KEYWORDS: Universal Profile Information Democratic Community-Building Grassroots Democracy Economics Networking Global
uPangea would create something more powerful than, and indeed, transcending, all of these and many others, in a way which is much more liberating and empowering to people. It would not be something easily controllable or easily encircled -- nor something as easy for a corporation to make a buck with; as in the case of OpenSource/FreeSoftware, a more organic emergence may take many years but, as in that case, could create a much more powerful and liberating ecosystem of software and personal and community tools
A proposed project for a free software/open source
uPangea: Universal Profile And Networking: GEography and Affinity
SYNOPSIS: Outlined below are the features of the software project being proposed here -- software which:
...with applications to Community-, Voter-, and Peace-Organizing, Tenants and Labor Organizing, Electric Cars, finding a hiking pal, finding your sweetheart, ...and general democratizing.
Note: While item II. has the greater potential for far-reaching benefits to society as a whole, we first describe the motivation for and the suggested outline of implementation for I., in some detail. These elements of detail will then make the description of II., which follows, more readily clear and vivid.
I. Universal Personal Profile: Motivation and Outline of Functions and Benefits
A. Motivation: The Problems With The Current State Of Online "Personals"
The internet today is very atomized. De-centralization of power is a good thing. On the other hand, "atomization" refers to the obstacles to being able to centralize things --such as database of information under democratic, public control -- even if we wish to amalgamate them.
Consider the case of various online personals websites. To have a larger chance of meeting the best "match," you would have to join each of several mainstream Personals services. Should these all be combined into one? No, for there would be too much potential for abuse if there were a monopoly or near-monopoly of control over one or a few big lists.
The same problem exists --acutely-- in the case of non-mainstream Personals websites. For example, each of GreenSingles.com, VeggieDate, and ConcernedSingles.com have relatively small databases. This again suggests that one join all of them to maximize one's chances of finding the best match. Yet, that would mean paying a membership fee to each of them. Furthermore, the problems don't end there; who knows, maybe your sweetheart is not currently a member of any of these three.
And why the madness of having all the databases be separated, unable to be amalgamated and searched through via one single search engine?
The problems with the existing system goes deeper, however. Who decides how extensive the search feature is? Who decides what the specific features of that search are -- such as, which items can even go into a search? Each company separately decides which feature(s) to include in its matching criteria and search engine -- and which ones not to include. Maybe one company lets you search by zip code, but not by whether a person is vegetarian; another company may include both features but lack a search by other criteria that are important to you. Furthermore, a year from now a new criterion might be important to you -- and thousands of others. If only We The People -- "the masses" -- had the power to almost instantaneously add another "field" based upon having an interest in that new area!
Shouldn't the users be able to create their own search criteria so that a subset of people who decides that some new aspect, X, is important to them, can self-identify according to it, add it, and search for others who share that interest or identification? These are very pragmatic arguments --there surely are principled ones as well -- for a more democratically controlled system of personal profiles and searching tools.
Additional reasons for doing this include issues of privacy and the desirability of avoiding putting control of so much personal and private information in the hands of a handful of large private corporations.
B. Outline Of A Proposed New System For Personals
|What follows is an outline for a Universal Personal Profile system which is more powerful than existing "personals" networks; is applicable to networking (civic, professional, hobbyist, and activist); is based on open standards (and OSFS, Open Source Free Software); and which is based on public oversight, democratic control, and democratic public ownership.|
0. Software: This would be Free Software (see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/philosophy.html#AboutFreeSoftware) released under GNU GPL.
1. Open Standards?: A democratically accountable body, such as sets the standards for HTML(*) would create a general and extensible system for coding personal profiles. A client program would exist for creating or modifying one's own profile. This creation/modification would need to also make the new or updated information "Available" to others (see below). This same client or possibly another program, would be used for searching through the space of all profiles. (Plug-ins for browsers are one possible implementation for each of these). (*) Aside: we're not fully sure how democratic that is; the example is chosen as a "famous, well known standard" but perhaps "such as the setting of standards in various Open Source Free Software (OSFS) projects like GNU/Linux, Gnome, and others" would be better.
2. System Structure: Decentralized collection, storage, and distribution of data could be accomplished in several possible ways. A Gnutella type architecture is one possibility. A search client in this case would seek information from 'neighbors' which would be clients with 24/7 internet connectivity which store the Universal Personal Profiles (UPPs) of either one, or may people, in which case it could serve as a "broadcasting beacon" for all UPPs is has storage space for, which it had discovered via a proximity search.
