[FM Discuss] reflections on collaborative futures

adam hyde adam at flossmanuals.net
Mon Jan 25 11:43:50 PST 2010


so, we locked 5 people in a room with aco and i and we wrote a book in 5
days. it was an extremely interesting experiment. i am still recovering
from it and i can not yet clearly think about the book, the process etc
but i wanted to write a few things for the list....

firstly, i admit to being scared about this project. to ask 5 people (+
Aco) who don't know each other to come to berlin and write a book in 5
days when all they have is the title...thats kinda scarey. i did not
know if we would succeed or even what constituted success. failure to me
was that those involved thought it was a waste of time. i had warned all
involved that we might fail, including the transmediale festival that
was funding the sprint.

the thing that concerned me most was that we were embarking on an
entirely new type of Book Sprint. Previous sprints had been about
writing procedural documentation. Perhaps the only books deviating
slightly from this might be the GSoC Mentoring guide and possibly parts
of the CiviCRM manual.  

When I look at procedural documentation of free software I see it as a
known - yes we can make excellent books in short time frames. when there
is something concrete infront of you then it is possible to describe it,
and it is also possible for others to describe the same thing and extend
the text. there is a shared understanding of what it is you are writing
about and we have developed a methodology to do this....however this
sprint was directed by nothing other than the speculative title
'collaborative futures'. how do you get 5 people to share a vision about
something so intangible? Collaboration itself is a abstract notion with
very grey boundaries and a million different histories and
contexts...adding 'the future' to this seemed to adjectify the already
vague grounds into a barely visible haze


additionally we did _no_ discussion before everyone entered the room on
Monday morning (day 1). nothing discussed over email, no background
reading. nothing. this was deliberate as i wanted to be hard about the
0->book in 5 days....to add more flavour to the event we were also using
an alpha pre-release version of a new type of software and Aco was in
the room with us building the software as we used it (happy to say that
booki now seems pretty robust and is now starting to exceed the
functionality of the FM tool set)...

thankfully we had a good team and also a team that knew very well that
this process was an experiment and it might fail. Those in attendance
were Mushon Zer-Aviv, Michael Mandiberg, Mike Linksvayer, Marta Peirano,
Alan Toner, Aleksandar Erkalovic (Aco) and me (facilitator). ..for those
that don't know the line-up I have put their bios at the bottom of this

the team was astonishing - a broad range of experiences and the feeling
in the team was really amazing. very warm and friendly while at the time
being open to challenge and straight talk. 

During the first day we relied heavily on traditional 'unconference'
technologies – namely colored sticky notes. With reference to
Unconferences we always need to tip the hat to Allen Gunn and Aspiration
for their inspirational execution of this format. We took many ideas
from Aspiration's Unconferences during the process of this sprint and we
also brought much of what had been learned from previous Book Sprints to
the table. First, before the introductions, we each wrote as many notes
as we could about what we thought this book was going to be about. The
list consists of the following:

      * When Collaboration Breaks.
      * Collaboration (super) Models.
      * Plausible near and long term development of collaboration tech,
        methods, etc. Social impact of the same. How social impact can
        be made positive. Dangers to look out for.
      * Licenses cannot go two ways.
      * Incriminating Collaborations.
      * In the future much of what is valuable will be made by
        communities. What type of thing will they be? What rules will
        they have for participation? What can the social political
        consequences be?
      * Sharing vs Collaboration.
      * How to deconstruct and reassemble publishing?
      * Collaboration and its relationship to FLOSS and GIT communities.
      * What is collaboration? How does it differ from cooperation?
      * What is the role of ego in collaboration?
      * Attribution can kill collaboration as attribution = ownership.
      * Sublimation of authorship and ego.
      * Models of collaboration. Historical framework of collaboration.
        Influence of technology enabling collaboration.
      * Successful free culture economic models. 

Then each presented who they were and their ideas and projects as they
are related to free culture, free software, and collaboration. The
process was open to discussion and everyone was encouraged to write as
many points, questions, statements, on sticky notes and put them on the
wall. During this first day we wrote about 100 sticky notes with short
statements like:

      * "Art vs Collaboration"
      * "Free Culture does not require maintenance"
      * "Transparent premises"
      * "Autonomy: better term than free/open?"
      * "Centralised silos vs community"
      * "Free Culture posturing"

...and other cryptic references to the thoughts of the day. We stuck
these notes on a wall and after all of the presentations (and dinner) we
grouped them under titles that seemed to act as appropriate meta tags.
We then drew from these groups the 6 major themes. We finished at
midnight. i was not sure if we had made enough ground.

