[-empyre-] wrapping up OSW: open source writing in the network

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Wed Feb 1 09:16:17 EST 2012

We have come to the end of our January 2012 discussion on open source writing in the network. The discussion has ranged across a range of related topics, which is not surprising given the diverse backgrounds and interests of the three facilitators and our guests.

In week one the discussion started with a focus on the inter-subjective political economy of the network and how collaborative and co-creative models of writing affect notions of authorship. We were alerted to the danger of 'cognitive proletarianization' (Terranovo citing Beradi) and the potentially illusory idealism of the open source movement. We considered how the primary form of capital in the attention economy is our "attention" and how little of it we have to go around. We also considered software as a form of writing and cultural capital and how this interfaces to industry practices and the business of new media. Dmytri declared that in capitalism only capital is free, begging the question whether that means software is free? The question of what is "open" in open source publishing was also addressed. Is it the writing of the book, the capacity to produce the book or the distribution of the book? Each of these aspects of "writing", when rendered "open", have subsequent effects. Within this context it was observed that the open source ethic is not in conflict with capitalism but rather well aligned with it.

The discussion in the second week focused on how communities of shared-value emerge through open source writing and publishing initiatives and how their members are able to identify themselves to one another and others. Ideas concerning the relationship between open source and changing notions of authorship, control and power in relation to the role of collaborative authorship through multi-voiced publications were explored. The distinction between collaboration and authorship as two types of book publication was addressed. Adam Hyde noted that authorship is often tied to the production of a single authored work of static text. On the other hand, collaboration – particularly when open – can produce books which contain a multitude of experiences, (dis)harmony and discord. Definitions of ‘publication’ were considered, including the argument that publishing can be a novel form of radical innovation, learning and dissemination of knowledge. Salvatore referred to ubiquitous publishing as a form of "writing on the world" offering the possibility to enact emergent, multi-authored, non-linear and open-ended narratives. It was also interesting to see a reference to the spatial praxis of ubiquitous publications as a way to facilitate "a systematic reinvention of reality" allowing multiple authors to publish their (re)interpretation and contextualisation of the world they live in.

Week three centred on the meaning and nature of "publishing" and "open publishing", including the "character of publicness" and the "process of making public". This involves filtering and, in print publication, filtering takes place before publication whilst in the network after publishing and the nature and meaning of such "post-public" filtering is important. How does such filtering function (e.g. algorithmic cybernetic policing) and what are its affects on publicness? Information needs to be prioritized in this domain but questions remain as to how "post-public" filtering might take place and what the roles of gatekeepers are in this scenario. The socio/economic/political need for blurring of "legitimate publishing" and distributing reliable information was also discussed. The motives, drives and reasons behind open publishing, rather than viewing publishing as facilitation, can assist in the understanding of open publishing. One example is the motive to bypass gatekeepers to reach different and larger audiences/collaborators/communities. Networks of critical exchange, if public, can be another example of open publishing. Does the private/public distinction remain in the network and, if so, how? While peer to peer style publishing can challenge capital and, if done openly and transparently, become a viable supplementary type of filtering, we nevertheless lack a mechanism to generate a revenue stream to transcend the realm of sub-cultural practices.

One of the last emails, from Christina Spiesel, identified how current conceptions of IP law are losing track of the original intentions of IP and how representation of sharing as theft and piracy is an industry induced narrative designed to demonise activities that in the past have been considered fair use or, at least, tolerated. Christina's final point, that culture and its products are the property of us all, summed up the point of the debate.

We would like to thank our guests this month, Tiziana Terranova, Dmytri Kleiner, Adam Hyde, Salvatore Iaconesi, Joss Hands and Marc Garrett,  who contributed most generously of their experience and knowledge. We would also like to thank all the empyre members who participated in the discussions and all our members for reading the emails. We hope this month's discussion, where we saw SOPA debated and shelved and the international agreement of ACTA, was of interest and relevance.

Simon Biggs, Penny Travlou and Smita Kheria

Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk http://www.littlepig.org.uk/ @SimonBiggsUK skype: simonbiggsuk

s.biggs at ed.ac.uk Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh
http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/ http://www.elmcip.net/ http://www.movingtargets.co.uk/

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