"Imagine you are in Times Square (or Tiananmen Square) where hundreds of people walk by and there is a billboard that they can't avoid seeing. See a man who comes by and tells you that the billboard is yours and you can put whatever message you want on it. What message would you put on the billboard?"
That was one of the questions asked during the "open leadership" session at the inaugural Open Everything gathering on Cortes Island, British Columbia, Canada in 2008. The event brought together more than thirty participants from all over the world to explore one of the largest grassroots movements in the history of humanity: Open.
Open Everything, like many recent "un-conferences," is entirely "open source," in that the event itself is simply an idea -- a meme -- that the participants are responsible for shaping and forging into a real-world gathering. The participants are also encouraged to replicate the event in other places, with other focuses, and all without top-down direction from the event's founders. Similarly, participant-driven events like Bar Camp have inspired literally hundreds of localized events around the world, and spin-off events with different focuses, for example: Wine Camp (non-profit technology), Health Camp, and Edu Camp.
Unlike the unwieldy and hard-to-reach World Social Forums and regional Social Forums, hyper-local events like Bar Camp and its spin-offs are catalyzing real relationships on a scale that fits with the "Small is beautiful" philosophy of a more sustainable world. However, unlike the town halls of old, these new Internet-powered town halls connect local learnings with a global community of activists and agitators that are organizing in their own country, city, or town.
Remove the ownership on ideas and they spread like wildfire. Remove the ownership on good ideas and you can change the world. From ambitious gatherings like Open Cities that agitate for access to "civic data" -- information about the places we live -- and for citizens to have more input into the policy that effects their lives, to new takes on old ideas like Open Salad Club, which asks participants to bring just two items to help make a people-powered salad bar and encourages the age-old sharing of food and conversation in our otherwise hectic, information-overloaded, lives. Both ideas are now open and free to spread from the local to the global.
The impact of open moves in all directions; from the grassroots up and from the grasstops down. This flexibility is part of what makes it possible for a small group of committed people in Cambodia to leverage the massive efforts of the global free software movement to create their own, Khimer-language specific, operating system and desktop applications. The aptly-named "KhimerOS" project aims to:
translate to Khmer [many] free and open source applications (such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentation tools, e-mail, Internet, graphic manipulation, etc.) for their use by private users and in government offices.
Similarly, thanks to the effort of citizens all over the world, the free and open source Firefox Web browser is now available in more than 70 languages, including many languages that are too small a market for the other Web browsers. All of the translations are done by volunteer internationalization teams.
On a similar trajectory is the inspiring story of the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which aims to "Create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning." The first prototype was unveiled at Tunisia at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2005 and, since then, thousands of laptops have been distributed to children all over the world. Once again we see the power of an open idea to inspire and start down the path of lasting social impact.
Unlike anything before, the monumental Wikipedia project demonstrates the power of open by dasintermediating the process of creating and publishing knowledge. No longer is basic human knowledge bound to the printing press, or the people behind it -- instead, one of the world's largest collections of knowledge is now freely available (in 260 languages; many that have not had an encylopedia before) and collaboratively developed by editors, subject-matter experts, and knowledgeable amateurs. The collaborative process may have its drawbacks, but it is innovative in its commitment to radical transparency. For global social justice movements, there is a lot to be learned in the lessons of Wikipedia's digital consensus-building and democracy.
This collective action applied to the opening of knowledge has often been coined "crowd-sourcing," wherein the "Wisdom of Crowds" (or, more accurately, the sheer volume) is brought to bear on a task that seems insurmountable for one person, or organization, to undertake. Crowd-sourcing has been used to pry open the doors of obfuscation in the service of public interest again and again, thanks to the efforts of forward-thinking news organizations and publishers. Most recently, the Guardian asked UK citizens to "Investigate your MP's expenses" and has engaged more than 20,000 citizens in the process of reviewing more than 198,000 pages of expense reports in just a few weeks. The same ideas have also been applied to achieve human-powered micro-lending and fundraising.
Once empowered, citizens become more than just "Mechanical Turks," and then open networks and open knowledge pave the road toward a vibrant digital uprising. Just look to the events of Iran, Honduras, or Xinjiang over the last few weeks, and you see changing faces of resistance and reporting in the zero-decade. From the new forms of citizen-powered breaking news coverage that were experienced on micro-blogging sites like Twitter, to the shocking videos and images that were later posted to sites like YouTube and Flickr, to the Web sites and networks that spring up to support these newly forged activists and keep them secure.
On this last point, the question of open burns hot. Whether it's the decidedly-not-open corporate services like Twitter, YouTube, or Flickr, or the defiantly-not-open Governments like Iran and China, there is the burning question of what open really means in the age of increasing corporate ownership, and Government control, of what is thought to be an open Internet. And, what does this Internet-empowerment mean? People were able to blog about Iran, but Iranians were still getting shot; which leaves the question: can open technologies effect meaningful social change?
For a moment, just consider the Internet's technical "openness" -- the net neutrality the we mostly enjoy today -- that enables many of the new forms of reporting, activism, and civic engagement that we see as the renaissance of a people-based democracy. Without it, we hand the printing pressing of the digital age back to those who've owned them throughout history (and, to be sure, they would like to have them back and are working to make that happen).
