Is Mastodon a collection of commons?

Groups of people under bubbles at sunset on the grounds of Versailles

Glenn Fleishman has a lucid and helpful introduction to Mastodon in TidBITS that opens with this:

Cast your mind back to the first time you experienced joy and wonder on the Internet. Do you worry you’ll never be able to capture that sense again? If so, it’s worth wading gently into the world of Mastodon microblogging to see if it offers something fresh and delightful. It might remind you—as it does me, at least for now—of the days when you didn’t view online interactions with some level of dread.

Mastodon isn’t a service but a network of consensually affiliated, independently operated servers running the Mastodon software. It’s the best-known example of the so-called Fediverse…

Then, a few paragraphs later, he provides the best metaphor I’ve yet seen for what Mastodon is and how it works:

You can think of Mastodon as a flotilla of boats of vastly different sizes, whereas Twitter is like being on a cruise ship the size of a continent. Some Mastodon boats might be cruise liners with as many as 50,000 passengers; others are just dinghies with a single occupant! The admin of each instance—the captain of your particular boat—might make arbitrary decisions you disagree with as heartily as with any commercial operator’s tacks and turns. But you’re not stuck on your boat, with abandoning ship as the only alternative. Instead, you can hop from one boat to another without losing your place in the flotilla community. Parts of a flotilla can also splinter off and form their own disconnected groups, but no boat, however large, is in charge of the community.

Since my day job is working as a visiting scholar in the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University, and Customer Commons has been imagined from its start as a potential commons for customers (or as many commons, flotilla style), I find myself wondering if each of Mastodon’s boats is itself a commons. Or if some of them could be, or already are.

My first experience with Mastodon came early on, in a boat that sank. But now that Mastodon is hot again, I’ve jumped into two boats: twit.social and journa.host. (Find me there and there, respectively.) TWiT.social’s community is gathered around the many shows, hosts, co-hosts, and participants in the TWiT network. Journa.host’s is a collection of journalists. They are very different, though not entirely: journalists abound in both of them.

The question for me here is if any of these boats are a commons. Or if Mastodon itself is one.

To qualify as a commons, a canonical list to check off is provided by Elinor Ostrom. In Governing the Commons (Cambridge, 1990), she outlined eight “design principles” for stable local common pool resource (CPR) management. I’ll make notes following each in italics:

  1. Clearly defining the group boundaries (and effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties) and the contents of the common pool resource. Mastodon is designed to support that.
  2. The appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions. If we’re talking about code, yes. Maybe more. Gotta think about that.
  3. Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process. Depends on the instance, I suppose. 
  4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators. Not sure about that one. 
  5. A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules. Up to the person or people running each boat.
  6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access. I think these range from informal to formal, and draw from rules developed for mailing lists and other fora. But, not sure.
  7. Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities. At the top level, it’s othe Mastodon dev community. At the boat (instance) level, it’s the captain(s) of each.
  8. In the case of larger common-pool resources, organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs (common pool resources) at the base level. A thought: the common pool resource is the authors of posts (aka toots) and the posts themselves.

Ostrom and others have also gone deeper and wider than that, for example by examining socio-ecological systems (SESes), defined here in 2004. I’ll leave digging into that up to scholars more schooled than I (or to a later post, after I finish schooling myself). Meanwhile, I think it’s important, given the sudden growth of Mastodon and other federated systems with flotilla-ish qualities, to examine how deep research and writing on commons apply.

This work does matter: Ostrom won a Nobel Prize for it, and it may matter more now than ever.

And help is welcome.

About the photo up top: Lacking a royalty-free visual for a flotilla of boats, I settled on the collections of people you see through bubbles in the photo above, which I shot on the grounds of Versailles. Kinda works, methinks.

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Playing Poly

Poly is a game. Or will be. We’re working on it.

It’s a multi-player game. As are markets. Although Poly does not need to be a game about business (though it could be), the idea is to explore how markets work when customers bring abilities to the market’s table that defaulted business practices prevent.

Examples of abilities are: to express loyalty, to provide market intelligence, to give rich feedback on products and services, how customers actually use those products and services, and what personal boundaries are around their private spaces—on their terms and not just the companies’.

While companies get information about those things today, every company gets that information separately, through its own closed and proprietary loyalty, service, data gathering, and “customer experience” (CX) systems, rather than through personal systems customers can use globally and at scale, exercising their own engagement abilities.  Think, for example, about how customers scale market engagement with many different stores by using their cars, mobile phones, browsers, and cash. (For more on that last example, see The cash model of “customer experience.”) All of those are abilities.

Now think about additional abilities, all personal ones: to be savvy, smart, loyal, informative, equipped with extant personal property and accumulated rights and obligations which only they know best, and well-prepared. Think also about how all these abilities vary from person to person yet for each person apply globally. All those abilities are similar to, for example, the strength, dexterity, constitution (or endurance), intelligence, wisdom, and charisma in Dungeons & Dragons. And, from other games, there are abilities for clairvoyance, bullshit detection (or immunity), mathematics, electronic mastery, forseeing, ability to hide, evasion, negation, mirroring, empathy, experience, tracking (e.g. of prices or warranty changes) and others that can also apply to how a good customer deals with businesses.

How might those abilities apply globally to engaging good businesses? Meaning ones that value treating customers smartly and well, and gain from customers exercising the same abilities with many companies?

Modeling how customers and companies can grow markets together is—among other fun things—how Poly can prove or disprove the founding thesis of both Customer Commons and ProjectVRM: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones—to themselves, to the companies they engage, and to markets. There is no way to test this theory inside any one company’s separate closed system.

