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“Use” or “Make”?

19th century collage cards, care of Nick Haus.

Definition: Peer production, as the name indicates, is about “making stuff.” And making stuff can be fun and worthwhile. But we should also ask ourselves, how much new stuff do we really need? Is there something around that we could already use? There’s not a hard and fast answer to this question.

Problem: Usually we end up working at both levels — for example, writing something new using an existing wiki, or creating a piece of software that builds on someone else’s API. Sometimes we have to dig deeper, and recreate a system in a more bottom-up fashion. The main issue at stake is to try to become clear about where you do and do not need to start from scratch (and also, be aware of the fact that we almost never really start from scratch).

Solution: A lot of “learning” is really “remix” — that is, reuse and recycling of other people’s ideas and techniques. Understanding and negotiating the tension between reuse and creativity is the key to the art of remix!

Challenges: We’ve had interesting conversations recently about the role of open source software in peeragogy. Most project participants agree that the open source ideals are more important than strictly using open source software for everything. Some feel that it would be best if we create an open source alternative for any proprietary systems we use. The debate has been an interesting and largely fruitful one: it’s mentioned here to point out that there’s usually no one right answer to “reuse” questions.

What’s Next: “Platform” debates can be frustrating but can also add something to a project in the long term, since they help people become aware of their priorities. As mentioned in the Newcomer pattern, developing a more clear picture of the activities that we engage in in the project will help make it comprehensible to others. It will also be useful for us to have a clearer picture of what we do, and what we make.

Jean Baudrillard: “Praxis, a noble activity, is always one of use, as distinct from poesis which designates fabrication. Only the former, which plays and acts, but does not produce, is noble.” [1] (p. 101)


  1. Baudrillard, J. (1975). The mirror of production. Telos Press


Post Revisions:

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