CC Talks With
A prominent member of the open education community, Stephen Downes is a researcher, blogger, and big thinker in open education and access related issues. He frequently debates with other open education advocates via the medium of the Internet, once in a while meeting up in person at conferences to hash out more of the same. I thought I might capture his slice of insight into the future of open educational resources and how he views them evolving in an ideal world.
So I caught up with him via Skype; and though different operating systems and timezones may have jumbled some of our conversation, I was still able to catch most of his words, if not the heart of his views. Below is our chat transcribed, in more or less the same fashion as it progressed.3 Comments »
As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.
Last year, Sarah Kirn, the Manager of the Vital Signs project at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, popped into the CC San Francisco office and gave me a wonderful introduction into everything they were doing. This year, we’re closer in proximity, as Sarah is still in Maine while I am stationed in New York. As a preview of things to come, we connected over email about the progress VS has made since we last met.
To rewind and clarify, Vital Signs is a “field-based science education program” that “links 7th and 8th grade students and scientists in the rigorous collection and analysis of essential environmental data across freshwater and coastal ecosystems. Innovative technology, relevant content, and critical partnerships create an authentic science learning experience for students, a distributed data gathering network for scientists, and a statewide community of teachers, students, and scientists collaborating to learn about and steward the Gulf of Maine watershed.”
What’s new at Vital Signs?
We now have 47 teachers trained in how to use Vital Signs in their science teaching. These teachers hail from all across the state, from Aroostook County to York County. Teachers have already begun making and sharing observations themselves as a way to prepare for using Vital Signs in their classrooms.
To support this program growth we have hired Alexa Dayton to serve as our new Vital Signs Community Specialist. This new position will focus on bringing the citizen science and scientific communities into Vital Signs – as users of the data, as participants in the online community (discussing findings, commenting on data records, confirming or questioning identifications, contributing their own observations to the database), and as on-the-ground supporters of teacher and student field work. Alexa has experience in field biology, science outreach to rural Maine schools, web development and management, marketing, and computer science. We are excited to have her diverse skills brought to bear on supporting and growing our Vital Signs community!
We also have a new scientist partner, Dr. Les Mehrhoff, Director of the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England who is committed to serving as a Species Expert in our online community. He’s recruiting graduate students and others to join him in serving the Vital Signs community in this capacity.
In October a Maine Conservation Corps Environmental Educator will join us for a 10-month position to work with teachers in classrooms and after school clubs to support their use of Vital Signs.
We are collaborating with the MLTI professional development staff to plan Vital Signs-related science and social studies modules that MLTI will deliver this year to complement the summer teacher institutes and provide training for teachers not yet exposed to Vital Signs.
How does CC play a role in these new projects?
We’re spreading CC licenses around – to other education programs. GMRI’s VitalVenture project, a collaborative curriculum development project, has just provisionally agreed to use CC BY licenses, pending agreement by collaborating teacher. Les Mehrhoff, one of our Vital Signs scientist partners is going to use CC BY with his species photos.
And, of course, prior to our launch in November we will be finalizing the CC licensing for student-contributed creative works, teacher-contributed creative work, and citizen scientist-contributed creative work.
How are you leveraging OER in the classroom/with teachers?
All of our curriculum resources are open, so teachers will learn how to use OER through the course of using Vital Signs. As they become familiar with how OER works and become interested in other resources for teaching, we will point them in the direction of other OER.
The most exciting “open” aspect of Vital Signs, I think, is that the learning and work that happens within the system is open to the scientific community. Folks like Les, a well-known and well-respected expert on invasive plants in our region, will be regularly interacting with students on the subject of their contributions to the Vital Signs database. By design, every observation contributed to the Vital Signs site will confirmed or questioned by another member of the community. In this way, Vital Signs opens up students’ experience of learning science.
Tell us what you are most excited about!
Most excited about? It’s a tie between the enthusiastic response we are getting from teachers and students and the near completion of our program infrastructure. I can’t wait for the day (in November 2009!) when we make the www.vitalsignsme.org site live!
This project has been a long time in the development stages. It’s absolutely thrilling to have students contributing field notes like the following from a student in Old Orchard Beach:
“I am happy because I’m helping collect data for science, and was helping find if there are any invasive plants in Milliken Mills.”
