established economic system was recognized early in the 70's, although accounts of the impossibility of sustaining infinite growth in a finite planet can be dated back to the XIX century in the writings of Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mill, even though their predictions were not entirely accurate.
More recently, we have been observing a growing number of initiatives from every sector of the society that, by recognizing the paradox of infinite economic growth in a finite planet, focuses on raising awareness and taking action towards a balanced relationship between human activities and the natural environment.
Contributions are arising from diverse areas, among them one can mention the emergence of new academic fields such as Ecological Economics, popular movements exemplified by the Transition Towns initiative, and a large amount of literature being published on the subject.
However, the question remains: How to build a new functional economic system? A system based on existing or developing technologies that empowers local communities and reaches a large number of individuals in a timely manner; an economy that addresses the environmental constraints while still improving the welfare of the population? An answer to this question may be in the people you know.
Six Degrees of Separation
During the last few years our understanding of networks skyrocketed. Similarities between links of proteins in a cell and the spread of contagious diseases have been clearly presented.
Notably, early studies on the network of human social interaction suggested that every person alive today is, on average, separated by six social links. The existence of an average small number links separating any two nodes is a common feature of several networks found in nature; this is known as small world effect.
It is hypothesized by some researchers such as Barab√†si that the prevalence of small world networks in biological systems may reflect an evolutionary advantage of such an architecture.
One possibility is that small-world networks are more robust to perturbations than other network architectures.
As a consequence of the small world effect, the number of people you can reach by taking a given number of steps in your social network increases exponentially with the number of steps you take. Thus, following the small world effect and considering that any product or service, or any task involved in the assembly of products that are necessary for surviving on this planet can be performed by some person, one wonders why not use this existing social network as a blueprint of a new economic system?
In other words, why not rearrange the economic flow by coupling the production and distribution chain of goods and services to the social network of individuals who finally consumes products and services? This concept can be referred to as social-coupled economy or peer economy.
It contrasts to the dominant globalized economy in the sense that in this case there is negligible connection between the production / distribution chain of goods and services and the social cycle of the individuals who consumes / uses them.
Although peer production has already been recognized as a new form of production restricted to digital information such as free software, usually released under the GNU general public license, and multimedia sharing, released under the Creative Commons license, there are no intrinsic factors preventing its adoption by other realms of the economic production system.
Although there are several advantages of the dominant market model, such as
- the diversity of products found in a marketplace,
- the prevailing industrial economic model is very energy inefficient,
- results in social disruptions, and tends to neglect the environment.
In the particular case of food, for instance, the dominant industrial model also tends to obscure the origin and impacts of the manufacturing processes. The consumer is allured with carefully designed packages while the nutritional value if its contents decreases, its ecological impacts and the working conditions of those who produce are ignored in favor of higher profits.
On the other hand, a peer economy can empower local economies by boosting the exchange of locally produced goods and services.
Another advantage is that in a peer economy individuals can easily check the origin and processes involved in the production of their livelihood goods by following the social chain responsible for its acquisition.
By reducing the need of large scale transportation, a local economy can be more energy efficient, thus relieving, and eventually abandoning, its dependence on fossil fuels. Also, the integration of the production chain to a social network will result in the fortification of the local economy, making it less vulnerable to the global economy, thus building a healthier community.
By developing technologies that facilitate a peer economy, we will stimulate the emergence and growth of sustainable, environmentally friendly communities within the existing society.
At at the same time that it is arguably the most innovative field of the last decade, information technology (IT) is certainly delivering only a fraction of its full potential for mass collaboration, in specific for large scale collaboration among popular masses.
Collaboration groups on the network is indeed being recognized as a new kind of global collectivist society based on peer production. Accordingly, existing communication technologies is indeed allowing a higher level of coordination between individuals and communities to take place.
However, in the same way that one to two centuries passed between the invention of the press and the culmination of the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, the revolutionary potential of network communication for the masses is still in its incubation stages. It is waiting to trigger a phase transition in the way people interact and use its collective intelligence as soon as the correct tools that fosters popular collective intelligence are available for a wide audience. This process is being delayed at some extent since the majority of leading IT tools are developed by corporate collective intelligence, which would be particularly threatened by the rise of a competing popular collective intelligence.
The fact is that strategic and economic issues associated with social networking platforms makes it impractical for commercial service providers to develop and implement software that delivers the full potential of communication networks for the masses.
Thus, it is expected that the real breakthrough of IT will most likely be based upon free software since it does not present this kind economic constraints.
The Internet is loaded with a large number of social networking services that are not particularly designed for social or economic transformation. In particular, the available services inherently lacks the flexibility and robustness of small-world networks given the fact that these are all dependent on specific hubs that are not members of the community, namely the service providers themselves.
When third parties mediates user communication, although this intermediary greatly simplifies the transmission of messages given its dedicated purposes, the scope of interactions between users and communities is inevitably limited as compared to direct peer-to-peer communication.
In order to superficially address these issues, commercial social networking software developers are joining efforts for the implementation of a standard that will relax some of the communications constrains related to users connected at different hubs, while still maintaining strategic control over the network.
