Introducing Forks vs. Knives

Format note: Written as a grant proposal.

Forks vs. Knives – Developing the code that governs us

Describe your project

Reaching consensus is never easy and when it gets really tough some reach for their knives. We say, drop the knives and pick up the forks.

Imagine a site – – where each community can store its social pact – be it legal, ethical or religious code – and share it with its members and the world. Much like the social coding sites – Github and Bitbucket – the site will let each community member create her own version, a “fork”, and then share and discuss it with others. Forking becomes an opportunity to reflect, explore and innovate.

But we will not stop at that, communities need a way to agree on a mutual social pact. FvsK will support a well-defined enactment process for accepting forks and updating a pact. Using the power of distributed version control systems (DVCS) such as Git and Mercurial we will create a system that keeps the entire history of changes to the social pact and allows each member to propose changes. We will use the key processes of DVCS – forking and merging – to encourage free flow of ideas and to formulate agreement. On top of the DVCS system we will use tested organizational workflow solutions (such as BPM) to model the current process of pact revision approval and create simple tools to improve that process.

Our long-term vision is to create a system that can serve any size of community – from the manifest of a small ad-hoc activist group to a country’s statutory law – providing a way to keep their pact dynamic and encourage members’ participation.

This project will launch in Israel, one of the most challenging political environments today, where opposing communities are torn over national, religious, economic, racial and cultural differences. The future of our region is dependent on gaining the permission to read, write, and enact the codes that govern us, and to dare innovate, engage and affect them.

During the first year of this project we will build a system to serve two Kibbutz communities to be elected from the 256 “Kibbutzim” in Israel. Being a communal village of a few hundred people, the bylaws of the Kibbutz are critical to its members. The issues of private vs. communal property are hotly debated as kibbutzim adapt to economic changes and the evolving needs and wants of their members. Read More »

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Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences

[Hebrew translation available]

Invisible audiences drive the success and failures of mediated social life. Before we rush to further network our private and public spaces we should consider this radical cultural shift. Some lessons can be learned from a recent ambiguous website and an old ambiguous book.

Mushon Zer-Aviv (il) about getting intimate with invisible audiences from transmediale.

work by Liu Bolin

Binary Relationships

The privacy debate has been dominated by the cultural leaders of our time – software engineers. Therefore we should not be surprised that the tones of this debate have been often quite binary. Private or public, 0 or 1, all or nothing… these binary dichotomies make sense for packet switching and network protocols, but they are very different from the way we lead our social lives.

Privacy has become a selfish demand, and publicness—a public good. A public demanding the civil rights of information: “information wants to be free”. But this highly celebrated “free” information does not necessarily stand for “freedom”. Thinking that free information would necessarily lead to free societies is as misguided as the similar sentiment about free markets. Yes, technologically it is easier to set something public, “to set it free”, than to define a more limited context for it. But what does it mean for the way we’ve been communicating and contextualizing social relations since the dawn of civilization?

Read More »

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Urban Rhythm / קצב עירוני

On the day after I land back in Israel, I will participate in a very interesting event taking place in the context of the Bat-Yam Biennial of Landscape Urbanism. I have written a new essay for this biennial’s publication and for this event titled Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences. In this essay I am using both Chat Roulette & the bible as two critical case studies through which to reorient the “privacy debate” and focus it on the invisible audiences that have been penetrating our social life online and recently on the street as well.

This would also be a great opportunity to reconnect in Israel after 5 years in NY.

Urban Rhythm

An interdisciplinary discussion in the context of the Bat-Yam Biennale of Landscape Urbanism

The discussion focuses on the urban rhythm heard in endless sounds, which can also be seen and felt through the density and height of construction and the pause offered by parks and playgrounds. During the discussion, we will examine how the designers, curators, and artists who are inspired and stimulated by this urban rhythm offer lasting or temporary interventions.

