Open Source Culture
April 25, 2005 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Culture by the people, for the people. We all know that there are a gazillion blogs out there, with people talking about anything and everything, frequently to an audience of one. Those same text based blogs are incorporating video as well. People are beginning to organize their internet not through search engine algorithims, but by their own tags. There's also a dedicated cadrey of partisan and non-partisan "amateur journalism" sites. Then you have full fledged communities focused to specific subjects, holding an unbelievable depth of knowledge and opinions. With entire encyclopedias available online, and with smaller topic-centric wiki's available, can the creation and dissemination of audience authored content be far behind? Witness the growth of Flickr, the probable success of Vimeo, people programming their own radio stations and/or shows, the increasing awareness and use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by plain ol' citizens, the courting of TiVo by Google and Yahoo (to share homemovies and pictures, perhaps?), open source news sites like Take Bake the News, NowPublic (for royalty free images to accompany content), Downhill Battle, Our Media ( a place to store your content), and open-source sounds and sights. Could there eventually be enough worthwhile content to break us free of a corporate-delivered culture?
posted by rzklkng (35 comments total)
Not so long as we rely on the corporations to access that culture. That's the last barrier.
posted by InnocentBystander at 11:27 AM on April 25, 2005

Could there eventually be enough worthwhile content to break us free of a corporate-delivered culture?

You're soaking in it.
posted by airguitar at 11:29 AM on April 25, 2005

Could there eventually be enough worthwhile content to break us free of a corporate-delivered culture?

Most of the links you provide follow back to a corporation or government entity. Indeed, every website in the world connects through a corporate- or government-owned backbone, so until we can "open source" the backbone, or have some way to reliably encrypt content on a P2P basis, it is likely "they" can pull the plug any time they wish.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:34 AM on April 25, 2005

it is likely "they" can pull the plug any time they wish.

Big Brother will pull the plug on MeFi any day now...
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2005

"they" can pull the plug

But each corporation works interdependently -- corporations interact and, to some extent, rely on each other, but there's no Grand Master of the Internet to monitor it all -- that's part of the point. Some "they" could pull plugs, but it'd take a massive, globally coordinated effort to bring down even a good 10% of the Internet. We're talking either nuked facilities or the ultimate secret society. The U.S. government couldn't just shut down the net without an immediate armed rebellion -- seriously.
posted by NickDouglas at 11:43 AM on April 25, 2005

Take Bake the News

Sadly, no muffin recipes.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:48 AM on April 25, 2005

I think it's a shift, rather than an elimimation--the question of degree here is all-important. Currently, we are bombarded by a nearly all-corporate media.

If audience authored content becomes significantly more widespread, corporations' roles change from provider of content and services, to provider of services only. Sure, they could "pull the plug," theoretically, but if that's the only way they make money, why would they?

Once corporations mostly make money transferring content rather than creating it, a significant measure of liberty will have been won back.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2005

Damn you clouds!!! [Shakes Fist at Clouds] /AbeSimpson
posted by rzklkng at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2005

However, on some scale, Alex, you may be right. The networks are none too happy with people PVR'ing, DVR'ing, or time-shifting, going as far as to change the start and end times on their programs and lobbying the FCC to DRM new TV-Tuner Cards. They are doing what they can, but you see how effective they are with P2P.
posted by rzklkng at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2005

until we can "open source" the backbone

That makes no sense. All the protocols needed to make all these introwebs work are, of neccesity, freely available already. It's akin to how you can get plans and blueprints for free, but actually building something will cast money for the materials.

I don't mean to get all slashdot-pedantic, I have a point about this issue: It's not like software, which can be reproduced at essentially zero cost. There's a non-trivial amount of hardware needed to run the internet, and someone has to pay for that. This makes it a fundamentally different problem than that of software. No matter how many talented people want to help, no matter how good their intentions are, there's a need for someone to get paid to build and maintain the infrastructure or it simply can't exist.

