Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Community Rises

Wikipedia and other community sites have joined the SOPA protest on January 18, showing that the community of open sourced and free content creators, and the ecosystem of enterprises that support them, now have dominate control over the web.  Wikipedia threat of strike probably is stronger than any firm other than Facebook and Google.  

"Google did not shut down its main search but is showing solidarity by placing a black box over its logo when US-based users visit its site. 
"Online marketplace Craigslist asks site visitors to contact their representatives in Congress before moving on to the main site. Visitors to Wikipedia's English-language site were greeted by a dark page with white text which said: "Imagine a world without free knowledge... 
"The US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia." If users tried to access its other pages via search sites, the text briefly flashed up before being replaced by the protest page. 
"However, people were sharing workarounds to disable the redirect. When the protest ended at 0500GMT on Thursday, Wikipedia carried the message: "Thank you for protecting Wikipedia".
BBC News - Support wanes in US Congress for anti-piracy bill

We are happy to see news that many of the supports of PIPA and SOPA in the US Congress are now backing off from support of the bill.

The Arab Spring 2011 showed the power of Internet tools to support political protests, a lesson that was confirmed and grew in Bahrain, Madison, Madrid and now with the global Internet enable Occupy movement.  Now in 2012 we have seen many of those Internet sites themselves taking part in direct political protest.  Regardless of the mixed outcomes of these protests they do show the potential of cyber-activism.

This SOPA strike is a major change in the nature and power of cyber-protest and should be viewed as much as a revolution in cyber-protest as an evolution.  In 2011 it was the case of web site supporting protest. Wikileaks publishing damning data, facebook supporting group formation, twitter providing real time communication tools.

The SOPA protests was more of a strike by many of the online tools themselves.  The community of open and free content producers and distributors flecked their muscle, showing not only that they can reach tens of millions of people and influence them directly in a way no other media can, but also threatening the potential of strikes in the future.

Given our economies dependence on open and free code and content the potential power of strikes from people who create creative commons information is massive.  Corporations have probably not even considered, given that they feel that they own things like Linux and MySQL downloads, the impact of a strike by the developers who contribute to this free software economy.  What would be the impact on the global economy if Linux development and patching stopped for 6 months?  Who knows?  

Collaborative development so far has been like rain: it just happened.  But political and economic power now has to understand that it can cause droughts through its abuse of the rain makers.  Open source ecology is likely to have issues like global warning, complex impacts of bad agent conduct that are far more complex than the cause and effect you get in something like union negotiations.

Cyber-activism has gained a new powerful weapon: the cyber-strike.  And all the union busting tactics of the 20th Century will not work when the producers in question are not employees and are not even paid.  In fact in the mental models of Capitalism there is no reason for these people to be working on these Open Source projects at all.  Ever time a business uses Linux, or looks something up on Wikipedia or Googles and answer from the blogging community, it is stepping out of its own ideological territory in to a space of common collaboration that it does not understand. It is becoming dependent upon processes it has no control or no model of.

January 18 2012 should have given the powers that be something to really think about.

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