#OSFest15  -  May 21, 22:  Just a few steps into the main entry hall of Cabaret Sauvage, the site of the OuiShare 2015 event, was a large, black chalkboard. On the board there was a drawing of an elephant, and the phrase, “Share Your Elephant in the Room”. In case the expression “elephant in the room” isn’t familiar, it refers to a very obvious fact which nobody wants to talk about, one which is more convenient to politely ignore. I regret not taking a picture of that sign, because as the second and third days of OuiShareFest 2015 proceeded, it became clear that the elephant was loose in the room and, more importantly, lots of voices were calling him out.

Over the last two years, the buzz I’d heard about OuiShare Fest was that it was the place where the identity battle over the meaning and effect of the “sharing” and “collaborative” economies was being played out, at times centering on the use, or if you like, appropriation, of the term “sharing”. This year’s Fest seemed to bring out the deeper dichotomies underlying not only the nomenclature but the core characteristics and strategies of the widely varying forms of businesses and platforms represented and discussed onstage, on the grounds and online.

This year’s “zero-waste” policy requested that all participants refrain from casually distributing paper pamphlets and other materials, but at times I would have liked to have had access to some more take-away documentation, or at least links to the presentation slides online. One speaker, Yann Moulier-Boutang, a French economist, essayist and author of “Cognitive Capitalism”, delivered a highly detailed talk on “Basic Principles of Sharing Economics” that featured a lot of his views on the benefits of open licensing, the commons and public domain, but I’d need to see it again to get the most out of it. Michel de Kemmeter also gave a presentation on the value of intangible assets, and the need to build bridges with traditional corporations as funding collaborators, which would be great to review again. I’m looking forward to seeing the videos recorded by OuiShare and reviewing the many other talks I saw, and missed.

Aral Balkan of ind.ie, one of Friday morning’s opening speakers, is the author of a widely shared criticism of the venture capital elephant hiding behind the social media platform Ello. He had more than one incisive comment to share during OSFest15, including criticisms of the dark side of the sharing economy. “Remove the feel-good yoga/spiritualism BS & you’re left with venture capital & the ugly face of Silicon Valley digital feudalism” he tweeted during the Fest. Izabella Kaminska, who moderated the debate on day one, blogged about the effect of this digital feudalism in her recent post where she claims, “...the uncomfortable truth is that the sharing economy is a rent-extraction business of the highest middle-man order.”  Not all presentations or online reactions were this critical, of course, but there were more than enough to stir up interesting conversation.

Talking with people outside the tents made me feel a bit like an ambassador for the commons. I chatted with dozens of people about the Goteo.org mission of crowdfunding oriented towards open and social returns, and also spoke about the other commons-oriented projects I’m involved with, Guerrilla Translation and Commons Transition / P2P Foundation. Together these make up a commons-oriented family of resources working in cooperation and solidarity, well aligned with topics from the program’s workshops like P2P practices, open source, participative government, and citizen engagement.  Several people said that these were among their favorite commons oriented projects and initiatives. Others were happy to hear more about Goteo’s scope and vision, including our concept of cloudfunding and our recent reduction in campaign commission to 4%. If you didn’t get a printed brochure from me (shh!), have a look at our online edition, and in any case please don’t hesitate to get in touch about how to join our efforts.
Finally, one of the best “one-liners” I heard at the fest was delivered by Joe Ross during a workshop held by Joe along with Charles Eisenstein, Etienne Hayem, and Brett Scott. The workshop was called, “After Capitalism: Let’s Reinvent Everything”, and called upon the participants to do some introspection and share stories about a moment that changed their views about money and value. Joe, in the opening of the workshop, said the following: “Transition is capitalism in a t-shirt; what I want to see is transformation.” That seems to sum up a lot of views expressed, rather than repressed, at the 2015 OuiShare Fest.