ECPR Postdam September 2009 Section: Internet and politics Panel: Mobilising on the Web: Between old and new practices Governance of online creation communities: Provision of platforms of participation for the building of digital commons Self-provision model: Social forums case study
Mayo Fuster Morell European University Institute Social and Political Science Department e-mail: email@example.com Research website: http://www.onlinecreation.info
Abstract: This paper is dedicated to the analysis of the governance of online creation communities. Two components can be distinguished in online creation communities: a platform of participation around which the community is generated and the providers of such a platform. The analysis is centered in the several models of provision of the platforms of participation and the relationship established between the providers of the platform of participation and the community generated. From a large-n analysis three models of provision resulted: i) a for profit and close provision; ii) a non profit and “formal” open provision; iii) and a non-profit and and “informal” open provision. Furthermore, they move alone a line between a service – oriented versus self – provision oriented approaches. In a second part of the paper, the analysis is centered in the self-provision approach though the case of the social forums. It presents the organizational form characteristic of the social forum as a provider of platforms and the tensions (participation versus representation and individual versus organizations) emerged around the adoption of an online platform (openesf.net) and around the design of the protocols of participation online. Attention is also given to the actual data of participation related to those tensions.
Index I. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………....……..2 II. Governance of online creation communities: Models of provision of platforms of participation.....5 III.Online creation communities provided by the Social forums ……………………………………......8 III. I Politics at technology and participation at the Social forums: The different positions in the adoption of online platforms of participation and the tensions between representational and participative logics III. II Participation dynamics at online platforms IV. Conclusions…………………………………………………………………………………………...…21 V. Bibliography……………………………………………………………………………………………...23 I. Introduction Online creation communities One of the pioneer pieces of research employing the term “virtual community” can be found in a book of the same title written by Howard Rheingold and published in 1993. Rheingold used the term 'online community' to connote the intense feelings of camaraderie, empathy and support that he observed among people in online spaces. Nowadays, Virtual or online community is used broadly for a variety of social groups interacting mainly via the Internet. But several types of online communities can be distinguished.1 This paper is dedicated to a specific type of online community, the online creation communities (OCCs). OCCs are characterized by having as a common goal the building of integrated and systematized information pools.2 Online Creation Communities (OCCs) are defined as a collective action performed by individuals that cooperate, communicate and interact, mainly via a platform of participation in the Internet, with the goal of knowledge-making and which the resulting informational pool remains freely accessible and of collective property.3
Specific type of online communities are mutual support communities, social networking sites, intra-organization communities of professionals (known as communities of practice), or community networks (physical communities that are supported by an online network) (Preece 2000). 2 OCCs have very diverse types of goals (I.e: Memory and documentation of social processes; developing software programs; encyclopaedias; dictionaries; and audio-visual archives; among others). 3 It might be worth mentioning that in information and communication technology research areas, including this research, the term knowledge is used in a broad sense as information and data elaboration, not referring to scientific knowledge. Knowledge-making in the framework of this research is defined as the process of creation and systematization of socially dispersed information and knowledge resources and cognitive capabilities resulting in evolving bodies of shared knowledge.
Online creation communities are an interesting collective action form from two points of view. OCC are interesting from the point of view of constituting spaces for civic engagement in the dissemination of alternative information and for participation in the public space which could contribute to enriching public discussion in a representative democracy. And, OCCs are also interesting from the point of view of citizen engagement in the provision of public goods and services based on a commons approach that is provision of public goods not necessarily linked to the state or other conventional political institutions. Furthermore, this research is framed by the notion of transition in which distinct organsational and democratic logics are emerging at a time when the institutional principles of both the nation state and the private market are in a state of profound crisis (in the case of the nation state) and undergoing dramatic change (in the case of the private market). Networks form or commons-base processes appear as a distinctive form, different from the state and the market (Powell 1990, Castells 2001, Benkler 2006). In my view, these emerging common-base forms could provide insight for the building of institutions in a network society. Contribution to the literature First studies on the Internet and politics mainly concentrated on well-established and traditional actors such as parliaments and political parties (Trechsel et al, 2003: 23; Norris, 2002; Römmele, 2003). As Bennett (2003) claims, “much of the attention to the Internet has been directed at the places where the least significant change is likely to occur: the realm of conventional politics” (della Porta and Mosca, 2006). In this line of argument, the debate was followed by an interest in empirical research on interest groups, NGOs and social movements looking at the impact of the Internet and the type of Internet use carried out by those groups (van den Donk et al, 2004; Vedel, 2003). From my point of view, the debate on the Internet and politics could benefit from expanding further to consider actors with mainly an online base. Interestingly, the emergence of collective action in online environments apparently follows an organizational logic that is different to political parties or social movements. Following this potential development of the field, I focus my analysis on the phenomenon of the online creation communities. In the last few years, the phenomenon of online creation communities has created some research attention. The empirical research in this emerging field has mainly concentrated on the Open source – Free software (FLOSS) case. Instead in this research I examine a larger typology of online creation communities based on distributed organization. Furthermore the empirical research centered specifically on the online creation communities is mainly based on analyzing one type of online creation community; instead, my plan is to contribute to the analysis of online creation communities by a comparison of several types of online creation communities. Finally, social movement theory initially tended to approach social movements in a protest perspective and defined their impacts in terms of national-state political institutions. Yet a narrow
conception of social movement expressions and outcomes has prevented researchers from realizing social movements' promise (Giugni 1998; Andrews 2001). In this regard, this research on online creation communities stresses some challenges already present in social movement theory: highlighting the performative dimension of social movements (not linked to protest) and expanding social movements as challenges of socio-cultural organizational logics and modes of knowledge production. Furthermore, methodologically the research is applied to social movements' organizational level, instead of the more frequent movement-field level.