קצב עירוני
דיון בינתחומי (באנגלית)

יום שני, 27.9.2010, 16:00-19:00
רחוב אורט ישראל 33

כשחושבים על עיר כמושג ועל עירוניות כדפוס חיים, עולים במחשבה המושגים קצב, דופק, רעש, ריבוי קולות וקקופוניה, בהיפוך לשקט, לרחש ולהעדר התנועה המתקשרים בתודעתנו אל הכפר והטבע. קצב עירוני מתבטא בצלילים ללא הרף , אולם ניתן לראותו גם בעין, בצפיפות הבניה ובגובהה, באתנחתא שמספקים גינה ציבורית או מגרש משחקים, בזרימת התנועה מן הרחובות הקטנים אל צירי התנועה המרכזיים, בעצירת כלי הרכב בצמתים וברמזורים, בתנועת הולכי הרגל, בשילוט המסחרי ובתמרורים. לקווי המתאר של כל עיר יש קצב משלהם, כשם שיש לרחובות המתפתלים, או הישרים. העין והאוזן חוות את הקצב העירוני בעת ובעונה אחת וללא ספק, גם שלושת החושים האחרים שותפים לחוויה. מתכננים ואמנים סופגים גירויים והשראה מן הקצב העירוני ושואפים לא אחת, להתערב בו בצורות שונות, שיגלו אותו מחדש באופן רענן, או שישנו בו משהו באופן ארעי או קבוע. בדיון נשמע כיווני מחשבה והתנסות שונים בתחומים אלה, נחליף דעות וננסה להציע רעיונות חדשים.

הדיון יתקיים באנגלית.

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Wikipedians look to the past, coders looks to the future(s)

Anil Dash just published an interesting post looking at the social implications of the code fork, and how it has changed from a huge contested point to a feature of the collaborated process:

“While Linus Torvalds is best known as the creator of Linux, it’s one of his more geeky creations, and the social implications of its design, that may well end up being his greatest legacy. Because Linus has, in just a few short years, changed the social dynamic around forking, turning the idea of multiple versions of a work from a cultural weakness into a cultural strength. Perhaps the technologies that let us easily collaborate together online have finally matured enough to let our work reflect the reality that some problems are better solved with lots of different efforts instead of one committee-built compromise.”

ShiftSpace's network graph on

This is something we touched upon in the Collaborative Futures book, both in the Multiplicity and Social Coding and the Forks vs. Knives chapters. Anil goes on to suggest a distributed collaborative model that encourages forking might reinvigorate Wikipedia, which follows the more traditional centralized collaborative model:

“Most importantly, the new culture of ubiquitous forking can have profound impacts on lots of other categories of software. There have been recent rumblings that participation in Wikipedia editing has plateaued, or even begun to decline. Aside from the (frankly, absurd) idea that “everything’s already been documented!” one of the best ways for Wikipedia to reinvigorate itself, and to break away from the stultifying and arcane editing discussions that are its worst feature, could be to embrace the idea that there’s not One True Version of every Wikipedia article.”

Extending the distributed model beyond code and leveraging forking in other collaborative processes have interested me for quite some time. In commenting on Anil’s post, I realized something  about the inherent difference between Wikipedia and software. Instead of rewriting it, I’ll just quote my comment in its entirety:

I’m happy that both the merging and the network view issues were addressed on the previous comments. I have been interested in extending the git&github models beyond software myself. I understand the interest in considering Wikipedia as the next logical step for networked collaboration right after code, but I think there is a fundamental difference between the two. While software code contains a set of rules that would operate a system, Wikipedia’s model is almost opposite – it documents a system that is already happening or has happened. Wikipedia attempts to document a monolithic past while software attempts to imagine the multiplicity of the future(s). Read the rest of this comment→

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Can Design By Committee Work? [@SmashingMag & C-F]

I’ve been teaching a class on the subject for 3 years, I’ve been giving talks on the subject for almost a year. Finally I set down and wrote the essay for the second edition of the Collaborative Futures book. On Sunday (Aug 1st 2010) I gave a talk based on this essay at DebConf the Debian community conference. The title of the talk is “Beyond Sharing: Open Source Design”. The (high-pitch audio) presentation is available on the Debian site (requires Firefox or another OGV playing browser).

I am using a purely browser based presentation, which you can check here, and fork on Github :)

The article is now published at Smashing Magazine, please read and discuss it there (closing the comments).

Open Source Design at Smashing Magazine

Can Design By Committee Work?

The Case for Open Source Design

In celebrating the merits of Free Software and the excitement of this radical networked production method, an important truth is left unspoken. Networked collaboration shines in the low levels of network protocols, server software and memory allocation, but user interface has consistently been a point of failure. How come the networked collaboration that transformed code production and encyclopedia writing fails to transcend into graphic and interface design?

