Collaborative Creativity within Commons-Based Peer Production

According to Megan Garber for The Atlantic, “the first Google doodle was an out-of-office message”. Larry Page and Sergey Bring placed the Burning Man logo behind the “o” of the Google in order to alert users that they were away at the festival. In Burning Man at Google: a cultural infrastructure for new media production, Fred Turner argues that Burning Man is not as large a disconnect from the corporate world as one might assume. He speaks on the socialization of technical labor, specifically in the realm of ‘commons-based peer production’, which relies on “a particular structural and ideological scaffolding” (Turner 76). During his discussion of this production of ‘corporate culture’, Turner delineates the parallels between Google’s corporate structure and that of the Burning Man festival, claiming that, “Black Rock City becomes a commons” (Turner 81). He goes on to suggest that, despite the often anti-corporation ethos, the principles of the festival mirror those of the modern professional world (i.e., Google). Turner’s comparison is interesting due to the artistically motivated nature of the festival, but so too is his discussion of Google Inc.’s fusion of the social and professional realms. Google utilizes the commons-based peer model and the allotment of ‘20% time’ in order to align personal growth with product development. A comparison, such as Turner makes, would not have been possible with a traditional business structure. Corporations’ increased reliance on Internet-based communication and collaboration methods, has conversely effected their business model to be more so in accordance with the format of the Net.

Like Google, Linux relies on commons-based peer production. Linus Torvalds, a Finnish computer science undergrad, wrote a new operating system for his PC. He thought his system might be useful to others and not only announced the project in order to receive feedback, but also later uploaded the software itself. This allowed those capable, to do their own tinkering with the program. Two years afterward, over 100 contributors had worked to develop the software dubbed Linux. The fact that the software has become so popular speaks to the success of this earlier example of commons-based peer production. Even more than popularity, the quality of the system improved with more input. Christian Siefkes notes that, “it is frequently used for high-performance applications – more than 90 percent of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers use Linux” (Siefkes). This model is clearly successful in its promotion of collective creativity; however, Turner raises a valid point in his discussion of Google. Many scholars have pointed to the flattening of corporate hierarchy and the transformation of users into developers, but the facts is that structure does remain. Turner writes, “neither the practices nor the ideology of peer production have lessened the actual power of managers to hire and fire, nor that of customers to make demands for particular products” (Turner 81). If profit is being made, true collaborative creativity is stifled. Like communism, the idea of collaborative creativity is appealing, but the actuality of it is much more difficult to achieve.

Christian Siefkes. The boom of commons-based peer production. In David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, editors, The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State, pages 289-294. Levellers Press, Amherst, MA, 2012.

Garber, Megan. “The First Google Doodle Was a Burning Man Stick Figure.” The Atlantic 6 Sept. 2013.

Turner, Fred. “Burning Man at Google: A Cultural Infrastructure for New Media Production.” New Media and Society. London: Sage, 2009.

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