Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2019-08
End: 2020-12

A Distributed Software Stack For Co-operation

Facilitating easy ad hoc cooperation

Perspectives aims to be to co-operation, what ActivityPub is to social networks. It provides the conceptual building blocks for co-operation, laying the groundwork for a federated, fully distributed infrastructure that supports endless varieties of co-operation. The declarative Perspectives Language allows a model to translate instantly in an application that supports multiple users to contribute to a shared process, each with her own unique perspective. The project builds a reference implementation of the distributed stack that executes these models of co-operation, and makes the information concerned searchable.

Real life is an endless affair of interlocking activities. Likewise, Perspectives models of services can overlap and build on common concepts, thus forming a federated conceptual space that allows users to move from one service to another as the need arises in a most natural way. Such an infrastructure functions as a map, promoting discovery, decreasing dependency on explicit search. However, rather than being an on-line information source to be searched, such the traditional Yellow Pages, Perspectives models allow their users (individuals and organisations alike) to interact and deal with each other on-line. Supply-demand matching in specific domains (e.g. local transport) integrates readily with such an infrastructure. Other patterns of integrating search with co-operation support form a promising area for further research.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

The way our information is organised, has a huge impact on how society is organised. There is a lot of human activity that falls outside of existing commercial services. Society consists of families, unions, clubs, public offices, schools, public transport, sports, art, culture - a rich blend of individuals, formal organisations and ad hoc organic structures of all sizes. This complex fabric of society of people has been categorised by Kate Raworth in "The Doughnut Economy" into four sectors: the households, the commons, the state and the market. The latter two in particular are know to reach huge sizes (a relatively small amount of nation states and large multinationals), while the other two (almost by design) are millions of times larger in numbers but each of them remains small in size.

People perform and produce in households and the commons in all sorts of ways that are not visible from the other perpectives. People co-operate everywhere. They communicate, co-ordinate their actions and jointly achieve more then anyone could on their own. Given the superpowers of the internet, it is logical to support and improve that co-operation (including and perhaps especially ad hoc cooperation) with IT infrastructure. Due to the hyperscaling that is happening in the market and state, the tooling we use for both households and the commons is often not optimal. A family is not an office, and in fact behaves very differently. We are creative enough to support ourselves with what we have to our avail - how many people repurpose spreadsheets as a membership database, address book or an archiving system. There is a huge and ever changing variety of collaboration models and contexts, and the great variety of different tools needed to make optimal use of the technological possibilities could never be economically viable as products. Luckily, there are many similarities that allow for a vast amount of reuse - just like we have a limited set of slightly over 120 chemical elements that are the building blocks for the almost infinite amount of complex molecules that make up the universe, the amount of technology primitives we need to combine to enable a rich diversity of human collaboration is in fact limited too.

The Perspectives project aims to create the infrastructure that can empower an explosion of collaboration, not just limited to households and the commons but extending its use to all of human activity. The goal is empowering people to come together to offer and exchange information, products or services with whomever they want. Perspectives is a project to build the necessary infrastructure for such online cooperation. Instead of focusing on search and keeping users in the dark about how searching actually works, Perspectives focuses on discovery and how actors in a specific domain (think of local transportation, accommodation, second hand goods, or matchmaking for that matter) organize supply and demand just the way they want to. With a flexible and federated (no central managing authority) foundation, Perspectives can accommodate diversity while maintaining a universal user experience. And because it is open technology, it can be reused, expanded and shared to accommodate any type of human activities users need support for.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.