The Bank of Common Knowledge

The Barcelona-based group Platoniq (aka Susana Noguero, Oliver Schulbaum, Ignacio García and Joan Villa Puig) gained world fame a few years ago when they launched Burn Station, a mobile self-service system for searching, listening to and copying music and audio files with no charge. Legally and under a Copyleft Licence.

0aavieeuzzzz.jpgBurn Station

With the motto “taking the Internet to the streets” and inspired by the way the web works, Platoniq explores new models to distribute, shape and share information, knowledge and cultures.

At the Banquete_nodos y redes, an exhibition that recently opened at LABoral, Platoniq was presenting Banco común de Conocimientos[BCC] (Bank of Common Knowledge), a kind of lab platform that engages with new ways of enhancing the distribution channels for practical and informal knowledge.

0adapublicplatoni.jpgBCC in Barcelona

Inspired by an Internet shaped by the collective effort of thousands of distributed agents who publicly shared their knowledge to achieve a common goal, the BCK project is based on the firm belief that creating, sharing, transmitting and exchanging knowledge in the public sphere is a key element to the growth and development of our societies.

The Bank of Common Knowledge exports the dynamics of Free Culture and the Copyleft philosophy to general processes of knowledge generation and transmission among citizens. Work processes and methodologies are researched while the production of content, mutual education and citizen participation is carried out for the purpose of giving free access to the knowledge generated by the communities in which the Common Knowledge Bank is installed.

The contents generated are Copyleft, and can be copied, redistributed or modified freely. Based on the organization of meetings among citizens, the Bank of Common Knowledge experiments with new forms of production, learning and citizen participation.

For more details, check the video presentation:

After having seen the Bank of Common Knowledge project at the Banquete_nodos y redes exhibition, i thought “hey, look! here’s a fantastic opportunity to ask these guys a few questions!” And here i am:

You set up a BCK-2008: Free Knowledge Market last March in Barcelona. How
did the whole experience go?

Actually, we’ve already set up 4 free knowledge markets (this was the second one in Barcelona) during the last two years of the Bank of Common Knowledge development. Previously we also had built BCK’s active nodes in Cambridge UK (Wysing Arts Centre) and in Lisbon, both ending up with the open organisation of a market.

The last Bank of Common Knowledge happened in Barcelona in April. Exchanges of knowledge took place in 3 spaces with the help of 80 volunteers.

The Bank of Common Knowledge Markets are made possible through the offers and requests that BCK receives from citizens: How does a consumer cooperative function?, How can i share wifi with my neighbours?, Is it possible to earn money through collaboration instead of competition?, Is it possible to unfreeze patent-protected scientific knowledge? What can we learn from traditional cultures in the economic context? How can we regularize immigration documents in Spain? How can we set up a wiki without computer?

0aenslisboapkat.jpgBCC Lisbon

The Market of the Bank of Common Knowledge attempts to cover a wide range of topics and materialize them through free workshops and manuals for urban survival. A gathering of transgressive and generous experiences by individuals and communities who put into practice various forms of autonomy in daily life.

Those exchanges are recorded and published online under a copyleft license in order to guarantee that knowledge keep on circulating.

Besides, experimenting with new forms of participation and organization is fundamental for BCK. The BCK organization is always open and follows dynamics made of cooperation, documentation of the whole process and a responsability distributed among all the persons involved. Anyone interested can participate to BCK, either by joining the internal organization, or by offering or requesting knowledge or even by helping us produce contents to be distributed online.

0abanccambridg.jpgBCC in Cambridge

The first days of exchange took place in November 2006 in Barcelona’s CCCB cultural center. Then in 2007 in Cambridge and more recently in Lisbon.

The main topics we focus on are:

EDUCATION (P2Pedagogy)
Experiments in the transmission of knowledge.
Generating educational methodologies and systems which augment the possibility to turn each moment of one’s life into an opportunity to learn.

Models of auto-management of cultural projects. Exploration of economic systems sustainable for free culture.

Going beyond the creation of free contents to engage also in strategies of exchange and recycling of knowledge in danger of disappearing.

Investigating the various use of public space related to the transmission of knowledge. Exploring the existing possibilities to use public space for collective activities of exchange (guide of places and actions required to be able to use them).

What are our rights, what can we do in case of abuse, experiences of communities who work to improve life in common.

Video of the Cambridge’s market:

Video of Lisbon‘s:

How receptive is the general public to the concept and opportunities offered by BCK? Or is it mostly the “creative commons” crowd who is enthusiastic about the project?

The copyleft and the free culture crowd is naturally more receptive to the BCK project and to horizontal dynamics of knowledge sharing. Nevertheless, in order to make the free culture not only free, but public, the main objective of BCK is to apply the positive effects and strategies of the free software movement and p2p systems to the areas of education and citizen participation, setting free the full potential of individuals and collectives through self-determination, autonomy and infinite networking.

BCK is organized as an open source model of knowledge transfer, a laboratory for inventing and trying out new forms of production, education, organization and distribution, involving new roles for producers and receivers, experts and amateurs, teachers and students…

Again, anyone interested in taking part in the BCK’s internal organization structure (teams) is welcome to do so.

Right now we are working on several strategies to lay the foundations of this mutual education network, offering every individual the chance to share their current interests with other, similarly motivated peers in the fields of ecology, technology and communication, alternative economies, civil and human rights, public space use or any knowledge to make life easier and more autonomous.

We are currently testing various knowledge transmission and communication formats, such as games, demos, workshops, first person experiences, challenges, first aid kits or take away theory. These activities are documented in a set of video manuals or knowledge capsules currently being produced for inclusion in the Bank of Common Knowledge.

However, the main goal of the project is not to build an online video archive, even if that would end up being one of the consequences. The real challenge for the Bank of Common Knowledge is to build a model of transmission and free exchange whose social organization and self-training strategies can be easily replicated.