Could that happen using a different business model? Sure. Could it happen in a decentralized, non-corporate manner? Probably. But it's a different problem domain than the ones where "open source" or "P2P" have any application. You still need expensive machinery to run even the coolest opensource P2P app - it's not a magic spell to make corporations go away.
posted by freebird at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2005

Heh, I was wondering how you could pass as anything more than a rape victim message board (and a play on Take Back the Night community activities). Thanks rzkikng for providing the proper link.
posted by furtive at 12:05 PM on April 25, 2005

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Revolution is over. It's just that only a few people realize it.

For many years I've been watching world events and getting really really worried.

But now I'm just loving it. The further a few try to push their corporatist agenda, the easier it is becoming for the rest of us to slowly wake up to the Truth(tm).
posted by futureproof at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2005

Could there eventually be enough worthwhile content to break us free of a corporate-delivered culture?

No because we are already free from corpoculture, in the sense that nobody is forcing us to watch TV or listen to Radio. What is useful, imho, is to make a really public network of computer ..and internet 3 if you like..involving as much people as possible and using as much infrastructure NOT owned by corporate entities or under government control.

People old enough to remember the "good ole days" of Fidonet msg network don't miss the good ole days at all and are extremely glad of today transmission infrastructure which is taken for GRANTED. Back in the "ole days" packets of data were carefully compressed and delivered with bloody common telephones calls to computers in different countries and you damn well don't know how expensive it was. The whole network relied on a handful of people.

But today "we got" the Internet. BULLSHIT, we got access to it not control of it..

You signed a contract to have internet access and I believe no ISP is obliged to sign a contract with you, either of access in browsing mode (99% of users) or providing web services. So say goodbye to internet tomorrow or with a new contract restricting your speech on a wholly PRIVATE network..yes on a private network there is no such thing as freedom of speech. It's tolerated but there's no guarantee.Same goes if you access internet from the office, if you get fired no more inet for you...and inet cafes aren't an alternative either :)

It's not only "unbiased" culture we are in dire need of, it's of infrastructure that is bias indipendent and so resistant to market fluctuations and "forces" that nothing short of cutting electricity nationwide or an EMP bomb could destroy.
posted by elpapacito at 12:32 PM on April 25, 2005


I'm sorry. I just have to laugh everytime someone sits there and starts the "down with corporations" shtick as they type on their computer that is a product of corporate R&D and production over the corporate created and provided internet. Corporations are evil, eh? Too bad you owe your entire existence and country to them.
posted by dios at 12:36 PM on April 25, 2005

hmm...actually the internet came more from government funded research, dios, how you like them commie apples? The whole "owe your existence and country" bit is silly enough I don't think it's worth anyone's time to address.
posted by freebird at 12:39 PM on April 25, 2005

freebird, corporations pay for the backbone, correct? The government didn't lay all those wires.
posted by dios at 12:47 PM on April 25, 2005

Luckily we don't need wires anymore. Gigabytes are flowing freely through the clouds. And while corporations can help with wireless, they are not needed at all.
posted by futureproof at 12:51 PM on April 25, 2005

dios: not a in a thousand years dude. I bet you don't even know what a corporation is from a legal point of view and from a practical point of view as well. You talk about R&D...who does R&D, the corporation ? No, some guy. Who does the production, the corporation ? No some other guy.

So please tell me how I owe a corporation anything ? Jee not even hard core republicans are so willing to give ass to suits.
posted by elpapacito at 12:51 PM on April 25, 2005

That makes no sense. All the protocols needed to make all these introwebs work are, of neccesity, freely available already. It's akin to how you can get plans and blueprints for free, but actually building something will cast money for the materials.

Freebird, apologies, my choice of terminology was poor. I suppose by "open source" I mean running something like an ad-hoc, community wireless network, a network that is off the corporate backbone. Its utility would be limited to the small pool of people who connect to it, which is why I suggested it would be unlikely to occur, compared with an encrypted P2P network going over existing lines.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2005

Actually, the governent *did* originally lay all those wires Dios. There's obviously plenty more that's been built since then, paid for by tax dollars and, yes, corporations spending money you and I pay them. I'm not denying corporations play a role, I'm saying you're drastically oversimplifying with your "hey, you use the internet, and corporations have something to do with that, so you can't criticize them!" rhetoric.

It's like saying that, since I've bought some food once from McDonald's, I can't criticize factory farming and fast food culture. I'd argue that since our money keeps these corporations you're so keen on in business, we have both a right and duty to criticize them.