The global movement around open presents the most promising opportunity for people in the Majority World of all time. The deep-reaching social impact of the intentions embedded in ideas like Open Education, Open Knowledge, and Open Design are nothing short of world-changing. And underpinning each of these is the legal framework used to support such efforts at growing the public domain, which is broadly known as open-source licensing or creative commons licensing.
Creative Commons and similar initiatives have often sprung up in response to the way in which the pernicious idea of intellectual property (copyright, trademarks and patents) is negatively impacting on the Majority World, for example: Access to generic versions of antiretrovirals or the patenting of Basmati rice. Intellectual property laws have the potential to help late-industrial capitalism in its constant drive to create new markets, as they close off and lock away what should otherwise be in the public domain.
In contrast to the closing off of knowledge, universities around the world have started to put their course material online -- free for anyone to access, use and adapt -- in an effort to remove the barriers to developing "first-world" university curriculum. To date, 250-member the OpenCourseWare Consortium has published more than 7,800 courses online. Similarly, Free High School Science Texts is "a project that aims to provide free science and mathematics textbooks for Grades 10 to 12 science learners in South Africa."
Cracks are also forming in the previously impenetrable tower of academic knowledge: peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly journals. Historically, access to these journals was restricted to academic libraries that had licenses to the works. The work of open-access agitators seeks to open the world of scholarly journals to the entire academic community -- including those that couldn't previously afford access -- and to broader civil society.
Open access to knowledge is critical to improving the lives of people today, and tomorrow. Examples abound: Medical practitioners accessing clinical trial results; Scientists accessing the up-to-date research data; Students gaining access to the knowledge of their global peers. A knowledge "quickening" improves the lives of all people, and open access to knowledge makes it likely that those improvements will be developed close to where they are needed most.
The strands of open that are pulled together above are only the surface of what is a global movement to make better software, knowledge, education, citizens, and -- at some level -- society. And, with more than 8000 people attending Fórum Internacional de Software Livre in Brazil this July -- including Brazillian President Lula -- it's clear that "Open Source" is the Majority World.
-- Phillip Smith
-- Charlie Harvey
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I think this is great! You've done a fantastic job of putting the topic in an international context and showing it for what it is: a genuinely global trend.
The part of the proposal that I find most interesting and compelling right now is "open everything" philosophy as applied to government -- as it was (perhaps with limited success?) recently in Obama's "recovery.gov" initiative (which trumpets its commitment to "transparency and accountability"), and a host of local "open government" and "open cities" initiatives you mention, like Vancouver's.
The recent economic crisis helps to expose the danger of closed, inscrutable networks (whether they're media networks, capital, energy or otherwise) operated by unaccountable monopolies. Too much power and wealth concentrated in too few hands -- with "disaster capitalism" the inevitable result.
Updating the "Operating System" of the planet
The reason the "open everything" and Net Neutrality fight you mention is so important is that we're now essentially laying the groundwork for the 21st century's infrastructure. We're re-wiring the planet's nervous system. Or updating its entire operating system. It's not just about technology -- it's about a closed or open future, and whether we want more innovation in the world or more monopoly and consolidation.
The big picture: "Innovation vs. Consolidation"?
The last fifty years in particular have been about massive CONSOLIDATION -- more and more power concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Those who have paid attention to the history, ownership, and crisis in the world's "mainstream media" are keenly aware of this problem -- we've seen most media around the world essentially fall into a tiny number of mega-monopoly hands, like Rupert Murdoch, Berlusconi, and Gustav Cisneros (the "Murdoch" of the Spanish-speaking world).
The open Internet fight matters because it will deteremine whether we can build a real alternate foundation in the 21st century, as the Internet eventually replaces ALL media, from tv to radio to print. Will we wire the planet along "open" lines that encourages innovation, participation, and independent voices like NI? OR allow the new networks and systems to fall into to the same hands as the old?
Are we going to wire our respective countries and the planet for open innovation? Or closed consolidation? This is the big picture context that people may miss if they're overly focused on the geekier, more technological aspects. Openess is the key to building a real "innovation economy" -- one that merges sociall innovation with energy and economic innovation -- or the "hybrid economies" (doing well by doing good, giving something away in order to get something else back) we need to survive and thrive in this century.
Strange bedfellows -- not your standard "left vs. right"?
What I find so fascinating about this and the broader "openness" battle is that it brings together strange bedfellows. It cannot be easily forced into the simple "left vs. right" frame that dominates so much discourse. It's a weird meeting place where network engineers, free speech advocates, geeks, activists, inventors, and small businesses and even "free enterprise" advocates and entrepeneurs all find themselves in strange agreement with each other. A whole bunch of innovative little "open everything" Davids up against the massive monopoly Goliaths who resist innovation, don't want change, and prefer back-room deals in secret and the soft corruption closed systems help make possible. These are the kind of social movements that take on new power to actually get things done -- instead of pushing from the margins.