Thimbl has been getting some attention lately, party because of my talk at Social Media Week Berlin, partly because of a tweet by the legendary Doc Searls.
Despite being part of Transmediale 2010 and winning a distinction at the festival, many people don’t seem to realize that Thimbl is an artwork.
It’s a part of Telekommnunisten’s Miscommunication Technologies series along with such works as deadSwap and r15n. Miscommunication Technologies uncover the social relations embedded in communication technology, creating platforms that don’t often work as expected, or work in unexpected ways.
I suppose the fact that Thimbl is an artwork was a surprise to the organizers of Social Media Week, and perhaps would be to Doc Searls as well. Who, like many of the people in the audience at Social Media Week might be thinking. Huh? What makes this art exactly?
The answer is surprisingly simple, it’s art because it is carried out in an art context, at events like Transmediale, Hack.Fem.East, Sousevelance, and at places such the Piet Zwart Institute and the Israeli Center for Digital Art.
These works function as a kind of performative science fiction. Introducing the narrative of the political economy of the Internet into the media arts community by way of interactive artworks in the form of telephone and internet platforms. Much like the Telekommunist Manifesto introduces the same topics in text. Among the core messages that we wish to contribute to the media art dialogue is an understanding of how centralization and decentralization relate to exploitation and freedom, respectively.
Thimbl is an artwork, not really an alternative to Facebook, Twitter, or even Identi.ca, as it was billed at Social Media Week. Although programmed into the event unwittingly by the organisers, everyone was non-the-less quite pleased at the results, and with the discusion that ensued.
Thimbl is about the need for decentralized social media, and illustrates that this is something that has always been a part of the Internet, while also showing that it’s not really so difficult to implement.
Even though it’s ambitions are symbolic, Thimbl actually works.
Because it is decentralized, we can’t know how many users it has, but you can see the global timeline of all users that we do know about on our own ThimblSinging instance. If you have a finger account on any server, anywhere, with a Thimbl-compatible plan file, you can use this site as well, and start using Thimbl without installing anything from the Thimbl project on your own server.
Or, you can grab the code and host a instance of ThimblSinging yourself. If you prefer the command line, or want to script something, Thimbl-CLI is available, as is the thimblr gem that comes with ThimblSinging.
Even the GMail of Thimbl already exists; Phimbl.tk, where you can just sign up and have a Thimbl account.
And PageKite has added support for Thimbl too, meaning you can even easily self-host your Thimbl account, if you want to, perhaps even on your mobile device.
So, if all this exists, why is Thimbl not a real alternative?
Well, for one, we made it as an artwork because it has merit as such, wether or not it becomes a viable platform. Some ideas that emerge from science fiction become reality, and some don’t, yet the predictive science doesn’t directly determine the merit of the work of fiction.
However, that’s not the main reason. Perhaps even calling it science fiction is misleading here. It’s not Thimbl’s technical viability that’s speculative, but rather it’s economic viability.
Thimbl is an economic fiction.
Making it work is not the greatest challenge, making it financially viable is. Thimbl does not provide investors with the ability to control it’s users or their data, and as Thimbl’s Manifesto states “This control is required by the logic of Capitalist finance in order to capture value. Without such control profit-seeking investors do not provide funds.”
For Thimbl, or any other platform with a simular vision, to become a real alternative to the capitalist financed platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we need more than running code, even more than a small, perhaps dedicated, user base. These assets are only enough to keep it going as a lively, yet marginal underground medium. A fun platform for experts and enthusiasts, unknown and unknowable to the masses.
To get beyond this and actually break the monopolizing grip of centralized social media we need to match their productive capacities. We need financing on a simular scale. so that the development, marketing, and operations budgets are comparable and sufficient to compete. That is what is required to be a true alternative, not a symbolic one. Yet, Capitalism can not provide such financing.
Just like science fiction becomes reality when science transcends the limitations that existed when the fiction was imagined, for economic fiction like Thimbl to become reality economics will need to transcend the limitations that we currently face.
We can write code, we can write texts, we can create artworks, but as a small network of artists and hackers, we can’t change the economic conditions we work in by ourselves.
That is why Thimbl is an artwork; its message must transform society for its vision to become reality. It is a manifesto, written in code.
If you want to see the project succeed, join us, grab the code and ideas you want and run with them.