How can we understand collaborative behaviours in Maker projects on platforms?

Makers very often work in collaboration with other people, and several times they share their work online as open source (software, hardware, design, …). I’ve been researching how people work collaboratively especially in Open Design projects for several years, and now a bit also in MAKE-IT as well, especially in how these collaborative behaviours could be understood in connections with platforms and especially Collective Awareness Platforms (CAPS).

Makers (and designers and engineers and …) could engage in Open Design in several ways: designing projects, discussing projects, discussing Open Design itself, building platforms that host Open Design projects (like Fablabs.io, the open source platform of the global Fab Lab network)… and so on. These are among the many activities that could be done in the Open Design world and that have an influence on it, and platforms have an increasingly strong impact on these collaborative behaviours. Understanding collaborative processes by makers on such platforms is also an important steps towards understanding platforms in general. For these reasons I wrote a paper for the Design for Next conference (and published in The Design Journal) and a software library that tries to answer to this research question: how could the analysis of social interactions over time on such platforms improve the understanding of design-related collaborative processes?

Understanding this would enable us to advance our understanding of how platforms connects and influence makers and designers in their collaborative work on Open Design, and to provide support to the activity of Maker and Design researchers and of reflective practitioners as well. In this case I focused on analysing projects managed with the Git software and GitHub platform, which are very popular among software developers especially but also among makers. These tool and platform have been investigated with several approaches, papers and softwares, but not with makers, designers and Open Design as the main focus. Furthermore, it’s hard to find reusable software from these researches so that it would be easier to replicate them, especially for reflective practitioners (you would need to have some programming and data science skills, but several makers already have them!). For this reason I developed a software library in the Python language, since it is arguably the most popular language for data science, and therefore anybody can use the library for extracting data about collaborative behaviours on Git and GitHub; the analysis is up to you, with the tools that you prefer. This is therefore not only research, but also innovation as in disseminating research results and tools to make them available to everybody.

I called this library platform_analysis since its aim is to analyse interactions over time in several platforms; for the moment it works with Git and GitHub, but it will be soon extended to other platforms. The library extracts the data from projects and returns a graph of time-stamped interactions that can be then analysed with social network analysis: interactions can be then analysed for the project as a whole or as they happen through time, and we can see therefore how participants collaborated in a project, in which kind of interactions and when. This would enable researchers and practitioners to understand what is happening in such projects and platforms.

This is one of the software applications or libraries we are releasing from MAKE-IT (we will publish more of them soon!), available for discussion and development in a GitHub repository and for the installation as a Python module. This is based on a couple of previous experimentations and tests, now finally fully integrated and structured in a complete software library that is then much more structured, complete and easier to use for all the researchers and reflective practitioners (designers and makers) for analysing their projects!
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Can Platform Cooperativism help the Maker Movement to become more sustainable? MAKE-IT on the Open 2017: Platform Cooperatives conference in London

What if so-called sharing economy and gig work platforms like Uber and AirBnB, or even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were owned by their employees and users who maintain the platform, deliver the services and create the content that leads to the astounding valuations of the platform economy? The result would be the orientation of emerging technologies toward community-wealth and participatory, democratic control – a vision which the cooperative movement pursues already for centuries, and which is now being picked up in its 21st century version by the Platform Cooperativism movement.

From 16th to 17th of February 2017, scientists, politicians, programmers, activists and representatives from business and civil society met in the halls of Goldsmiths, University of London, to bring together developers of the digital world with practitioners of cooperative business models. The container for this get-together was the two-day conference on the collaborative economy Open 2017: Platform Cooperatives.

I had the opportunity to discuss MAKE-IT with the participants of the conference with the particular focus on sustainability scenarios for the Maker movement. To connect the principles of open source design – on which the Maker movement is built upon – with platform cooperatives – which can be understood as a business form of Collective Awareness Platforms – appears to be a promising approach for a sustainable development of the Maker movement. Platform cooperatives can ease the Maker movement’s dilemma to aspire to the free sharing of open source designs on the one hand, while at the same time wanting to meet financial needs through Maker activities. The development of a platform cooperative where makers can offer their products for sale and free sharing depending on the use of their products could, for example, be modeled on the platform cooperative Stocksy United, which offers royalty-free stock photography and videos. This way, Makers would have the option to offer the same product with different licenses (i.e. open source and commercial licenses) to the respective audiences while parts of their revenues are automatically reinvested into the Maker movement through the platform cooperative.

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