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Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age

A Blog from New America's Media Policy Initiative

Mozilla Drumbeat: Report from NYC

Published:  August 17, 2010
Photo Credit: Kinano (Flickr)
Participants in the August 2010 Mozilla Drumbeat event pose for a group photo in NYC. Photo credit: Kinano (Flickr).

Mozilla Drumbeat describes itself as “practical projects and local events that gather smart, creative people around big ideas, solving problems and building the open web.” The Drumbeat events are a new venture for Mozilla, with the ultimate goal of fostering community and projects to keep the Internet open. Last week’s New York event, hosted at Open Plans, was true to its billing.  

The day beganwith a spectrogram, a long piece of tape on the ground that represented a spectrum of strongly agree to strongly disagree and everything in the middle.  The group leader read aloud statements, and we arranged ourselves on the spectrum based on our respective positions.  After the arrangement, we then heard from both sides of the issue.  The four statements were:

  • “When I use Facebook I feel remorse.”

Lots of agreement on this statement, with many of the “strongly agree” camp's concerns related to privacy.  On the other side, a defender said that the gains he had made from reconnecting with friends and family outweighs the threats of any privacy issues.  The retort to the Facebook supporter was that simply “being on Facebook” and contributing to its critical mass “ is part of the [identity and privacy] problem.”

  • “I only like to share with people who also share.”

Considering that this was an event around keeping the Internet open, there was strong disagreement on this statement.  Overall, the group voiced a consensus opinion that sharing promotes sharing.

  • “The recent Wikileaks leak was a good thing.”

This statement got the largest spread. A handful of people did not know about “wikileaks”. (To the organizers’ credit, they did a good job of policing jargon, and “wikileaks” was called out as jargon.) Once everyone was on the same page, responses and opinions were varied. Transparency at whatever cost seemed to be the extreme “agree” opinion, while the other side expressed concern for family members serving in the military.  The Media Policy Initiative blogged about the implications of the Wikileaks issue here.

  • “The Internet is basically open now.”

The distribution here was more around the center.  There was a lone strongly disagree—a representative from an educational institution in Cairo, Egypt, she chimed in to say that the Internet at her university library is definitely not open.  

This was my first spectrogram, and I was surprised to see such a spread on these issues. The informed mini-debates that followed each statement set the right tone to start the event. It was refreshing that opinions varied so much throughout the day, and that we could avoid an echo chamber.

Speedgeeking (named, of course, for speed dating) is a lightning round of project pitches to get acquainted with many projects very quickly.  Both open education and video projects had the most representation.  Notable open education projects included:

In its pilot phase, P2PU "is an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses.” The past classes include varying topics such as Intro to Concepts in Behavioral Economics and Decision Making, Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature, and classes in Portuguese, and run for 6 weeks.

Textbook sticker shock is alive and well.  Flatworld Knowledge is trying to remedy this. A free or low-cost and online “remixable” text book service, Flatworld has been getting some buzz; the .com who uses Creative Commons licenses  was just featured in both the New York Times and the Washington Postas an alternative to the traditional text book model.  A search of economics textbooks yielded a fair selection of books and economic topics. See their complete catalog here.

From the Participatory Culture Foundation, Universal Subtitles is on a mission to “to make captioning, subtitling, and translating video publicly accessible in a way that's free and open, just like the Web.” An official Drumbeat Mozilla project, Universal Subtitles demo-ed just how easy it is to use their open subtitle platform.  A widget easily allows one to add subtitles into any video on the web without having to download the video. In addition to subtitling, there is also a collaborative subtitling website and an open protocol for subtitle search and delivery.  During the demo I thought about the value of subtitles for foreign news sources.  With this platform, it would be easy to subtitle independent media from abroad and foreign news services, and these sources could have much wider reach and value.

Anyone can start a project or contribute their talents to one that is already started. The wiki page documents the day’s events, and you can check out the Flickr stream tagged with ‘drumbeatnyc.’  In November, the first Drumbeat Festival, which focuses on Open Education, will be held in Barcelona.  More Drumbeat projects can be found by checking out their site.

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