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Collaborating and Creative Communities
Taran Rampersad, 15 Apr 04

There's a lot of recent buzz about creative community and collaboration. Jamais recently posted the Collaboration Manifesto, and Andy Carvin recently wrote about Richard Florida's speech which opened the University Continuing Education Association conference.

..."My father worked for the same company in Pittsburgh from age 11 to age 65," Florida said. "Today the average worker changes jobs every three years - and if you're 30 or younger, you change jobs after less than one year." Because of this constant career churn, people want to be where there is economic opportunity built around innovation and skills - creative communities. Today's information economy workers want to move to a place with "a thick labor force" - a place with energy and creative vibrancy....

-- Richard Florida: Fostering Creative Communities [Andy Carvin]

What I find most interesting about all this discussion is that there's a sense of something ripe in the air. We find more and more people discussing Creativity, Community, Freedom and Collaboration in the same sentences. From Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture, which has had many collaborative remixes, to people on mailing lists, to mainstream media. But what does it all mean?

Perhaps it means that these concepts have been lurking in disjointed communities; silent areas of brooding creativity that have reached critical mass and are now mature enough to interact. It's obvious that Lessig's latest book helped tie much of this together in allowing people of different communities to collaborate.

But there's something fundamental lacking in all of this discussion.

The Internet.

The Internet makes alot of creative collaboration possible - in the last project I participated in (a remix of Lessig's book), I worked with a someone in Candada (who is actually from Europe!), and someone in the United States. I'm here in Trinidad and Tobago. Thus, geography - which has traditionally limited collaboration efforts. People congregated first where there was food, water and shelter. Later they congregated where there was transportation (ports, train stations, etc.). Yet we have transcended that, though not completely.

Richard Florida made the case of Silicon Valley, which is not unfamiliar to me. Steve Traugott mentioned something similar at the FLOS Caribbean conference (2003) - even with failed projects, the people involved are still in Silicon Valley. The 'grey matter' does not leave.

Enter the internet. As long as one has a connection to the internet, one can move anywhere in the world and be a part of Creative Collaboration, a part of Creative Culture, a part of Free Culture. Such collaboration is not new; much of the software that makes the internet possible (and thus you reading this) was developed collaboratively - through Free Software and Open Source (combined, FOSS) projects.

The WorldChanging weblog itself is a symbol of this collaboration. San Francisco (near Silicon Valley, strangely), Stockholm, Toronto, New York City, London, Austin and Trinidad and Tobago. Amazing.

Collaboration across the world is catching on; the passion of creativity burns across the geographic fields via wires and wireless transmission. Participation is easier; finding projects that interest people are easier. And they are beginning to work together in ways that are simply amazing. Silently, and until lately unannounced, the World is becoming a melting pot of ideas of groups across the world.

Hungrily, we ask for more.

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I think the word "openess" is the key concept. Indeed it is the primary aim of George Soros' Open Society Institue ( which spend over $500m a year promoting these very ideas.. it's all about opening the closed doors and exposing them to transparent light.

Think about Wiki the online Encyclopedia. It is a collaborative project that is open for anyone and everyone to contribute. This means the quality (properly managed) and quantity could far surpass any previous efforts at documenting human endevour. It will literally be owned by everyone and literally created by everyone. The same concept as Democracy, it is the government owned and created by everyone. The same forces that allowed people at the dawn of the Industrial revolution to use the power of energy.. electricity and steam power.. to do things that before were only available to a small closed powerful elite is suddenly available to everyone. Freedom. Open access is a continuation of the forces set in motion with the 3 revolutions of the late 18th C: The American Revolution, The French Revolution (both political Democratic ones) and the Industrial Revolution.

The Internet is a great progressive leap forward I would argue it is not a revolution but a continuation of a trend set in motion 200 years ago and from it we can make pretty good predicitions about where things are headed in the future by simply looking at those elements that are still closed and imagining what it would be like if they were open. Some interesting ideas include an open intelligence system (open up the CIA and NSA). An open and transparent financial system. An open and transparent corporation where anyone and everyone can be on the board. These things may sound crazy, but no more crazy then telling a 19th German Encyclopedia writer that one day encyclopedias would be written by anyone and everyone.

Posted by: Stephen Balbach on 15 Apr 04

The internet did change things, though. For example, Stephen, you and I are not in the same country - and yet, we can discuss this - and have a record of the conversation for future reference, as well as have the openness to share it.

The Open is not new, it's just been re-invigorated by technology. Certainly, you and I could also have this conversation closed off to the public - through something like email, or a secret chat room. Instead, we have it here - in the open.

And yet, we do this across the internet. You and I could run a business across the internet, should we decide to - and we could be on other sides of the world.

Collaboration is better open, but it's impossible without connection. The internet transcends geographic boundaries in collaboration. :)

Posted by: Taran on 15 Apr 04



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