All posts in Free Culture

#SOPABlackout

What I wish Wikipedia (and others) were saying:

“Today, we’re going to an extreme to notify the public of bills that threaten the Internet. We’re doing so because this was the only way to get your attention.

The mainstream news media was not going to tell you about SOPA or PIPA. Many of your elected officials want to push through harmful legislation because their supporters demand it, and they know you’re unlikely to hold them accountable.

It’s vitally important to stop SOPA or PIPA from passing, but what’s even more important is that you start paying attention and demand better from your government. Even if we stop SOPA, the larger problem continues.

Tomorrow we’re going to go back to business as usual, but it’s up to you whether Congress does.

— Joe Brockmeier, What I Wish Wikipedia and Others Were Saying About SOPA/PIPA

We will never (as in not ever) win the war you care about until we win the war against this corruption of our Republic.

— Lawrence Lessig, on why he’s striking at the root during the SOPA soap opera.

How Laws are Made. An infographic by Mike Wirth & Dr. Suzanne Cooper Guasco / CC BY

Wissenswert: €5000 for Free Knowledge projects

A fantastic initiative from Wikimedia Germany: an idea competition, “Wissenswert”, calling for projects that further Free Knowledge. Winning submissions can receive up to €5000.

I’d love to see projects in the spirit of the “School of Open“, an idea Jane Park (@janedaily) proposed during the Mozilla Festival. Although just in early scaffolding stages, I think with a combination of P2PU-style learning, simple tools like the Hackasaurus X-ray Goggles, and the outreach programs like Wikipedia Goes to School (“Wikipedia Macht Schule“), this project could be a powerful combination to really teach students and grown-ups alike how easy and fun it can be to edit the web.

Bad user experience and lack of awareness continue to block many potential Wikipedia contributors. But kid-oriented tools and lightweight learning missions, coupled with programs that work with teachers and schools to bring the ideas to the classroom, these barriers will be lowered.

Can we make a Hackasaurus module to learn about Wikipedia?

That’d be my idea, if I had time to send it in.

If you’ve got a great Free Culture project, submit it by Nov. 24: http://wikimedia.de/wiki/WissensWert

Some of the grantees last year:

OKCon and A Generation of Bold Web Makers

The Open Knowledge Foundation is putting on its annual conference in Berlin at the end of the month. Daniel Dietrich has done a stellar job pulling together some of the most active and inspiring people in the Free/Open space, and I’m really looking forward to geeking out with folks about lsharing, hacking and building a Free Society.

I’ll be holding a pre-workshop on a topic that’s been on my mind since GlobalMelt and joining Mozilla to run event strategy, naming how can we get more out of meeting each other face-to-face?

The workshop is on June 29 from 10:00 – 14:00, and you can sign up here.

Internet-y communities love to meet IRL. Something about online collaboration fuels the need to see each other in person. With years of conferences, meetups, hackdays, barcamps, and all sorts of event formats in between, what have we learned about events as a effective way to embolden contributors, accelerate projects, and make a difference? I posit that we have to leverage the maker’s mindset, together with some webby wonders, to really grow the community circle and do events right. That means building things together in realtime, physical prototyping, and flexible, participatory agenda. Goodbye, industrial-era conference formats! How can we do this? What initiatives are in play that we learn from? How can we organize shared action IRL that fits our principles of openness? We’ll examine some of tactics from the maker scene as well as successful (and failed) efforts among open communities to be more effective, more impacting, and more fun when we meet IRL.

LibreBus: Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City Volcanoes01 bySir James / Public Domain, found in Wikimedia Commons

Guatemala

We broke our fast in San Salvador with tortillas, pancakes, and “American” coffee. A great tragedy in Central America is how delicious local foods, like coffee and tortillas stuffed with yumminess, are sold back to the region in the form of Starbuckes and Taco Bells. I know, I know. It’s globalization here as it is everywhere, but it’s still sad to see people waiting for hours in line for a latte from beans grown in their country but costing 3x as much.

Librebus in several Guatemalan newspapers

The Librebus hit the road for Guatemala City, just a few hours down the road. The temperature as we headed north became progressively cooler, a welcome relief from the heat of Nicaragua and Honduras. We reached Guatemala by mid-day, and after checking into the hotel, met up with about 10 Libre community folks: the CC Guatemala team, Free Software developers, a security contributor to Tactical Tech, and education and transparency advisers to various ministries.

