What is pubwan?

Pubwan is a bad neologism coined by Lorraine (Lori) Lee on September 5, 2000. It is an unapostrophied contraction of "public WAN," or "public wide area network." Lori's original intent in coining this term was a desire to collapse into one word a description of a naïve hypothetical attempt to re-create what Lori often refers to as "Internet Classic," which is to say the pre-Web Internet. Bemoaning the apparent loss of a cypherspace and cypherculture in which gratuitous consumption of bandwidth was strongly (but "paradoxically" not authoritatively) discouraged, Lori wanted to suggest a strategy for overcoming the seemingly planned obsolescence of low bandwidth communication technology. Being of a generally planning and project-oriented mentality, she suggested an openly collaborating consortium of amateur (i.e. unpaid) researchers studying database and communication problems with a peculiar interest in problems with particularly strong bandwidth and other resource constraints.

Pubwan is economical

In fact, the second task proposed for the pubwan project was adaptation of the project's technology to research into microeconomics. This was an offshoot of the interest in using "open systems" methods. The mythical concept that had started as a thought experiment in applied networking became a thought experiment in applied networking and microeconomics. It was decided that if there was a unifying principle here, it was to be "open systems."

Pubwan is transparent

In fact, the rationale behind adding economics to pubwan's proposed repertoire was information asymmetry. Information asymmetry is an interesting variation on the economic concept of transparency. One might say that 'economic transparency' is to 'information asymmetry' as 'optical transparency' is to 'mirror shades.' Lori believes that one way information asymmetry can happen is when an entity receives information without giving information. The Iron Law of Tanstaafl is of course inviolate, so something of value is offered, just something other than information. In the case of dupermarket loyalty cards, for example, the something of value is a rollback of a markup, which is to say a markdown. A pubwan implementation of a dupermarket would collect point of sale statistics, but would use these statistics in a nonexclusive, nonproprietary way. A pubwan privacy policy would actually offer less protection than a typical commercial one. Typically a commercial entity will promise not to release information collected from customers to any outside entity. An entity organized along pubwan lines will freely share all such information with anyone. The pubwan (non)privacy policy assumes that if there are people who will volunteer information for internal market research use, then there might be some people who would be willing to volunteer information for open source microeconomic research. After all, at least a few people still volunteer information to the Census Bureau.

Pubwan is voluntary

In fact, pubwan is described as an all-volunteer effort. Lori realizes that unrealized dreams are not entitled to descriptions, any more than is anything else that is not real. But people say she's a dreamer. She suspects that she might not be the only one.

Volunteer, of course, means you don't get paid. Another word that means not getting paid is "amateur." It could be said that pubwan is amateurish, a trait it has in common with amateur radio, amateur golf and amateur night.

Pubwan is free

In fact, Free claimed that free means you don't have to pay. This claim is very controversial and hardly universally accepted, but Lori is a tireless proponent of Free's Hypothesis, albeit for reasons that are more emotional than empirical.

If pubwan were not free its benefits would only be available to professionals, which is to say people who get paid, or employed people. Obviously, the concept of employment as entitlement violates every Iron Law of Economics, as well as those of several other empirical sciences. Perhaps it is also true that not all persons have the potential to make themselves useful as unpaid volunteers. Even if that is the case, Lori's general observations suggest that competitive exclusivity (selectivity,) while characteristic of virtually all paid employment opportunities, is characteristic only of most unpaid volunteering opportunities.

Pubwan is inclusive

In fact, one of pubwan's most central founding principles is inclusivity. After all, what is information asymmetry if not a diabolical example of information exclusivity? Pubwan strives to be all-inclusive, or at least maximally inclusive given the implications of the Iron Law of Non-Utopia, and related Reality Constraints. While a non-competitive volunteer recruiting policy may be theoretically impossible, pubwan is by intention an organization that with a 100% volunteer acceptance rate. The pubwan volunteer recruiting model is decidedly more Wikipedia-like than Nupedia-like.

Pubwan is diverse

In fact, diversity and inclusivity, while hardly synonymous, are hardly unrelated either. Pubwan seeks to maximize both. One thing diversity and inclusivity have in common is the fact that each are obviously considered desirable by some. According to the Iron Law of Convexity, if any two quantities that are each considered desirable by at least one entity, their possibility frontier (production or consumption, take your pick) is everywhere convex. Put simply this means that there is a "tradeoff" between any two objectives which are both considered desirable. For this reason, the Iron Law of Convexity is commonly called the Pick One Axiom.

As is well known to every schoolkid, we live in a "pick one" type universe.

Explanations as to why this is the case are at least as numerous as people. The explanation Lori finds most plausible is that offered by the Judeo-Christian faith tradition, which seems to consider it to be God's way of punishing us for Original Sin (see Genesis 3:17). In any case, few (save maybe some of the extropians) seem to doubt the Pick One Axiom. It should be noted that exclusivity, while antonymous to inclusivity, is also a characteristic desired by some. A recent example of this phenomenon has been in the news lately. The University of Michigan, for example, has long had a stated policy of seeking to maximize both the diversity and the exclusivity of its student body. Diversity+exclusivity, like diversity+inclusivity, is a convex (i.e. strongly constrained) set of objectives. Lori's own biased opinion is that the university's normset is more strongly constrained (i.e. more utopian) than pubwan's. But pubwan is nothing if not an experiment.

