The Tragedy of Future Commons


I can’t help but thinking that so many of today’s debates – from climate change to smart city governance and AI ethics – are so much more connected than we give them credit for. I might be projecting, but in my mind they’re just variations of one simple theme:

Do we narrow or broaden the future options space? In others words, will we leave the next generation, the public sector, or the other people around us more options or less options? Do we give them agency or take it away? And how can it ever be ok to act in a way that takes away future generations’ options? That strips governments of their chances to deliver services to their citizens?

It’s essentially the Tragedy of the Commons as applied to the time axis: The Tragedy of Future Commons. And we can choose very deliberately to strengthen the commons (now and for the future), to strengthen future generations in the face of climate change (where we might have hit another tipping point), to strengthen city governments in their ability to govern and deliver services by not hollowing them out, etc. etc. etc..

What actions that requires of us depends heavily on context of course: AI to be made with more participation and civil society involved so as to mitigate risks. Smart cities to prioritize public ownership and accountability so the city doesn’t lose its influence to the private sector. Climate change to be at the top of all our priority lists in order to give our future selves and future generations more and better options to shape their world and thrive in it.

Too often we’re stuck in debates that are based, essentially, in yesterday’s world. We need to realize the situation we’re in so as to avoid false choices. It’s not “climate or business”, it’s “climate or no business”. It’s not “climate or civil rights”, but “climate or no civil rights”. Radical changes are coming our way, and I’d rather shape them with intention and some buffer to spare rather than see them imposed on us like gravity imposed on Newton’s fabled apple.

So let’s aim for the opposite of the Tragedy of the Commons, whatever that might be called. The Thriving of the Commons?

And if you need a framework that’s decidedly not made for this purpose but has been holding up nicely for me, look to the Vision for a Shared Digital Europe (SDE) for inspiration. It lays out 4 pillars that I find pretty appealing: Cultivate the Commons; Decentralize Infrastructure; Enable Self-Determination; Empower Public Institutions. The authors drafted it with the EU’s digital agenda in mind (I was a very minor contributor, joining at a later stage). But I think it can apply meaningfully to smart cities just as much as it does to AI development and climate change and other areas. (Feel free to hit up the team to see how they might apply to your context, or reach out to me and I’ll be happy to put you in touch.) Those are good principles!

Note: This piece is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter Connection Problem, to which you can sign up here.

Understanding the Connected Home: Shared connected objects


This blog post is an excerpt from Understanding the Connected Home, an ongoing exploration on the implications of connectivity on our living spaces. (Show all posts on this blog.) The whole collection is available as a (free) ebook: Understanding the Connected Home: Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home

As anyone who’s lived in a shared household can attest, there will be objects that you share with others.

Be it the TV remote, a book, the dining room table, or even the dishes, the connected home will not doubt be filled with objects that will be used by multiple people, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes even without the owner’s permission.

On the whole, you find wealth much more in use than in ownership. — Aristotle

Rival vs. non-rival goods

What will these shared, connected objects be like? What characteristics will define them?


Share your instagrams / defaults matter


by David R. Politi, licensed under Creative Commons by-nc license

I love the idea of, a tool to license your Instagram photos under a Creative Commons license. It’s a simple way to share your photos, not as in over-share your personal live but as in allow others to build on (and with) your creative works.

Defaults matter: Since most services don’t allow for easy CC-licensing (Flickr being one of the few services that implemented that a long time ago), most photos uploaded aren’t shared under licenses that allow for example bloggers to post a photo on their personal blogs to illustrate their articles. Like the wonderfully gross one you see above, courtesy of David R. Politi, who licensed it as Creative Commons by-nc via

More startups should think about the long play and the role they play in the larger ecosystem. Implementing a tool to license content under more permissive licenses than the get out of my backyard model that is “all rights reserved” (which the law defaults to, if the author doesn’t state a different intent) might bring some extra work with it, but it also allows for easy, massive contributions to the shared commons that we all on the web profit from.

