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Let’s start with the bad news. I have always been a bit of a doomsdayer: I usually think wars will end up badly for most people, I worry about things like mass economic collapse, peak oil, overdependence on an industrial food system and a global trade system that destroys a community’s (country’s) ability to support itself, even minimally. And I especially worry about climate change. I worked for several years in Climate Change policy (in the energy sector) and later in finance, where I was part of an investment banking team building and marketing financial products tailored for the Kyoto Protocol. The idea was to get millions of dollars into emission reduction projects. Didn’t really work.

LITTLE UPDATE: What I love about the open movement, free software, and LibriVox, is that instead of opposing something, trying to get others to *stop* doing something (say starting wars or spewing CO2 all over the place), we instead decided to build a parallel system, to do something constructive rather than oppositional. There is spill-over from what we do and why we do it, but what I love is that with the tools at our disposal (the internet, some free software, mass presence of computers, and, we were able to say: we’d like to make a public domain audiobook library for the world. And now, with little fuss or muss, with no funding from governments or foundations, with no protests at city hall and meetings with rich benefactors …we just did it. That’s the Good news. Back to the Bad:

Anyway, I just started reading The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, by Thomas Homer-Dixon. It paints a grim picture of our future, based on five major tectonic stresses: energy; economic; demographic; environmental; climate. Needless to say, as a doomsdayer I agree with everything he’s said so far.

But I have an intuition, that I hope to explore more in this space, that open projects like LibriVox provide some insights into how we might arrange things better to deal with complex challenges in the future. I started thinking of LibriVox in the early days as a sort of organic system that ran up against all sorts of environmental challenges, and because of its openness, was able to confront and overcome those challenges (for instance management of people, management of projects, management of books). We were flexible, and we easily evolved into a more complex system better able to handle difficult situations. Something like evolution, adaptation to new environments.

Of course LibriVox is just a little project, but I think the base concepts are valuable:

  • articulate a goal
  • break the problem down into component parts
  • take a long-view of solving it (don’t make it perfect now, but allow for constant improvement, a la wikipedia)
  • allow individuals to help solve it when and how they see fit

We have many problems ahead, and maybe, just maybe, some of them could be better solved by opening up the processes we use to fix things.

On that note, sort of, Nora and Cathi tipped me off to a project called We Are Smarter Than Me:

The central premise of We Are Smarter Than Me is that large groups of people (”We”) can, and should, take responsibility for traditional business functions that are currently performed by companies, industries and experts (”Me”).

As far as I understand it, this will be an open wiki-built book about … open building. Cool idea. Focused more, I think on business than is my interest, but I’ll be following that project.

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I’m going to work on this over the next couple of days, but I jotted down some notes today about some of the topics/ideas I plan to explore here. If anyone has any additions, thoughts, criticisms, questions, etc, fire away. Note, this is just a rough listing of ideas, not at all structured or complete. I’ll be filling it in as we go along.

There are, I think, four areas I want to look at:

  • The LibriVox How-Tos … Factors Contributing to Our Success
  • A Brief History of LibriVox
  • Thoughts on Open Structures and Public Domain
  • Open Structures Elsewhere, Existing and Possible

Am I missing anything crucial there?

Here is a laundry list of rough topic/chapter/idea headings … (reader beware, it’s a bit of a mess):

The LibriVox How-Tos … Factors Contributing to Our Success

  1. Central Idea: Power of the Book
  2. Clarity of objective
  3. Clarity of guiding principles
  4. Clarity of policies
  5. Clarity of participation streams
  6. Fun
  7. Ease of participation (as little or as much)
  8. Minimal cost of participation (tools and outlays)
  9. Community & niceness
  10. Positive Feedback Loops
  11. Open arms policy of participation
  12. Idealistic but not dogmatic
  13. Open minds policy of project development
  14. Kill the ego…Kill the ego
  15. The meritocracy/addiction principle - how admins become admins
  16. Anarchy with an Iron Fist
  17. If you want it, build it
  18. Multiple participation streams
  19. Valuing contributors above contributions
  20. No money please
  21. United Nations of audio projects - trying to welcome all languages
  22. Help v1: Internal support for the non-techies
  23. Help v2: internal support for everybody
  24. Welcoming newbies
  25. Online People & Those Who Can and Do
  26. New Blood: Keeping the admin group strong

