P2P Foundation, Michel Bauwens and the Peer to Peer Movement

The P2P Foundation Of Michael Bawens

Michel Bauwens is the director and founder of the organisation P2P Foundation. Hailing from Belgium he is a peer to peer expert who has been working on advancing peer to peer theory. He is a writer, researcher and conference speaker who focuses on the topics of technology, business innovation and culture. His most important work to date is considered to be his work “The Political Economy of Peer Production”. In this work, Bauwens proposes the idea that P2P provides an alternative approach to the capitalist society. However, it is acknowledged that P2P is reliant on the market, but explained that the interdependence is mutual.

Becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the corporate world and the inequality that the system was creating, Bauwens stepped back from his corporate career in 2002. The initial plan was to take a sabbatical and consider possibilities. He moved to Thailand, “to create a global cyber collective to research and promote P2P dynamics”. His ultimate goal is to develop a social movement that is powerful and that can help to drive social justice reforms. This social movement is also perceived to be instrumental in increasing sustainability of the natural world and opening up the world to greater sharing and collaboration so that we can all benefit from each other’s knowledge. The idea behind this is so that:

“The collective intelligence of humanity can be brought to bear on the grave challenges we are facing.”

Bauwens’ organisation, the P2P Foundation has a remit to bring those together who agree with a range of different peer to peer guiding ideas, principles and propositions. These include the fact that peer to peer based technology has potential for a change of consciousness towards individual and networked participation, and that it creates a new public domain, among others. The common goals of the P2P Foundation are to bring information together, connect people and mutually inform them, create integrative insights, organise events for reflection and action and educate people about what can be done. The organisation is registered in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam under a local name of “Stitching Peer to Peer Alternatives”. Simply, the organisation seeks to review the impact of peer to peer thought and technology on society.

Honing in on the specifics of what the P2P Foundation does it is perceived as a platform for people to realise new participatory and commons-oriented platforms across all fields. The Foundation works to monitor and describe real world initiatives, as well as looking at theoretical impacts and creating a database of material, including primary and secondary data to make sense of what is going on. The organisation has created a wiki that holds approximately 8,000 pages of information with is viewed on a very regular basis, and to date has been seen by more than five million people. There is also a blog that reaches 35,000 unique users per year. The organisation also has a number of mailing lists including its “peer to peer research list” which is sent to both academics and non-academics and helps to bring people together to collaborate in reaching understandings. There have also been events in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece. Bauwens states that while P2P operates without the P2P Foundation, value is added through providing the “interconnecting grease” to the system.

The P2P Foundation is a decentralised organisation, but it has become clear that in order to grow that it needed to put in place some centralised structures. While there are no formal operational roles, Michael Bauwens himself is responsible for curating the majority of the content. Kevin Flanagan is responsible for care of community management as well as assisting with the content. The organisation has been applauded for its quality of writing as well as the solid insight that it provides on alternative structural mechanisms. It is also recognised for the practical solutions that it seeks to find to modern day problems and issues that the world faces. One of the challenges that the organisation has faced according to Bauwens is that he did not create a business model for the organisation. This has led to a requirement for him to return to work to be able to support his family. A disappointing outcome for Bauwens perhaps, but nonetheless a great start has been made in facilitating P2P development and in the dissemination of information, with surely more great progress to happen in the future.