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.

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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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Engagement is everything, a dialogue

Communication breakdown… It’s never the same. How I tried to extend my social network to beyond just “friends” and came off as a douche bag

In my previous post titled “Relationship: It’s Complicated” I was trying to make the point that social media interfaces and terminologies excludes the room for conflict. I came up with three proposition for intervention, one of them worked or rather took a life of its own much faster than I expected.

I was proposing to use Twitter list to follow not just like-minded people, but also people you often disagree with, as a way of both challenging your point of view and of engaging beyond our networked echo chamber. (read more about it on my post)

As I was preparing the post, I made a list of that type for myself, added a few Twitter users that I count as my intellectual/political opponents and named it “adversaries”. Just a few hours later, and even before I got to publish my post I noticed this tweet:

@mushon I find my inclusion on that list distasteful and distressing. May it be the only thing I ever have in common with AIPAC & Netanyahu.Wed Apr 28 10:28:48 via TweetDeck

Adam Greenfield is a prominent media theorist who’s best known for writing Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. I have seen him present more than once, he’s a really great speaker, I also assign a talk by him to my NYU students, throughout the semester it is usually one of the pieces that inspire them the most. Yet after watching him speak or reading him I was often left with a sense that his poetic theory often emphasizes the pros and de-emphasizes the cons. This left me pretty disturbed about what he represents and has won him that place in my adversary list.

With that being said, I did not expect he will see this list. It was not some attempt at teasing him or provoking him. Maybe the way I used the word ‘adversary’ was wrong? Maybe it’s indeed more offensive than I think (note: I am not a native English speaker). I definitely have nothing personal against the guy. I changed the name of the list to ‘opposition’ and tweeted back.

Sorry @agpublic, wrong choice of terminology on my part (corrected). I hope you will accept my wish to follow you yet disagree with youWed Apr 28 11:45:41 via web

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Relationship: It’s Complicated

Ignoring my grandma… friending my enemies… WTF? Is it even reasonable to expect social media to reflect the depth of our social life? And when it fails, what do we stand to lose? (+ tips & hacks)

Facebook, in a rare instance of honesty

I have recently become more interested in the “It’s Complicated” option in Facebook’s relationship status. It has hit me that it might be the most honest aspect of the site’s interface. While every third internet user on earth holds a Facebook* profile, none of the site’s users are getting an adequate representation of their social life. This is not due to some broken code or an untested interaction design. No, it’s actually our fault.

*Facebook, is a great case-study for these questions, but they can be asked about many of the social media tools we use these days (Buzz is definitely also relevant, though we don’t use it).

Why should it be so, hmmm… “complicated”?

Why should it be so complicated? We are already busy defining our social life anyway, we are in fact putting relationships into boxes all the time. Some people we call friends, others we call family, others are our group members, others we might admire and define ourselves as their fans. Many of the people you would like to associate yourself with would probably fall somewhere along these lines. In that sense what’s so wrong about Facebook giving us a tool to manage and present this?

Sign here, here and here, now we’re friends.

The only relationship I have ever signed into an official contract, is the one with my wife, Galia. Many of our friends chose to skip marriage as they didn’t feel a need for a bureaucratic intervention into their personal relationship. Yet the same friends and even non-friends send me contracts every day requesting to officially confirm our relationship. Indeed getting a “friend request” is a very awkward thing. Read More »

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Interface as a Conflict of Ideologies

Originally written in April 2007. Minor edits: March 2010.


In the past 50 years the digital user-interface has become a major field of cultural production, since the innovations of Douglas Engelbart in the sixties (mouse/keyboard/video-screen) through the personal computer revolution in the eighties to the rise of the World Wide Web in the nineties and the wider trends for social web applications since the turn of the century. Producers of hardware and software systems have been attempting to develop interfaces that will direct the users to produce the interaction desired by the system they represent.

Discussions about interface design have been constantly revolving around the axis of experience and usability, presented sometimes in contradiction and sometimes as complimentary assets of ‘good interface design’. As a tool the success of interface is defined by its ability to generate the desired interaction on behalf of the user and have the user understand and act by the set of rules that the system defined.

It is important to mention though, interfaces have existed for a long time before the personal or the institutional (academy/military) computer. Actually, they have been around longer than culture or man-made tools have. Yet the rapid development and consumption of interfaces have made this an important and influential part of contemporary culture.