“I saw brownish water, lots of leaves in the water, trees, plants, birds, bugs, grass, dead trees and plants, frogs.”
“I smell fresh water.”
“I hear birds, the wind, and water splashing.”
“I am suprized by what I found or didn’t find because even though it was an invasive species I thought I would find it.”
Likewise, it’s thrilling to read the words of a participating teacher from Kennebunk who says “In a nutshell, the Vital Signs program has made the science I teach richer, more real and more meaningful for both my students and myself.”
For more on Vital Signs, see our detailed Inside OER feature on Sarah from last year.No Comments »
As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.
A recent emigrant to New York, I experienced the first turn in weather on the east coast marking the transition from summer to a fast approaching fall. Though a lovely relief from the hot, muggy season that has persisted here for the last few months, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. Many students all over the world are feeling this same twinge, mingled with excitement, as their summer vacations skid to a halt. No more lazy, hazy days in the sun—instead, it’s time to hit the books and lockers, classrooms and lecture halls.
This is the vision of school we have had with us for ages. A first grader, when asked to draw school, usually draws a little red school house with a bell, or a teacher standing at her desk, with an apple for added effect. However, this traditional picture is hardly where the future of education is headed, as new technologies and mediums of communication, like the Internet, have already revolutionized the way we interact, learn, and live.
Peer 2 Peer University is one initiative that acknowledges this fact—that the world has already changed, and not everyone is going to settle for the traditional modes of teaching. First of all, not everyone can afford to dole out the thousands of dollars required for a higher education, and secondly, not everyone has the time to—those of us with full-time or several part-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities, especially.
P2PU, in their own words, is sort of like an “online book club for open educational resources.” It’s “an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses… The P2PU helps you navigate the wealth of open education materials that are out there, creates small groups of motivated learners, and supports the design and facilitation of courses.” Unlike formal universities or distance education, P2PU’s courses are all defaulted under CC BY, which means anyone can access, share, adapt, and redistribute them. In fact, the founders are more than happy for others to adapt the model they have begun to new and successful ways of thinking about education’s future.
What do you think is the future of education? P2PU co-founder Philipp Schmidt answers the big question and more.
P2PU has been getting a ton of attention lately. Courses are set to start on the 9th! What are you hoping to gain from these first six weeks? What are you most excited about?
This is the first time we will run courses. We have been thinking a lot about how to make sure participants get a lot out of the experience, but this is the real test. I am sure we’ll discover many things we did not anticipate at all—and I look forward to learning as much as the participants. This is an amazing learning experience not just for the participants, but also for ourselves.
I am most excited by the fact that we seem to be providing something that many people from all over the world find useful and want to participate in. One person is taking the Copyright for Educators course and intends to get credit from his university for it. The fact that he is thinking about the course in his own context and trying to “hack” the system in a way that makes sense for him is awesome. This is exactly what we were hoping to see. Another person said that she had always wanted to take a course about cyberpunk literature, but couldn’t find a place to take one. To realize that we can provide a type of learning experience that people are looking for and which simply doesn’t exist elsewhere, is incredible.
There’s so much speculation around the future of formal education. What are your thoughts on it? What will be P2PU’s role in this changing educational landscape?
It is clear to me that the education landscape will change dramatically. I should mention that I am a huge fan of the university as an institution where young people spend a few years learning and immersing themselves into knowledge. It’s wonderful and I wouldn’t want to miss it. However, learning is not just what happens in universities and there will be new and different organizations providing many of the components that today’s universities offer as a package. There are two areas where P2PU could fill a gap. One is to create the social learning experience that will make open educational resources more useful to more people. The other is to provide forms of recognition for informal learning—this could be by enabling pathways to formal credits or by creating a community based reputation.
What do you have to say to those who confuse P2PU with distance learning? How is P2PU more than that?
The core of P2PU is social learning—working with others who are interested in the same topic as you. The fact that it happens by distance is almost secondary and we are hoping to have local off-line groups joining the P2PU community in the future. Distance learning is a broad term, but too often it is used in the context of what I would call industrialized education. Content is delivered to students—either by an online teacher or in the form of course materials designed for self-study. Knowledge is considered as something that can easily be measured, like weight or height. It is a totally different model from what P2PU is doing.