Nevertheless, as far as the potential of network communication is concerned, server-based communication cannot overcome the trust potential of peer-to-peer direct communication.
Social networking services available on the web are based upon proprietary software which have the ultimate purpose of advertisement driven profit which implicitly demands tracking user activities.
On the other hand, in order to allow people's collective intelligence to fully develop by means of their self-organized social networks, communication in social networking software must be independent of intrinsic intermediaries, free of external influence. Otherwise the software platform will not be trusted as a medium for carrying out candor business negotiations and private conversations, for instance, being, thus, fundamentally flawed. In order to overcome these limitations, it is desirable to develop free and open source information technology tools that encourage large scale, dynamic social interactions and stimulates popular collective intelligence. This open approach has the potential to facilitate the emergence of peer economic systems.
Following the previous analysis of social networks and the underdeveloped potential of information technology, a new concept for designing social networking services is suggested. In this novel concept the networking services are not provided by centralized servers, but by nodes of the network forming a cloud of computers owned by individuals who joins the network.
In analogy to cloud computing, where computer services are provided by an interconnected network of computational servers, the concept presented here is called social cloud since the services are provided and maintained by a social network; i.e. cloud computing owned and maintained by a social network.
The basic idea is very similar to P2P file sharing, but in addition to files, people will also exchange ideas, products, and services in the physical world.
You may think of the social cloud concept as a blend of an auction website and a social networking website hosted at a cloud computing environment, which on its turn is running in a peer-to-peer network. A simple implementation of this concept in an exchange market, for instance, would involve a simple comparison of lists of products and services offered or requested by members of the community.
As lists are compared to lists of other peers connected to the network, there is increasing probability of positive matches as the search advances further in the social network of each individual. Once the number of matches and closed deals reaches a threshold, a transition may happen making people more reliant on the social cloud than on the market economy.
When someone goes "shopping" in a social cloud network, this person will be implicitly browsing his/her social network. Payments will be made using a local currency or a time-based currency instead of the official national currency. This scheme may catalyze the adoption of local currencies and stimulate the emergence of resilient local economies that are not fundamentally dependent on the global economy.
More than that, dynamic interactions results in high degree of network flexibility, allowing communities to test different metrics as measurement of their progress.
Thus a community may consensually choose their own prosperity indicators, conveniently replacing GDP. Also, reliability can be enhanced by reputation building based on peer evaluation.
- In a rural community, farmer John has a tractor that is available for rent. 20 km away, another farmer, Carl, is planning to do some heavy work on his property. John does not know Carl on a first name basis, but both are friends of a third farmer. In normal circumstances, John will not tell all his friends about all products and services that he can deliver, nor Carl about all his needs. However, if John and Carl decide to share this information with a mutual acquaintance by joining a social cloud network it will be straightforward to match and indicate the mutual interest of John and Carl.
- A group of individuals are organizing a transition town initiative at an urban neighbourhood. They have established a social cloud network that is already being used for an exchange marketplace, a for managing a decentralized Time Bank and local currency, and for organizing group activities. However, this community is also interested in the acquisition of organic vegetables and are looking for a trusted local supplier. At a farmer's market, one member of the transition town initiative establishes a social cloud connection to Carl, the farmer that has rented a tractor from John and is starting to produce organic vegetables at his property. Once established, a single link between the Transition Town initiative and the rural community may result in rich interactions between members of both communities, resulting in the establishment of a supply chain of goods and services.
Below, some technical aspects for the implementation of a social cloud network based on existing or developing technologies are presented.
The basic network functionality based on peers and groups of peers arranged in communities is also discussed. This is followed by a description of the software interface based on plug-ins that provide advanced functionality to the basic social networking layer.
Some examples of how peers and communities can interact forming a complex web of relationships are also presented in order to illustrate the concept. The last section describes the hardware for running the Social Network client and its possible implementation for communities with limited economic resources.
- The Open Cloud Manifesto
- Gary Alexander's e-Gaia Book
- Gary Alexander's Paper giving a specification for a software platform for a network of connected communities.
- Stefan Meretz's Text on Germ Form Theory
- Robert Costanza's "Beyond GDP: The Need for New Measures of Progress"
End of Part 1
Originally written by Rafael Pezzi for Social Cloud, and first published on September 20th, 2009 as Information Technology Tools For a Transition Economy.
About Rafael Pezzi
Rafael Pezzi obtained his BSc, masters, and PhD degrees in physics at Universidade Federal Do Rio Grande Do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, Brazil. He also spent 20 months as a summer intern and post-doctoral researcher at IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, USA between 2004 and 2008, working on analysis and development of advanced materials for semiconductor technology. As of March 2009, Rafael holds a post-doctoral follow position at the Laboratory of Molecular Catalysis at UFRGS, in Porto Alegre where he is researching materials for renewable sources of energy.
Information Technology Tools For a Transition Economy - Logoboom
Limited Resources - Gino Santa Maria
Six Degrees of Separation - Ivan Proskuryakov
Peer Economy - Natalia Lukiyanova
Information Technology - Daniel Gilbey
Social Networking - Yuri Arcurs
Social Cloud - Vikas Ghodke
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