Coding or community? The uneven value of activities in peer production
Do all activities in Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP) communities have the same worth? What types of activities are perceived and valued as contributions in CBPP? Are all the activities, like coding or creating community, carried in CBPP recorded in the tools employed for coordination in equal terms?
The term Commons-Based Peer Production was coined initially by Yochai Benkler and referred to an emergent model of socio-economic production in which groups of individuals cooperate to produce shared resources without a traditional hierarchical organization.
While “object-oriented” activities such as writing code or editing wiki pages have been widely explored in research, those whose main focus of action is the community – or “community-oriented” – have received less attention, these include organizing events and mentoring new participants.
Our recent research published in collaboration with researchers from the University of Surrey (UK) explored what activities are considered contributions in CBPP communities to shed light on perceptions of value. Concretely, we explored the notion of value in Drupal. Drupal is a free/libre software for the development of websites. The Drupal project was released as free/libre software in 2001 and has grown ever since to become the backbone of 1.9% of websites worldwide. Furthermore, a community of more than 1.3 million people collaborate on Drupal.org.
The study of perceptions of value in specific contexts, such as Drupal’s, provides us with ways to escape the hegemonic price system to determine value. In other words, as argued by the inspiring work of Graeber, if the capitalist mode of production has transformed the perceptions of value, CBPP provides us with spaces in which to understand such notions of value as meaningful or not concerning the communities themselves.
Principal characteristics of the study
Principal characteristics of the study
If you want to know the methods used to arrive at our conclusions, please unfold the table below
Ethnography: to highlight the understanding of perceptions of value from the participants’ point of view
- Three years of participant observation
- Analysis of an archive of 8,613 documents
- 15 Semi-structured interviews
Beginning October 2013
End November 2016
Production of value: What particular actions are rationalized as meaningful contributions according to the communitarian needs?
Record of value: How are these forms of value recorded in the tools employed to support collaboration?
If the capitalist mode of production has transformed the perceptions of value, CBPP provides us with spaces in which to understand such notions of value
Summary of the findings
The exploration of the rationalization of particular activities as meaningful contributions according to the internal logics of value shows the need to broaden our understanding of valued contributions. The study provides evidence of the perception of identified “community-oriented” forms of contribution, how they are valued, and their relevance for the sustainability of the community.
Through an analysis of the representation of contribution activities in the main collaboration platform, such as user profiles, we found empirical evidence of the uneven representation of some of these contribution activities, affecting mainly those identified as “community-oriented”.
In sum, it is not only that “community-oriented” activities such as mentoring and the organization of events are understood as a type of contribution in these communities; nor is it only that they are unequally represented in the main collaboration platform; but they play a key role in the sustainability of the community by providing their participants with emotional experiences which help to foster and scale up collaboration and a sense of community.
Implications and conclusions
The analysis leads to the following conclusion: the rationalization of particular activities as meaningful contributions according to the Drupal community’s needs is incongruous with the systematization to track and record such forms of value in the main collaboration platform. Overall, this analysis shows a need to widen our understanding of contribution activities beyond the traditional view of source code or other “object-oriented” activities and the existence of differences concerning the internal perceived value.
A broader understanding of the notion of contribution has implications for the provision of indicators that acknowledge, aggregate and incorporate these forms of value into the technical artifacts employed to support the organization of peer production.
Blockchain technologies offer, in this respect, an exciting field of experimentation with new systems of value in which to record the perception of such activities as meaningful or not according to the logics of the CBPP communities themselves.
Rather than creating tools which impose “one-size-fits-all” indicators, such as “likes”, a broader understanding of contribution in CBPP implies, for the co-designing of these platforms, the need to offer mechanisms that enable communities to define these indicators dynamically, allowing them to reflect the results of their processes of negotiation of what is considered valuable.