All P2PU courses are licensed CC BY. Why CC BY?
The pilot phase materials are licensed CC BY because that places the least amount of restrictions on others who might want to use and re-mix our content. However, the licensing choice is still a big debate. Some members of the community feel that CC BY-SA better reflects their desire to create a global knowledge commons. It’s one of the topics we will discuss at our upcoming workshop and we will make a final decision there.1 Comment »
Opened to the public in 1903, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a world-class museum that houses more than 5,000 art objects, including works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Degas, and Sargent. It is also known for its phenomenal music program, lectures, and symposia, as well as the museum’s nationally recognized Artist-in-Residence and educational programs.
Online, it is well-known as the producer and distributor of The Concert, a classical music podcast that features unreleased live performances by master musicians and talented young artists, recorded at the museum’s Sunday Concert Series. The podcast is free, distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works license (Music Sharing), and widely popular. The Concert was one of the first classical music collections to be shared under a CC license, and the ISGM was one of the first art museums to actively distribute digital content under a CC license.
We’ve talked about The Concert before, but wanted to learn more about the series and the decision to use CC licenses for the project. We recently caught up with Director Anne Hawley and Curator of Music Scott Nickrenz, who were able to provide a lot of great information about the series and how CC licenses have played a role in its success.
Those in the CC community best know of the ISGM as a result of your highly successful The Concert podcast. What was the inspiration for the podcast series? Why did you choose to release it under a CC license?
Anne Hawley: We launched The Concert – the museum’s first podcast – in September 2006, as a way to continue the museum’s long history of supporting artists and creative artistic thinking. During Isabella Gardner’s lifetime, the museum flowed with artistic activity: John Singer Sargent painted, Nellie Melba sang, and Ruth St. Denis performed the cobra dance within these walls. Isabella Gardner was a committed patron of artists and musicians and the museum has always followed her lead. The podcast is the latest example of this; it’s a modern way to bring the museum’s wealth of programming to a wider audience, promote the exceptional work of the musicians who perform here, and ultimately expand the reach of classical music.
Music has always been an important part of the Gardner. When the museum opened on New Years Night 1903, attendees enjoyed a performance of Bach, Mozart, Chausson, and Schumann by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—“a concert of rare enjoyment” according to one guest. During Gardner’s lifetime, the museum hosted visits and performances by well-known musicians and rising stars including composers Gustav Mahler and Vincent d’Indy, pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and cellist Pablo Casals, and memorable concerts including the 1903 premiere of Loeffler’s Pagan Poem, composed and performed in honor of Isabella Gardner’s birthday. Four years later, the work had its “official” premiere at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Today, the Gardner’s music series is the oldest of its kind in the country, with weekly concerts and special programs that enrich and draw musical connections to the museum’s special exhibitions and permanent collection, while continuing Isabella Gardner’s legacy as a music lover and patron of the arts.
Kenzo Digital is New York-based multi-talented creator that works in video, audio, and mixed media to create both artistic works and commercial products. Aesthetically informed by early 90s hip-hop, his latest and most well-publicized work, City of God’s Son, is a CC-licensed “opera for the blind.” The project finds Kenzo sampling and remixing numerous sources to create a vivid sound-scape that invokes imagery and a cinematic narrative through audio.
Today, in conjunction with our interview, Kenzo is releasing the most recent addition to COGS titled City of God’s Son: Cinema for the Blind. The piece features interviews with blind musicians on “sight through sound, synesthesia” and the film itself, crafting a fascinating perspective on how our senses work in conjunction with (or without) one another. You can watch the piece, which is released under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license, in HD at YouTube – check out a still of the video below:
We caught up with Kenzo recently to pick his brain in regards to the project generally, his approach to creation through sampling and reuse, why he chose to CC-licence this project, and much more. Read on to find out what he had to say.
photo by Tommy Agriodimas | CC BY
Can you give our readers some background on yourself and the project? What inspired you to create City of God’s Son? You call it a hip-hop opera and a ﬁlm for the blind – what do you mean by these descriptions?