Day two – 10.00 kick off. I woke at 5am wondering how the hell we were
going to make this work. I woke up Aco in the next room and ranted a bit
about what we could try. We had breakfast, went to the venue and the
strategy was that we simply each choose a sticky note from one of the
major themes and started writing. It was important for us to just 'get
in the flow' and hence we wrote for the rest of the day until dinner.
Then we went to the Turkish markets for burek, coffee and fresh

The rest of the evening we re-aligned the index, smoothed it out, and
identified a more linear structure. We finished up at about 23.00

Day three – At 10.00 we started with a brief recap of the new index
structure and then we also welcomed two new collaborators in the
realspace – Mirko Lindner and Michelle Thorne. Later in the day, when
Booki had been debugged a lot by Aco, we welcomed our first remote
collaborator – Sophie Kampfrath. Then we wrote... at the end of the day
we restructured the first two sections, did a word count (17,000 words)
and made sushi.

After sushi we argued about attribution and almost finished the first
two sections. Closing time around midnight.

Day four – A late start (11.00) and we are also joined by Ela Kagel, one
of the curators from transmediale. Ela presented about herself and
transmediale and then we discussed possible ways Ela could contribute
and we also discussed the larger structure of the book. Later Sophie
joined us in real space to help edit and also Jon Cohrs came at dinner
time to see how he could contribute. Word count at sleep time (22.00):

Day five – The last day. We arrived at 10.00 and discussed the
structure. Andrea Goetzke and Jon Cohrs joined us. We identified areas
to be addressed, slightly altered the order of chapters, addressed the
(now non-existent) processes section, and forged ahead. We finished 2200
on the button. Objavi, the publishing engine for Booki, generated a
book-formatted PDF in 2 minutes. Done. Word count ~33,000 

As I understand it transmediale will print between 200-500 copies of the

so...what are my thoughts on the book? I find it very hard to reflect on
its success 'as a book'. I see the experiment a success. i find the
content and process has changed how i think about collaboration and
provoked some questions about collaboration that i dont know how to
answer. As for the book as a book - I think it has some major structural
issues and i think its scope goes too far. However i think it still
works. in all likelihood it will be used as a teaching resource in NYU,
parsons, and Staten Island University since thats where 2 of the
participants teach...so that is in itself a success. However I think we
can do better. I remember the first procedural documentation book sprint
(Inkscape) and I remember the weeks after that event thinking how we
could have easily improved the process. We did improve it and I think
our sprints have become better and better. I can already see that in
sprints like this with a more speculative narrative we need to focus
much more on structure and 'writing in support of a conclusion'....the
methodologies still need to be worked out but i feel very positive about
the future of this kind of sprint...also, I think if this book wasn't
sooo extremely speculative much of these concerns would have been

anyways...it was a fantastic experiment. i enjoyed it very much and i
would be very interested in your thoughts on what i have written and the
content of the book (http://www.booki.cc/collaborativefutures) 

...until then, heres the bios of those involved:
The starting 7 included:

Mushon Zer-Aviv is a designer, an educator and a media activist from
Tel-Aviv, based in NY. His work explores media in public space and the
public space in media. In his creative research he focuses on the
perception of territory and borders and the way they are shaped through
politics, culture, networks and the World Wide Web. He is the co-founder
of Shual.com – a foxy design studio; ShiftSpace.org – an open source
layer above any website; YouAreNotHere.org – a dislocative tourism
agency; Kriegspiel – a computer game based on Guy Debord’s Game of War;
and the Tel Aviv node of the Upgrade international network. Mushon is an
honorary resident at Eyebeam – an art and technology center in New York.
He teaches new media research at NYU and open source design at Parsons
the New School of Design.

Mike Linksvayer is Vice President at Creative Commons, where he started
as CTO in 2003. Previously he co-founded Bitzi, an early open data/open
content/mass collaboration service, and worked as a web developer and
software engineer. In 1993 he published one of the first interviews with
Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux. He is a co-founder and currently
active in Autonomo.us, which investigates and works to further the role
of free software, culture, and data in an era of software-as-a-service
and cloud computing. His chapter on "Free Culture in Relation to
Software Freedom" was published in FREE BEER, a book written by speakers
at FSCONS 2008. Linksvayer holds a degree from the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in economics, a field which continues to
strongly inform his approach. He lives in Oakland, California.