Interface is defined as a point of interconnection between two independent systems. This definition sheds a different light on the way we have learned to know the interfaces around us. If the sides interacting through the interface are to be two independent systems, then one would expect interface itself to maintain that balance and not favor one system over the other. This essay would address the question of control and agency embedded within interfaces and attempt to find where is interface situated within the map of power. It would also use several examples and attempt to propose tactical and strategic approaches to act within this conflict.
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סדנה בבצלאל – המרחב הישראלי: תאוריית הקשר

English notice: This post is a part of the “Israeli Sphere: Connection Theory” a workshop I lead in Bezalel Art and Design School in Jerusalem, Israel. The workshop will be led in Hebrew, but I will try to post its results here with some English to accompany it too. Here’s a short description in English:

The Israeli Sphere: Connection Theory

1948, The water level in the sea of Galilee, Bublil, Shema Yisrael, what’s the connection?
Through a design-research workshop we will place information bits lost inside the web of the “Israeli sphere” in an attempt to find out, where is this Israel sphere anyway? How to design inside it? Towards it? From it? Students will work in small groups and will conduct a networked research following cultural, logical and visual connections. The work methodology will be divided into three steps: Content, Structure & Presentation, inspired by new approaches of indexing, linking and delivering information online. In spite of the networked inspiration and practice, the output of the workshop is not limited to this medium or the other and the workshop is open to students from different disciplines as long as they are ready to work hard, sleep little and experiment with this new and challenging process.

תיאור הסדנה

1948, מפלס הכנרת, בובליל, שמע ישראל… מה הקשר?
במהלך סדנת עיצוב-חוקר נמקם פיסות מידע אובדות בתוך רשת ה”מרחב הישראלי” במטרה לגלות איפה זה בכלל המרחב הישראלי הזה? כיצד מעצבים בתוכו? לתוכו? מתוכו? סטודנטים יעבדו בקבוצות קטנות וינהלו מחקר מרושת בעקבות הקשרים תרבותיים, לוגיים וחזותיים. מתודולוגיית העבודה תחולק לשלושה שלבים: תוכן, מבנה ותצוגה בהשראה מגישות חדשות לתיוג, חיווט והגשה של מידע ברשת. על אף ההשראה והפרקטיקה המרושתת, תוצרי הסדנה אינם מוגבלים למדיום זה או אחר והסדנה פתוחה לסטודנטים מדיסיפלינות שונות כל עוד הם מוכנים לעבוד קשה, לישון מעט ולהתנסות בצורת עבודה חדשה ומאתגרת. Read More »

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Radars & Fences / You Are Not Here / The Gaza Tunnel Trade

Radars & Fences III

Radars and Fences progam, with Laila & me

Radars and Fences progam, with Laila & me

On Friday March 12th 2010 I will be participating at NYU’s Media Culture & Communications’ Radars & Fences III: Borders, Affect, Space (please RSVP and come). My friend Laila El-Haddad and I will present You Are Not Here – A Tour of Gaza Through the Streets of Tel Aviv, and we’ll discuss the way geography and the concept of the border is shaping the mediated experience of the conflict. We will also discuss some of our recent initiatives to disrupt the theater of conflict resolution.

I am posting an essay Laila and I wrote for the catalog of the Unrecorded exhibition in Istanbul, March 2008, curated by Basak Senova. At the end of the essay I embedded the videos of Laila & Saeed’s Al Jazeera documentary Tunnel Trade that have inspired this text.

The Gaza Tunnel Trade: Interpretations of Occupied Space

by Laila El-Haddad and Mushon Zer-Aviv

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, the city of Rafah was suddenly split between Egypt and Gaza by an Israeli wall. Families found themselves divided by a high-security international border, though their houses often lay less than 100m apart. Before long, influential families who once controlled trade through Rafah moved their business underground through dozens of secret tunnels burrowed below the border, connecting family houses on either side.

With Israel’s military withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the number of tunnels mushroomed. The Israeli military used the tunnels as a pretext for stepping up demolitions of houses to make way for a buffer zone along the border. Israel’s main concern is the smuggling of weapons to armed Palestinian groups. But for the smugglers themselves there is far more to the tunnel trade than politics and arms smuggling. Everything moves through Rafah’s tunnels: from cigarettes and drugs to cash and people. It is a vast enterprise, and pays five times an average annual Gaza salary in one month. It is a family business, passed on from father to son and always – for reasons of security as well as economics – kept in the family. Read More »

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