Until then, I’m glad that simple tools like help us with a workaround. My personal workaround so far is, by the way, via the fantastic IFTTT: IFTTT checks for new uploads in my Instagram stream, then uploads them to my Flickr account. There, as mentioned above, my default license is Creative Commons (by-nc-sa), so you can use my photos for non-commercial uses like your personal blog. Plus, unlike at Instagram that is built primarily to make instantaneous sharing easy, it’s easier to search Flickr streams and embed photos. Admittedly, it takes some effort to pipe your photos across the web like that.

So I’m quite happy about tools that make sharing easier, and that hopefully get more companies to build sharing into their products, in responsible, user-controlled, non-creepy ways.

#openIOT assembly and the city


At the OpenIOT Assembly I just stepped in for Mark Shephard and hosted a group discussion about how to apply the (currently draft status) Internet of Things Bill of Rights to the context of cities.

Just a part of our city session #openiot

We collected the full session notes in a gdoc, but below you’ll find the key points as I tried to summarize and cluster them.

It’s a big topic, or rather a cluster of related topics, and we didn’t find many answers but more questions. That was expected and doesn’t mean the session failed. It does however show that we need to dig deeper into any of the fields listed below, as well as a number of others. It also became clear quite quickly that there are no bodies currently in place to coordinate the efforts and represent user/citizen rights in this context. As Adam pointed out: There is room for a whole group of new NGOs to tackle all these issues.

Please note that this is a work in progress, and that it is my interpretation of what we talked about. It is very likely to be edited heavily both for style and content. If you’d like to get involved, the best way is to a) read on on the OpenIOT Assembly website and b) join the discussion list.

  • Accessibility

    • Data should be accessible to the creators/citizens to create value for all parties, not just the capturing party.
    • We need licenses to be legal/human/machine readable, preferably also with simple to recognize icons, so everybody understands the implications of licensing, privacy etc. Creative Commons model might serve as inspiration.
    • Privacy rules and standards need to adapt to local communities/cultures. Defining interoperable families of rights and permissions is key (Creative Commons model).
    • Licenses and families of licenses shall be designed to be interoperable to allow for regional and cultural adaption, and to allow for layering/stacking of licenses in more complex services.
  • Privacy

    • Privacy rules and standards need to adapt to local communities/cultures. Defining interoperable families of rights and permissions is key (Creative Commons model).
    • Trying to find the balance between the interest of public, citizen and commercial interest, the citizens’ rights enjoy priority over commercial interest. Safeguards for citizens’ rights should allow for maximum public good. The details depend on context (for example medical v transportation data).
    • Information sharing in the public space should be granular, giving the citizen control to go from “private” to “some openness” to “public”. APIs should reflect this.
    • Citizens should be notified when their data is captured, and be able to consent (opt in/opt out) of systems wherever possible, particularly in commercially exploitable contexts.
    • We urge designers to build services with privacy in mind, particularly with later aggregation and combination of other data sets in mind.
  • Portability

    • Citizens own the data they contribute to. They have the right to opt out of commercial use of their data, and can state how they want their data to be used.
    • Users/citizens should always know what data is collected about them, and be allowed to delete the data they contributed to whatever extent is possible.
    • If possible, services should be designed to allow to opt out retroactively after our actions were recorded.
  • Licensing

    • We need licenses to be legal/human/machine readable, preferably also with simple to recognize icons, so everybody understands the implications of the license. Creative Commons model might serve as inspiration.
    • Principle: The citizen as creator of data should be empowered in any way possible.

city session at #openiot

Thanks to the participants – too many to list completely, but I have at least some of the names: Martin Spindler, Erik van der Zee, Marc Pous, Matt Biddulph, Adam Greenfield, Shane Mitchell, Hariharan Rajasekaran, Nick O’Leary. Again, the list is taken from the session notes and likely to grow.

Update: You can now endorse the IoT Bill of Rights, aka Statement of the Open Internet of Things Assembly.

Quantified Self on dradio – now in CC


A little while ago, Christian Grasse did a radio feature for dradio on the Quantified Self. There, he included interviews with Johannes Kleske and me.

That was really neat. What’s even neater, though, is this.

