Michel Bauwens defines the term P2P as the relational dynamic of distributed networks.
Distributed networks are different from centralized networks, those with a centralized topology on one node. They are also different from the decentralized or federated networks, those with several central nodes connected to each other. In other words, distributed networks would be those whose nodes could be connected without intermediates, exchanging information freely without central control.
Considering this, we can tell that the concept behind the acronym P2P is strongly related with the topology of our communication infrastructures. But it also implies a change in our practices and values, and may lead to a change of paradigm with very important implications in a wide variety of fields such as economics, politics, science or education.
However, when we talk about the Blockchain we are talking basically about a distributed ledger of transactions and the protocol which enables different nodes to use the same ledger. In other words, a protocol that allows agents to be part of the same transaction network by building consensus with cryptographic algorithms.
We can describe the Blockchain-related technologies as one revolutionary step towards the development of fully decentralized (that is, distributed) infrastructures. Furthermore, we can consider that the biggest implication of these new technological frameworks is that they allow something else that just information exchange through distributed networks. Rather, they enable distributed production and flow of value across the Internet.
Coming back to the initial argument (and seen the big picture of the P2P paradigm), Blockchain technologies may imply something else than just a new distributed infrastructure. They may imply the emergence of new organization models for P2P interaction. If a blockchain-based software can enable distributed production and flow of value, then it can be used to bootstrap the value production and distribution capabilities of Commons Based Peer Production (CBPP) communities. Or maybe it can be used exactly for the opposite, to increase control mechanisms or preserve more competition-based political and economic views, like crypto-anarchism or libertarianism. Talking about technology always should imply a critical perspective, and that is one of the main goals of STS.
An optimistic point of view can lead us to consider that the Blockchain hype is kind of a panacea.
It can be a tipping point to reach the dreamed P2P Society, leading to the minimization of strategic homogeneity, as much as the maximization of the decentralization of political and economic structures. It can imply a higher emergence of collective intelligence and self-organization, enabling new peer-to-peer social dynamics, and being a support for new models of knowledge production within the CBPP approach.
However, it is obvious that science and technology should be discussed with a critical eye (and not necessarily by defending any kind of neo-luddism). Assuming that critical mindset and discussing technological breakthroughs from a commons-oriented perspective, may lead to entrepreneurial initiatives focused on the improvement of our communities. Emphasizing the idea of combining Blockchain-enabled technologies with the production goals of P2P paradigm, the project Bitmind was born in 2015 as a commons-oriented startup.
I founded Bitmind, in collabotation with Vasilis Kostakis (P2P Lab) and Ishan Shapiro (Metamaps), as a decentralized entrepreneurial initiative whose goal was the exploration of the potential of Open Value Networks (OVN) by using blockchain-based technologies.
It was founded in early 2015 as a side entrepreneurial project, looking for an application of my doctoral dissertation. Bitmind was one of the initiatives funded during the Faircoop donations campaign in 2015.
The summer of 2015, Bitmind founders were invited to present the OVN model at the AGI Conference 2015 (The eighth Conference on Artificial General Intelligence). The talk, “Scalable cognition through collaborative sense-making: drafting the Open Value Network model” was included in the Workshop on Synthetic Cognitive Development and Integrated-Distributed Agency (IDA), organized by David Weinbaum and Viktoras Veitas from the Global Brain Institute (Free University of Brussels). Our talk was introduced by Ben Goertzel.
Some months later, after discussing with the teams of Sensorica and Backfeed about our common interests, we decided to focus our efforts in applied research & open source development around the OVN/DCO context, exploring how new models for self-organization could enforce the value production capacities within the P2P paradigm. In order to unify concepts, share common methodologies and explore the field, we talked about the need of creating a shared hub for this evolving and growing ecosystem.
Bitmind’s initial goal was to help Open Enterprises, Cooperatives and Communities to distribute value amongst their members and bootstrap their collective intelligence by using P2P infrastructures. In order to unify concepts, share common methodologies and explore that field, we developed OVN.SPACE. This initiative enabled collaboration between different Open Value Networks, including companies and projects such as Sensorica, Backfeed, The Citizens Media, Mikorizal, Metamaps, Value Flows and Kendra Initiative.
In October 2015, a group of 35 designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs from all over the world gathered in Oakland, California. They group consisted of founders and key contributors from Enspiral, Loomio, CoBudget, Chalkle, Robin Hood Cooperative, Identity.com, Hylo, Ethereum, Citizen Code, Metamaps.cc, Bitmind, KiwiConnect, Lifehack, Planetwork, Impact Hub, Refugio Resource, Pyxis, Triaxiom9, CivicMakers and more. As a consequence of some days of exchange and dialogue about the creation of tools, strategies, and networks to build a new collaborative commons, the Collaborative Technology Alliance was created.
One month later, the P2P Lab (Tallinn University of Technology) included Bitmind as a commons-oriented start-up in its plans for 2016. After that, Bitmind members, with other collaborators of the P2P Lab, worked on proposals to explore blockchain technologies under the framework of the European Union research goals.
I started to collaborate with Primavera de Filippi (Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard) and Vasilis Kostakis. And at the beginning of 2016, COALA (organizer the first Blockchain Workshops at Harvard, MIT and Stanford) invited me to participate in the Blockchain Workshop 2016 in New York City, to present Bitmind with other blockchain-based projects in front of potential investors.
The project was gaining momentum.
I started to receive job offers from blockchain-related enterprises like Visa Research and Coinbase. But I was tired of the entrepreneurial stress and the fast evolution of the Blockchain ecosystem. Companies such as Facebook or Amazon started to contact me.
That was too much, so I decided to take a step back.
I had just moved to North Carolina and had other plans for my life. I wanted to continue working remotely for Enxendra Technologies while developing my next personal initiatives. This time I wanted to unify all my research interests, but looking more to the creative process than to the market.
So I founded the SciArt Lab and started as Visiting Researcher for the University of North Carolina, developing my new research interests.
I focused on other projects, initiating a process of coordination to transfer the Bitmind initiative to the P2P Foundation.
Since it was founded, Bitmind efforts were mostly in applied research & open source development around the context of Open Value Networks and Distributed Collaborative Organizations, exploring how new models for self-organization could enforce the value production capacities within the P2P paradigm.
Bitmind was one of the first entrepreneurial initiatives oriented to unify CBPP governance and economic models with blockchain-based technologies, helping to initiate the conversation about new self-organizing infrastructures in value production communities.
In July 2016, Bitmind funds were transferred to the P2P Foundation.