The Enum initiative attempts to turn phone numbers into net addresses and give people a universal way of contacting anyone, provided they know at least one e-mail, address, phone or pager number for them. BBC, 04 Jan
Users who have their own websites could use their Profile Composer client to create a URL which would be a text-only encoding of their UPP. Users who which to have their UPPs updated and do not have their own websites may use their Profile Composer client to create or update their UPP as follows. The client would send an email to a server which would inform a local "beacon" webpage to update user #12345's UPP. With a date stamp included, this updated UPP would be disseminated over time via the Gnutella type updates or other "web crawler" methods. [DISCLAIMER: The above is to be taken only in broad brush-strokes. The author is not a web or programming expert, merely a longtime internet user. So long as the parameters and extensibility featured outlined above and below are attained, any system which realizes them would be excellent].
Programmers would need to create a 'language' for coding the information which is well-suited for later expansion of the types of records a UPP has -- so it can have more "fields" added at any time (e.g., not many years ago people might not have thought about vegetarian/vegan, or GLBT as fields to search by).
Equally importantly, the language must be general enough that more complex (ideally, arbitrarily complex) types of searches can be added over time: E.g., the system if expanded to include GPS and Zip Code information should be able to handle:
The degree of extensibility should be such that it is capable later being enhanced to handle Operations Research (OR) type optimizations. If this seems too ambitious, consider the following example:
I might wish to drive across the US in the year 2008 and which to drive cross country on my electric vehicle in a way which also takes me by the houses of people in network EVN, members of which agree to let other members plug in their cars "at cost". I would be able to use the added record "EVN" (running the program from a hand-held or from the car's internet console) -- a record which would have been added in, say, 2006 [the extensibility to new records feature], and I should be able include it in a complex search as in i) and ii), wanting to also meet up with like minded folks as well as regarding my car -- and use the geographical data in iii).
Yes, this program will be a much more powerful way to find your sweetheart than existing isolated and privately held databases, but it will also revolutionize networking relevant to existing and future projects.
Finally, the protocol needs to be powerful enough for such features as my using the Profile Composer to have UPP's indicate what information to share with whom. For example, it should be capable of implementing the following:
"share my information about my diet with everyone; share my interest in boating with anyone within 40 miles who has that interest; show others my interest in Greenpeace only if they too share this interest; share my public profile and interest in [insert sexual preference] only with those on my CloseFriends list, but anonymously share my interest in same, with anyone else. Include a semi-private message '[text]' to anyone matching the criteria [boolean expression]"To anonymously share your UPP means that a version of your UPP, minus your identification fields, would show up on a search. That person would then be able to contact you (still not knowing your true identity) and you could decide whether to reveal your full identity. This would have numerous applications to not only personals but to hobbies and civic/activist interests (See II. below)
Other features could be included such as "tell your friends about joining uPangea" or "click here to tell friends about creating their own UPP" could allow for exponential spreading via word-of-mouth (the more familiar term "viral marketing" is better known. However, we would rather not be associated with "disease" -- though that sense of the term "viral" is, sadly, applicable to commercial marketers)
Such features could be incorporated to help the project grow. Perhaps also "click to donate" though this would need to be non-obtrusive, able to be made invisible by a user not wanting to look at the "donate" button, and critically, the issues of control of the funds would need to be resolved. We suggest a "tell friends about this" is a good first feature to include in the first release.
3. Status: The initiator of this project is not a programmer. We are actively seeking programmers interested in this project, but particularly, those who in addition to supporting GNU principles, have a personal political/social interest using software to contribute to a broader spectrum of progressive activist endeavors (see especially II. below). Contact information is at bottom.
Elaboration of why this program is needed
See the application to EVs above, and to community activism in II. below, for additional and extremely useful consequences of having such software. Even in the narrower field of personal ads, it is easy to respond to a question like "So why can't people just put stuff on their webpage today and use google?"
(*) I suggest another name because the program also help you find ski buddies, and organize at the grassroots -- not just help you find romance.
(Not to mention that this would introduce problems when people use more than one language; a UPP composer on the other hand could have a front end in each language, while creating on universal coding).
II. Outline Of Features Which Could Revolutionize Activism
Next we describe another, separate, project, and show how it could be linked to and key features included in, the above UPP software:
Another project is to create an OSFS tool for networking by region. This is an idea which has been used (not invented) by Meetup.com -- but our system would be controlled democratically as an OSFS community run and organized project, rather than being run by a single company.
Several enhancements come to mind, one of which, in the U.S., would be allowing the use of the more precise and geographically narrower "zip+5" rather than just zip code alone.
Just think of the applications. For example, I rent. As we all know, landlords don't want you to (and often legally forbid you) going door to door organizing -- let alone organizing on the issue of tenants rights. [Various steps towards geographic networking on neighborhood scale exist]
An OSFS "Zip5-Networker" program would let that it would help people find fellow tenants who feel the same way (The Sears Tower has its own Zip code, though it's huge; clearly, something much smaller than the Search Tower can have it own unique "zip+5" code -- for example a sufficiently large rental complex).
