Terms such as "network," "explorers," "weavers," and "quest" have certain meanings which are commonly accepted by most people but in the last few years a group of entrepreneurs in Denver has begun to associate new connotations with these everyday expressions. Their need to develop new definitions and to coin new words and phrases has grown out of a desire to convey to others the concepts involved in operating an entirely new type of business enterprise—the Denver Open Network—created by Calvin Byles (or "Leif," as he prefers to be called).
Leif, 37 years old, fashioned the Open Network, which was started more than three years ago and is run by an organization known as Network Research, to be a loosely organized information clearinghouse designed to reduce individuals' search costs for information. It is a unique solution to the problem of placing middlemen between consumers and sellers in the market for individuals' ideas, resources, and talent. He has attempted the difficult task of translating libertarian ideas on social information—based on F.A. Hayek's concept of the dispersal of knowledge—from the abstract to an actual concrete example. He feels that he has accomplished this task by establishing an information gathering network whose uses are not predetermined by its owners but allowed to vary with changes in consumer needs.
His network consists of over 400 clients who pay a fee of $25 per year to purchase space for computer data and paper files describing their fields of interest and the right to purchase advertising space in the monthly publication The Open Network News. These members form a pool of individuals and organizations representing many different skills and specialties from which all members may draw help. (However, The Open Network News states that it is the intent of Network Research that "the network be as private for each separate user as that person or group wishes it to be.") The diverse membership list includes many local businesses, real estate personnel, engineers, educators, a pro-nuclear advocate, an anti-nuclear group, a political party (the Colorado Libertarian Party), and many others.
Presently, information is acquired for users (whom Leif prefers to describe as "explorers") by their contracting out for individuals (whom he calls "weavers") to look through the computer data and paper files and find connections between the needs of the users (which he likes to describe as their "quests") and the resources of the other members. Eventually, Leif hopes to incorporate a computer program which will determine correlations between the needs of specific users and the possible helpfulness of others' services and then rank their degree of helpfulness, freeing the weavers to handle additional members.
The network has already been very helpful in finding solutions to its members' problems. Leif speaks with pride as he describes how the organization assisted in the rejuvenation of Denver's Oxford Hotel. Located in an older section of downtown Denver, the hotel was in a state of disrepair. Through the Open Network its manager was able to locate employees, investors, and leasing; and, at present, the hotel is negotiating with a small architectural firm, also located by network.
People have even used the network to help develop a city's prototype for a self-sufficient waste recycling system, to assist in setting up seminars, and even on occasion to find out where a good party is being held by network members.
It is because of the seemingly endless list of applications to which the Open Network can be put that Leif decided to base its structure on the "Hayekian" concept of "freeorder" (a term which describes the spontaneous order that occurs in any free market). No restrictions have been placed on utilization of the system so that members may use it to help solve any problem they might have. Leif sees the important point behind this decision as the fact that the network is merely a "tool" of those who use it and that it is not possible for Leif or any other individual to know all its possible applications. The organization is based on the premise that the uses to which the network can be applied will only be restricted, as Leif says, by "people's own good sense" and not limited by any preconceived plans. Albert Turner, a member of the network, stated the philosophy behind "freeorder" rather succinctly when he said, "The way something ought to be emerges rather than being imposed at the beginning."
Leif was first introduced to the libertarian tradition through attending Robert LeFevre's Freedom School in 1959, which he discovered through an ad his father had seen. It was through LeFevre that Leif originally became acquainted with the works of Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and F.A. Hayek.
Although he has attended several colleges—including Stanford, the University of Texas, and St. John's—Leif has never received a degree. Currently, he is writing a book on philosophy entitled The Art of Quest. The manuscript, approximately 1,000 pages long, deals with the concepts of an open society and social transformation.
The future for Leifs experiment looks very promising. Up until now membership has spread solely by word of mouth. Now, however, Leif has begun to develop mass marketing techniques. He estimates that membership will increase to about 1,000 by the end of 1978 and reach 10,000 by 1980. Ann MacCallum is currently making plans to start a network similar to Leifs in Southern California.
Leif feels that there are two possible ways for him to advance personal liberty. He can adopt either the view which he calls "the politics of no," where he would fight government encroachments on freedom in the political arena, or the position he calls "the politics of yes," where he would develop entrepreneurial methods to enhance liberty. Leif has chosen the latter course. One begins to understand Leifs views in his statement that, "I want to combat the typical notion that freedom and order are antithetical. I believe the two are logically interrelated. I think effective human freedom generates its own spontaneous order." Proudhon put this idea simply when he wrote, "Liberty is the mother, not the daughter of order."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Freeorder Entrepreneur".