The English language has a beautiful word that has long been out of use but that in recent years has made its reappearance: The Commons. Grazing grounds can be a Common, and so can a fishing ground; a well, a sand quarry and a wood can be a Common, too. Commons are not owned but are managed by a community. Member of such a community use the Common as a source: a source of water, of fish, of sand, of wood or of grass.

The Netherlands had its own Commons. The Dutch language has the words “brink” and “meent”. The latter word is related to “gemeente”, that translates to Township. Our dykes originated in such communities, that grew into the oldest democratic form of organisation: the water authority.

From the 16th century on, Commons started disappearing. Much land came to be privately owned, up to the current situation where all land is owned privately, by the government or by companies. However, in recent years, thanks to the internet, new Commons have formed. Wikipedia is a prime example: serviced by tens of thousands of people, financially supported by millions, used by hundreds of millions. In contrast to earlier times these new Commons are no physical sources.

Perspect IT has made a new Common. Our Common is an infrastructure, in the sense of roads and sewer systems. An infrastructure is a different kind of source than a well: one doesn’t consume a road, but uses it to reach a goal. Our Common therefore differs in kind from, for example, Wikipedia.

I will explain what purpose our Common serves, but I’ll have to take a detour.

Think of Uber, AirBnB and Parship. People that use such a commercial service act together according to specific patterns: a passenger rides along with a driver, a vacationer rents an accommodation from an owner, people enter a romantic relationship. To do so they describe their taxi, accommodation or theirselves in terms of location, capacity (Uber, AirBnB) or age, sex and interests (Parship). The underlying IT infrastructure matches these data provided by suppliers and customers and offers a selection.

In our daily life we partake in hundreds of patterns of this kind – but without using software. Think of taking care of children, or of a frail parent, of helping out at school, running a common household or sharing a car; but also of a birthday party or an annual board meeting. Countless situations in countless variations where people co-operate and co-ordinate their activities.

In our time we increasingly use communication channels like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to co-ordinate our actions. This enables us to use free text and images. But wouldn’t it be convenient to have a check list on WhatsApp, when organising a dinner party? Free language is great, but sometimes structured information is better. That is what Uber, AirBnB and Parship capitalise on.

Our new Common is an infrastructure to create IT support like that of Uber etc., quickly and effortlessly, for such patterns of co-operation.

It is all about practies that have an important place in one’s life. We therefore call such a situation a “Place”, so you can say you’ve got everything in place, if you’ve got it all well organised. Our Common comes with a fair number of Places ready for use. That means that we have created a model of co-operation for each Place, in terms of roles and actions. The infrastructure handles the heavy lifting. So once you have a model, automatically there are screens for all participants to support them in their actions. Anyone who wants to run a party, or organise the babysitting with their parents and friends, creates an instance of a Place by pressing a button and starts inviting others.

Our Common doesn’t need servers. No cloud. No central organisation. There is no database that holds data of every participant. So there is no jackpot with sensitive, private information to steal. Each participant keeps his own data, on his own devices. One shares data with others, but only with those whom one co-operates with in a specific Place.

Privacy is the IT problem of our time and age. We all know that countless companies, all over the world, collect data of and on us. Our online behaviour is observed closely and registered without restraint. Since the advent of smartphones with gps and movement sensors, not to mention fitbits with heartbeat sensors and the like, more and more our physical behaviour is under scrutiny, too: where we are, how we function biologically. The largest companies in the world have made surveillance – of us! – their business model.

Since the European privacy law GDPR is in force, each website stops us at the gate and wants us to read its privacy statement and accept their cookies. We’ve all experienced how exasperating this is! Yet, the underlying thinking is sound. An organisation should be transparent on what it needs from you, what it does while you shop and game etcetera. But to spell all of this out in sufficient detail is beyond the current IT industry – not to mention that it does not want to.

The concept of a Place that matters, where you only meet the ones that you want to relate to, offers a beautiful solution to that problem. One sees whom one will share data with and the underlying model makes 100% clear what data everyone will see and be able to do with it. Absolutely transparent. There is no organisation that you need to trust – just the partners you know and have invited yourself or by whom you are invited.

We’ve mapped out, developed and prepared this new Common. It is still a work in progress, but by now it is time to create the community that will support and use it. A Common is not property. But it needs care and management. A dyke needs maintenance and so does our new Common.

This Common creates work and opportunities for income. In the first place, work on the infrastructure itself, the base. In the second place, models need to be created. Perspect IT will make a number of models that will be available when the Common opens. But that is just a start. We will keep on adding new models, but of far greater importance is that other members of the community can do so, too. Everyone with an analytic mind and some perseverance can create and contribute models.

Maintaining the infrastructure and models is necessary work. We have worked out the following simple system to make this happen.

  • every member of the Common pays € 3,- monthly;
  • these fees are distributed among modellers and maintainers of the infrastructure.

In this way we create a source of income for part of the community.

The Common hasn’t opened yet. A lot of work needs to be done. We invite you to make that possible by becoming a member, right now. Contribute the fee for a year (€ 36,-) and become a co-founder and co-financier of this new Common!

At this point, you may be excused for thinking: instead of paying right now, I can wait. Just wait until someone will offer these services for free.

And you are right. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s owner, for example, is not satisfied with selling you books. It is not enough for him that Amazon is quickly becoming the biggest outlet for electronics in the world. He is not content with selling and delivering groceries, in some places. Not at all! He now has cast his eye on the health service in the US. That is, frankly, a mess: it is expensive and far from optimal. Amazon can do better! Jeff Bezos wants to be the man in the middle between all people. He wants to capture every interaction. He wants to know all about you. He not just wants to tell you what books you are interested in, he wants to know that you are thirsty before you’ve realised so yourself. And then he is ready with a Coke! Right now, Alexa listens in, in countless sitting rooms. And if it is not Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg is ready for you. Or Google. And Uber wants to rule all transport in the world. Silicon Valleys super-capitalists do not await the future, they want to create and own it.

Every area in which the government fails is a market for Bezos cum suis.

In the meantime these companies exploit a entirely new, self-created, class of dependents up to the bone. Some employees working for Amazon, in the US, are entitled to food coupons! Bezos does not pay for the roads that his cars run on, he does not pay for the education that his employees have received and he does not pay at all for the social security that protects these people from total disaster when he fires them.

Bezos is undoing the middle classes. We, in Europe, know what that means, thanks to our collective memories of the nineteen thirties and what followed.

Kate Raworth subdivides society in Family, Commons, Government and Market. Bezos cum suis rule a large part of the Market and have, through their online services, their fingers in the other sectors already.

We now have the choice: will we abandon our Families and Commons to Bezos and his friends? Or will we organise ourselves by using co-operative software, and will we show that Europe has an alternative for the surveillance capitalism of Silicon Valley?