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Background


Planetwork was founded in 1998 by Erik Davis, Jim Fournier, Elizabeth Thompson and David Ulansey. The Web was exploding, changing our lives, shifting our identities, growing exponentially, and spreading globally. We recognized that the only phenomenon growing as fast as the global ecological crisis was the global communications system, and that if these two phenomena were not in some meaningful way directly connected, we were doomed.

Planetwork was born out of an impulse to make this imperative explicit and to suggest that the simultaneous emergence of the global communications system was not a random accident, but an exquisitely well timed synchronicity.

Up to this point, Planetwork has organized events and projects on an ‘as-needed’ basis. It has consisted entirely of the people gathered, and the ideas explored. Planetwork’s co-directors, Jim Fournier and Elizabeth Thompson operated as conveners, setting up the initial conditions for something they could not possibly have created themselves, to emerge. They look toward bringing together people from disparate subcultures and set the stage for cross pollination.

In May 2000, PlaNetwork convened its first large scale conference: Global Ecology and Information Technology to explore the relationship between global ecology and information technology - from the philosophical/cultural perspective of the 'nature' of information, cybernetics, and systems theory, to the pragmatic application of new media tools, and the Internet toward accelerating awareness of both ecological 'issues' and their potential solutions.

Immediately following the 2000 conference a small interdisciplinary working group formed, and Planetwork was able to secure initial seed funding from Intend Change to launch the LinkTank. Over the next 18 months the twenty three members of the LinkTank met repeatedly to address these questions: would it be possible to create a technologically mediated “Network of Trust” which would facilitate the aggregation of people who share a basic concern for ecological sanity and social equity? And if so, how might this infrastructure allow us to see our own numbers and thereby harness our social capital, economic power, and media to accelerate positive global change?

The result of this process is a white paper entitled The Augmented Social Network: Building Identity and Trust into the Next-Generation Internet. The paper has been met with critical praise and acknowledgement for its essential contribution to the emerging field of Social Networking software.

As a result of the momentum generated by the LinkTank process Planetwork launched a larger hands-on working group, the Planetwork Consortium at the WSSD in Johannesburg in August 2002. The Planetwork Consortium assembles a select group of visionary independent software developers, principals of start-up companies, technical, and social network innovators, NGO’s and interested individuals to bring together software tools which will promote interoperability across social networks on the Internet, and thereby create conditions to empower broad based progressive phenomenon. Most importantly the Consortium forums have initiated a public dialog around a new meme: software in service of the Planet.

Our 2000 conference came on the heels of the Seattle protests, a galvanizing event both in terms of the social impact, and in terms of the impact that the strategic use of information technologies, and the Internet, had made within the social change movement.

In June of 2003, our second international conference, Networking a Sustainable Future was proceeded by an even greater example of the power of these tools to galvanize and mobilize massive numbers of people around the world. Witnessing the events of February 15th Jonathan Schell wrote in The Nation, that, "the 'other superpower' has emerged - the highly networked, international, global peace campaign." The June 2003 conference provided the critical opportunity to network the network where over 600 participants spent three days exploring these critical questions:

  • How might this empowered global citizenry mobilize around other critical issues affecting our future: resource depletion, basic human rights, economic justice?

  • What are the Communications Strategies needed to galvanize around specific issues; mobilize our networks, envision alternative solutions, and demand change?

  • How might we use our financial resources, as a networked global citizenry, to bring about system-wide transformation?

Planetwork has continued to pursue these core questions through a variety of means both live and online and looks forward to continuing to do so in the future.

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