Michael Mandiberg is known for selling all of his possessions online on
Shop Mandiberg, making perfect copies of copies on
AfterSherrieLevine.com, and creating Firefox plugins that highlight the
real environmental costs of a global economy on TheRealCosts.com. His
current projects include the co-authored groundbreaking Creative Commons
licensed textbook "Digital Foundations: an Intro to Media Design" that
teaches Bauhaus visual principles through design software;
HowMuchItCosts.us, a car direction site that incorporates the financial
and carbon cost of driving; and Bright Bike, a retro-reflective bicycle
praised by treehugger.com as “obnoxiously bright.” He is a Senior Fellow
at Eyebeam, and an Assistant Professor at the College of Staten
Island/CUNY. He lives in, and rides his bicycle around, Brooklyn. His
work lives at Mandiberg.com.

Marta Peirano writes about culture, science and technology for the
Spanish media, encompassing newspapers, online journals and printed
magazines. She is a long term contributor and founder of the online
media arts journal Elástico and is the author of "La Petite Claudine", a
widely read blog in the Spanish language about art, literature, free
culture, pornography (and everything in between). In 2003 and 2004 she
directed the Copyfight Festivals in Spain (CCCB, Santa Mónica) with her
collective Elástico, a symposium and exhibition that investigated
alternative models of intellectual property. Marta has given numerous
lectures and workshops on free culture, digital publishing tools and
journalism at festivals and universities. She recently published "El
Rival de Prometeo", a book about Automatas and the engineering of the
Enlightenment. She currently lives in Berlin and is working on a second

Alan Toner was born in Dublin and studied law in Trinity College Dublin
and NYU Law School, where he was later a fellow in the Information Law
Institute and the Engelberg Center on Law and Innovation. His research
is focused on the  countervailing impact of peer processes and
information enclosure on cultural production and social life. In 2003 he
worked on the grassroots campaign 'We Seize!' challenging the UN World
Summit on the Information Society; he has participated extensively in
grassroots media and information freedom movements. Since 2006 he has
also worked in documentary film, including co-writing and co-producing
"Steal This Film 2" (2007). In 2008 he co-created the archival site
http://footage.stealthisfilm.com/. Currently he's writing a book on the
history of economic and technological control in the film industry.
Sometimes he can be found near Alexanderplatz, and at

Aleksandar Erkalovic is reknowned internationally in the new media arts
and activist circles for the software he has developed. He used to work
in Multimedia institute in Croatia, where he was the lead developer of a
popular NGO web publishing system (TamTam). Aleksander has a broad
spectrum of programming experience having worked on many projects from
multiplayer games, library software, financial applications, artistic
projects, and web site analysis applications, to building systems for
managing domain registration. Aleksander was for a long time the sole
programmer for FLOSS Manuals and is now leading the development
(together with Adam Hyde and Douglas Bagnall) of a new GPL-licensed type
of collaborative authoring and publishing platform called 'Booki'.
Aleksander's new media artistic collaborations have won many awards, as
well as being extensively exhibited internationally. Aleksander also
organises creative and educative workshops directed to young people,
experts, and amateurs that are interested in the software he has
developed and free software in general. He is currently also employed by
Informix in Zagreb, Croatia.

Adam Hyde was for many years a digital artist primarily exploring
digital-analog hybrid broadcast systems. These projects included The
Frequency Clock, Polar Radio, Radio-Astronomy, net.congestion, re:mote,
Free Radio Linux, Wifio, Paper Cup Telephone Network, Mobicasting,
Silent TV and others. Many of these projects have won awards and have
been widely exhibited internationally. Since returning from a residency
in Antartica in 2007 Adam founded FLOSS Manuals and has been focused on
increasing the quantity and quality of free documentation about free
software through FLOSS Manuals, exploring emerging methodologies for
collaborative book production (Book Sprints), and developing Booki with
Aleksander and Douglas. Adam has facilitated over 16 Book Sprints, is
also the co-founder (with Eric Kluitenberg) of the forthcoming
Electrosmog Festival for Sustainable Immobility and facilitator of the
forthcoming Arctic Perspectives technology cahier.


Adam Hyde
Founder FLOSS Manuals
German mobile : + 49 177 4935122
Email : adam at flossmanuals.net
irc: irc.freenode.net #flossmanuals

"Free manuals for free software"

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