The empirical analysis is based on a statistical web analysis of a large-N sample of 50 experiences and a comparison of three case studies: (i) Social forums; (ii) Wikimedia, and (iii) Flickr. The main case study presented in this paper will be openesf, that is, an online community related to the social forums. Openesf.net is a platform provided by the European Social Forum (ESF). The European Social Forum is the main gathering of social movements in Europe. It is the European part of the World Social Forum, which started in 2001 as a meeting of alternatives and as a critic of the neoliberal approach of the World Economic Forum of Davos. Around the Forums meet feminist movements, trade unions, environmental movements, Not Governmental Organizations for solidarity with the south, among others.4 The other case studies, secondary in this paper are Wikipedia and Flickr. Wikipedia is one of the most outstanding examples of OCCs. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia of free contents created in 2001. It is developed in a collaborative manner with the use of Wiki technology by tens of thousands of volunteers around the world. In May 2005, Wikipedia (in its English version) contained more than one million encyclopedic articles and more than one million articles in other languages (ViĂŠgas, Wattenberg, Kriss and van Ham, 2007; ViĂŠgas, Wattenberg and Dave, 2004). The infrastructure is provided by the Wikimedia Foundation, a North-American, non-profit Foundation based in San Francisco. Flirck is a platform for visual materials sharing and archive. As of November 2008, it claims to host more than 3 billion images. It is provided by Yahoo. Data collection The Social Forums case study is supported by online ethnography and participative 4
According to data at openesf.net the thematics most commonly addressed at the European Social Forum are: War, conflict resolution and peace (14,6%); Democracy and politics (10,4%); Communication technology (10,4%); Art Culture and entertainment (8,3%); Ecology and sustainability (6,3%); ESF (6,3%); Labor Precarity and unemployment (6,3%); and, Woman, Gender, Sexuality (6,3%) (Fuster Morell 2008).
observation at meetings (2007 - 2008); 25 interviews; documentation review; my personal involvement and importantly statistical analysis of participation data (digital threads) available at the openesf.net site. The Wikipedia and Flickr case studies are supported by online ethnography and participative observation at meetings (July 2008 â€“ December 2009); 35 interviews; e-list analysis and documentation review.
Content of the paper The first part of the paper will be dedicated to the governance of OCCs in terms of type of platform provision. This first part will present the three models of governance of OCCs emerging from a large-N analysis, which is: a for profit and close model; an open, formal and non-profit model; and a open, informal and non-profit model. The closeness and openness of each case is related to a service versus self-provision approach. The second part of the paper will be dedicated to explore a self-provision example though the case of the Social Forums. This second part will present the organizational form characteristic of the social forum as a provider of platforms and the tensions (participation versus representation and individual versus organizations) emerged around the adoption of an online platform (openesf.net) and around the design of the protocols of participation. Then, attention will be centered in analyzing actual data of participation at the openesf.net.
II. Governance of online creation communities: Models of provision of platforms of participation Some authors agree that if we regard communities as collective action, which in some occasions constitute large performances and produce elaborate outcomes, a number of questions emerge (Tsoukas, 1996; Eisenhardt and Santos, 2000; Patriotta, 2003): How can complex knowledge-making and sharing take place in such an extremely decentralized form of organization in which apparently formal governance structures are weak or invisible, and in which permanent membership in the classical sense does not exist? How can dispersed activities nevertheless lead to the creation of a complex product such as software code or an encyclopaedia online? What are the basic mechanisms underlying the coordination of knowledge-making and sharing in OCCs, and where are they embedded? (Lanzara and Morner 2003, 2006). In order to approach OCCs it is useful to do an analytical distinction of between two spaces: the participatory platform (where the participants interact) and an administrative or provider space (that provide the platform). The provision part cannot be seen as a dysfunction or unimportant;
instead it solves some of the questions this type of online collective action necessarily raises. In the medium and longer term, OCCs require several types of resources to function and it becomes necessary to have organized their provision. Previous analysis of OCCs had dedicated little attention to it, but, in my view, in the analysis of OCCs there is the need to look at both spaces and their particular connection, because both are important and have functions in the governing of the OCCs.
Figure I : Online creation communities components
Provider Administrative space
Platform of participation
But how do the provider space and the community of participants at the platform relate to each other? Which is the role of each in governing the OCCs? Resulting from a large-N analysis, the OCCs can be classified in the way in which the administrative space functions. There is a qualitative difference between the OCCs in which it is possible for participants in the networking platform to be part of the administrative body and the one in which this option is not considered, in other words the “closed” administrative space and the “open” or accessible participative space. A distinction between profit and non-profit between the formal seems also to be significant. The “profit and formal closed admin or provision” model is characterized by performing “technical aspects” (“technologically king”). It favors dimensions of information provision, usability and technical accessibility, while the “open admin or provision” model is characterized by performing more “political” aspects (“politically king”). It favors dimensions of transparency and open knowledge management. There is also a significant difference in the way in which the administrative space is open. A “non-profit and formal open provision” model and an “non-profit and informal open provision model” can be distinguished. The “formal open provision” is characterised by a positive performance of transparency dimension and/or the presence of a board in the administrative space, while the “informal open provision” is characterised by poor performance of the transparency dimension and/ or the absence of a board. In sum, three models of provision result: i) a for profit and close provision; ii) a non profit
and “formal” open provision; iii) and a non-profit and and “informal” open provision. Furthermore, they move alone a line between a service – oriented versus self – provision oriented format.