The following is an investigation into the difficulties in extending the Open Source collaboration model from coding to its next logical step, namely interface design. While it dives deep into the practical difference between these two professional fields, it might also serve as a cautious note to consider before rushing to declare the rise of “Open Source Architecture”, “Open Source University”, “Open Source Democracy”…

The Open Source process

Read on at Smashing Magazine

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Collaborative Futures June 2010: Day 2

Is a book “content” or “conversation”? With the notion of challenging the power of monolithic institutions, are we creating one in the form of a book? Should we focus on the motivation, or the invitation? Do “in-dividuals” even exist?

ambiguous thoughts on sticky notes

A lot of work has been done, a lot of challenges in weaving our diverging views into the book in a way that would create that multiplicity that we want but still maintain the reading flow and would make for a good read.

We have acknowledged several times that this book sprint, editing an existing book originally written 5 months ago by a mostly different group of people is a completely different project than the original sprint. While then we started from 2 words (“Collaborative Futures”) that are predefined and cannot be changed, only expanded upon, this time we started from 33,000 words that we needed to position ourselves against, edit, change, replace, expand…

On the first day we had a lot of conversations between the new authors and some of the original team. This has continued on the second day, with authors challenging each others writings, both the one made in January and the new writing now. This is a conversation, and since the text is malleable and is prone to constant change, it is an ongoing conversation. But at some point the conversation has to stop and a book is generated and printed. A book can contain a documented conversation, but can it be a dynamic conversation? Or is a book always “content” – static and monolithic?

Motivation vs. Invitation vs. Individuals

Another theme that was dominant from day one is a large unease with the discussion of motivation. Astra argued against the general amazement at “why do people collaborate outside of the traditional market framework?” as it assumes these frameworks are the only way we can define social production. From a Marxist point of view everything is social production and the fixation around value exchange and markets should not be regarded as the fundamental concept through which to evaluate collaborative work. Catherine (Kanarinka) argued against our fixation with the construct of the “in-dividual” (undivided) as we are a multiplicity internally and externally and the whole discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations does not make sense to her.

We have changed that motivation chapter completely. Alan (working from Berlin) has worked with us on framing the discussion around the ‘invitation’. What is the invitation to collaborate? What does it promise? Who has the power to define the invitation? Who is it aimed at? Not only initially, before the collaboration starts, but also throughout the collaboration. We argue the invitation is a powerful aspect constantly defining the collaborative framework.

One day left

A lot to do… We will mainly need to work on the flow. As I said, make sure it makes for a good read, even if the result is more schizophrenic than the original text was just a few days ago. We’ll need to work against the tyranny of structurelessness, while acknowledging and managing the oppressive power of monolithic structures. We also want to finish some of the writing we’ve been working on, like my long overdue text about Open Source Design and networked creativity beyond code. Galia is working on a cover for the June version of the book, we’re already pretty excited about her ideas and drafts.

Oh, and we also need to settle my dispute with Catherine, why does she think she needs to get rid of the individual to allow for multiplicity of identity and agency? And can we indeed agree to call ourselves “creatures”? Does it matter?

Fun stuff… intense!

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Collaborative Futures June 2010: Day 1

A new team of authors/editors with a fresh set of eyes, critically dissected our initial conventions about collaboration. The main surgical intervention will happen now, by Friday night we should stitch it all together.

Second Collaborative Futures team starting the book sprint with a Skype session with more of the original authors

It’s scary to see your labor of love on the surgeon’s table. That’s a bit of how it feels now after the first day of the June 2010 Collaborative Futures book sprint.

Kanarinka, Astra Taylor & Verina Gfader have joined Michael Mandiberg and myself at Eyebeam and Adam Hyde, Alan Toner & Mike Linksvayer (via Skype). The new authors having read the book, set to examine the convictions and ideological frameworks that have defined the book written in January. Like in the previous sprint, we expressed ideas and themes through sticky notes and then clustered them together.

