Commons Sense

Yesterday I sat down to see what other bloggers from back in “the day”, of those I knew and who knew me back in that day, still blogged. In the process, I came across this Doc Searls post about whether or not Mastodon is a commons.

To qualify as a commons, a canonical list to check off is provided by Elinor Ostrom. In Governing the Commons (Cambridge, 1990), she outlined eight “design principles” for stable local common pool resource (CPR) management.

I’m not going to go into the list here, because really what I wanted to wonder aloud about is the difference between a regulated commons (which is what this list appears to be about) and the more classical unregulated one. The one with the debunked “tragedy”.

Mostly, I wondered about this because I find the questions of the unregulated commons more interesting from the standpoint of human behavior (and the potential myths thereabout) than I am about “common pool resource management”.

As I’ve said before I do consider the Local and Federated timelines effectively-unregulated commons, because they’re subject, in the former, only to instance norms, codes of conduct, and administrative action; and, in the latter, mostly just to shared, cross-instance norms and the individual decisions of (1) how people decide to set their post visibility, and (2) how others use the mute, block, and report functions.

Anyway, I said I was wondering about the differences, and mostly I mean that as noncommittal and open-ended as it sounds. I’m not going anywhere in particular here except, to reiterate something above, I find these sorts of “social norms” commons more interesting than structured ones.

I guess I wonder to what degree unregulated commons become regulated ones out of fear of the professed tragedy, versus to what degree there are some commons that simply should be regulated ones. Also, to what degree an online commons, specifically, might be more subject to casual degradation precisely because it isn’t, say, a physical presence in your neighborhood.

When it comes to Mastodon timelines, I feel like more people exhibit respect for the commons if they mostly think about the people in their Local instance timeline as fellow travelers. If they’re just mostly interested in their own “reach”, I suspect they don’t really tend to care what they’re inflicting upon either timeline.

Imagine if you went to a local street fair or block party and amidst all the different chattering conversations there was one guy the entire time on a bullhorn giving you his opinions on everything. We’d mostly consider that a spoiling of the commons. We should treat commonly-held online spaces the same, no?