In the following section the way in which each model tent to frame the relationship between the providers and the community will be presented .A case related to each of the three provision models were considered. For the closed and profit provision the Flickr case; for open and non proffit formal provision the Wikimedia case; and finally, for the open and non profit informal provision the Social forums case.5
Social forums Non - profit
Service – oriented versus self – provision Three frameworks emerge from the cases studies: •
For profit and close provision: Flickr seems to be based on a sharp distinction between the providers and the community. The provider, a company, is closed to community involvement. The providers provide a service and a community of participants congregate around it. It could be also said that in this case there is an utilitarian approach to the community form; the community is not a goal in itself, but a means for a profit porpuse.
Non profit and “formal” open provision: Social forums are based on a almost non-distinction between the providers and the participants. The providers are a more or less self-selected part of the participants. More than provision of platforms of participation, it seems to be a sense of self-provision, self-organization or “adoption” of platforms of participation. The community “we” (collective identity) is already formed before the platform is provided and this “we” decides to self-organise to adopt an online platform of participation. In the case of OCCs promoted by the Social forums, the OCCs are shaped and bridges by the collective identity of the Social forums as a whole. From a web approach, it is characteristic of these type of OCCs a poorly performance of transparency, however it seems connected, among other things, to its bridging
It might be worth stressing a methodological limitation of this analysis. An analysis of only one case study for each model was developed. This limits the applicability of the insights of each case to represent its correspondence models. For example, Social forums follow the open non-profit and informal model, however it cannot be said that all the cases of this model would result in the same insights as the Social forum did in framing the relationship between providers and community participants. In this regard, for the full compression of each of these three provision models an analysis of more than one case per each model would be convenient.
with other offline processes. •
Non-profit and and “informal” open provision: Wikimedia are based on an “intermedious” hybrid form. Wikimedia foundation moves along a line of more closed or more open to community involvement depending on the issue (eg for legal and funding it is closed, while for technical maintenance it is more open). In some parts there is a separation between them and closeness to community involvement and in other part there is an “overlap” between them.
In all these three cases the providers depend on participation in the platform (without participation the platform is an empty place) and have mechanisms for assuring community involvement. However, something that seems characteristic of community-driven governance (Wikipedia and Social forums) is the relationship of cooperation and mutual support between the providers and the community to the point of the creation of a space of overlapping or self-provision in which it is difficult to establish a difference between the provider and the community. This is different from a service-oriented model of governance (Flirck), which does not seem to have such area of “overlapping” and community – provider collaboration. III. Online creation communities provided by the Social forums The OCCs promoted by Social forums have some distinctive characteristics. They are connected to a political platform, the social forum process. The Social forums started providing “offline” platforms for participation. In this regard, Social forums are open spaces for networking and the building of alternatives to the neoliberal doctrine. They constitute the main meeting points of the Global Justice Movement (GJM) since 2001. Furthermore, within the framework of Social forums, over the years, there have been several attempts to also provide online platforms for participation and the generation of OCCs. The Social forums provide platforms of participation offline, which is the Forum itself, and the Social forums provide platforms of participation online, with the multi-interactive tools. Furthermore, the relationship established between the Social Forum as platform provider and the communities around the platforms provided by the Forums, both online and offline, have some similarities. This suggests that collective action today is adopting a distinctive organizational form and democratic logic, which can be identified both in the collective action online base and the collective action offline base. The primary unit of analysis in this paper is the OCCs promoted by the Social forums. However, as introduced, the social forum case is interesting from a double on and offline perspective as the Social forums are providers of on and offline platforms of participation. In this
regard, throughout the paper, references to the similarities or not with the social forum provision of offline platforms of participation will be also made. But, importantly, for the development of the analytical process in the social forum case study emerged as necessary to examine the approaches to online platforms and the conception of participation present within the forums. In other words, the way participation was conceived at the offline platforms and the approaches to online platforms have shaped the online platforms of participation provided by the forums. Social forums: Steps in the adoption of platforms of participation Information and communication technologies were important to communications for the organization of a global level forum. And the building of an autonomous and independent communication infrastructure is a strategy present at the GJM. In this regard, mail lists and expositive-oriented websites have been used since the first WSF in January 2001 (Fuster Morell 2006). Since then several steps has been key in the decision to provide web platforms for participation. The first step in the adoption of a multi-interactive online platform was in 2003. During the ESF II in Paris 2003, in order to give concrete answers to those who raised critiques about the absence of final decisions in every social forum, an effort was made to collect a “Memory” of the event, aiming to gather the outcomes of the different activities held in the Forum. Since then, several platforms have been built in order to enable a collection of the social forum's “memory”. The memory is also linked to the desire to systematize and democratize access to the information and knowledge generated by the social forum process, so that not only organizers have access to it. The second step was in 2005 when for the V WSF, the decision was made to adopt more participative methodologies to build the WSF program. The key points of the new methodology were centered on defining the role of the forum as a merging space, rather than a director of the movement. This translated, among other aspects, into the absence of plenaries put together by the organizers of the WSF and instead the facilitation of self-organized activities. It also featured rounds of consultation in defining the program. In order to do so, online tools were designed to collaborate in the building of the forum program. Finally, for the organisation of the "global day of action" on 26 January 2008 a technological tool was developed. This year, instead of a classic WSF, a day of action was proposed which would allow all movements and organisations to organise debates, demonstrations and symbolic actions, among others. This decentralised action required coordination between movements and a way to visualize those actions. A website was set up, with a world map on which every coalition, movement or organisation could register and visualize their own actions. As presented previously several steps created the conditions to adopt online platforms.