I am a digital artist, video artist, director and music producer based in NY. Early 90ʼs hip hop was always a big inspiration to me growing up, it served as the soundtrack to a lot of my childhood and adventures growing up. I was really into grafﬁti as a kid, and used to sneak out of the house all the time and run around with my friends or sometimes by myself and go bombing. I considered the city at night to be kind of an altered reality. No one was around except for the junkies, prostitutes, and gangsters who occupied the same streets that by day would be bustling with business men, school kids like myself, and delivery men. I loved the fact that in my mind only a few people were privy to seeing these same streets during the day while I was entrenched in my civilian life (school and family), and at these late hours were things were pretty wild, and as a kid of course I was very excited by that. What really inspired me as a kid was also the fact that the only traces of my existence in this alternate reality were the tags and grafﬁti art left behind. Music played a huge role in this. My walkman was probably one of the most essential things going out at night, as the music was a key component to setting the mood and getting myself in the proper frame of mind to create. By experiencing the city this way, and listening to the music, everything through the night played out cinematically. So much so that it would leave these super visual impressions in my imagination that I could recall and trigger through the music.
Musicʼs relationship to time, both as a medium and a device to manipulate time, in addition to a listenerʼs historical relationship to a song is what “City of Godʼs Son” seeks to expand and explore. “City of Godʼs Son” is a hip hop opera in that it is an epic, a greek tragedy, and like opera, understanding the actual lyrics and slang is not necessary to understanding the story and experiencing the drama of the story. Understanding the slang and verses deﬁnitely adds another level of meaning and depth to the story, as well as a knowledge of hip hop music history. “City of Godʼs Son” while seemingly a strictly music focused project, is equally about gangster cinema culture as well, as references to everything from pre-code Edward G. Robinson gangster ﬂicks, to 70ʻs Japanese gangster ﬂicks like “Branded to Kill”, to “Le Cercle Rouge”, “Clockers”, “Goodfellas” and of course “City of God” litter the story and soundscape, as some of hip-hopʼs most inﬂuential artists of this generation collide with the gangster ﬁlm icons that helped deﬁne their genre. It is about weaving the various mythologies from each medium and creating a new language called “Beat Cinematic”. It is a ﬁlm for the blind in that it exists in the listenerʼs imagination and recalling of their own psychological associations to music, ﬁlm, and sound. I speciﬁcally wanted to play this for blind people because I wanted to see how blind people reacted to a ﬁlm made to be experienced sonically. I am interested in how a blind personʼs mind works like a visual sampler depending on whether the person was born blind or lost their vision along the way, and what those visual impressions mean to them now. It is also a ﬁlm for the blind in that my own artistic journey into music production was inspired to make this project. As a completely self-taught disgustingly bad keyboard player, creating the music for this project was in and of itself a very blind process in that I had to really feel out my entire way through this new world of sound.
Beginning this past March, John Wood has written, recorded, mixed, and mastered an album a month. Distributed under the moniker Learning Music Monthly, the music arrives on the first of the month as CDs in subscribers’ mailboxes and MP3s in their digital lockers, all released under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license.
Offering a tiered subscription service (amenities include stickers, bonus albums, a song written for you on your birthday, and much more depending on price), Learning Music Monthly is a great case study in figuring out how independent artists and labels (LMM is released through CC-friendly label vosotros) are approaching distribution in today’s current music climate.
We were able to catch up with John and pick his brain about the project, including his thoughts on writing and producing an album a month, a subscription/donation-based distribution model, and his decision to release all the music, cover art, promotional text, mix-stems, sheet-music, and lyrics under a CC license.
Learning Music Monthly @ Machine Project – 01, cameronparkins | CC BY
Can you give our readers some background on yourself and the Learning Music Monthly project? What has your career as a musician been like? LMM monthly has existed previously – what is different this time around?
LMM really began in November 2006. I had spent the previous two years doing a fair amount of touring with other bands, and assisting on a film score, all of which was really fabulous and fortunate to experience. That month, I turned down a bunch of work and created the first Learning Music album. For me, it was something very much apart from my professional musical experiences. I get paid mostly to create what other people hear or see, which I’m very lucky to do. When I set out to complete that first album, there was a deep spiritual need inside me, which I had been aware of for a long time, to create something more personal. The payoff, instead of a check, was the pleasure of handing to friends this little secret disc, weirdly wrapped up in reclaimed cardboard. LMM is a little different from that now, in that we actually sell subscriptions. I think I’m still in the process of learning what that means creatively. It’s also much different now because of all the support from John G and Vosotros. The first year, my audience was mostly my friends. Now I’m making music for people I’ve never met. And they’re paying for it! Part of me of course wants to only create what I think these people want to hear. Hopefully I will eventually be able to give them something that they never expected, but that’s really good for them. Sometimes I feel like I lack the confidence to do that, but then ultimately there’s no time for doubt.