Suppose you live in a complex of 250 or so 2-bedroom apartments. There are probably at least 5 others who were anti-war, at least that many who'd enjoy a vegetarian meal, at least that many who would organize for tenants rights -- .but how would you ever find those five? Not easy! Even if you were not intimidated from going door to door, who wants to spend the time to knock on 200 doors to find 5 or 10 people? This program would make a huge difference in real, social/civic networking problems such as this.
Imagine the power.
Right now it's just very hard to even get to know the others in your area who feel the same way.
This would truly help shift the balance of power from central authorities, to the people, allowing us to find nextdoor or community neighbors who feel the same ways about issues. Perhaps most people would use it to find fellow fans of X where X is merely a hobby -- that's fine if that's good enough for the majority. But for the many civic and social movements, we'd have that tool too. And again imagine what it would do for tenants rights not just at a ~decent~ place like many of us live in, but at a "slum lord" area, too.
What if there was an anonymous workplace affiliation field, too? Then workers could anonymously -- thus safely -- find one another. They could find out how many others feel the way they do about how things are at the workplace, and what changes they propose.
Likewise, lower-income people trying to organize their area for Voter Registration to affect 2004..could find one another geographically with fast, on-the-fly creation and modification of fields that are searchable.
Since this is a decentralized project, rather than controlled by a single company like meetup.com, the new projects could be put into place much more quickly than if the "ok" of a single website was needed. Furthermore, a single "meet up with one another" company could be pressured by landlord, employers, and others, "not to go too far" -- so even if it was not intrinsically on the bosses side, it could very easily fall under their threats. A decentralized network and publicly controlled database is much harder to pressure, intimidate, or blackmail.
It seems to me that, at least for the feature just listed, it would be easy, or at least natural, to incorporate them into the earlier UPP and Profile Composer idea.
Your "preferences" should be able to allow you to tell the computer to make your zip (respectively, your zip+5) known, but only to others who match X, Y, Z. For example, only users who are in your zip code AND who have "tenants rights" (or, "anti-war", or..) marked as their preferences, would get to see the part of my profile that gives your zip code (your individual identity could still be anonymous unless you give that out). Others would just see my profile without knowing the zip code -- or without seeing my zip+5, depending on how you set your UPP.
The UPP would even allow you to have "message" section(s) in your
profile that are only seen by those in your zip (or zip+5) e.g. "I'm
looking for someone to [organize the community / organize tenants/
enjoy veggie meals with /go boating with].." or who match other
criteria as in the earlier examples.
Bonus Application: Avoiding fragmentation-inducing naming
Recently a new meetup.com group (topic) was created: "parecon", named after Participatory Economics, the democratic alternative to both capitalism and central planning inspired by the work of Albert and Hahnel. Worldwide membership a week later remained rather small. Could this perhaps have to do with the fact that other folks with similar values had already created and signed up for other meetups, with related but different titles -- such as anarchism or anarchist or economicdemocracy?
The only way to find out is to attempt to connect to each such named meetup separately. Worse, even when you later discover that a meet already exists under the name of "anarchy" (created perhaps by someone not familiar, strictly speaking, wit the difference between anarchism and anarchy), what is to be done? You are still stuck with two separate meetups. The only solution with the current setup is to try to talk everyone in one meetup group A to join meetup group B (perhpas also vice versa if the consensus is that they have similar but differing goals). This is a hefty task, and worse, an on-going one, since new people constantly join each of the two meetups. Worse still, next week someone might create "democraticeconomics"..!
Here the advantages of the framework of uPangrea becomes clear. The UPP of each individual will list their intersts, so you could list PareEcon, "Participatory Economics, "Economic Democracy", Anarchism, and a few other keywords. You could send an announcement to the set of all people having all of these, or to the set of all people having any of these, or to the set of all people listing exctly the first two of these keywords. When searching for people who live geographically nearby, for forming an affinity group, you would probably
If you find this exciting -- the idea of a powerfully searchable and expandable UPP which would make Personals pages obsolete, put the data and privacy under democratic public control and ownership with free software clients for updating and for being "beacons" -- if you find it exciting to help write a piece of software that could revolutionize civic and activist (as well as hobby based) networking from tenants rights to environment, peace, and helping you find your sweetheart, and even finding people along your travel route where you can recharge your GPS equipped EV car in the future -- we would love to hear from you.
More generally, this is one of several projects which incorporate free software in whole or in part towards achieving significant long-term positive social benefit, indeed, helping change the balance of power in society. If you are a programmer who shares interests in progressive social/political change, please contact us; we have more ideas where this above came from. Just indicate you are interested not only in the UPP but also in the broader idea of a coalition of progressives with OSFS "hackvisits"; in using online tools to better the world
Contact us at EconDemocracy [at] gmail.com
This work by Harel Barzilai is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Bottom line our intention is: a) keep in the public domain what has been in the Commons of Knowledge, and b) what new parts are added and innovated in the uPangea white paper, to keep from "enclosure" and unleash to and for the grassroots public.