However the protocols to guide online interaction had evolved over time. While the first online platform was based on an organizational participation (that is, the site was defined for the participation of organizations not individuals) and controlled access to contents, after several failed attempts, a tendency towards designing the platforms with a more open, individual oriented and fluid protocols of participation evolved. The social forum organizational form The use of communication tools at the forums is subjected to cultural and political constraints particular to the forum type of organization. The forum organizational form has been characterized as an open space or open platform. A synthetic characterization of the forum approach regarding provision of an offline platform of participation results in: a very broad mission (Chapter of principles); openness to participation in the platforms to anyone who agrees with the broad mission; the participation at the forum is oriented towards organizational participation, that is individuals participate as part of a collective or organization; the contents and program are defined and “self-organised” by the participants themselves; instead the role of organisers of the forum is to provide the infrastructure; the forum is provided by engaged participants of the forum, in some cases self-selected and in other cases filtered by a membership mechanism, and the providers do not represent the forum. In order to support the forum as a platform organizational form, the forum has also adopted online platforms of participation. The online platforms had been set up for 'forum memory' collection; for a participative definition of the forum program; and to develop a decentralised “process” dimension at the forum. The provision of the online platform seems to follow a similar logic to that of the offline platform; however as will be presented in the following sections the online participation challenges aspects of the conceptions of participation at the offline forums. Furthermore, the provision of an online platform was not immediate. A process of steps and evolution took place until the decision to provide online open platforms of participation was adopted. As presented previously, the social forum did not adopt online platforms immediately. Furthermore, several positions around the adoption of online platforms could be differentiated, which contextualizes the framework in which the forums provide the online platforms. In the following section the politics of technology around the adoption of open platform though the specific case of the ESF 2008 will be presented.
III. I Politics at technology and participation at the Social forums III. I. I Different approaches to online provision of platforms of participation The body of research on the politics of the technology at the Social forums assumes that technology is inherently political (Caruso 2004; Kavada 2007a; Kavada 2007b; Fuster Morell 2006; della Porta and Mosca 2005; Mosca, Lorenzo, Rucht, Dieter, Teune, Simon and Sara Lopez 2007; Juris, Caruso and Mosca 2008).6 What in some occasions appears as a “technical” divergence around the use of technology are in fact clashes of political interest. In this regard, the goal of this research area is to present how the technology adopted reflects the political goals of the forum.7 Furthermore, this body of research on the politics of the technology at the Social forums is also characterized by approaching the Social forums not as a monolithic actor, but a result of internal contentions and collaborations. Following this argument, the literature of politics of technology at the Social forums views the forums as an expression of diversity. Conflicts around technology mirror conflicts over the nature of the forum itself and the political strategy to adopt within the plurality of visions present at the forums. In this regard, the richness of the Social forums as a meeting point of a plurality of views that conform an “ecology of diversity” is also reflected in the diverse approach concerning the adoption of the NIT. In the Social forums there is a co-existence of different political visions associated with particular uses and understandings of technology. The politics of technology at the ESF 2008 ESF V took place in September 2008 at Malmö (Sweden). The European preparatory assembly (EPA) is in charge of organizing the ESF. Three websites were used for the ESF organization: The first, the ESF process website (www.fse-esf.org) that was the “process-led” permanent website of the ESF and the second the ESF2008 event website (www.esf2008.org) that is the ESF event site for ESF V. The logic of communication of these two website is to provide the collectively agreed and “finalised” information (“official”) (Kavada, 2007a: 18). Only authorised people, under the supervision of the webmaster, can access and change the contents.
Previous research on the Social forums and technology were concentrated on the NTI as fields of struggle within the Social forums' agenda (Milan 2004; Milan and Hintz 2004). The research then concentrated on analyzing the typed of use of technological tools (from e-lists to translation tools) by the Social forums. Particular attention was paid to the politics of technology at the Forums, referring to the different visions and approaches regarding technology present at the Forums and how they are connected to visions of the Forum itself and political strategy (Caruso 2004; Kavada 2007a; Kavada 2007b; Fuster Morell 2006; della Porta and Mosca 2005; Mosca, Lorenzo, Rucht, Dieter, Teune, Simon and Sara Lopez 2007; Juris, Caruso and Mosca 2008). The governance of the Social forums has received also attention (Aguiton and Cardon 2008). However, the governance of the OCCs hosted by the Social forums and the role of the Social forums as platforms providers remain unexplored. 7 The result from the empirical web analysis and e-lists analysis of political actors confirm that social actors do not relate to “the Internet as a monolithic unit guided by the technology”; on the contrary, actors are “guided” towards choosing between several technologies depending on their political agency (Vedres, Bruszt and Stark, 2005; della Porta and Mosca, 2005). In synthesis, actors adapt technology to their styles and organizational strategies (Vedres, Bruzts and Stark, 2005).