0aabancoshowing.jpgWhat makes you think that you are on the right path and that the quest for a free exchange of knowledge is more than an utopia (that’s my pessimistic and cynical side speaking here)?

BCK is one of the many projects that has emerged of a society where peer production and peer governance present new opportunities for individuals and groups to create value together. We try to place these new developments in both a historical context and a future oriented context. This is no utopia anymore, copyleft and the sharing of knowledge is a functional revolution.

Regarding feedback, after a long year of development, traveling, meeting people, giving workshops about BCK in different countries during the last year (lastly in Shanghai, México City and Casablanca where a node is under construction) made us realize it would be more than useful to produce a BCK manual focusing on how to build/organize/sustain local Banks of Common Knowledge, or any collective production/trading community on the basis of our experience and the experience of others. This is actually the most frequent demand to the Bank of Common Knowledge.

How do I start a BCK?

To fulfill that demand, we’re actually developing a set of exercises/manuals which explain and apply methodologies and ethics of social and free software to social community building, looking at “atomization” of knowledge and civic participation on the basis of P2P networks and protocols. So this is clearly about P2Pedagogy.

All these games/exercises are performed offline, although they are inspired in social software and social open networks functionalities, their aim is clearly to help people to understand, practice, decide, find their own protocols of networking and encourage civic engagement and community building/sustaining. An example of it is the social tagging game we presented at LABoral, which is about applying folksonomy to offline social networks using post it notes.

The main questions the games and BCK itself try to resolve are:
Suggestion or main questions to resolve:

What do we really mean by peer education?

Atomization on a large scale (such as in the Debian APT package manager or the CVS version control system) has allowed large software projects to employ an amazing degree of decentralized, collaborative and incremental development. But what other kinds of knowledge apart from software can be atomized, and how?

Does atomization kill community?

How can we formally translate Ubuntu‘s like project governance in social and public space? How can we explain notions such as decentralized budget, decentralized trust etc and other human protocols that sharing and peer production involves?


Among the first public actions that BCK undertook over the years 2006 and 2007, the Platoniq group launched a research project that looked for new perspectives which would enable, on the one hand, broaden the network of BCK collaborators and, on the other hand, improve and stimulate the development of its structure, content, strategies of dynamization or the economical sustainability of the initiative, the same way one would do during the beta testing process of a software project.

To achieve this objective we entrusted several experts with a series of exercises/games that allowed the simplification of ideas, strategies and concepts related with the various technological protocols and philosophies that form the basis of the Bank of Common Knowledge, in an attempt to communicate it to a non-initiated public. Among this group of experts are the researcher Ismael Peña Lopez, Juan Freire (biologist and hyper-active blogger who explores the interaction between urban space, social networks and digital spaces), Michael Linton (creator of the mythical LETSystem in the ’80s), Gregor Gimme, one of the initiators of the online community for video learning Sclipo, Enric Senabre (technological coordinator of the Observatorio para la CiberSociedad), Dmytri Kleiner (polemical leader of Dialstation, a project of “venture Communism”), or the sociologist, biologist, economist and expert in barter networks in Latin America Heloísa Primavera.

0aasososos.jpgThe S.O.S. project

Now a question about a project which was not exhibited at LABoral but which
i nevertheless find intriguing. The S.O.S. project is a kit to communicate
and exchange knowledge in public and private space inspired by the Speaker’s
Corner. How did you use this kit and how did people react to it? Which kind
of situation did it give rise to?

Actually The S.O.S (stands for Science of Sharing) project is still under heavy development. It hasn’t been tested on the streets yet. We plan to release both a software and a mobile unit which are the core of the project during a set of actions due to be held next autumn in various middle sized cities of Catalunya.

The kit contains a battery-powered sound system with microphones, a computer and an FM radio transmitter, mounted on a scooter that will serve as a ‘knowledge delivery / recovery service’ to facilitate temporary knowledge-exchange actions.

In a few words, and to maintain suspense till the autumn, the S.O.S project seeks to adapt the techniques of peer-to-peer media sharing to collaborative, peer-to-peer education, allowing discrete chunks of information to be broken down and passed on via a network of volunteers, this is about atomisation of knowledge and atomisation of the city. S.O.S is an analog tracker, connecting peers and seeds, reclaiming public space 2.0 of the knowledge city

S.O.S will be the result of the lessons learnt with the BCK project, as well as four years of public domain research and development, working on the burn station project, a free software-based open source project, that seeks to generate an alternative model of production and distribution of copyleft music in the public space.

0aplatoburnsta.jpgBurn Station

In the case of Burn Station, the objective was to put in practice a 100% collaborative system based on three interacting communities: net labels and artists that feed the database, software developers and groups administrating local Burn Stations. An attempt to strategically combine the experience of peer-to-peer networks with the Jamaican sound system culture. (P2P on a Face 2 Face basis)

An important lesson learnt from the BURN STATION software development: test, share and further develop software in the streets before publishing it on the net. It is the best and the most rigourous software testing model imaginable. Definitely inspiring…

Nevertheless, the most interesting thing about Burn Station for us is that it has been autonomously reproduced in schools, social centers, libraries and universities in Europe and South America, demonstrating its value as an educational tool. That’s exactly what we expect to happen with the S.O.S project altough the challenge is more complicated this time because there is no consumerism involved here (free distribution is not enough!), no music involved, just raw production of collective knowledge from scratch. We need to build and drive our own networks! Back to the future of commons!

Video documentation of Burn Station

Other work participating to Banquete_nodos y redes: Sightseeing telescope reveals open wifi networks in urban space.
Banquete_nodos y redes runs at LABoral in Gijón, Spain until November 3, 2008.