We landed in a number of national and local newspapers. In general, media coverage of the Librebus was quite high. The journalists explained that in a region plagued with news about drug wars, violence, and corruption, a positive story about education, inter-regional collaboration, and idealism is fresh and welcome.

CC Salon

The CC Salon at the Centro Cultural de España in Guatemala City was our most well attended event yet. David, part of the budding CC team in Panama, commented that Guatemala has a level of activity and community that is a shining Free Culture star to the region. It’s true, and it’s not to be underestimated that it comes with the dedicated work of key people over several years (CC Guatemala signed its first MOU in 2006), growing the team and community one relationship at a time. One of the strengths in the country is the diversity of people who care about Free Culture and Free Software. And they’ve come to care about not through promotional talks, but through conversations about how these tools can help solve problems they encounter every day.

Speaking at the salon was the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, the host institution of CC Guatemala. Their new media department is pioneering a video platform for courses. The service houses more than 17,000 1,700 videos from lectures and classroom activities, synced with a transcript and slides timed to the talk. You can select sections of the video and share links to exact that snippet. It’s pretty impressive. The platform uses various CC licenses for the lectures, and we spoke to them about releasing the platform’s code. I also demoed popcorn and hyperaudio, which got them excited about web standards and HTML5.

A film about DVD gray markets in Guatemala was screened by pirata tv, and the maestros de web, a freely licensed software & web documentation site, showed his platform. The latter reminded me of a huge advantage Latin America has when it comes to educational materials. Often, people I met outside the English-speaking world lament that it’s difficult, in their language, to reach a critical mass and have access to enough quality content in the subject of their choice. But Spanish is a language spoken by at least 500 million people. It’s an enormous advantage. There are lots of initiatives and repositories and study groups and hordes of content available in their language. And although understandably one can feel isolated if they’re the only ones in their country working in the field or producing content. But transcend geography (one of the internet’s perks, of course), and you’ve got collaborators and resources everywhere. This is a great insight for Central America, I think, not just language-and-critical-mass-of-content-wise, but in leveraging their mutual efforts more often and not reinventing the wheel in each admittedly small, not-so-densely populated country. Knight-Mozilla MoJoitos Guatemala CIty

Having perfected the Knight-Mozilla MoJoito format in San Salvador, after the CC Salon we headed to a popular journo part in Guatemala City for round of brainstorming. It was a stellar attendance and a great vibe. We set up a prominent table in the bar, taped up some example napkin sketches, and started handing out pens & paper. Over the course of the evening, 25 ideas rolled in and 25 MoJoitos rolled out.

The ideas covered all sorts of ground and all sorts of approaches. Some highlights were: using SMS for citizens to text in news and send photos/video from a scene, interactive public screens showing the news and soliciting input from passers-by, live comment walls during news interviews that both the anchor and interviewee respond to and interact with, and a neat suggestion to double the news prompter, already employed to transcribe the action, as a video transcript generator and microblogger.

First Hackathon for Public Data in Guatemala

The next morning a room of geeks and activists gathered at the cultural center for the country’s first public data hackathon. The goal of the event was to connect NGOs and technologists and to start driving demand for open data by piloting some use cases.

I gave a brief overview of Linked Data and how the open data movement is shaping up in Europe and spots elsewhere. Where Does My Money Go and They Work For You for fiscal and political transparency really resonated with everyone, as Guatemala is entering an election year with a very corrupt government.

Also, as David Foster Wallace has helped drive home in The Pale King, pattern recognition and storytelling must shine from these monumental data statues if the information is going to have any relevance. This takes time, and patience, and to some degree a tolerance for eye-glazing public documents, but the world is in a position to make these documents more eye-catching and comprehensible, not to mention immediate and compelling. So techies teaming up with journos, handling the human translation work together, is a powerful formula.

And while the audience appreciated the examples from data.gov.whatevers from around the world, they also expressed the need to have visualization tools at their finger tips, so that whatever data crumbs are obtained can be instantly digestible. It’s of course the Holy Grail, but there are curations of key programs and tools already. Maybe we need a Tactical Tech-esque Data Journalism in a Box?

In any case, the crowd was primed for rolling up their sleeves and prototyping some action for public data. One group developed an infographic for the election process of Guatemala’s District Attorney, gleaned from an Excel spreadsheet on transparenciajudicial-gt.org. Another group created a podcast of recommendations for the transparency site, which you can catch the audio on SoundCloud. There were demos from Congreso Transparente.org and Open Wolf, and presentations from local NGOs and user groups.

