Open Source Culture

Many members in the IT community are long-standing supporters of the idea of open source, including Cybera. But it really became evident that this movement had gone mainstream when it is was recently featured at a TEDx talk. For Edmonton’s inaugural TEDx Salon Series, held February 8, the main topic for discussion was the benefit of open source and open source culture, and how it has already become an important function in our everyday online activities.

As Steve Fisher, one of the four presenters at the TEDx event, pointed out: “a lot of people don’t even know that they’re using [open source software].”  For example, if you’ve ever used WordPress to build a blog, or used Drupal to create and manage your business website, guess what: those are open-sourced content management systems (CMS).

The benefits of open source for a community can be as macro or as micro as you like. Fisher summed it up quite nicely when he said that open source, “at its heart, is about making things better.” It’s altruistically motivated, meaning that it is a good thing simply for the sake of being a good thing.

A good example of this is one of the open source projects that Cybera currently manages: the Water and Environmental Hub (WEHUB). This online platform connects water and environmental data gathered from open source websites or participating geo-based organizations, and makes it available in a format that users can access, share, mash-up and model. The goal of WEHUB is to not only be a one-stop shop for any water-related information, but to also make it easy for applications to be built on this data using a unified output service (API). This will enable a wide variety of useful, educational and fun applications to be created and shared with the public.

Currently, the WEHUB has both an example Apple and Android app available for free download.

Open government is a similar idea that has the same goals in mind, and benefits to the public, as an open source project. Here in Alberta, Edmonton has proved to be a shining example of this initiative. Developers and interested citizens in the city are given access to information such as neighbourhoods boundaries, garbage collection schedules, and recreation facility locations and amenities, all live-streamed via the Internet. The city also offers the added bonus of a Google Document to keep track of what data sets may become available in the near future, and when the existing data was last updated. Not many other cities have the same open source culture in government.

This information can be also used to develop applications that would be of further use to citizens. The popular “there’s an app for that” tag-line from Apple ads carries some serious weight in Edmonton; it’s likely that there is an app for most public information needs, to which Edmontonians can thank their open government.

Open source software is moving our world forward, and having the open source culture allows both source code and minds to remain open. To summarize using Fisher’s words: “I do [this] because I believe in it, I don’t do it necessarily because I get paid (although I do appreciate that). I do it because I think it’s an altruistic thing to do. I love that the world around me is improving because of some of the things that I’m doing.”

About cyberainc
Cybera is a not-for-profit organization that works to spur and support innovation, for the economic benefit of Alberta, through the use of cyberinfrastructure. Cybera has offices in Calgary and Edmonton and collaborates with public and private sector partners to accelerate research and product development that meets the needs of today’s society. Through its access to computing infrastructure and cyberinfrastructure expertise, Cybera enables academic, industry, and government groups to innovate in priority areas, including health, energy, the environment, and emerging technologies. Cybera also operates CyberaNet, a high-speed, high-bandwidth advanced network in Alberta, and provides project management to WestGrid, a consortium that provides advanced computing resources in support of research across Canada. For more information, visit http://www.cybera.ca

3 Responses to Open Source Culture

  1. That was interesting,

    Open Source, open government, open education http://www.openeducationweek.org/category/localevents/ and let’s not forget that other thing all alturalists after, open networks.

    What is the one element they all (must) share? Open Culture. So the header hits it on the head. Thanks!

    The problem, now that we can agree that all these technical initiatives share a common culture, is having the techs agree the basis, on which, one may best compliment the others.

    I certainly learnt something from this (open) post. CyberaNet “provides project management to WestGrid, a consortium that provides advanced computing resources in support of research across Canada”. Go figure! So that means it’s the place where, like terena in Europe, all the local/regional/national “open network” conversations are bought together. Not Canarie, like everyone else would expect.

    Maybe we could have a little aspirational feedback about this. http://www.terena.org/activities/aspire/

    • cyberainc says:

      Thanks Simon. I agree that this is a very interesting topic, and the idea of “open culture” is important for the development of the Internet (as your ASPIRE initiative is investigating). I should point out, CyberaNet is the name of our high-bandwidth, high-speed research network. Cybera the company is providing project management to WestGrid. The CANARIE network connects to CyberaNet in Alberta, and other networks across Canada and the world, which facilities “open network” conversations between global researchers. Just to clarify!