The third website by contrast, openesf (www.openesf.net) was set up as a collaborative working space and tool. The logic of communication of the openesf is to emphasize the collaborative creation of content and its dissemination in a lateral rather than hierarchical way, more appreciative of the interactive features of the Internet and its potential for enlarging participation in the process (Kavada, 2007: 19).8 In this section I analyze the politics of technology at ESF 2008, particularly focusing on the debates about the adoption of the openesf.net open platform. It includes first an overview of the positions around technology at the ESF and then presenting two transversal tensions: openness versus control and individual versus organizational identity. Positions concerning open platforms at 2008 From the participative observation and interview to EPA participant emerged that it can be distinguished three positions concerning the open platforms at the ESF 2008: Promotion and welcoming of open platforms; awareness of risks; and allowing to proceed based on disinterest. Several aspects were mentioned concerning the first position of promotion and welcoming of open platforms. Some of these aspects are connected to the discourse of “democratizing” the ESF, enlarging the possibilities to participate in the organization of the ESF and enabling access to ESF event outcomes and networking. Others emphasized the benefits in terms of increasing “efficiency” in the organization of the ESF. The reasons for welcoming the openesf mentioned by the interviews were: i) Facilitated involvement in the organizational dimension for people who could not participate in the European Preparatory Assembly; ii) Contributed to the coordination of the ESF organizational process and the ESF networks; iii) Contributed to the networking facilitation contact data; iv) Contributed to an ESF process instead of only an ESF event ; v) To localize the forum; vi) Creation of a community around the ESF; and, vii) Democratize access to the website.9 10 8
The basic characteristics of the openesf.net are: It is meant to facilitate an online space for any activity/project or entity (organization, network group) working under the Chapter of principles of the WSF, and to support networking around the European Social Forum process. Visitors are free to register and create automatically space for a new project. There is no filter to register or to create a new project. Each new project has access to the following functionalities: Wiki Pages for collaborative writing; Publish news in the project blog; Create and use mailing lists; Store and share files; Contact people and other projects hosted at the OpenESF; Own URL. By default its pages and contents are public; however each project hosted in the OpenESF tool has the option to restrict its space only to its participants. The contents of the Open ESF are licensed under Creative Common Share Alike License unless a specific document specifies another license. 9 The openesf is considered a democratic tool because it provides the possibility of directly editing contents by the visitors. Many people interviewed also mentioned the importance of its easy-to-use (usability) character and accessibility of the openesf and the translation of all of the functions and instructions to other languages. 10 The presentations of the above benefits of openesf were also accompanied by some problems that this openness could generate: Platform could host non-constructive behaviors (personal attacks or provocations) and risk of spam attacks. Spam attack are frequent in online open platforms and one of problems that require more time-consuming to
The second position at the EPA concerning the open platforms was characterized by drawing attention to the risks. This position was characterized by lack of knowledge on NIT and “online” phenomenons, and especially the differences between NIT and the traditional mass media (I.e.: TV, Radio, etc). This position was also characterized by a curiosity towards the technology and willingness to be open to the technological “revolution”. However, this group did raise some potential risks. The potential risks highlighted by this position mentioned were: i) The generation of a virtual power that “express opinions” but are disconnected from the EPA and the “real” organizational work;
ii) Use of the tool for promoting self-propaganda and particular opinions, instead of
transmitting collective messages in a spirit of collective action; iii) It gives too much space to individual approaches and to individual viewpoints instead of organizations/movements’ viewpoints; iv) If the openesf is used as a platform for posting opinions (in the line of the blogs not collectively agreed, this could result tin loss of control over the political message that the ESF transmits to the mainstream media and to the wider public; v) Increasing the digital divide, because people who have access and have time can dedicate a lot to online contents; and, vi) Increase in power of the webteam as moderator of the contents in the openesf: This last position was formed by the representatives of trade unions which allowed the project to proceed, as they had no interest in the technology as long as their role of representatives of organizations was not affected. They had little sense of the potential of new technologies. ESF webteam members thus had to raise awareness among other EPA organizers of the capabilities offered by NIT and the political nature of it. This attitude is problematic for the use of the open platforms at Social forums, because this sector is one of the ones that has more influence on funding resources of the ESF and tend to underestimate or are reluctant to cover the costs of maintaining the tools. This sector raised concerns about possible interferences that the tool could cause in their role as representatives of organizations. The critique against access to any person for the tool had to do with the possibility that this interfered with the internal hierarchies of their organizations.
maintain an online open platforms.