Possibly the best outcome was hearing a few people say, “This is the beginning of something new in Guatemala. We have a lot of work to do, but now we know we can do it together.”

(all the unblurry pics here are by Renata Avila / CC BY and Jorge)

LibreBus: San Salvador, El Salvador

San Salvador downtown by Sergio.solar/ Public Domain, found in Wikimedia Commons

San Salvador

Hyper from a night of hotel-room karaoke with the Free Software program Performous, we jumped into the Librebus to journey from Tegucigalpa to San Salvador.

The half-day’s drive through forested hills and arid orchards went smoothly, despite the now standard hold up at the border as the customs officials inspect the Freedom Toaster. (Us: “It’s a transparent computer. Or, better to call it a portable CD burner.” Customs Official: “…”.)

El Salvador - Honduras border

We rolled into San Salvador to the generous hospitality of the city’s Centro Cultural de España for an evening of mingling and open pupusas. Pupusas are a delicious dish of corn tortilla with baked cheese inside topped with cabbage and salsa. You can apparently stuff them with all sorts of yummy things, like grilled veggies and guacamole.

Open Pupusas

The Open Pupusas was a great reminder of how food is a perfect interactive medium. People bustling around with plates and managing messy meals really dissolves social inhibitions and a few bites in you find yourself bonding with a neighbor about how tasty everything is and by the way what do they do, what brought them here, etc etc.

During the evening we met a cluster of Salvadorian digital natives, i.e. very wired kids that tweeted about heading to the event in cool Spanish net slang where “que” becomes “k” and everything is in a miXturRe of CapitAl leTTers. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them and think, wow, they must’ve been 8 or so when CC was founded. The movement is practically in a stage where a generation takes it for given and not recall a time when it wasn’t around.

Speaking of the next generation, a Debian developer sat rocking an adorable newborn and explained that her name is Debbie Alejandra. Now that’s a real geek.

The next morning we returned to the center and held some brief presentations about Free Software, freedom of expression, tech tools for transparency, and the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge.

We broke into smaller groups to discuss the specific topics, and although I couldn’t follow the details in Spanish, the energy was high and the vibe great. In general, the crowd seemed knowledgeable about the basic principles and projects of Free Software and Free Culture, which helped drive the conversation further.

Clearing out of the cultural center, I headed with Renata to a local community radio station, where she went on the air to explain the Librebus. The national newspaper El Salvador dedicated an article to us as well.

Knight-Mozilla MoJoitos

MoJoitos

An evening of geeks and news innovation awaited at a nearby bar (regrettably located in a mall made possible by the obliteration of a precious forest, we later learned). We met to brainstorm around the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge (#MoJo), grabbing a pen and napkin and tackling the question: how can video online change news storytelling?

Every successful submission scored the participant a mojoitos (our attempt at being punny), and the mood was fun and collaborative. Despite the intro talk (slides kindly translated into Spanish by Renata), it was difficult at first to explain what the scope of the idea should be, especially since the crowd was more of the geek, rather than journo, DNA. I suspect it helps to be more familiar with the domain in question (the news) when tossing out tangible problems to solve and suggestions to improve. In any case, they got warmed up after I whipped up a super simplified demo sketch.

Renata proposed a truly brilliant win-win-win idea for the challenge. It focuses primarily on photos, but you could pull off the same thing for video. Here’s the gist:

News photographers on assignment take hundreds if not thousands of pictures. But when their work is published, only a very select amount is used. Let’s conservatively say 1 in 100 photos. There’s a lot of waste in the system. What if there were a “megastore” for all the unused photos? What if all the digital scraps, the unpublished masses, were uploaded in a way that freed up storage space — fast and easily — from photographers’ cameras and offered them incentives, such as equipment discounts and promos, to get the pics online. A condition of submission could be waiving the rights and getting the photos in the public domain for maximum reuse. Crowdsourced tagging could be explored, for example, with image captchas to unlock phones or play games. Sponsors and high-scoring photographers would be featured prominently. And the public would have access to professional quality images and footage from all over the world.

I think it’s a fantastic and very webby way of approaching news photography’s current inefficiencies. Renata will be writing it up more thoroughly soon. Can’t wait to see what comes out of the MoJo meetup tomorrow in Guatemala City!

