amc2010 report back 1 open source for open communities session

AMC2010 Report Back 1: Open Source for Open Communities Session

I’m finally getting a chance to reflect upon my experience representing Mozilla Drumbeat at the 2010 Allied Media Conference and to move forward with my follow up plan.

As always, AMC was a powerful experience, and I believe Drumbeat’s debut there went very well.  I only hope my next few posts can capture some of the most important ideas and outcomes.

On Saturday, June 19th, I joined the panel on the “Open Source for Open Communities: How Participatory Technology can Empower Everyone” workshop.  What follows is a quick overview of the speakers, then some highlights from the very participatory discussion that followed our presentations.

Anne Jonas talked about Miro Community, a project she is supporting as a Digital Arts Service Corps member.  Anne is taking Miro’s video technology to its logical next step – supporting people at the local level to use their open source web portal to build video sites that highly relevant to their communities.  While it’s true that anyone can upload videos to YouTube pretty easily, those videos can often get lost amid the sea of LOLcats and celebrity fare.  With Miro Community, anyone can set up a dedicated site for all their “lost videos” and connect with niche audiences.  I think it’s especially important to note that Anne is bridging the technologists at Miro’s Participatory Culture Foundation with their users.  In other words, you can make great open source technology, but it’s also important to invest in “the social layer,” to reach out and support the participants you hope will use the technology.

FreeGeek Columbus‘ Kirk Kimmel Clued us into his personal project, OpenMediaForge.org, which aggregates technical knowledge on open source alternatives for media production and distribution online.

The key point is that Kirk, not unlike Anne, is trying to link online media makers to the technologists writing the code that makes it possible.

Kirk has struggled to explain to the technologists why his project is necessary; engineers don’t always understand that tool users often have a very different experience than tool makers.  This was a persistent theme throughout the workshop.

Finally, I introduced the participants to the Mozilla Drumbeat initiative, where we are trying to open up the ability to shape and control the web to every kind of user. To help the participants get a clear sense of the kinds of open web projects we want to support, I focused on Peer 2 Peer University’s School of Webcraft, where we are building a free, online, project-driven school that will take learners from the basics of HTML though Drupal and all the way to sophisticated HTML5 applications.

Then, we turned it over to our participants and had a lively discussion.

Here are some highlights:

  • We had some technical questions, like whether open source software is more secure than proprietary solutions (in general, it is!) and requests for best web hosting solutions (in general, they all come with problems, but Dreamhost, Mayfirst/People Link, and using virtual private servers got good mentions).
  • The concepts of appropriate and pragmatic technology strategies were key.  Sometimes an effort will start using proprietary solutions like YouTube or Facebook, because they need to act fast and privacy or other issues aren’t a major concern.  Later, that effort might develop the infrastructure to adopt open and/or community-controlled solutions.  Sometimes, the web isn’t the right solution at all.  Depending on the community one is mobilizing, local radio or print communications might be the most appropriate.
  • We did a little myth-busting about free/libre/open source software.  For example, I pointed out that the open source ecosystem is supported economically by huge corporate interests, so that while it is, in many ways, superior to proprietary technology to those who value freedom, choice, and user control, it is not developed in a vacuum of capital solely by a band of heroic hacker-activists.
  • The deepest conversation, from my perspective, revolved around the perceived divide between developers and users.  The participants recommended a number of great strategies for bridging that divide including: non-techie participation on development teams, fostering new entrants to development coming from diverse backgrounds (like the School of Webcraft intends to do), and supporting better documentation by developers working with writers who know diverse audience.

Thanks to all the panelists, participants, and our very skilled facilitator!  For more notes, scroll down the workshop page here.

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