III. I. II Tensions between representational and participative logics The Social forums are formed by a large variety of groups. Social forums hosts and combine distinct organizational and democratic logics. On the one hand, the centralized and hierarchical organizational logic and representational democratic logic of the Left (political parties, trade unions, large NGOs), and, on the other hand, the decentralized and network organizational logic and the participative democratic logic of the small anarchist groups, “open space” advocates, and horizontal organizations with diverse ideologies (Juris, Caruso and Mosca, 2008). The different positions regarding the online platform are a reflect of these variety of organizational and democratic logic. Two main tensions and points of confrontation could be distinguished in the combination of representative and participation oriented logics at the forums regarding online platforms: One concerning the protocols of openness versus close-control, and the other concerning the profile of individual versus organizations. Tension: Openness versus control This opposition appears to be based on several aspects. i) Linear accumulation over a closed formula versus openness to enlargement for change ii) Communitarian control versus webmaster gate keeper control iii) Offline versus online: Digital divide versus travel cost divide iv) Open collaborative self-organized versus clear division of tasks i) Linear accumulation over a close formula versus openness to enlargement for change There is a broader oppositional logic between those who wanted to maintain the actual distribution of power between existing forces at the ESF, a fear of losing control over its role, a growth strategy based on attracting more people via traditional interventions such as communications to the Mass Media and alliances with established politics or by increasing influence over it. And on the other hand, those who were willing to re-direct the role of the ESF to a new politics based on participation, enlarging its bases through “horizontal” type of actors or new type of collective actors (like online communities) and an assumption that conventional politics were in irreversible crisis of and there is therefore a need to experiment with new forms. In the words of Rodrigo Nunes for the case of the ESF 2004: “‘The politico-organisational distinction between ‘horizontals’ and ‘verticals’ can be
posed as the difference between a logic of connectivity and a logic of linear accumulation – on one side, the loose, shifting associations of small elements that combine to produce larger effects, which translates into non-hierarchical, networked structures that (tend to) see themselves as acting apart/outside of/against institutions such as the State; on the other, the search for general programmes that can bring together the largest number of people into a unified acting body, which tends to translate into hierarchical structures and (generally) into an understanding of the goal of political action as the taking control of, or at least influencing, existing institutions’” (Nunes, 2005: 308). ii) Communitarian control versus webmaster gate keeper control Openness does not assume lack of control, but a communitarian model of control. Communitarian control is a model based on online open doors to any content and then decentralized social control over the contents. Instead the control model of the authorized gatekeeper is based on a central filter of the information by the webmaster. The information accepted is the one that results from an “offline” deliberation in the assembly or other sources of authority, like the organizational logistic information from the working groups. It assumes that the deliberation is not hosted “online”. iii) Offline versus online: Digital divide versus travel cost divide The representative of vertical organizations tends to be in favor of a gate keeper control model because it does not cause conflicts with their role as representatives. However the distinction between the two control models does not completely correspond to a “participative versus a non participative approach”. It also has to do with a “offline” participation versus an “online” participation and the distribution of resources that each type of participation require. The sectors, which can afford cost of participation into EPAs, are more disposed to a model of “offline” deliberation and conceive of collective action in only an “offline” capacity. Furthermore they do not have the technical knowledge to use online tools. Sectors whoses bases had resources in the form of technological knowledge to participate online and have scarce monetary resources are more favourable to a model that presupposes the online participation. iv) Open collaborative self-organized versus clear division of tasks and difficulty of integrating collaboration A logic of collaborative administration and building of the contents of the website is opposed to one of control over the organization of the contents of the website based a clear division of tasks
under the figure of the webmaster. Hilary Wainwright puts it: ‘[t]he overly bureaucratic control of the website is symbolic of a wider problem of mistrust of the capacity of the self-organized new movements’ (Wainwright 2004). Tension: Individuals versus organizations In the Social forums, there is an attempt to develop organization structures that would allow individual subjectivities and contributions and the multi-faceted belonging and participation. However, at the Social forums there remains a tension around individual participation. One reason, the rise of individuals is a challenge to the idea present in some parts of the social movements, “that individualistic type of cultures tend to produce ideology of success and tendency for individual achievements. These views are reluctant to perceive positive effects in the individualization in term of commitment and political engagement” (Interview Donatella della Porta, 2008). Another reason, individual participation reduces arguments for the representative of vertical organizations to maintain representative mechanisms and keep control over its bases. A third reason is a lack of trust over the capacity of organization of a network model structure versus a vertical and professional model. Instead in favour of flexible and light protocols that allow, and in some degree support individual participation, are several type of arguments: •
The defense of individual participation at all the levels in the ESF, as it is a type of participation that is present within the GJM.
“It is what works on the Internet”: A practical approach assuming that the dominant model at the Internet culture is based on the “light” protocols, and so openesf work has to be based on it, too.
Interactivity require agile capacity to react and individual reactions seem faster
To be open to connecting with the online communities’ phenomenon, which is an example of commitment with individual participation?