Logo by Gabi Fitz | CC BY-NC-SA
ccLearn recently spoke with Lisa Brooks from IssueLab. Instead of crossing telephone lines (who does that anymore anyway?), I caught up with her via that archaic method of correspondence known as electronic mail…*
*Similarly archaic, but not outdated in coolness factor, are comics. The first comic issue of Inside OER is this same interview in comic form. Instead of the same-old and streamlined text with interspersed pictures, we decided to experiment. Let us know what you think! For those of you on hand-held devices (or a preference for just text), read on here. Read More…3 Comments »
Nina Paley’s Sita Sings The Blues, released online a little over two months ago, has been generating great press and even greater viewership, closing in on 70,000 downloads at archive.org alone. For the non-inundated, there is great background information on the film at Paley’s website.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Paley about the film – we touched on the film’s aesthetics and plot points, but perhaps most interesting to those in the CC community is Paley’s decision to utilize our copyleft license, Attribution-ShareAlike, and her thoughts on free licensing and the open source movement in general. Read on to learn more about the licensing trials and tribulations associated with the film’s release, how CC has played a role, and Paley’s opinions on the Free Culture movement as a whole.3 Comments »
Having played over 1600 gigs in over 60 countries, DJ Vadim is no stranger to the concept of ‘fan interaction’. Beyond his live shows, Vadim pushes experiments with interaction further, having held a remix contest at ccMixter a little under two years ago to promote his album The Sound Catcher. The contest was a great success, and as a result Vadim, active as both a DJ and producer, is back at ccMixter doing the same thing with his latest album U Can’t Lurn Imaginashun.
The contest is in full swing, with winners receiving inclusion in Imaginashun – Power to the people, an album filled “with remixes from pro’s and bedroom producers from around the world” slated for release this autumn. We caught up with DJ Vadim to learn a bit more about his creative process and how he views the changing nature of interaction and communication in music. Read on to see what he had to say.
DJ Vadim supporting Mos Def at The Islington Academy, James Bradley
Can you give our readers some background on yourself as an artist? You’ve worked with a wide variety of musicians, from The Pharcyde to Kraftwerk, and released countless albums, singles, and remixes. Your career is long in scope and prolific in production but perhaps you are able to distill it all into a manageable chunk.
I started my music journey in the late 80′s, first with DJing, and in 1992 I started getting involved with production. It was very simple back then, just an Atari and a sampler. There weren’t the possibilities people have now. In ’94 , I set up my own label and the rest is history.
Have technological shifts changed how you approach music production? What kind of production tools do you do use?
Yes. I have so many more possibilities now that didn’t exist 15 years ago. I have so much more equipment, software, and toys for creating music now that didn’t exist or was not affordable. It is a bit like riding a push bike and going on a top of the range Yamaha super bike – they both get you to where your going but you have so much more options with the super bike, right?
I use Cubase, an MPC, my Apple computer and Ableton Live.
The environment leading up to your new album U Can’t Lurn Imaginashun was one of personal turmoil and growth. What was the process you went through on the way to releasing this album? How did the aesthetic of the album come into fruition as a result?
Well, when you go through turmoil and tragedy you can come out of it either being overwhelmed, pensive, and quite depressed or come out fighting and positive. I did the later. I felt that if cancer couldn’t hold me back, nothing would. It was hard – personal turmoil with my family, personal relationships and my own health. It was like being stripped back to nothing. But now I feel good about life and that is the most important.
What is your motivation behind the U Can’t Lurn Imaginashun remix contest? You’ve already done one successful contest on ccMixter – what was your experience like previously?
Well I think one of the most important things with releasing music is communication. Nowadays, that means participation and that is what ccMixter offers. It is a combination of the two, letting fans and music people participate and communicate together, with you, with me and create new music and ideas. This sort of interaction wasn’t possible 10 years ago.