This morning, Christian emailed everybody included in his Quantified Self feature to let us know that he had also cut a version of his piece that is fit to release under Creative Commons (“CC by” to be specific), and uploaded it on Soundcloud. His reasoning was that sharing is good, and that dradio is publicly funded, and as such as much of its content should be available to share and remix.

This is awesome. Dradio is excellent with sharing their stuff online, pretty barrier-free, anyway. But this allows for remixing, too. So here it is, the new, CC-licensed version of Christian’s QS feature:

I wish more journalists thought and acted that way. It’s really a best practice scenario. Thanks, Chris!

Ronen Kadushin, folding chairs


“Recent Uploads” – Exhibition Opening from annika. on Vimeo.

My friend and extraordinary open designer Ronen Kadushin (see these blog posts) recently had a vernissage for his new exhibition called “Recent Uploads”.

Ronen says:

Each chair drawe its inspiration from different narratives: design references, emotional states, city life, and street art. (…) The chairs are laser cut from a 6mm aluminum sheet, and bent and assembled by hand. Bending a piece this thick is made easy using a hallmark detail I formulated a few years back; (…) The designs of the chairs were recently uploaded onto my website for anyone to copy, produce or experiment with.

In the video above, you can see how Ronen assembled (or rather: folded) a number of his open design chairs from a flat sheet of metal. It’s pretty amazing, really.

The designs are realeased under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-sa), so you can download and cut them yourself, or buy the complete pieces at Appel Design Gallery, Berlin.

Interview: Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation)


Mark pic by Kate

Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and program chair of Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival, kindly gave me an interview about Drumbeat and why the Open Web is so relevant.

In three sentences: What is Drumbeat?

Mozilla DrumbeatOk. Three sentences. I’ll try 1. Mozilla exists to make sure the internet stays open and awesome. 2. With Drumbeat, we’re moving beyond Firefox to build more things that make the web better — not just software. 3. We’re doing this by reaching out new kinds of people — teachers, filmmakers, lawyers, journalists.

Why is that important?

It’s important because these people — in fact all of us — will have an impact on the future of the web, on what the web becomes.

If we care about the internet for the long run, that means getting people like educators involved in shaping the web in their world. Especially educators who are trying to disrupt and innovate. We can give them open web tools and thinking to help do this, which in turn helps the education web move in the right direction — towards something open, free and hackable.

This same scenario plays out with journalists, artists, filmmakers and so on. We want to help the innovators in these spaces take best advantage of the web, get them on board as our allies.

Which fields is Drumbeat focusing on?

Education and cinema are the two places we’ve put the most attention on in the first year. You can look at:

P2PU School of Webcraft, where we’re helping to build a free online school where web developers teach each other.

And Web Made Movies, a lab where filmmakers and engineers work together invent new kinds of web films.

These are examples of the kinds of things we want to do with Drumbeat. There are dozens more small projects brewing. I think you’ll see some the ones in journalism and art grow bigger next year.

In November you’re planning the Drumbeat Festival. What’s that?

It’s a crazy event where 400 people come to talk about the connections between learning, freedom and the web. And make things. And have fun.

More concretely: we have working on everything from web developer education to open text books to hackerspaces coming. And alot of tech and open source people. The ideas for them to find ways to shape the future of learning together.

It’s meant to be the first of many events like this, where we invite the the kind of people we’d like to bring into Drumbeat, find ways to work together and to work with each other.

Next year, we’ll likely have a different theme. Maybe ‘media, freedom and the web’?

How can the rest of us get involved?

It really depends what your interested in. If you are an educator or filmmaker, the projects I’ve mentioned above are easy entry points. And there will be more entry points in places like journalism, art, etc. coming very soon. Same goes if you’re a web developer or engineer who wants to help on projects like these.

More broadly than this, there want to do local Drumbeat events and a online activities and challenges that almost anyone can get involved in. We toyed with this in 2010, but really plan to go bigger with them next year.

Drumbeat Festival is from Nov 3-5 at Barcelona. The (already pretty sweet) program is further developed in the Wiki. Register for Drumbeat Festival here.

The interview was first published on under a CC by-nc-sa license. Photo by Mark Surman (some rights reserved).