III. II Participation dynamics at online platforms While the previous section was focus on how the webteam functions, and importantly, which are the different approach in the provision of platforms of participation present at the EPA and the tensions around the online platforms. Instead, in this section is dedicated to how the
community around the openesf.net functions. This section is based on an “e-community analysis” of the openesf.net. If the analysis on the politics of technology was mainly done by listening and observing the EPA participants during the EPAs; the community study is based on “look” to the website. Actual participation dynamics related to the individual versus organization tension Previous attempts to the openesf.net at building a collaborative space were based rigidly on participation of one type of participant: i) representative of an organization, ii) belonging only to one organization, iii) and requiring a reference “leader” for each organization. These protocols of participation were considered by some as one of the causes of failure of these first attempts. Instead, with the openesf, registering as a participant requires “light” and flexible conditions. The participant needs only to provide a name and e-mail (which is not public).This could be fullfilled both as an individual and as an organization. However, if we look to the actual data of participation at the openesf.net what emerge is that the large majority of the accounts (97,19%) are registered with the name and nickname of an apparently real person. Although the discussions on the EPA concerning the reclaiming space of an organizational way of participating online, the reference to an organization is not predominant. Only three accounts have a name and nickname organizations instead of a person. Concerning the linking to websites, among the participants that did provide a website link, the organizational websites are six times more than the links to personal websites. Which suggested that the networking data provided at the openesf.net is oriented towards organizational networking and not personal networking? Among the participants that full filled the About and Interest camps (which are the camps that facilitate more space for providing personal data), people tend to present their self providing a combination of personal and activist information. Any user provided a presentation of him/her self only based on a personal information and only some of the s present them self in the About as members or representative of an organization (Specially Attack people and Trade Unions). Last, participants tends to provide real information about them self, which invite to conclude that the participants feel in a non-fictitious scenario.
Actual participation dynamics related to openness versus closeness tension Scale of the participation The participation at openesf.net is distributed across thematic projects and is on a project scale. At openesf.net the decisions and mutual dependency among participants are limited to the project dimension. There are not decisions that a group could take which would affect the rest of the projects hosted at openesf. In this regard, mutual dependency among the participants is limited to the project scale. In this line, at openesf.net there are no guidelines or policies that affect the entire population which have been set up by the community. There are no supra-project dimensions. The relationships between projects are based on the multi-belonging of participants to several projects which helps to “bridge” and connect the projects. The participants who want to engage in an overall “community” dimension are concentrated in the webteam. In this regard, participation distributed amongst groups around common issues of interest, but there are not central places for the whole community. Participants engage in projects, then if they want to engage in openesf.net as a whole they get involved in the webteam. The lack of a whole community spaces at openesf.net could be associated to the linkage of openesf.net to the Social forums. The openesf.net dimension seems not to have a personality in itself, but openesf.net seems to be integrated into the ESF process. Some of the openesf.net participants are subscribed to the fse-esf.net e-list and use this list as the space of communication with supra-project level. But the fse-esf e-list is the space to communicate with people interested on the ESF as a whole, not only confined to the openesf.net users. Channels of communication at the openesf.net of supra-project level or community openesf level do not exist. Coherently, openesf.net community identity does not seem to exist and the participants do not develop an identity as openesf.net participants. Instead they build their identity as ESF participants. In this regard, the linkage to the social forum of openesf.net seems especially to affect the identity formation of the OCC participants. In Donatella della Porta's words: “I think there are some OC that create their own collective online identity each of them, and often people that have this identity bridge this with other identities more broadly. Like Indymedia and people that participate in Indymedia in different degrees, they share identities with other independent media and they have an identity as an organization of the Global Justice Movement” (Interview with Donatella della Porta 2008).
The offline dimension of the social forum also contributes to shaping the openesf.net community. The participants at openesf.net provide their own real names. This behaviour seems to
be related to the fact that people already know each other at the offline dimension of the ESF. Furthermore, half of the content on openesf.net is related to the offline dimension of the ESF. In this regard, half of the openesf.net projects are dedicated to groups and aspects related to EPAs and the ESF as an event. In fact, 54,7 % of the openesf.net projects are EPA related. The other half of the projects are process-oriented, that is they are dedicated to international work on themes or are related to local actions. From those, the more frequent projects are the ones that do not specify territorial dimensions or relationships with the EPA or ESF event (39,6%), but they are dedicated to work on a theme. Instead, the number of projects associated to local activities is low (5,7%)..
Distribution of the participation Concerning the composition of the project, 41,5% of the projects are composed by one only member, the rest 58,5 % are composed from 2 to 27 members. The more frequent among the projects between more than one member are the projects with 3 members (20,8%), then the projects with 2 members (11,3%). Projects with 4 (5,7%), six (3,8%) and 8 (3,8%) members are also several. While projects with 5, 7, 12, 17, 19, 26 and 27 members are only one per each. Table: Project Number of members
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 12 17 19 26 27 Total
Frequency 22 6 11 3 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 53
Percent 41.5 11.3 20.8 5.7 1.9 3.8 1.9 3.8 1.9 1.9 1.9 1.9 1.9 100.0
Valid Percent 41.5 11.3 20.8 5.7 1.9 3.8 1.9 3.8 1.9 1.9 1.9 1.9 1.9 100.0
Cumulative Percent 41.5 52.8 73.6 79.2 81.1 84.9 86.8 90.6 92.5 94.3 96.2 98.1 100.0
The creators of the projects are quiet distributed. 11 Open versus close approach to the content
In total, 35 people created 53 projects. 26 people create one project, 6 people 2 projects and 2 people 3 projects. Apart, 1 person created 9 projects. However the case of creation 9 projects is quiet unusual, because all of the projects created by this person are not started to be used and do not have more than one member.