  2. Paola says:

    Hello,
    congrats on your post! It is indeed an interesting topic as it seems many fields are moving towards “open”.
    Here a reflection on open culture posted in http://www.ideasforchange.com/en:

    Even though it has recently become a recurring motto, collaboration in the field of the arts is nothing new. No need to rewind too much: Surrealists, Dadaists, Situationists and Plagiarists already conceived the idea that all creation is derivative and worked in a cooperatively manner.

    Think of the following question: What changed between the exquisite corpse of Tzara, Breton & Co. and the Exquisite Corpse Festival celebrated in October of 2011 in the US? In both cases the resulting creation is a product of convulsive beauty and common participation with a playful spirit. However, in the first example collaboration arises at a local level, occurs in a shared physical space. In the second, the American festival has been created from the Web and users were able to participate in an event where artists that might have never met before created a collaborative work of art through multiple mediums.

    “The Exquisite Corpse Festival uses the surrealist parlour game to inspire collaborations in unlikely media and between unlikely artists”

    Change of scale

    Yes, you got it! What has changed is the scale. And that change is directly related to certain processes that have been brewing for the past three decades due to the existence of a young and educated population, which is connected through the Web and in active search for alternatives. As a result, what before was local now is global, what used to be confined to a domestic field, familiar and close, now acquires to a planetary dimension.

    The digital remix culture is a good example of the change of scale in co-creation. The Grey Album is a mash up record created by Danger Mouse and launched in 2004. It uses an a cappella version of the rapper Jay – Z combined with plentiful unauthorized samples of The Beatles. The album gained notoriety when EMI tried to stop its distribution pleading copyright infringements. That same year DJ Spooky remixed D.W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation” (1912), and launched it as “Rebirth of a Nation”.

    In addition, the comparison between The Grateful Dead and Dj Vadim is useful to understand the change of scale that the Web 2.0 and P2P have made possible. The cult band from California used to invite fans to record parts of their live performances and in many occasions reused those samples in their own music. Vadim takes advantage of the Web to offer his samples to anyone who wants to remix and upload them back. Then he chooses the creations he likes best and plays them in clubs or turns them viral through his soundcloud account.

    “Remix old and new Vadim tracks and upload them back to the cloud: we play our favourites on mixes, in clubs and share on our soundcloud”

    Change of capabilities

    The second change that affects collaboration has to do with capabilities. The film “El Cosmonauta” is a clear example because it is the only Spanish movie partially crowdfunded. Both the scripts and the shooting plan have been published in the Web and followed by users whom, after co-financing the project, became producers of the work. The feature film will be distributed under a Creative Commons license.

    In this case, the product is only plausible thanks to the change of scale added to a change of capabilities. The Web becomes a board that enables contribution through a series of micro tasks. But contribution not always has to be monetary: Pantalla Global (Global Screen), currently being exhibited at CCCB (Contemporary Culture Centre of Barcelona), has been co-created with the help the crowd. It is an “open” exhibition divided in three phases: incubation, exhibition and post exhibition. Users may follow the creative process and even participate through the creation of a “counter exhibition”. As a counter discourse, user generated content becomes part of the physical and virtual expositions.

    What is yours is mine, what is mine is mine?

    The emergence of Creative Commons licenses offers a legal framework for the current creative effervescence motivated by the change of scale and capacities (excluding some restrictions). In the era of the culture industry, the big intermediaries needed copyright to sustain their businesses. Now, the era of contribution reveals the pressing need of new game rules that may protect the author while enabling open distributions and remixing.

    In this context, a well known element appears on stage: the commons (or the common good), that which belongs to the public domain, a resource on which ownership cannot be attributed to any individual as it belongs to the collective. And, talking about the commons, a new riddle pops up: what changed between Encyclopaedia Britannica (RIP) and Wikipedia?

    Change of ambition

    According to Jimmy Wales, founder of the largest digital work ever written, Wikipedia is “like a library or a public park: a temple for the mind”. The mission behind it is to make knowledge accessible to everybody. With more than 20 million of articles in 282 languages and dialects, written jointly by volunteers from all over the world, Wikipedia is one of the major contributions to the commons and is only possible thanks to the magical addition: change of scale + change of abilities + change of ambition.

    We assist to a change in ambition when the resulting product of the joint collaboration is a resource for the commons. A resource plausible of being copied, distributed, modified and redistributed, as Richard Stallman points out in his GNU Manifesto, written a few decades ago.

    Coleccionarte.org, Barcelona Creative Commons Festival (which not only exhibits CC films but also allows for it’s replication as a concept itself), all the projects that seek crowd funding in Goteo.org are examples conceived with the same change of ambition: that of a participative and free culture which exploits and cultivates the common resource.

    Best regards!

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