These are the titles of the clusters we came up with:

  • The imaginary author
  • The imaginary reader
  • Change fetishism
  • Marketing the ideology
  • Value / labor / capital
  • Scope of (the term) “collaboration”
  • Meritocracy
  • Context & location
  • Aesthetics
  • Gender
  • The tyranny of structurelessness
  • Invitation
  • Evaluation standards
  • Antagonism
  • Friendship
  • Book as medium
  • Critical glossary
  • More images, diagrams…

You can actually see all the stickies on my Flickr set.

There was an interesting discussion about inconsistency in the book. While inconsistency makes the reading slightly harder, it can also be framed as information that exposes diverging views. One of the challenges we face is making the reading flow and not be broken by inconsistency, but at the same time leave room for multiplicity and conflicting views.

More updates will follow, got to rush and start the second day…

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The Futures are Collaborative Again

Starting tomorrow morning and for the next 3 days we will work on a new edition of the Collaborative Futures book.

As I’ve done before I will keep updating with posts here every evening. In the meanwhile I will leave you with the spiel:

In January 2010 six authors and one programmer were locked in a room in Berlin and were assigned by the Transmediale festival to collaboratively write a book titled “Collaborative Futures”.

5 days and 33,000 words later the first incarnation of Collaborative Futures was finished online, and sent off to be printed. 5 months later the original authors together with three new people and will be locked in Berlin and New York to produce the second edition of the same book.

They will be joined by additional guests and contributors who will drop in or contribute remotely on the website.

  • We will meet every morning at 9:30am and will write until the sun or our minds sets (the later of the two).
  • We will use the online software to write, edit and collaborate.
  • We will edit the existing work, possibly even replacing full chapters.
  • We will write new chapters to extend, complement and possibly contradict the existing ones.
  • We will eat and drink in the space and will have dinners together on the three days.
  • We will argue and fight against each other and against the paradigms of this collaborative effort and its tendency to subsume our conflicting voices.
  • We will produce the 2nd edition of the Collaborative Futures book by the evening of Friday, June 25th.

Get Involved

To help writing and editing the book read this chapter first:

Then register and contribute through:

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Re:Group – Beyond Models of Participation

The brouchure cover by Ange Tang

For the past year I have been collaborating with Paul Amitai (Eyebeam), Jason Jones & Beka Economopoulos (Not An Alternative) and Marco Desiris (Snafu) on a talk series as a part of Upgrade NY. The series revolved around open source as it relates to activism and creative practice. Yesterday we opened an exhibition on this theme, investigating models of participation and participation as a model.

The show features 13 works from a long list of artists and art collectives. The collaborative process of developing the show was quite fascinating (though sometimes excruciating) on its own. This process reached its climax when we had a really hard time arriving to a consensus on the curatorial statement. Things got pretty emotional as each side felt subsumed by the other in a futile attempt to find the middle ground.

In the core of the disagreement was an intellectual argument Jason and I have been (really) enjoying for the past three years. If we have not reached an agreement for three years, a three days deadline was not enough to change it. Finally we realized that in the rush to come up with a uniform statement we have not internalized the tagline we chose for the show and go “beyond consensus”. We decided to publish an introduction followed by two curatorial statements.

Excerpt from the intro:

For the past year Eyebeam and Not An Alternative have organized the NY node of Upgrade!, with the theme Open Source in Activist and Creative Practice. The decision to produce this show was born from that collaboration, however the curatorial concept was a source of constant debate. A unified position was never achieved, but collaboration does not necessarily result in synthesis. The intention with the following two curatorial statements is to reflect subtle but important differences in our curatorial perspectives on the subjects of collaboration and participation. As we reflect back on the process of curating this show we see that our experience was far richer because of the (albeit sometimes painful) philosophical, aesthetic, and political debates among us.  While harmonious unanimity was never achieved, in our view this must not be seen as an inevitable goal. We appreciate that in this show about collaboration, our curatorial collaboration has honored distinct positions, rather than subsuming difference in pursuit of consensus.

Read More »

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Diaspora’s Kickstarter $$$,$$$ success endangers both Diaspora, Kickstarter & you

The Internets is all buzzing with chatter against Facebook’s latest privacy breaches. Into this happy mix a bunch of NYU students have been cast as the Davids against the social networking Goliath. Is that really a good thing? Can we help?

Friends are there... or are they?

Diaspora is a new initiative by 4 NYU students to create a “privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network” by the end of the summer. A worthy mission indeed with quite an ambitious time line.

