On Openness

The many-to-many broadcast model that the Internet has enabled is historically unprecedented. Never before have so many people around the world been able to reach so many others. The amount of free information online, the ability of users to post easily to the Web, and to share endlessly reproducible digital information (text, music, images, software, etc...) has fostered myriad affinities and communities online. It has allowed for deep collaboration and fostered a spirit of openness.

The freedom of knowledge and freedom of expression is also embodied in the realm of software — free to use, distribute, and modify — that powers many of the systems though which Internet traffic travels. The Free Software Movement is not just a matter sharing code and making better software collaboratively, but embracing and extending the freedom to do so. It is not tool building for advocacy, it is tool building as advocacy.

These freedoms have additional political consequences. Individuals are not just embracing freedom of expression online, but pushing for the freedom to access information about their rights and about the government that is supposed to serve and protect you, for instance access to the language and the ability to comment on legislation before it is passed.


Below are some powerful examples of the power of openness.

Transparency International, an international coalition of organizations fighting corruption, uses the Internet to share project ideas within their network, and with the public at large. Among their recommendations is a push for governments to develop online bidding systems for public contracting, opening the process to review, fair competition, and eliminating favoritism and graft.


From Asia Times:

While South Korea’s journalists and political leaders have been debating how to reform Korean media for decades, the hot new OhmyNews website has paved the way for a new type of democratic journalism with its thousands of ’Net citizens — netizens — as contributors. Readership is in the millions and netizens act when called upon....

Three [media] reform bills are expected to be pushed through the National Assembly soon, and one reason is the alternative Internet media, especially OhmyNews.

A last minute appeal on the site and via cell phones is credited with tipping the close election in favor of opposition candidate Roh Moo-hyun, a candidate “summarily rejected by South Korea's conservative media.”

In contrast to South Korea’s “overwhelmingly conservative mainstream newspapers”:

A close reading of the site's articles reveals that its young non-professional journalist contributors are anti-corporate, anti-government and often virulently anti-American. OhmyNews covers the topics found in the daily media, from sports and entertainment to politics, but always infused with a point of view.

From Japan Media Review:

The pioneering South Korean news site posts hundreds of stories every day -- most are written by housewives, schoolkids, professors and other "citizen journalists." Founder Oh Yeon-Ho says his site is changing the definition of journalism -- and who can be a journalist....

Citizen reporters submit about 200 articles every day, and about 1 million readers visit OhmyNews each day. The site mixes straight news reporting and commentary. Its influence at the grassroots level has been widely credited with helping President Roh Moo-hyun win the popular vote last December.

This takes place within an extremely wired society. More than two-thirds of the population of South Korea has Internet access. South Korea has the highest per capita broadband usage in the world.


A wiki is a software application that allows any user to create and edit Web page content via a Web browser. Wikis use a simple text syntax for creating new pages and links between internal pages on the fly. Lots of decentralized organizations and groups (for instance, Indymedia) use wikis to collaboratively develop documentation and resources.

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 as a collaborative encyclopedia edited wiki style. It is a massive experiment in knowledge production, allowing anyone to edit a page. Every day thousands of users contribute new pages and update existing ones on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia strives for “balance” in its entries on contentious subjects, encouraging discussion on discussion boards when controversy heats up.

Critics charge that the reliability of Wikipedia can never be guaranteed. However, this has not dissuaded its fans and users.

Of particular relevance to campaigners is the rapid response to December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The sites network of volunteers rapidly curated links to some of the best resources and information on the disaster and reconstruction.

The site is also accessible in multiple languages, and many articles exist in parallel languages. Wikipedia is now one of the most extensive and certainly the most current encyclopedia in many languages. The entire contents of the site can be downloaded to CD for offline distribution to places with unreliable Internet connections.

Others have used Wikipedia’s free software engine to create their own wiki encyclopedias. Disinfopedia is a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. It is “a collaborative project to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests.”


IndymediaIndymedia is many things to many people: a collection of autonomous independent media organizations; an open publishing system; a global, grassroots infrastructure for free speech, dissent, and activism; a network for solidarity and technology exchange; a movement for truth and social justice, both local and international. Indymedia rose to prominence during the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in November 1999. Since then, the global justice movement and Indymedia have grown along side each other, often intersecting and mutually supporting one another.

“The Independent Media Center is a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth. We work out of a love and inspiration for people who continue to work for a better world, despite corporate media's distortions and unwillingness to cover the efforts to free humanity.” [source]

The Indymedia centers are operated by the principles of open collaboration and consensus. “Open publishing is the same as Free Software.” writes tech volunteer Matthew Arnison. “They’re both (r)evolutionary responses to the privatization of information by multinational monopolies.” On the open news wire, news is distributed at no charge and without advertising. The process of creating news is also transparent to the readers. (Many local Indymedia Centers hold regular journalism training sessions open to the public.)

Web sites of the over 150 Indymedia Centers around the world provide an online forum for independent journalism documenting local and international struggles for social justice, and forging local and international solidarity and popular power. The network produces printed newsletters, documentary films, radio programs, and photo exhibits, and works with international gatherings of progressives like the World Social Forum and regional Social Forums.

Centers also collaborate with each other across state and national borders. The global tech group is a decentralized collective that coordinates tech issues that affect the main Indymedia site, listservs, and other shared resources. The Indymedia Tech Solidarity Project “works to ship containers of computers to Indymedia centers and social movements in the global south to build popular communication capacity.” While participants in local Indymedia Centers organize face-to-face, international projects are coordinated through email lists and Internet chat.

The Indymedia network does not have a single, clearly platform or set of issues they are pushing for, however, I believe the network has augmented the force of protests by the global justice movement against the Bretton Woods organizations. I credit that movement for recent reforms and gestures those organizations have made, including opening discussion with more moderate NGOs.


This openness is not without its consequences, though. Open discussion boards and email lists are prone to erupt into hostile “flame wars” and other arguments. Open content collaboration is open to sabotage.

Electronic networks have proven relatively effective at stopping things. They effectively connect communities who share similar opinions and provoke discussion among those who do not. Hoeever, it is has proven less effective at building consensus or getting people to agree on something that they do not already. An ongoing challenge for activists and organizaitons is generating places where open discussion leads to the forging of new opinions.

To maintain openness and quality, different sites use different methods. OhmyNews retains a staff of professional editors. IndyMedia’s publishing software gives administrators the ability to hide content they deem contrary to the mission of the organization.

Others, like Wikipedia and Slashdot, a popular technology news and discussion site use the size of its user base to balance content. Slashdot randomly grants registered users moderator points they can use to rate articles as positive or negative. Users who post informative or funny comments receive “karma” points for their quality posts. Users who post redundant or ignorant and belligerent posts lose karma. The general readership can then browse comments at different thresholds - viewing only the highest rated comments, only the generally good and above, or all comments. Moderators may also be meta-moderated, receiving karma points for particularly good rating decisions.

Wikipedia fights sabotage via the sheer number of members online checking each others edits.


The spirit of openness is also spread and protected with a handful of licenses that grant varying degrees of freedom to reproduce or alter content and software. The licenses may grant or restrict terms of commercial use. The GNU Public License, Mozilla Public License, and the Creative Commons Licenses are perhaps the most important. See this extensive list of Open Source licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative.

Last modified on July 6, 2006 06:39 AM

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Posted by: WikiNation at May 18, 2006 08:17 PM