(all the unblurry pics here are by Renata Avila, CC BY)

LibreBus: Granada, Nicaragua to Tegucigalpa, Honduras

GPS running with Fedora. See the little Librebus?

Granada

The next day on our Librebus tour, we left Managua for Granada, a lake-side town about an hour away. We rolled in to the Antigua Casa de Los Leones, a gorgeous colonial house in the center of the city.

To an intimate crowd of 20, the Librenautas shared projects from Ubuntu, Python, and Gapminder, while a rep from the Service for Mesoamerican Information on Sustainable Agriculture (SIMAS) discussed the office’s intentions to release datasets to the public.

I showcased WebMadeMovies, and in talking with William, the Librebus’ gear-out filmmaker, we’re exploring how to release a video about the Librebus using popcorn. In the adjacent room, an announcer’s voice trickled in from Radio Volcán’s, fielding song requests with his studio door ajar. Artists nearby painted and fanned themselves in wicker rocker chairs…at the same time.

After a tasty lunch of Granada pizza (indiscernible from more general forms of pizza), we ventured out to Lake Nicaragua, a lake so large the moon pulls a regular solid tide. The country boasts many lakes and lagoons, fresh water escapes from the tropical heat.

In the public square outside the Antigua Casa, we screened Good Copy Bad Copy to a crowd gathered on plastic stools, blankets, and bikes. Young and old were drawn to the film, and a local commented that it’s rare for the host institution to dissolve its traditional walls and bring in the public, so they appreciated the outdoor activity.

The Casa’s closed reputation seems to be in stark contrast to the Centros Cultural de España that open their doors to us in other cities. The centers have media labs, libraries, galleries, screenings, and workshops constantly on offer, and in areas that face a real digital divide, these centers are like public sanctuaries of connectivity and culture. Renata explained that most governments in Central America don’t invest much in such activities and infrastructure, and so the gap is filled by cultural centers funded from the west. Perhaps this exercise of soft power is genuinely win-win.

After a pile BBQ plantains and Tona beers, we crashed at the spacious and tasteful Posada del Sol, a highly recommended hotel in Granada.

Tegucigalpa

At daybreak we climbed back into the Librebus and hit the road to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Several hours of winding mountain roads and sunny farmland, we arrived in the city of one million.

Joining us for this leg was our Honduran host, Karla Lara, a human rights activist and feminist. She showed us the most amazing spots, the shining gem of which was Zulma, a bombastic joie de vie who cooked us three meals during our stay. At Zulma’s, we not only feasted but were treated to traditional music and live riffs on the Librebus’s now-theme song sung to the tune of La Bomba. Suffice it to say, if you ever find yourself in Tegucigalpa, look up Zulma.

At the Centro Cultural de España Tegucigalpa a group of community radio activists introduced us to their initiatives. Karla, their mentor, is one of the most prominent revolutionaries in her country, and one of her tactics includes raising political awareness through music. After the performance at Zulma’s, Karla decided to release her albums under a CC license.

The radio activists were keen to learn more about Hyperaudio, which I demoed during the workshop. One feature request was speech-to-text to generate the transcript. The transcript is currently written by hand, but it certainly would be a huge boon if speech-to-text were well integrated and smart enough to execute a decent transcript within the platform. In any case, they were charmed by the visualizations, the integration of multimedia, and the ability to comment and link down to the very second in an audio file.

Wrapping up the evening in Tegucigalpa was a screening of ¡Copiad, malditos!: los caminos alternativos al ‘copyright’ by Stéphane M. Grueso. The film got a round of applause when Ignasi of CC Spain and Catalonia appeared on screen. I’d not heard of the film before, but I’d recommend it to folks as a complement to the Good Copy Bad Copy, RIP!, and Steal This Film series with its abundant examples of the Spanish-speaking world.

Tomorrow we’re off to San Salvador, El Salvador for a public data hackathon and hopefully our first MoJo meetup in Central America. Vamos!

(Sorry, posting these LibreBus stories about two weeks after the fact. Well, better late than never!. Photo credits to Librenauta Jorge.)

LibreBus: Managua, Nicaragua

Work found at https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/File:Concepci%C3%B3n_from_Maderas_(landscape).jpg”>Wikimedia Commons / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

The LibreBus is on the road! Over the next few days, a bus filled with Free Culture and Free Software contributors is traversing Central America, meeting up with local groups, holding workshops, speedshows, hackfests, and lightening talks wherever we go.