Pubwan is neutral

In fact, all decidedly inclusive groups are also decidedly neutral. If this were not the case, there would be inclusive groups that take sides on controversial issues. Such a group would, by definition, exclude persons holding the opposing viewpoint. This point probably needs more clarification than any raised so far in this discussion. Casual observers might mistakenly perceive pubwan as a weapon designed to monkeywrench or otherwise compromise the informational strategies of businesses or other entities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Being neutral, a pubwan movement (if there were one) would have no official position on the defensibility or otherwise of strategizing around asymmetry, disinformation, dilution (e.g. the Brahms-Leforge Principle,) or any of the many other adversarial information models that seem inherent in the Humyn Condition. To celebrate diversity maximally is to celebrate the entire spectrum of humyn (and even humyn institutional) activity. Needless to say, when we refer to pubwan as a "movement," we are not using that word in the sense of a "political movement." While neutral pubwan does not despise politics, it does not seek to practice it, either. Another feature of pubwan is that when biased opinions are referred to in pubwan literature, they are never attributed to pubwan, and they are always identified as biases.

Pubwan is cooperative

If fact, neutrality and cooperation are closely related concepts. For example, neutrality is one of the Rochdale Principles, which comprise a widely implemented (or at least attempted) blueprint for cooperative activity. Being neutral, pubwan would not oppose competition. But like any maximally inclusive group, it would strive not to practice it.

Cooperation is itself a somewhat controversial subject. While the Rochdale model of cooperation espouses neutrality, the history of cooperative movements includes many movements that are anything but apolitical and therefore anything but neutral. Needless to say, pubwan volunteers, as humyn and therefore biased beings, will have to exert considerable effort to prevent the degeneration of pubwan into yet another anticompetitive or even ruthlessly "cooperative" political movement.

It should be noted that the political rivals of such movements have often expressed a desire to see them wiped out completely. A prominent politician once expressed a desire to see a particularly ideologized, though nominally "cooperativist" political movement permanently consigned to the "ash heap of history." He seems to have gotten his wish.

It should also be noted that "cooperation," like "people's," "family" and a host of other words, has found much use in political rhetoric. One example concerns an urban legend about the former apartheid regime of South Africa (Azania). Lori has heard rumors of the existence of a police or possibly paramilitary unit dubbed the "Department of Cooperation" or something along those lines. According to these rumors, this unit was tasked with making arrests of persons considered likely to be uncooperative in the event of pending or actual arrest. While pubwan's commitment to cooperation is generally inclusive as to interpretations of the same, this broadness of definition should be understood to be within reason.

Pubwan is lawful

In fact, activities that are contrary to public policy are categorically contrary to pubwan policy. This is absolutely vital if a pubwan is to have any chance of success. For example, the lawful practice known as "file sharing" is thought to be consistent with the guiding principles of pubwan, and in fact is one of the core technologies that has been proposed for pubwan. Those file sharing activities which are lawful are in fact partial implementations of pubwan, although they generally (as yet, anyway) go by names other than pubwan. On the other hand, the use of file sharing to copy or distribute unlicensed copies of proprietary files is not a pubwan activity, and it is imperative that all pubwan volunteers be ever vigilant to prevent pubwan technologies from being used for this or any other unlawful purpose. The original motivation behind pubwan is nothing other than helping people overcome information asymmetries that arise due to proprietary uses of data aggregation technologies. Another suggested application of pubwan is the speculative reverse engineering of business models. But these ends do not justify unlawful means, any more than they justify means that are hostile, exclusionary, opaque, proprietary, or any other means that are contrary to the underlying principles of pubwan.

Pubwan is open

In fact, pubwan should draw its sources, methods and its proposed strategies from all manner of "openist" movements. Such movements include "open systems," "open content," "open source" and others. Obviously, this should not be generalized to "open <fill in the blank>." It can't be emphasized enough that pubwan is not "open season" on any organization, practice, person or philosophy. Not all features of all openist movements are appropriate for pubwan. For example, some public licenses prohibit use of the licensed information or technology for specified uses, examples including commercial, military, classified and non-educational uses. Others allow commercial use but allow free use only by noncommercial users. Pubwan is free. Free means you don't have to pay. Free also means there are no strings attached. Note that it is the use of pubwan resources, not their preparation, which is unrestricted by pubwan. "Pubwan activities" are subject to all kinds of self-imposed constraints, which we have already discussed in some detail. By "pubwan activities," we mean any volunteer efforts aimed at developing or improving pubwan, its technologies, its content, the organization of its content, its accessibility, inclusivity, ethical standards, technical standards, efficacy, data integrity, integrity in general, openness, sources, methods, etc., etc., etc. Lori believes that the Cypherpunks Anti-License is generally compatible with pubwan principles. Lori doesn't know enough about legal issues to judge the appropriateness of any statement of copyleft to any set of objectives, but she likes the general tone of the CPL. This appreciation is of course tempered by the assertion that pubwan isn't "anti" anything. Pubwan might benefit from a licensing and copylefting protocol of its own. On the other hand, the world at large might not benefit from yet another variant on the concept of public domain.

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