And while corporations can help with wireless, they are not needed at all.

Um...firstly, wifi is only moving data locally - someone still has to provide backbone to move it long distances. Secondly, are you saying everyone will just build their own wireless gear? Thanks, but I'd rather pay a corporation to do that for me.

Both these extremes are pretty silly. Sorry, you *do* need corporations to keep the content coming - spend your energy revolutionizing *how* that happens, not whether it does. And, sorry, the fact that corporations play that role by no means precludes our criticizing the way they fill that role.
posted by freebird at 1:01 PM on April 25, 2005

who does R&D, the corporation ? No, some guy. Who does the production, the corporation ? No some other guy.

And who pays those guys?

You, The Consumer.

Just by turning on your computer you are supporting Mining Corporations, Shipping Corporations, Oil Corporations, Computer Hardware Corporations, Computer Software Corporations, and Energy Corporations...

On Preview, I'd like to second what freebird said:
"I'd argue that since our money keeps these business, we have both a right and duty to criticize them."
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2005

This is really going off in an unexpected tangent...ideally, it would be preferred to have a network owned by the people, but I really was more interested in the content aspect. All through history, with the exception of verbal folklore and song, and probably cave paintings and pottery, the access to (most)culture always had a gatekeeper, whether it was a printing press, a library, a bookstore, a college or university, or a radio or TV broadcaster. The distribution of content was the issue - with the content that we consumed being owned and controlled by some other third party. Making the assumption that the interweb would be like air, nominally available to anyone, is an assumptive given.
posted by rzklkng at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2005

freebird, I don't mean to suggest that corporations are beyond reproach. In fact, I think there are plenty of things to criticize corporations over. That is different and apart from criticizing the concept of all corporations, which is some extremely short-sighted hippie-nostalgic silliness. Corporations, if not completely necessary to this country, are certainly, at least, responsible for a lot of things that people enjoy. So that is why I laugh at the "down with corporations" nonsense as if this country would even be a shadow of itself without them.
posted by dios at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2005

I laugh at the "down with corporations" nonsense

Well, that's nice. You may be looking for another thread through. The closest to that position I see people taking here is "it would be neat if cultural transmission could happen independent of corporate distribution and commodification", which is pretty different. Like, back when I was a youngster, I really liked being able to go to the Grange Hall and see punk bands that ClearChannel and Sony hadn't picked up and decided I should see. See how that's different from "Corporation are teh sux0r and should D13!!"?

rzklng - I think the reason the thread is veering that direction is that your assumption (that the internet is like air and available to anyone) is problematic. As long as the infrastructure providers are involved in regulating, promoting, and censoring the content they move for us, we have a gatekeeper.
posted by freebird at 1:21 PM on April 25, 2005

Ideally, sure, we'd collectively own the protocols and the infrastructure, but that is remote at best. There is crap broadcasted because that's what the masses are willing to watch. If there were options, and the options were better (witness the shifts from traditional to new media like the internet, DVD, and videogames), than the crap would need to get better. Ownership of the distribution system has a minimal effect on the situation. Eventually, I think we'd see big media try to throw their weight around.
posted by rzklkng at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2005

Which of these links will take me to the best of the web?
posted by knave at 1:40 PM on April 25, 2005

There is crap broadcasted because that's what the masses are willing to watch. If there were options [...] then the crap would need to get better.

Call me bitter and cynical, but I'm afraid that crap isn't just what the masses are *willing* watch - it's what they *want* to watch. So I think the real change has to involve more allowance for smaller niche markets and economies other than those of scale. Merely providing more options to the masses won't change anything as long as success requires a major network TV sized audience.
posted by freebird at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2005