Yesterday I landed in Managua and headed to Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura Hispánica (@CCENicaragua) to join the Librenautas, who just drove in from Costa Rica.

To a warm crowd of about 60 people, Carolina Flores Hine, a leading Free Software advocate from Costa Rica, explained the genesis of the LibreBus and the route ahead. Jorge Alban took the stage to speak about Free Software, creativity, and the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth by Bruce Mau. It’s a moving piece, and it continues to feel immediate (“Jump fences. Make mistakes faster. Work in metaphor.”) despite its 1998 time stamp.

In a room next door, a Nicaraguan Librenauta demoed a Free Software astronomy project and talked about the rise of citizen science. Spacehack.org, the LunarX prize, student weather balloons, and other private initiatives abound to make the Space Age DIY, filling in the gap left from shriveling tax-funded government programs.

Next up was a screening of RIP! A Remix Manifesto with its scenes from Beijing to Rio to Montreal and beyond. It was fascinating to watch while siting in Nicaragua, surrounded by the Librenautas and the attentive audience and think: where has the Free Culture movement been — and where is it going? Have are our leading examples, our metaphors, evolved? Have we advanced our goals, pushing the trenches a few meters in a fairer direction?

It’s hard to say where we stand, what with numerous legislative and extra-legal moves to towards copyright idiocy. On the other hand, compelling cases abound across domains and geographies, lending evidence to a changing tide in individual and institutional adoption. With nearly 10 years since the founding of Creative Commons, it’d be useful to take stock of the movement and determine what challenges lie ahead and where our energies are well spent.

Universidad Centroamerica

The next morning, after a pleasant evening organized by Neville, a Managua-based Fedora contributor and Librenauta, the bus drove to the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA).

librebus-1-14 / LibreBus / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

The Flame of Knowledge, a pyramidal Arduino-driven Freedom Toaster that burns CDs packed with Free content and programs, was a major hit. A table of local Mozilians, fresh from their Firefox 4 launch and loaded with swag and enthusiasm, shared their experiences with Firefox and contributing to open projects in Nicaragua.

Flame of Knowledge

Interestingly, the university’s GNU/Linux user group boasts nearly a 1:1 ratio of guys and girls, a refreshing balance. In general, in fact, the number of women active in Free Software projects seems higher in Central America, as it appears also to be in places like Brazil and India, than in Europe. I’d like to check with Carolina, who does a lot of research and outreach on the topic, whether that’s true, but at least during this tour, the ratio is healthy, which is fantastic to see.

Mozzilling! / Renata Avila / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

After I held a brief chat about Creative Commons and P2PU, there was an explosive round of lightening talks. The bici-liquadora, a human=powered blender, provided laughs and smoothies for the crowd.

A software didact introduced Cursorlibre, a leading tutorial site in Spanish for Free Software programs. It drove home the need for course localization, and it’d be neat to learn from projects like P2PU, who’ve translated their new site into Spanish and hold study groups in different languages, how to tackle multilingual challenges while growing the circle to new language groups.

Tactical Tech took the stage to talk about 10 Tactics, and in a biodiversity sit-in, we discussed the importance of seed banks for the Mesoamerican maize culture (reminded me of Heatherwick’s seed cathedral at the 2010 Expo).

Rodrigo (@roirobo), a Mozilla contributor from Managua, spoke about Firefox addons for privacy, highlighting BetterPrivacy, Ghostery, and AdBlocker Plus. Then Neville argued about the value of Open Street Map to his neighborhood, whose streets aren’t listed on Google Maps. La Brujula, a newspaper by youth for youth, handed out copies of the paper, licensed under CC and featuring an article about the bus. Yeah!

@magjogui proposed a DeapDrop network for cultural data from Central America. Since then, he and I are talking about how to use the event totem, as prototyped at Global Melt, to capture the documentation and hand it off to the region’s cultural centers, Free Culture projects, and perhaps another LibreBus one day.

The day ended with a delicious Nicaraguan buffet, complete with banana leaves, plantains, more rice and beans, and a coagulated blood block I chose not to learn more about. Then drinks in a neighboring bar, matchstick puzzles, and beer can bowling made for a pretty interesting night. Now for some shuteye and off tomorrow to Granada!