Concerning the actual participation at the projects, a typology of projects has been developed. This typology considers two aspects, the orientation of the contents (I.e: Expositive versus open collaborative) and the number of people that intervened (I.e: if the contents are generated by more than one person). Typology of projects by type of use (In parentheses are the frequency):
I. Not started to be used (37,7%): Projects that were created but never started to be used. Even in the case of projects with several members subscribed, the projects has not been started to be used.
II. Link oriented (5,7%): A project that basically provide a link to an other website without hosting any interaction.
III. Group presentation (20,8%): Generally it consists of a wiki page that describe the group. The contents are presented in a â€œexpositiveâ€? oriented form; in a willing of making to know the existence of the group, more than to use the space to engage in a collaborative. The presentation can be provided by one participants or by interaction of more than one participant.
IV. E-list oriented (1,9%): When the project is destinate only to the use of e-lists. V. Wardrobe of documents (5,7%): When the project is only use to archive documents . VI. Working group â€“ work in progress (20,8%): A project, which is designed as a working space. Projects that invite to further develop the contents and invite to a collective engagement. The contents of these projects generally are edited by more than one person. However, it could be also the case that all the contents where edited only by one person, nevertheless this person adopted the role of putting online the contents that were the result of a collaborative work between other members, such as minutes of EPA working groups meetings.
VII.Blog (1,9%): Generally only one person develops this space and its contents are a sequence of last news or opinions .
VIII.Knowledge node (3,8%): The goal of this project is in itself to make available a resource of knowledge. They do not have like with the other projects a n other parallel goal like organise a seminar or coordinate the work of a working group . The distribution of frequency of the type of use and participation of the projects shows that almost the 40% of the projects are not started to be used. Then the more frequent type is the projects that are used only to present an organization (22.6%) and the projects that host working groups (20,8%). Then in minor degree link oriented project or wardrobe oriented (5,7%) (See table Project Type of use).
Table: Project Type of use
Not started to be used Link oriented Group presentation Elists oriented Wardrobe Working Group Blog Knowledge node Total
Frequency 20 3 12 1 3 11 1 2 53
Percent Valid Percent 37.7 37.7 5.7 5.7 22.6 22.6 1.9 1.9 5.7 5.7 20.8 20.8 1.9 1.9 3.8 3.8 100.0 100.0
Cumulative Percent 37.7 43.4 66.0 67.9 73.6 94.3 96.2 100.0
In sum, these data suggest that the participants in openesf.net are not concentrated in few projects but distributed across projects. The projects are composed in a significant part by only one person or by a few people. Interestingly, the logic of participation in the projects is quiet diverse. There is not an standard framework of what to do and how to do it in the projects (as it is the case at Wikipedia), instead each project reflects and accommodates the several organizational and communicative logics present at the ESF. Some projects are expositive-oriented while others are collaborative-oriented. IV. Conclusions: Social forums' provision of online and offline platforms of participation and the self-provision model The platforms of participation promoted by the Social forums are characterized by: i) a very broad mission (Chapter of Principles of the Social forums); ii) platforms that are open to anyone who agrees with the broad mission; iii) the contents and program defined and “self-organized” by the participants; iv) the organizers of the forum role is to provide the infrastructure, but not to represent the forum community. All these four characteristic are also present in other type of cases (such as Wikimedia and Flickr); however the forums as providers of platforms of participation have a distinctive sense. The Social forum as a platform provider could be defined as a self-provision, self-organization or adoption model because the forum is not provided by an external body, but by engaged participants of the forum (in some cases self-selected and in others filtered by a representational balance and/or intentional selection). At the Social forums, there is no clear separation between providers and participants and they have similarities in their organizational form. Tensions in self-provision approach However, social forum can be characterised as an hybrid form concerning its composition. The Social forums are hybrid forms in their composition because the social forum hosts the “old”
traditional Left (political parties, trade unions, large NGOs), and the “new” - small anarchist groups, “open space” advocates, and horizontal organizations with diverse ideologies. The diversity of organizational and representational logics that host the forums result in tensions concerning the adoption of online platforms of participation around two main axes: Individual versus organization participation and open and versus close control. In the self-provision approach characteristic of the Foruum, there is not a clear cut between platform providers and platform participants. In this regard; thee above tensions are not stressed in the relationship between the platform provider and platform participants. Instead, in a service oriented type of provision, where there is a clear cut between providers and participants and they follow a different organizational form, these tensions are situated in the relationship between platform providers and platform “users” or participants. Online platform versus offline platforms The provision of the online platform follows in some senses a similar logic to the offline platform: i) Both online and offline the provider and the platform are based on an open and network approach, ii) both are composed of a diversity of forms, iii) and in both cases it is difficult to establish a separation between the provider and the platform. However, the provision of an online platform was not immediate, there was a process of steps until the decision to provide online platforms of participations was adopted. To me this is a sign of the challenges that online platform constitutes for the forum conception of participation: The online platforms generate two challenges to the conception of participation present in the forums: an increase in individual participation as opposed to organizational participation; and a “fragmentation” and decentralization of participation in a way that loses the possibility of centralizing control and capturing its collective dimension and intentionality. Both challenges were already present in the forums, however the online platforms have emphasised them. These tension around the individualization and fragmentation of the participation could be related to the long time took the forums to adopt online platforms and the small dimension of the online communities promoted by the Social forums; together with the impact on the offline dimension of the forums into the participation in the online platforms.
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