Music is about communication. Without it you either have a huge MTV campaign or you get lucky – the music that people like is one that communicates with them, music that they (the fans) feel part of.
Both remix contests are using CC-licenses as their mechanism to enable this kind of reuse. As an artist who uses sampling as one of their core techniques, how do you view this sort of licensing? What are the major differences to you between working with live musicians and sampling material?
I think its a great marketing and promotional tool plus it is fun for the fans and producers. In regards to sampling and live musicians, you have more opportunities with live musicians because you can break any piece of music down to its basic elements – bass keys, drums etc. and hence be able to manipulate and control what you do much more
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know? Any plans for the future?
No Comments »
U Can’t Lurn Imaginashun Artwork, SMALL Studio
As CC continues to grow and expand, one of the best ways we’ve found to communicate our mission and what our licenses can provide to new members of our community is by letting the rest of the community do the talking. We highlight stories on our blog and twitter, work with groups to flesh out pages in our case studies project, and regularly do interviews with specific community members whose work is illuminating of what CC does and what we are constantly trying to accomplish. In the past we called these interviews Featured Commoner pieces, but in an effort to increase clarity these will now be called CC Talks With.
To re-boot our efforts we have a reached out to a number of individuals working on great projects and have a number interviews waiting in the wings for the coming weeks. Our first is with MCM, an author, TV producer, and creative mind who recently began work on his new project, TorrentBoy, a CC-licensed experiment in fan fiction. MCM has been utilizing CC licenses almost as long as we’ve been around, so it is fitting to re-launch this series with someone whose perspective has evolved as much as we have in our short history. Read on to learn more about MCM’s work and his thoughts on how CC licenses can be used to help promote sharing and unintended reuse.
Can you give our readers a bit of background on yourself and the TorrentBoy project? What is your own personal history leading you to this point in your career? How did TorrentBoy begin and what is it’s current status? More importantly, what is the book about?
My history is a long and complicated subject that can make grown men cry, so I’ll skip it and get right to the fun part. In 2001, I created a web-based animated show called Dustrunners, which, when it died, became the first Creative Commons-licensed series (it used CC SA before the licenses had reached 1.0). I’d always had a passion for the open sharing of ideas and culture, and when I heard the goals that Creative Commons had set out, I was hooked. Since Dustrunners, I have made sure that every single product I’ve made (and own the rights to) has been CC-licensed, and I irritate random people on the street with my evangelism. Investment bankers are generally hostile to the idea, but everyone else at least smiles at me.
Since then, I’ve written a bunch of other “free culture” books, most (in)famously The Pig and the Box, which teaches kids about the evils of Digital Rights Management. The fact that the book was translated into 15 languages and downloaded and shared well over 1.5 million times (that I could count) really cemented in my mind the fact that Creative Commons enables creators to do fantastic things.
Four years ago, I created this idea for a show called RollBots, which now airs on YTV in Canada and will be launching on the CW4Kids in the US, with toys by Mattel. Not to sound ungrateful, but there’s just something about the “closed” nature of major TV productions that irked me. The show is great, and the people that work on it are excellent, but it always felt like there was some potential that had been left untapped. Something we couldn’t see from inside out little castle that would have made it better.
TorrentBoy is my answer to that nagging doubt. It’s an entirely “open source” franchise, where anybody can come in and build upon the first book I wrote and make it their own. There are no boundaries to it, no limits to what can be done… TorrentBoy can go on adventures I could never dream of, in languages I will never speak, and take on an entirely new life that traditional media like RollBots can never achieve (at least not until I’ve been dead for a few decades). It’s parallel, but different. Probably the best thing I’ve ever done.
The first book in the series, Zombie World! is cheekily about a kid named Wesley who has a talking watch that turns him into the super-powered TorrentBoy, so he can fight enemies like proton leeches and an army of zombies, and save the world. He’s got a teddy bear named Crash, and Crash has a “waser bwaster”, and the two of them get into all kinds of trouble as they battle the evil Lord Thorax. There are certainly a lot of bittorrent analogies to it, but at its heart, it’s just a good, fun adventure book for kids. In its first month of publication, it sold 463 copies (physical and eBooks), and was downloaded another 120,000 times. A good start, but that’s just the start.