Global Melt — the aftermath

It’s been a fantastic two days at Global Melt, and boy is my mind liquid. In a room filled with talented community instigators and caretakers, we hacked on tools and strategies to boost community health during events, to get things done IRL, and to most importantly enjoy what you’re doing and make a difference.

Global Melt 3 by jagataj, available under a CC Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The event kicked off with facilitation by the masterful “Don’t get me started on panels and Powerpoint” Allen Gunn. There was a post-it note mosh pit where we scoped pressing questions about how global, peer-driven communities benefit from live events (many thanks to SJ for transcribing nearly a hundred notes). We asked some tough questions, but there was one fundamental thing to tackle:

Why events?

Global Melt focused on the role of events for three reasons: 1) we’re prototyping this type of workshop, so it’s better to start with some concrete; 2) events are a microcosm of a community, so the dynamics manifested in them reflect the organization as a whole (think governance, funding, interactions among members, etc); 3) furthermore, all of the participating groups run events — some small, some large, and certainly many confronted with deep questions about purpose and impact.

With so much time and energy invested in events, isn’t it worthwhile to take some time to define why we run events in the first place?

Value proposition to participant

Often as event organizers we neglect or inadequately address the question: what does a participant get out of an event? In the trenches of logistics and operations, it sometimes feels like there’s not enough time to frame the Why. During Global Melt, we dedicated a round of discussion to defining several value propositions to participants on one hand and to the organizers on the other.

By identifying and articulating what someone gets out of an event, some issues around promotion, engagement, and the Caring Problem are resolved. So, for example, rather than saying you’re hosting a meet-up for web developers, which is very general and hard to gauge the relevance, you could invite experienced developers from news organizations to design HTML5 applications for visualizing raw data sources. Through clearer definitions of the target audience and the event’s purpose, you increase the probability of getting engaged participants who know why they’re there and what they will achieve.

Make the Hard Stuff Easy

On the first day, even before the planned tool sprint, we had our first beta release. Have you ever been to an event where you end up in a really interesting conversation with someone, exchange business cards and promise to be in touch, only to return home with a fistful of email addresses and numbers, unable to track why you’re supposed to talk with whom? Enter Sparklez, an analog interaction reminder conceived and prototyped by Asaf and others at Global Melt. It works like this: the event organizer hangs a piece of paper on the wall, aka the Sparklez interface:

Whenever participants make a connection with someone during the event and want to follow up on the conversation, they write their names on the paper with a brief note about what they want to talk about. After the event, the onus of following up with these interactions lies with the event organizer. The organizer must contact each listed person and confirm whether they have been in touch as indicated. Sparklez is a lightweight and fun way to ensure that people get the most out of networking and conversations at the event and that social ties are revisited and reaffirmed after the event is over.

Event documentation is another task that often withers on the vine because it’s tough and time-consuming. But we thought about how documenting an event could be more fun and engaging. Together with Alek and SJ, we conceptualized a Rapporteur Bounty. The game creates external incentives for attendees to document and talk about what they did and learned at an event.

For example, the organizers of the next Wikimania could offer a bounty for a Global Melt participant to speak at the conference about workshop or to send a write-up about certain sessions or topics. The bounty would vary depending on the people, the resources, etc., but you could think of fun ways to encourage groups to share outcomes and talk about what what achieved. It could also work for participants who couldn’t make it but were keen to attend. They could offer something symbolic or funny to incentivize someone to create more documentation about the event they missed.

Entertainment as an Organizing Principle

Having fun is an incredibly strong motivator. And especially when working with volunteer contributors, it’s paramount to ensure that people have a good time. But usually, entertainment is an afterthought and not strictly productive, such as a party following a workshop or an outing to Cirque du Soleil. But what about ways to leverage our drive for fun into positive contributions? Gamification is a horrible buzz word, yet the approach can be useful.

One prototype we produced plays with the concept of a totem and an evolving documentation monument. A data totem is a storage device such as a USB that is passed on from event to event. It contains curated content from the event, such as videos, photos, and summaries of sessions. The object serves both as a reminder to the recipient that they should add information and hand off the totem to the next event organizer.

For example, there are CC Salons all over the world. What if an organizer in Guatemala City copied the creative works showcased at his event and then passed on the USB to a salon organized in Warsaw? The totem evolves and takes on more information as it travels. Plus, you have increased interaction among the event organizers, since they can discuss the data on the device as well as chat about how their event went, etc. Moreover, the effort to compile a curate folder for the USB also means that it easy to copy the file and share it elsewhere.