Doing what every smart start-up would do, the Diaspora founders seized the moment, and on April 24th published a video presenting the idea and started a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund (distributed seed donations) the project. They set a goal of raising $10,000 in 5 weeks time.

Some FB users got sick of their own impotent frustration and decided the answer should be Diaspora. The project’s Kickstarter campaign has become a referendum on Facebook with geeks expressing their frustration by throwing many $$$s at Diaspora’s direction. For better or worse this is done out of protest against Facebook, not necessarily out of faith in Diaspora.

News of Diaspora being cast as the battlefront against Facebook spread fast, with twitter updates informing blogposts (and , , , , …), (ironically) informing Facebook updates, informing a New York Times article. At the time this post is published Diaspora have met their funding goal almost 18 times.

This is all great BUT…

This is supposed to be an open source, community effort kinda thing, not a start-up. It is kinda alarming as this pressure to deliver something by the end of the summer something so complex is not necessarily going to help them. The open source community have been trying to develop peer to peer web solutions for ages. There are many reasons why we have not seen a strong distributed social web yet. Some of these reasons are technical, other are social, it’s not impossible, but also not trivial.

Scratching everybody else's itch (By Daveblog CC-BY-SA-ND)

It is not unlikely that Diaspora would fail to deliver on it’s promised milestone by the end of the summer. This should not be a big deal for an Open Source project with developers scratching their own itch. But in this case, the Facebook users frustration, Diaspora’s media attention and the actual $$$,$$$ make this an itch shared by many many more users and only 4 students are given the scratcher.

Frankly, as inspiring as this successful Kickstarter campaign is, I do believe they would’ve been better with no money at all and no thousands of “micro-investors” waiting for them to deliver. Money changes everything, and firstly this is no longer a campaign supporting the open source community to find a solution together. This is (as a friend mentioned) a high-payed summer internship.

I’ve always supported the idea of failing gracefully, especially when it comes to open source software. But in this case, a failure would be not only for Diaspora but also for what it stand for – a distributed, privacy-friendly open alternative (/resistance) to FB and the other exploitative web 2.0 shenanigans. If all this attention is turned to disappointment, Facebook will come out of this winning.

Being a huge record breaking Kickstarter project, this project has now also become a poster-child for Kickstarter and its inspiring crowdfunding model. If Diaspora fails to meet its promises, it might actually hurt Kickstarter’s reputation and trust. Open source does not work that way and these guys do mean well but they have yet not published a single line of code.

Contribute your code, not your $$$,$$$s

Max, one of the four NYU students was a student of mine, I am familiar with the excitement, enthusiasm and creativity he can bring to the project. There is no way they could see this coming and I know they are pretty overwhelmed right now. They don’t need more money, but they need a lot more help. The real help Diaspora needs now is guidance, support and code. We at ShiftSpace who’ve been working on distributed social web for quite some time intend to contribute that to them.

Some initial tips:

  1. They should start by a real deep research of what’s already out there, learn from the work on OneSocialWeb,, DiSo, BuddyPress, Activity Streams, CouchDB, even Google Wave (speaking of an open source project too hyped for its own good). Some of these are already mentioned on their site, but they should really be studied thoroughly. Only doing that might take more than 4 months. Which brings me to #2…
  2. They should change their milestone promise ASAP, as this is not what they should accomplish in the next 4 months and they should not be held back by it.
  3. When they do write their own code, they should not wait until the end of the summer to publish their code. They should release early, release often.
  4. They should not build this as a monolithic project but componenatize it to smaller more general projects that can gather more contributions.
  5. They should not see this as a high-paying 4 months gig, but really turn Diaspora to a home or an umbrella project for these various types of efforts.
  6. They need to make sure the AGPL license as rightfully chosen as it is, doesn’t harm their chances of integrating other code and collaborating with other open source licenses. (there are ways to do it)
  7. Maybe even offer a portion of the funding they didn’t plan to get anyway as a grant to the first team to come up with an open protocol that the developer community would like to gather behind.

So start send them code patches, not more $$$,$$$s. And leave your comments here and/or on the GPL Social list where they promised to hang out. And lets try not to overwhelm them, but really make sure this translates to an inspiring moment towards “a” (not “the”) ‘…privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social…’ web.

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