TorrentBoy is released under CC BY-NC-SA license and is designed to be shared, remixed, and expanded upon. Why did you choose to go this route? What obstacles and benefits have you encountered by using a CC license?
The logistics of the license were a big concern for me. I wanted to ensure that people could feel free to do what they wanted to do, but I was also concerned that as a franchise, the collective work could suffer if sub-standard works could be sold alongside the really great stuff. So while everyone is free to participate, only select participants can actually “cash in” on their work. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s as close as I think we can get.
The biggest obstacle with the CC license thus far is, interestingly, my unintended role as the “benevolent dictator” (not my term). Despite the fact that, really, anyone can do anything they like, I am still asked for insights into various issues on a regular basis. There’s one really nice guy who sends me daily emails for feedback on ideas he has about a book he’s writing. I love answering his questions, but in my mind it’s more like brainstorming than informing… but I know the freedom of CC licenses is sometimes hard for people to understand. I still get emails from people asking of they can print a copy of “The Pig and the Box” for their friend, no matter how hard I work to explain the significance of the license.
On the other hand, the benefits are evident already. Just the fact that there IS someone writing a book about TorrentBoy is amazing. Another amazingly supportive contributor has made a bunch of t-shirts and designs for the project, and others are working on a comic book. With RollBots, I had a select few people taking my ideas and making them live… but with CC, I’ve got the same effect on a massive scale, with ideas you just can’t get without the genius of the commons.
You state that it is a conscious experiment in Fan Fiction – how does the CC license enable that?
Fanfic is a tricky thing, isn’t it? You have an established concept that people love so much they want to expand upon it… but even if they do the most amazing things, it’s still second-class to the world. There are some really great fanfic writers out there; artists as well. What TorrentBoy hopes to demonstrate is that legitimizing those fans is an excellent way to grow your universe and make it richer. You can either do that by blessing “unauthorized” derivative works, or you can give blanket permission to the world to do as they please, and see what happens. I hate the idea of people creating things they love under the shadow of illegality.
What kind of derivative works have begun appearing? As a creator, how do you feel about these derivative works? How are you aggregating them and keeping track of what is created?
There’s at least one book being written that I know of, as well as a comic (or two, I’m not sure). There are some posters in the works, and I have heard there’s a video game of some kind too. Someone is apparently planning a kind of Alternate Reality Game, and I myself am working on both a standard novel and a collaborative one, where we map out the structure and tag-team our way through a first draft. I keep track of the derivative works as much as I can, but I know that, to a certain extent, people will be creating in isolation for the first while, so I probably don’t know about half of the stuff that’s going on.
One of the great ideas I saw floated a few weeks ago was to branch the main TorrentBoy story off into a steampunk variant, set in the late 1800s, with one of TorrentBoy‘s predecessors and his battles to save the world. I don’t know if anyone is running with that idea, but I think it’s an amazing concept, and I’d love to see it happen.
I think creating a show for TV somewhat prepared me for this role, in a lot of ways. When you make something on that scale, you have to give up fine control of how things unfold… great ideas come from unexpected places, and you need to be confident enough in the idea to let it go where it wants. TorrentBoy is the same way, but on a larger scale. It’s not hard for me to fall in love with crazy new ideas spawned from my initial effort… the hard part is waiting to see how they all unfold!
Lastly, how can our readers participate in the TorrentBoy project? Any last words you’d like them to know?
There are lots of ways to participate, and the possibilities are evolving constantly. There’s an effort to document the world of TorrentBoy via our wiki, where you can go and theorize about everything from the finer functions of the Tracker Watch to the motives behind the Rhino-rilla villains. That’s one of my favourite aspects, because anyone can try it out, whether or not they feel they can write long-form prose.
Also on the site are discussion forums where you can suggest ideas or actually deliver new creations based on TorrentBoy… t-shirt designs or doodles or ideas for stories (that maybe you can’t write, but would like to see written). The atmosphere is really friendly and collaborative, which is great for everyone involved.
And finally, there’s a lot to be said for expanding the pool of contributors to the project, which is easily done by pointing people to the first book, Zombie World!, available here. It’s free (or you can pay for it, your choice), and it gives a crash course in the TorrentBoy world. If you know any kids in the 7-11 range that might like a good action novel, it’s a great place to start the adventure.No Comments »