I hope to continue working with Alek to iterate on the Global Melt Event Totem below. I’ll post the file for Global Melt soon. Who will get the totem next?

Leadership is a behavior not a person

Many participants noted that fatigue is a huge concern facing many event organizers and attendees is fatigue. There’s too much going on, too much of the same same, too much pointless blather, too many expectations and no replacements or fresh blood.

Jay offered the great insight that leadership is a behavior, not a person. That means the role of a community leader isn’t tied to a person as such but is instead a role adopted and adapted. If an organizer, for example, no longer has the capacity to do something like host a regular meet up or plan big annual event, it doesn’t mean that the project dies. Rather, by indicating that leadership is a way to act, and not the individual that fills it, there are ways to empower and inspire others to adopt leadership behavior. Are there projects that you’re involved with where leadership in this manner could be framed anew?

Relatedly, Charlie mentioned that communities are healthier when each member knows it can leave at any time. By having a clear exit, every moment someone stays is an autonomous decision to be there. This is deeply important is combating fatigue (sometimes people feel obligated to stay or that there’s no way out).

Talk about Events as Events

We all attend and many of us organizer lots of events. It’s incredibly helpful to be deliberate about why one participates at an event, and even more, to discuss this question with others. One tip for organizers is to offer a session or feedback round at an event to provide feedback but also to talk about why one holds an event in the first place, what it achieves and doesn’t, and how formats and other factors can be tweaked to reach goals.

What I also find useful, especially at an event where you’re highly involved, is to plan in the time immediately afterward to document, say thanks, and collect feedback. Even building in time during the event, while energy is high and everyone is sitting in a room, can be very effective. Or bake an extra few hours on the following day to digest and write-up meaningful summaries and thoughts. On-the-fly stuff is great, but a planned decompression can have even more impact.

There’s more!

Speaking of wrap-ups, this turned out to be quite a long summary. ^^ But, there are a few places I’d encourage you to look if you want more info. We’ve got a lot of documentation growing on the wiki, including an excellent survey of available communication and collaboration tools for events. There’s also a forthcoming list on 10 Ways to Make Your Event Not Suck, some helpful threads for an local organizer’s handbook and some event toolkits, plus some microevent formats and other ideas.

Importantly, we’d love to hear feedback and ideas to improve. And there’s a list of actionable next steps — like blog about Global Melt in your language or sign up for the discussion list to learn more.

Thanks everyone for coming. A super special thank you to Alina and Gunner, to Mark, to Alek and Joanna, and to all the participants and to studio70. Meeeeeeeeeeeelt!

Global Melt

Global Melt logo by Joanna Tarkowski, available under a CC Attribution Poland 3.0 license.

Very excited about this weekend’s inaugural Global Melt, a workshop for members and leaders of global peer-driven movements to explore what our movements have in common, share what we have learned, and discuss solutions and ideas for our respective communities.

We’ll be bringing together staff, board, and community members from organizations like Creative Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, as well as Global Voices, KDE, P2PU, Open Design City, CiviCRM and many more fantastic projects.

Global Melt will be the beginning of more deliberate inter-organizational collaboration, of shared action plans, and shared resources. Our immediate goal is to troubleshoot one concrete issue that is common to all participating organizations. We will conclude the workshop with a deeper understanding of running local, community-organized events that contribute to organizational goals in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Participants are looking to develop tools that makes their work more efficient, more effective, and more impacting. Rather than building resources in isolation or continually investing in event strategies from scratch, we can gain more by pooling resources and ideas.

Possible shared resources include:

  • Local planner handbook – How can we communicate best practices to better inform and inspire local organizers?
  • Event calendars – How can we coordinate calendars of events from our organizations and community members?
  • Event and agenda formats – How can we learn about other event formats and adapt them to our purposes?
  • Facilitation practices – How can we grow the network of experienced, collaborative facilitators?
  • Documentation and communication platforms – What tools and methods are effective for documenting and promoting events?
  • Contact database – How can we map and connect community members and contributors across projects?
  • Evaluation of venues, vendors, and public partners – How can we collect organizational and logistical experiences from hosting events?
  • Event funding sources or templates – How can we generate resources to help local organizers bootstrap their events?

We’ve got a very rich collection of discussion questions to kick us off. We’re also keen to collect input from people who can’t attend in person (the workshop is still open — let me know if you want to join! There’s also a party on Monday, March 28.)

