Availability in the Commons Society

Before the Swedish elections in 2010 I worked on a web service that gathers data and statistics about migration, migrationsinfo.se. The idea was to present numbers in a succinct and uniform fashion to give people quick and easy access to reliable answers. The site has become so popular that it lists before Wikipedia in some searches. It’s built on data available to everyone, but not in a practical sense.

Statistics on migration and immigration is openly available on the web. Statistics Sweden is the governmental agency for statistics and it has massive amounts of data spanning over more than a hundred years. Researchers have written volumes on the topic of migration and when you google for answers you get more than you can handle. Since the data isn’t practically available getting an answer often requires a big effort.

Practical availability is an important feature of a commons- based society, for a number of reasons. A resource is used when the threshold for usage is low. Easy to use tools consume less energy. Habits are more easily formed with stuff that requires few steps to use.

World Wide Web has lower barriers to entry than most other information tools. The threshold for using the Web is very low, basically just point and click, which is one of the reasons the web took off and became the largest information commons in history. The Web also has low barriers for developers. The underlying technology (html) is so simple most people can grasp it and play with it. World Wide Web is one of few information tools that the masses actually use.

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Easy to use tools consume less energy. When you use a slicer to cut some vegetables you simply pick it up, use it, wash it off and forget it. You don’t walk around thinking about it when you don’t use it. The slicer doesn’t drain your willpower or energy  unless you use it.

Think of all the other things you use without effort, like a ewer, a lamp or your kitchen table. They are there for you when you need them, no more, no less.

Some things require learning before you can use them efficiently but once you’re past the initial learning curve you start to form a habit. The things that support your habits are often those that only take a few steps to accomplish something.

Visit jamstalld.se and you’ll find another web service of mine built on the same principles as Migrationsinfo, reliable statistics presented in a uniform way using standard technologies. Just like Migrationsinfo, it is based on common knowledge that isn’t really practically available.

Practical availability I believe is becoming more important. We’re heading towards a world of abundance, a commons- based society, and we need to shape our resources for the common good.

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