Note that both customers and companies can still win at Poly, just as both can win in markets. The key with both Poly and markets is that nobody has to lose, even though many do. That’s because, as any economist will tell you, markets create value and wealth in places there is none without them. Start a nail salon or repair shop, and as soon as customers start paying for your goods and services, you’ve created value where before there was none. Get a bunch of sellers a territory, or competitors in a category, and you have a market. What makes a market grow best, however, is not just that customers are paying money for goods and services. It’s that they are bringing that more to the companies they engage: loyalty, feedback, good information, and enjoyable experiences.

While it might not be obvious, markets are self-governing, meaning they make their own rules. And the same goes for Poly, which will be a game of self-governance in which the participants in markets work out their rules.

Yes, there will be winners. But there don’t have to be losers. Markets don’t work that way. Or at least they don’t have to. They can be cooperative (especially between customers and companies) and not just competitive. The same will go for Poly.

Another way to look at markets is as commons. Commons have ways of working that Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues figured out a while ago. They are these:

  1. Define clear group boundaries.
  2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
  3. Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
  4. Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
  5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.
  6. Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.
  7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
  8. Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

Poly will explore and expand on each of these.

At this early stage we are looking at all the variables involved in designing a game: ludology, ludonarrartive consonance/dissonance, game mechanics, core loop, win conditions, game management, uncertainty modeling, Game A vs. Game B, collective vs. personal outcomes, and so on.

We also welcome help. Watch this space for more on that.

The image on top is from Paul Baran’s original 1962 design for the Internet. The dots and lines are his, but without connections between the separate (poly) centers. This is a small hack on what he called a “decentralized” network. The separate groups, with no central direction, are assembled around connected common interests, and form commons of their own as independent actors. I explain independence in Escaping the black holes of centralization.

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Home Depot left customers’ unprotected personal data online

It’s been awhile since hackers broke into Home Depot’s servers and stole 56 million customers’ credit card information back in 2014. But recently, a tipster pointed business watchdog site Consumerist to a web address under the HomeDepot.com domain. The unprotected page stored photos of various home improvement projects…and 13 Excel spreadsheets filled with customer data.
Read more: https://www.engadget.com/2017/04/28/home-depot-left-customers-unprotected-personal-data-online/
Posted by Dont Mine on Me

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Secret Service loses encrypted laptop with possible access to classified data

This laptop contains Trump Tower floor plans and ‘national security information!
Secret Service loses encrypted laptop with possible access to classified data
An encrypted Secret Service agency laptop was stolen from an agent’s vehicle recently, it has been revealed, potentially giving the thief access to classified data located on agency servers. According to one source speaking about the theft, this laptop contains Trump Tower floor plans and ‘national security information,’ though the Secret Service stresses that its laptop has ‘multiple layers of security.’
Read more: https://www.slashgear.com/secret-service-loses-encrypted-laptop-with-possible-access-to-classified-data-17479005/

Posted by Dont Mine on Me

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Leaked Documents Show German Intelligence Agency Spent Years Spying On Foreign And Domestic Journalists

From 1999 on — Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) has used its powers to snoop on journalists and their sources.


The tools are there to be abused. Anyone who doubts this aspect of intrusive surveillance programs is either a supporter or a beneficiary. Oversight might be in place and various checks and balances instituted, but the scope and breadth of these programs ensures — at minimum — collection of communications and data government surveillance agencies have no business looking at.
Read more:  https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170227/07572936794/leaked-documents-show-german-intelligence-agency-spent-years-spying-foreign-domestic-journalists.shtml
Posted by Dont Mine on Me


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Samsung warns customers not to discuss personal information in front of smart TVs

The company is warning customers not to speak about personal information while near the TV sets!

Samsung has confirmed that its “smart TV” sets are listening to customers’ every word, and the company is warning customers not to speak about personal information while near the TV sets.
Read more: https://theweek.com/speedreads/538379/samsung-warns-customers-not-discuss-personal-information-front-smart-tvs
Posted by Dont Mine on Me

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Brain scanners allow scientists to ‘read minds’ – could they now enable a ‘Big Brother’ future?

This raises some chilling questions about the possibility for a “Big Brother” future where our innermost thoughts can be routinely monitored. 

Are you lying? Do you have a racial bias? Is your moral compass intact?
To find out what you think or feel, we usually have to take your word for it. But questionnaires and other explicit measures to reveal what’s on your mind are imperfect: you may choose to hide your true beliefs or you may not even be aware of them.
Read more: http://www.rawstory.com/2017/02/brain-scanners-allow-scientists-to-read-minds-could-they-now-enable-a-big-brother-future/
Posted by Dont Mine on Me

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German consumer groups sue WhatsApp over privacy policy changes

WhatsApp said it would modify its privacy policy to allow it to share lists of users’ contacts with Facebook!

WhatsApp’s privacy policy change allowing Facebook to target advertising at its users has landed the company in a German court.

The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBZ) has filed suit against WhatsApp in the Berlin regional court… Read more: http://www.pcworld.com/article/3163027/private-cloud/german-consumer-groups-sue-whatsapp-over-privacy-policy-changes.html
Posted by Dont Mine on Me

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The Best Way to Protect Students’ Personal Data

The first line of defense in protecting student privacy are our teachers.
children laptop.
Gearing up for their district’s password-reset day in October, teachers and school administrators in Raytown, Missouri, watched a spoof video “gym” tour by their tech-support staff, who offered tips for stronger passwords amid “laptop lunges” and “cross-tech” training.
Read more: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2017/01/how_to_protect_students_personal_data.html
Posted by Dont Mine on Me

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