A taste of the agenda topics:

  • What do you gain from inter-organizational collaboration?
  • How do you balance grassroots values with global consistency?
  • How do you make events sustainable?
  • Addressing “The Language Challenge”: Building multilingual movements.
  • Parachuting into larger events.
  • What tools do you use for contact management, calendars, communication, translation, venue information, and documentation?
You can read more on our wiki and sign up on the discussion list. This event won’t be possible without the support of Mozilla, studio70, and all the stellar participants.

The Future of Art and Sharism

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/19670849]

The transmediale gave a lot of attention to Free Culture and the Open Web this year, from the book sprint to the Open Zone to a panel series called Lost in the Open, and piles of spontaneous sharerrorism actions throughout the festival. Curated (or should we say connected by) the talented Stephen Kovats and Ela Kagel, these events offered a platform for reflecting on sharing and collaboration through the lens of art.

Admittedly, I know next to nothing about art, but the biggest take-away from the festival was: 1) you don’t need to know much about art to try it yourself, and 2) the internet, including clusters of standards like the Web, is really important to making, distributing, critiquing, funding, and reusing art — now and in the future.

A film sprint by the Emergence Collective (Gabriel Shalom, Patrizia Kommerell, Clare Molloy, Annika Bauer) helped capture the state of the conversation. Iterating on the immediated documentation techniques pioneered by the group, they produced the film The Future of Art. This time they complemented the in-person (and one in-robot) interviews with an online discussion via the #futureofart hashtag and several Quora threads.

The team did a great job compressing 13 interviews and lots of festival footage into a thought-provoking film. After watching the screening at transmediale, it made me appreciate how challenging it must be to harmonize so many different voices. One thought, at least from an interviewee point of view, is that in advance sitting in front of the camera, it would be helpful if you could grab a sneak peek of the other conversations. At least with my non-existent art cred, it would’ve helped to know the angle other interviewees have taken and respond to their comments. In particular, Ken Wahl’s insight was excellent and very riff-able in hindsight:

The idea of originality and proprietary-ness contributes to the whole Great Man theory, which is slowly disintegrating. The concept of the genius — you know, the Freud, the Marx, the Leonardo, the Einstein — [who] come up with an idea that is completely related to the man who came up with the idea. Today, ideas just get thrown out there and used. And it’s that use in a way that’s the art, rather than the person that comes up with the idea.

While I’ve often seen the Great Man theory as a historical anomaly (albeit an enduring one since the Renaissance or thereabouts), there has always been a strong undercurrent of collaboration all throughout art and other cultural processes. Even the canonized Greats were immersed in conversations and environments that enriched (or challenged) their thinking, some of them having close friends or partners who pushed the work further, often without the same recognition.

So, it seems with the rise of massive collaborative online projects, we see a return of sorts to more distributed authorship, yet at the same time with a granularity of attribution never before possible. Each commit or edit or interaction can be logged and attributed to one source. So this gives rise to an unprecedented quantitative measure of reputation. And what’s more interesting, to follow Wahl’s point, is that the measure of contribution isn’t so valuable as the measure of reuse. A good idea is duly cited, a great idea takes flight and becomes owned by all.

(For the record, this is very much how I feel about the concept “collaborative consumption,” although it seems to be at great odds with one public proponent of the term.)

Similar sentiments were echoed in the Sharism workshop I conducted with Fabricatorz Jon Philips and Christopher Adams. Sitting in a circle (just realizing how redundant it is to say “round circle”), we raised the question about motivations and effects of sharing. Here’s a nice recap of the ground we covered.

When one participant asked whether sharing excludes people without wealth and means, it was countered that in fact one of the greatest things to give is one’s attention and willingness to listen, learn, and contribute. A conclusion was then that sharing is often, in its most profound form, an immaterial gift. And so rather than getting bent up about direct remuneration for each and every act of sharing (which quickly dissolves into a quid pro quo “business model” crisis), it’s actually not insane to talk about sharing holistically and karmically.

This is where I sometimes feel the need to run around in tie-dye and chant, but for all it’s cheesiness, it’s actually a powerful idea. And one that gets lost sometimes in the noble trenches of the copyfight…though the sunshine is not meant to downplay the importance of remuneration and viable use cases. I care about those and empirical support for them quite a lot.

It also seems like I shared enough today, so with that — curious to hear your thoughts!