A lot of this is similar to the food revolution that took place a while back. At some point newspapers (and later writers like Upton Sinclair) discovered that the food produced by small enterprises wasn't all that pure. For some reason stuff being packaged by mom-and-pop became less trustworthy than the stuff packaged in a factory.
Reasons range from technophilia to the influence of the Sears catalog, but ultimately it boiled down to accountability.
You could tell someone 'Hey, I found a rat in my Gold Medal flour' and that company would jump through hoops to fix the problem as opposed to the mom-and-pops who really didn't have the 'cover yer ass' controls in place.
Granted we shouldn't think of culture, information, or journalism as 'product' but in many ways it is. The most direct way is that control rzklkng mentioned.
Similar to Gold Medal flour, news producers were for a long time accountable for their product to greater or lesser degrees (somewhat after J.P. Zenger but somewhat before Rush Limbaugh) .
Now we seem to have lost that in the monopoly of information the distributers have on it.
The only way to break the chokehold is for the amateurs to have accountability for their product. As it is though, the corporate monopoly serves so many connected (or 'synergistic' as the marketing folks have co-opted the term) areas, you have to work damned hard not to be rendered irrelevent; not to mention that you will ultimately be co-opted as long as it is in place. Notice all the Anarchy t-shirts, etc. etc. etc.?
But good work still speaks for itself.

/wow. wordy there, sorry.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2005

Last week I received an iPod Shuffle and reckoned it was time to learn what podcasting was all about. I quickly downloaded some entertaining and informative mp3s, but still didn't understand what the fuss was all about. That is, until I figured out the magic of RSS. Now, every morning the iPod practically fills itself with the programming I want to hear. Amazing. Too bad most of it's crap. It's like amateur hour all day long. And I can't get enough of it.

Another thing I learned about last week was the Participatory Culture website. If you follow their philosophy, then someday you'll slip a little devices into the network and all the video shows you're interested in will download quietly in the background. Some will probably be from independent, non-corporate, mom and pop operations. And we'll all laugh at how bad they are. But some will be good and a few might even be great. I look forward to that day.
posted by piskycritter at 4:13 PM on April 25, 2005

So there's a practical question that needs to be asked here. By what model could, say, a large, like-minded group of people -- folks who want a gatekeeper-free internet -- incorporate themselves, purchase the hardware necessary to make at least some global access to the internet open and free, and maintain the system? It seems quite possible -- what' s necessary are coordination, vision and money.
posted by Coherence Panda at 5:50 PM on April 25, 2005

I was wondering if anyone was going to bring up podcasting, an area where a lot of this same discussion is flourishing.

It's true, piskycritter, that by anyone's standard, a great heapin' helpin' of what's out there is crap - but the thing is, to the right listener, that crap is gold, and our opinion, our certainty, that it's crap is irrelevant.

Rather than have a centralized arbiter telling us this is gold and this is crap (as we have with the "corporate" media, where the equation seems always to be reversed for some reason), there's a spirit of adventure in finding stuff that is not crap to you. And with enough podcasts going on, there's gonna be something valuable out there for everybody - it only requires a robust indexing system, which is not the same as a gatekeeper or arbiter.
posted by soyjoy at 7:46 PM on April 25, 2005

Which of these links will take me to the best of the web?
Knave mate if you don't understand the intrinsic qualities of this heated discussion I politely suggest you don't comment. This is the best here in ages.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 8:17 PM on April 25, 2005

This was predicted long ago. The cream will rise to the top no matter what, we wont have more quality stuff, it wont create talent that didnt exist before, but we will have a lot more mediocre stuff.
posted by stbalbach at 8:56 PM on April 25, 2005

there won't be any more talent or "quality", but we will be much more likely to actually find it, with the right collaborative filtering tools in place. For example, record companies sign many more acts than they actively promote - for every album that is released, a dozen collect dust on a shelf, effectively taken off the market by the "owners" (note: not the "creators") on the basis of whatever "bottom line" calculation they may happen to make. Some of this stuff is eventually released, but most simply sinks without a trace. As someone above pointed out, what is "quality" and what is "crap" is *totally subjective* and may change with one's mood. A direct artist-to-audience ecosystem with "unlimited shelf space" promises to remake popular culture in ways which we can barely imagine. The sorts of services pointed to in the FPP represent the first trickles over the dam, as the flood waters continue to rise. This shit is massive - great post!
posted by dinsdale at 11:46 PM on April 25, 2005

One more to add...The Open Media Network: The Future of Public TV and Radio
posted by rzklkng at 12:19 PM on April 26, 2005

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