Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Here Comes Everybody, part II--Open Source Africa?

Finished HCE. I was looking for some ideas, some insights, into how to leverage the power of social networking in support of the African Soul, American Heart film and aid project that I am working on, but my "take away" is that we are close to doing about as much as we can do. One of the ideas / concepts that Shirky comes back to over and over again is that a few people contribute most of the content to social network groups or activities (like wikipedia, a specific flickr event), but many people make a single contribution. The ASAH producer and I do most of the work, and we have a few people who contribute a little. Our film editor will contribute a lot to that specific project, others will contribute a little.

Oh, and that's another thing. These HCE projects need to be sufficiently open to mass collaboration. Editing a film shot by 3 people is not going to open itself up to mass collaboration. In terms of fundraising, we should be able to open things up a little more--invite people to host house parties--but most people can't easily contribute content to our project. If you are reading this, however, and you know how you can contribute, please leave a comment!

So, I started thinking--what kind of project might be a good HCE project? How about "Open Source Africa (OSA)?" I'm thinking of Douglas Rushkoff's "Open Source Democracy" as an illusion and guide. I know there are hundreds and hundreds of people working on various projects in Africa; would they benefit from a connected community? What would such a community accomplish? Shirky suggests, in his discussion of Linux, that if the explicit goal of an OSA was to "reform African governments," the project would fail. The goal is too big, seems to unattainable, seems like too much effort. Shirky suggests there are three rules for HCE projects:
1. they have to show promise, they need to bring people together, the concept needs to encourage participation.
2. the tools have to help bring and keep the people together, while moving towards fulfilling the promise.
3. the project has to make a bargin with people (or they make it with the project); they have to agree to the rules, participate in accordance with the group.

OSA, in light of this, seems like a project that is too big, too nebulous, lacks real promise.

So let me call out for help, again. Can anyone reading formulate a project with promise, a project that you think others would want to participate in? Does not have to be African-themed.

Epilogue: I realized after World Refugee Day that I had turned my blog into a blog-cast. My title, Ten Minutes a Day, implies personal reflection, thinking through papers, projects, life, and for the most part, that is what my blog has been the past few years. Then came the blog-cast. Now I'm really interested in trying to turn my blog into a conversation. My blogging has never been particularly conversational (either as reader or responder), but my work on ASAH really is about creating a conversation, creating a community, so that people want to learn more about Sudan, its history, its present, its future. I do need to figure out how to encourage people to contribute to the project, not just financially, but intellectually, emotionally, practically, even though most of the post is about how that isn't likely going to happen. Prove me wrong, people, prove me wrong!


Miss Melissa said...

OSA, I suppose, in a sense could be like Shirky's Flickr examples. But, in the end, what is accomplished? I guess some sort of database would be created where several smaller communities could come together under OSA (perhaps those interested in similar issues).

I guess I wanted--at least when I was reading--some more suggestions on how one could implement his ideas. I can see where people took interest in the stolen cell phone--they each got to play detective. How does that translate into an organization such as ASAH? Still not sure, but I am thinking about it.

Kevin Brooks said...

The Flickr example makes sense for ASAH only if multiple people in Duk Payuel, Sudan, can post photos to Flickr, which isn't likely to happen. I suppose there are a handful of other groups who go through the village--a group from New York, a group from Colorado--but we can't quite seem to get all of us co-ordinated in such a way that we are sharing significant resources.

Shirky's point about the low cost of failure is important; most of these HCE projects fail.

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