A Successful P2P Community Requires Diversity

At the end of August 2019, we launched AccessP2P, an open educational program to provide the network and knowledge individuals need to transition into the peer-to-peer (P2P) space. Over the course of eight lectures in November, our first cohort will receive an introductory education across a spectrum of P2P theories, concepts, and technologies. As we start to wrap up the application period for our first cohort, we reflected on the founding values of the program and our approach to supporting diversity in the P2P space.

Last year, we recognized a strange juxtaposition: the drive of the peer-to-peer community to subvert the dominant norms of today runs contradictory to the insulated, homogeneous people we see building and creating within this community. We could see that the growth within the P2P space - largely within the blockchain domain - mirrored a similar lack of diversity so often cited in the greater tech sector. How can we truly subvert norms if creators and builders that tend to be “underrepresented” continue to be “underrepresented”?

In its broadest sense, P2P, as the P2P Foundationputs it, is “a process or dynamic that can be found in many communities and movements self-organising around the co-creation of culture and knowledge.” In the technical sense, P2P computing or networking is “a distributed application architecture that partitions tasks or workloads between peers” (it’s never felt so appropriate to quote Wikipedia). When we talk about participants in the P2P community, whether from a technical or cultural standpoint, there are common motivations: to challenge centralized web services, subvert business models and governance structures, and increase support for “the commons.” And these ambitions require experts and curious individuals who have comprehensive experience in the systems that P2P systems attempt to change. These individuals are intimately aware of the flaws in these systems, understand their community or users’ needs, and can act as an important translator for stakeholders outside P2P. These individuals are essential to the success of P2P projects.

We wanted to address the lack of diversity within the quickly growing and changing P2P community head on. The normalization and adoption of P2P technologies, afterall, depends on the diversity of those creating them. So, what could we create that could help transition more people - coming from different industries, backgrounds, and perspectives - into the P2P space? How could we answer the questions: what is P2P, what do I need to know, and where can I contribute? AccessP2P was born out of this need for an educational entry point.

Accessibility is built into AccessP2P’s design: lectures take place in the evening so participants can fulfill full-time jobs; the program meets twice a week to limit impact on obligations outside of work; the cohort is kept small and held in-person to increase comfort among and attention given to participants. Alongside of the cohort, we plan to design an asynchronous infrastructure for communication and support between those involved with AccessP2P. Furthermore, all lecture presentations, additional readings, and videos will be posted online for general public access.

In an effort to keep the program accessible, we designed the lectures to require only a limited knowledge of programming by focusing on curating high-level introductions to the projects, technologies, philosophies, and people involved in the P2P space. By giving people a comprehensive introduction to a breadth of information, we believe we can expose people to more topics and current challenges in the space, while giving them the necessary resources for continued self-study and support in areas of interest. The network of lecturers serves the double purpose of mentors for future jobs, technical development, and original projects.

At the end of November, we’ll present a new set of contributors to the P2P community. Not only will they have an understanding of where and how they can plug into the P2P community, abut also the tools and resources to deepen their exploration. Importantly, the relationships built within AccessP2P will continue to support cohort participants as they start their own projects, join companies, and recruit others to the P2P space.

In Berlin and curious about P2P? We hope you will be part of our effort. Apply for the first AccessP2P cohort via the website by September 22, 2019.