For some time I’ve been asking myself where would I start developing something like Oameni. It is tempting, as many (most? all?) such projects have done to start with the communal … the place where we all go to vote (for example). This created a centralized place ,created around a specific social domain, where people need to register / signup … and I have come to believe that is not a good begining.
I believe a correct beginning needs to focus on invididual presence before a proper communal presence one can be established. Everyone who wants to participate in a communal online presence needs to first have their own, self owned and controlled online presence.
I realize that this is far from what is currently popular. Many people do have some kind of online presence on services such as Facebook but that does meet the criteria of self owned and self controlled. There are many reasons for this, but I do not want to get into that in this post, because that would derail my thinking and writing.
One reason I do want to give, which I hope will become more clear over time, is an ethical one: we must first be free individuals online before we can come together to create meaningful communal spaces.
In this paradigm individual presences are represented inside communal spaces but are not contained within them.
This makes it possible for an individual to participate in more than one community without having to have separate identities in each community. An individual online presence can be connected and be represented in numerous communal spaces.
Consider for example a city block or neighborhood where people want to create an online shared book library where everyone can list the books they have and lend them to each other. In this paradigm each contributor to the shared library would have their own individual website. These websites would connect to a shared website – the neighborhood library.
Each library member, in THEIR OWN site would list the books she has and wants to add to the shared online library. Because of her membership in the shared library site her books would also be listed in the library. The information would be replicated (and synchronized) between her site and the library site. In this way a library is formed.
So far, in this example, information that originated in indvidual sites has been communicated to the share communal space. Now lets see how information can also travel in the opposite direction. Members borrow books from one another through the library (the shared communal space). When a book is borrowed, information about the transaction is created in the shared communal space AND is communicated to both members – the one who contributed the borrowed book from the library and the one who borrwed the book.
In this way the book borrowing is represnted in three different contexts:
- A record in the library history of borrowed books.
- A record in the book owner’s site of who borrowed the book.
- A record in the borrower’s site of what books she borrowed.
Though this may at first seem redundant, it is critical to the architecture of individual presence. Consider whay happens when a library member moves away from the block or neighborhood to another city. They take their books with them and they leave the shared online library. However the past relationship with the library is kept:
- The library still has a record of the leaving member, her books that AND who borrowed the books.
- The member still has a record of all her books, which books were part of the library AND who borrowed them while in this library.
- Each of the people who borrowed the member’s books have a record of the books they borrowed from her through that library.
This demonstrates a core architecture of freedom and independence achieved through correct relationship. No entity is trapped within an information bubble, each exists independently and is enriched by interactions it chooses with others.
Another subtle aspect to this trading more then just information (data), but also trading information skills (meta-data). How does a member come to have a list of books in the first place? By joining a library. When a member joins a library, the library site “teaches” the member site how to collect information about books. That ability is not dependent on the library but on being a member of it. Once a member joins a library, her personal site acquires this new capability to collect information about books. That capability will stay with her even when she chooses to leave the library. Communal sites can endow information capabilities to individual member sites.
How do academics publish papers? By having personal sites that are connected to paper-publishing communities.
How does an individual come to have a capacity to vote? By connecting to a community that does voting. How does an individual come to have a voting record? By voting in communities that support voting.
Without this architecture, I believe, it will be difficult to create meaningful and lasting online community dynamics.