P2P versus Web 2.0 - Network Economics: The Game

Published on 01/08/2009 - Games

GamesTecnology reappropiationICTsAnalogies of digitalTelecommunicationsWeb 2.0Communication tools

Contributors: Telekommunisten

Related with: Venture Communism

Game P2P vs Web 2.0

When we use our computers and digital networks to send information it seems to go instantaneously from the sender to the receiver, so frequently we do not think about the path it takes, or the political and economic implications of this path.

From the late seventies to the early nineties networked communications for most people meant being a paying customer of an "online service" - the most prominent of these was CompuServe. Using such a service meant that CompuServe, a private company, had full control of your communication - including who you could communicate with, and what you could communicate. It also meant that they were the sole provider of access, there were no independent providers, only competitive systems from other private companies.

Meanwhile, in the sheltered backrooms of the military, telecommunications and educational research, the Internet was evolving far away from the imagination of capitalist finance. By design, the Internet is a peer to peer network, meaning that any computer can send data to any other computer connected to it. So unlike being a client connected to the servers of a monolithic "online service" like CompuServe, each computer is a part of the network and can connect to other computers, and therefore users. Thus, companies and volunteer organizations could become service providers and many did. A cottage industry of commercial internet service providers sprang up worldwide, along with nonprofit "FreeNets" and public and private "Internet Cafes."
The boom of the media, more democratic than any previous media, let to wide spread speculation of this being a revolution that would have deep and broad implications.

After the heady days of "dotCom" boom followed the bust: Along with the Commercialization of the internet, came its capital intensification: Having a simple ISDN connection to the internet and a shelf full of modems was not enough to be a Internet Service Provider Anymore. Asynchronous "broadband" connections like DSL required heavy investments that were impossible to be achieved without major financing. In consequence, centralization returned through the back door – creating consumers and providers similar to the CompuServe era with one significant difference: It all seemed free.

A new buzzword came to town: "Web 2.0". It promises new ways for users to share and communicate online and a new user-driven breed of websites. However, while sharing and communicating is a new concept for websites, sharing and communicating were already common on the Internet, "the Web," while operating on the peer to peer Internet, is actually a client-server system, with the same asymmetric relationships as the CompuServe era's Online services: The user has a browser which communicates with the website, each site Is a monolithic application that controls the interaction of all its users.


Civil Society: a) Censor, b) Lobbyist, c) Cop
Community Platform Operator
Two or more communicators

- pen and paper for messages
- token representing money

The goal of the Communicators is to pass as many messages around as possible. The goal of the Censor is to remove parts of as many messages as possible. The goal of the Cop is to copy as many messages as possible along with who send them to whom. The goal of the lobbyist to add his own message to as many messages as possible. There is a bank run by a banker. Members of the civil society (cop, lobbyist, censor) have access to this money.

In each round communicators send messages. The cop, lobbyist, and censor can each intercept any message from reaching any target, by going to stand beside a potential receiver before the message is sent, so they do not know ahead of time where the sender will finally send the message. The excercise is conducted for a fixed time, and the results analysed.

1 - Client-server communications
In the first round the communicators pass all messages through a single "online service," and show how control is easily accomplished, by way of the cop, the censor and/or the lobbyist. Per message communicators will also have to pass a token (money) to the operator who collects it.

2 - Peer to peer, the internet is born!
In the second round we learn to route around the central node, control becomes more difficult. Each message is accompanied by money retained the  third party passing the message on. Hurray! A revolution is coming! Civil society in the form of the cop, the Lobbyist and the censor will not be able to effectively control messages.

3 - Dotcom Bust – capital intensification!
In the third round messages still pass freely but the money passed from communicator/operator to communicator/operator is now passed on to the banker, symbolizing the increasing investments necessary to be an operator as the internet changes.

4 - Web 2.0, Capital finance kills peer to peer.
In the fourth round we show how nodes that don't co-operate cannot afford to operate and so the cop, censor and lobbyist make a comeback by controlling the operator via the banker.

1. The first round of this exercise will simulate the era of online communications in the times of CompuServe and illustrate how control is made possible by the centralized path of communications. Two or more people play the role of Communicators, they try to pass information to each other written by hand on pieces of paper. One person plays the role of the Censor, one plays the role of the Cop and one plays the role of the Lobbyist and one person plays the role of the Operator. All communicators pass all their messages (each message accompanied by a token) to the operator who passes the message on and Keeps the token. The members of the civil society can intercept the messages and inFluence / dethrone the operator. Communicators are advised not to spend all their money in the first round. Otherwise they will find themselves on the other side of the digital divide – without access!

2. The next round of the exercise, the P2P version, simulates a peer to peer network, where any person can send a message to any other person without having to go through any particular node. Communicators pass their hand-written messages freely from one to another. There is no Operator, messages can be passed through any third party that is willing to pass them. The token passes with the message and remains with the thrid party passing the message on (the communicator/operator). Interceptions by lobbyist, censor and cop are much more difficult as the members of civil society can only guess which way messages will go. No single operator can be influenced or pressured.

3. In the third round we illustrate the dot com bust. As money and messages are passed from communicator/operator to communicator/operator the money slowly gets drawn out of the system. Paying the token to the next communicator/operator, the operator will now not only pass the message to the final target but will also have to pass the token on to the banker - who was passive for the previous rounds – and is possibly the leader of the exercise. This round ends when communication becomes impossible as most communicators are unable to pay their way.

4. In the fourth round, the Web 2.0 excercise, we will see how the money now works against the peer to peer aspects and helps bring back control and centralization. The banker has all the money. He divides his money between the members of civil society. Any communicator or former operator can „apply" for funding to become a Community Platform Operator. While the communicators do not have to pay any money in order to pass their messages to the operator who will pass them on, the operator has to pay the banker for each message passed. The Censor, the Cop and the Lobbyist can intercept messages either via financial incentives to the operator.

What kind of messages should the communicators pass?
Whatever they want, secrets, poems, slogans, anything ... Hopefully something that encourages a response!

What is the criteria of the censor to intercept the messages or remove the operator?
The censor and the other interceptors can intercept all messages to any single recipient at a time. The interceptors can change the operator any time two of them agree to do so, meaning that the operator will always need to keep them happy or lose the position.

Note for extra fun:
The communicators can use their own system to *encrypt* messages and thus keep them from being intercepted. The censor/cop/lobbyist could (not) know the decryption key.

The way the banker divides the money in the fourth round can be varied, giving for example the lobbyist more money than the censor which influences the power they can excert over the operator. Or the banker can finance operators directly – this is the advanced version. Independent operators (left over from the CompuServe era or other communicators/operators retaining capital) may also become financiers in the fourth round. 
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Game P2P vs Web 2.0

Este juego quiere dar una perspectiva de distintos modelos económicos y sociales de comunicación en red, para concienciar acerca de sus diferencias y/o similitudes, basándose en distintos momentos de la historia de Internet. Un juego concebido para el Segundo Mercado de Intercambio de Conocimientos, organizado por Platoniq (Barcelona, 2008).