Framing Thoughts by the Winter Camp Meta-Group

The Winter Camp Meta-Group is responsible for the programming and production details of the event. This group of researchers will report and reflect on the Winter Camp project, and the network dynamics that unfold during the event. The Meta-Group is responsible for producing a comprehensive documentation in the months following the Winter Camp so that those who did not attend can also benefit from its outcomes.

The research of the Meta-Group revolves around the two aims of Winter Camp: giving existing (online) networks the possibility to come together and work on their own issues and collectively developing sustainable network models. The group will facilitate the collective debates and further theorize the pitfalls and possibilities of the ‘networked condition’. In addition to critical concepts such as organized networks (new institutions), the Meta-Group would like to address a range of practical and theoretical issues along the following lines:

>>   Scaling up or down: To stay active and vibrant, should a network scale up? What does growth mean to the core of dedicated contributors? Sometimes, for no obvious reason, networks remain too small. But is expansion always the answer to a stagnated network? What procedures and policies should groups institute, if at all, to integrate new participants? What role do conferences and face-to-face gatherings play in allowing networks to scale? Sometimes networks just need time, often years to find their productive synergy. One of the reasons for this might be the early age of the topics we’re dealing with. However, the massive involvement in Web 2.0 platforms and social networks indicates that the critical mass is reached much earlier, compared to five or ten years ago. Internet culture is now mainstream culture. Social mobilization is done so much easier these days. Networks can be fooled by the erratic ruptures of today’s online engagement. Is the size of 150 members still the ideal size of a network? Are networked conversations in which more than 500 users participate doomed to fall apart, as stated in the past? Would ‘small is beautiful’ be the right response to the Facebook masses?

>>   Dealing with conflict: Networks can get caught up in recurring instances of social conflict between participants (flamewars, territoriality, etc.), which can lead to the collapse of the larger network. How do we overcome such obstacles? Is it enough to let time pass? Is it a good idea to bring in new people, in the hope of over-ruling the ongoing differences? What role might codes of conduct or other procedures play in mitigating these types of interpersonal conflicts?

>>    Collaborations: How do these organizations form alliances and collaborations with other like-minded groups? What coalitions are possible? How to relate to the brick and mortar institutions? Is membership an option? How does this relate back to the question of finance and legal structures, but also the modes of relation that define the network?

>>    Let’s talk financial matters and legal structures: Suppose you take your network VERY seriously. It’s fun and you all develop the right vibe. There are tonnes of plans. Would writing a grant proposal be the way to go? But for that you need to become a legal body. Most networks do not have a legal structure, but in order to enter the money economy or funding systems, this might be necessary. Online networks also have to deal with money, even if it’s just site hosting and the cost of a domain name. It is a farce to believe everything can and will be for free (meaning gratis). What, then, are the most suitable legal forms for distributed collaboration? What if you don’t want a board, or a director? Or on the contrary, what if you are tired of the ‘terror of the casual’? Is the legal road a way out or the perfect recipe for disaster? Are there ways out such predicaments? Would it be possible to operate as a parasite institute? Piggyback on an existing NGO? Or even snatch a (dead) legal body? Perhaps there’s unexpected opportunities in the society of fakes?

>>    What role might culture – conceived loosely – play in the constitution of networks?

FLOSS emerges from and helps consolidate geek culture, whose history precedes this mode of production and which may account for the strength of these particular networks. Are similar dynamics at play (or not) with other networks? Then there is the related question of the political culture of these networks, which range from anarchist/left to liberal/reformist. How do these political philosophies shape the constitution of these networks?

>>    Ownership and copyright: While there are current alternatives to copyright (such as copyleft licenses and those of Creative Commons), what are the limits, pitfalls, and problems in using these or any legal solution for creative and knowledge production? The core lies at the level of the individual participant, and the ownership over his or her ideas. If the network accepts the idiom of intellectual property, what are models of IP that allow personal attribution as well as recognition for the group effort? Is it is a major conflict for the network to have legal discourses inscribed upon their mode of production?

>>    Software and the Technology Fix: What are suitable tools for collaboration? What are the limits of current communication protocols (email, mailing lists, web pages, social networking sites)? What new tools are being created to address these needs? How to keep the network together without getting caught up in difficult or differentiated channels of communication? How does a network of non-experts learn a new language of programming? Is this an opportunity to expand the network, invite in the experts, or is this an occasion of getting down to the labour of acquiring new skills? Perhaps both are necessary. Either way, it seems the software question has to be addressed for those networks wishing to enter the world of open source cultural production and political invention.

>>    Dissemination: What type of publications and series can be developed? Without much trouble, networks jump into the grey zone between print and online publications – what are the opportunities here?

>>    Winter Camp’s overall aim is to strengthen the network(ed) form of organization. It might also be important in this context to go back to basics and to ask how an (organized) network defines itself. What could a network institution look like? What are its dynamics and how might it become a source of power vis-à-vis the production of new standards and social relations? What forms of self-reflexivity and translation are part of these modes of relation? How does the network learn to institute sharing, democratize its own production of expertise, establish collaborative forms of decision-making and address the question of borders?