Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005
Ourmedia launched three months ago as a home for grassroots media. The site provides a place where anyone can upload video, music, photos, audio clips and other personal media and store it for free on ourmedia’s servers forever. Uploaders have the option of making their works available under a Creative Commons license.
Recently, Ourmedia was nominated as the U.S. finalist for the UN World Summit Awards. The awards are an international competition created in 2003 to highlight the most innovative digital content being created around the world. The awards coincide with the 2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), an international UN summit that will take place in Tunisia this November. Despite having only launching in early 2005, Ourmedia was nominated as a finalist in the e-inclusion category-the UN’s term for initiatives that are helping bridge the digital divide, utilizing the Internet to empower the public.
Creative Commons’ Executive Director Neeru Paharia spoke with J.D. Lasica, the co-founder and executive director of Ourmedia. J.D. is also author of the new book “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation,” which includes a profile of Creative Commons and its chairman, Lawrence Lessig.
Creative Commons (“CC”): What are the origins of Ourmedia? Where did the idea come from?
J.D. Lascia (“J.D.”): For years, many of my friends and colleagues had been creating astonishing grassroots video, audio and photos that were hidden away on their computers or posted on a remote corner of cyberspace. I felt that these works deserved a far wider audience.
About a year ago, I gave the keynote at the Digital Storytelling Festival in Sedona, Arizona, and flashed on screen the offer by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive to provide free hosting and free bandwidth-forever-for works of personal media. The attendees were jazzed by the idea so I immediately began working with Marc Canter on what we were then calling the ‘Open Media’ project. We changed the name to Ourmedia when we discovered that Open Media was, ironically, a trademarked term.
CC: By what process were you able to pull the site/community together?
J.D.: We were able to start building the site almost immediately. About 50 thought leaders in the tech and media communities began working together in a wiki donated by Ross Mayfield of Socialtext. There, we hashed out the framework for the site: its mission; its technology (an interesting hybrid, with free server space from the Internet Archive and from Drupal.org); its design; its legal underpinnings (we would rely on Creative Commons for the bulk of our licenses); and its long-range roadmap. For the first nine months it was an all-volunteer effort. To get us over the starting line, we had to hire a few programmers in New Delhi to make the pieces all work together.
CC: What has the response been like?
J.D.: The response has been phenomenal. We were deluged with so much traffic our first day out on March 21 that our servers crashed. We quickly went to a bigger server. More than 24,000 members have joined so far. People like the fact that we are a not-for-profit organization whose aim is nothing less than to give anyone, anywhere, free storage for works of grassroots media-and to showcase those works for a global audience. We’ve also had conversations with companies that are looking for ways to bring greater visibility to amateur works such as Yahoo! and Google.
CC: What’s your vision for the community, say in 5 years? What kinds of things do you think are likely to happen?
J.D.: Our community efforts are just getting started. In July we will be adding some serious social networking components to Ourmedia. Then, Ourmedia members will be able to form groups or communities of interest around certain subjects or ideas, like citizen journalism or podcasting or videoblogging. We want Ourmedia to become a learning center for people interested in taking part in the personal media revolution. Once people see this as an easy and effective way for them to share best practices, these learning channels will become richer over time.
One aspect that we would like to foster is Ourmedia is educational use. Faculty members at five colleges in the United States and Australia have stepped forward to say they want to work with us to create their own versions of Ourmedia that would be geared toward students and teachers at various grade levels and in various disciplines. Ourmedia could be tailored to any age or interest, with thousands of freely shareable works for the classroom.
CC: What barriers do you think still exist for participatory culture?
J.D.: The barriers are chiefly technological and legal. On the tech side, we have to eliminate the stranglehold that the cable companies and media conglomerates exert over our living rooms. There is this notion that because we have access to 500 channels that we somehow have freedom of choice. But the choices remains confined to a relatively narrow swath of commercial-driven programming and ideas. Breaking through that barrier so that we can watch Internet programming on our living room televisions will be a huge battle over the next decade. At Ourmedia, we are working with the folks at participatoryculture.org to bring about access to free, open-source video.
On the legal side, the laws governing copyright and remix culture haven’t kept pace with what the digital generation is doing with media today. The laws were written during the analog era for big companies with no thought given to the digital age. Now that every person with an Internet connection has the ability to be a global publisher, how do we safeguard fair use? How do we let grassroots publishers access our visual culture-including borrowing snippets from copyrighted music and movies and television shows-to comment upon and annotate those works, just as we’ve done for centuries in the text world?