Rhea Myers

iCommons: Firing The Boosters

iCommons is an organisation devoted to encouraging the growth of the cultural commons around the world. Their second summit was a resounding success, putting projects and groups from different countries in touch with each other, sharing knowledge and experience, and boosting networking.

iCommons have grown astonishingly over the last year and look set to continue to grow. And as they grow it is important to have some sort of trajectory in mind, even if only negatively and no-brainerly (“no anti-commons projects…”). In particular they must resist the free-market ideologues and feel-good pluralists whose clamouring against (other people’s) “rules” and “ideology” will create contradictions and tensions within the iCommons project. Whatever that might be, although I suspect it should probably have something to do with building the cultural commons.

Tom Chance posted an eloquent critique of some problems with the governance of the summit along with positive suggestions:


The comments are good as well.

Technollama also had some critique:


As did Becky Hogge:


(In particular I have no time for this “pragmatists vs. idealists” false dichotomy. There are social idealists and economic idealists in the free culture community, and the social idealists have ceded far more to pragmatism than the economic idealists have.)

The excellent Heather Ford, head of iCommons, has responded constructively to this input and set in motion a conversation around these issues. But some of those in this conversation have a frankly bizarre view of what iCommons should be. The trance words seem to be “rules” (bad) and “pluralism” (good). I argued in favour of “structurelessness” for Free Culture UK and against “ideology”. I was wrong to do so then, as this simply hides problems with governance and direction,and the people arguing for this for the much larger project of iCommons are at least as wrong to do so now.

Tom Chance, again, makes this point very well:


I have high hopes for iCommons and every confidence in its leadership. But I believe that the majority of free culture activists want neither a noncommercial commons or to be unpaid labour for Web 2.0 startups (some people will need to read that sentence twice). We need to ensure that this is reflected in iCommons’s planned trajectory. Yes; minimally and negatively if necessary to ensure a broad coalition of interests is possible. But we need to draw the line somewhere, and we need to do this so that the people who don’t want to worry about ideology, who want pluralism, or who just want to have fun, have a space in which they can do just that.