A Brief History of LibriVox (probably not interesting to a wider public)

  1. Origins of an idea
  2. How the Internet Makes Crazy Ideas Possible
  3. Launch
  5. Internet Archive & Open Library
  6. Forum
  7. Structure Comes … We have Process!
  8. Refinement and Robustness
  9. The People of LibriVox
  10. Farenheit 451: Defenders of the Faith; Digital Bards
  11. Lovefest - Personal Thoughts about LibriVox Goodness
  12. Hatefest - Personal Thoughts about LibriVox Badness
  13. The Big Debates:

-Public Domain vs Creative Commons
-Being Nice
-Your Standards and My Standards

Thoughts on Open Structures and Public Domain (Philosopher’s Zone)

  1. My dinner with Richard Stallman
  2. Brewster Kahle & Universal Access to All Human Knowledge
  3. Free Culture & Lawrence Lessig
  4. Wales’ Wikipedia
  5. Thoughts on Public Domain: Good Cities, Big Parks, and the Internet
  6. Why Free Culture Matters
  7. Free Culture, Hacking, and Tinkering with Your Car - what “open” might mean
  8. The Open Project as Organic System
  9. Evolution, Rigid Systems, and the Future of Humanity
  10. Commons-Based Peer Production vs Crowdsourcing
  11. Anarchy, Right, Left … and Open
  12. Aren’t Free Projects Going to Put Everyone Out of Work?
  13. Contributors and Creators, not Consumers
  14. Building a Parallel - Not Oppositional - Structure
  15. Taking on Jaron Lanier
  16. The Question Concerning Information Technology
  17. Where Collaboration Might Work; Where it Might Not
  18. What Motivates: Why Economists Have it Wrong
  19. Abstract Art, LibriVox, and the Human Brain
  20. Boris’ Snowplow

Where Else Open Projects Might Be Used

  1. Bringing Open Structures into the Real World
  2. Something Needs Doing
  3. People Care About the Something
  4. Defining the Problem & Solutions
  5. Structuring Contributions
  6. Managing Contributors
  7. Modular systems: open toolkits
  8. Scaling Up
  9. Changing Thinking: What Do You Value?
  10. Other Projects: wikipedia, gutenberg, distributed proofreaders, others please?
  11. data and government
  12. Crowdsourcing & A For-Profit Version
  13. The Money Question … And Participation
  14. Where Could this Work?
  • environment?
  • health?
  • food?
  • politics?
  • urban planning?
  • education?
  • diplomacy?

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LibriVox is a successful experiment in how to build an open community-driven, non-software project (based on ideals and methods of the free software and open source movements) . TextoSolvo is a new weblog to talk about how we got there and why we seem to have been successful so far.

In a little over a year, the LibriVox community has recorded several thousand of hours of public domain literature, with voices of a thousand or-so volunteers world-wide. Our site is translated into eight (soon to be nine) languages, and we have audio in twenty-one different languages . We have an ambitious target to record all books in the public domain. And while we’re only about one one hundredth of the way through the Gutenberg catalog, well we’ll keep trucking.

While the project itself is wonderful (that is, a public domain audio library), there is a whole mass of administration, software development, and management that allows the LibriVox to function. This back-story is largely unseen by the public, and even by the volunteers in the project, but it is a huge undertaking: the management of these thousands of audio files is something of an administrative nightmare, but we have built a project that handles this mass of digital information very well. All on a budget of $0 (thanks in large part to free audio hosting/bandwidth at the Internet Archive and

The infrastructure has been built by about twenty people, who know each other only through the LibriVox project, and contributed their time and expertise (coding, project management, system development, web and UI design, information science, diplomacy, etc etc) simply because they wanted to. To me that is the really fascinating thing: how did the LibriVox platform get built, and built so well? How can we keep it going into the future?

And can we help others do something similar?

TextoSolvo* (inspiration for the name is discussed below) is meant to be a platform to discuss:

  • How-To Build an Open Project (for non software-geeks), The LibriVox Experience.
  • Thoughts on the Open Movement (creative commons, free software, open source, civic access) and why it is important for the world
  • A brief history of LibriVox

I am planning over the next year or so to post weekly here (some will be recycled from stuff I have written elsewhere). The long-term goal is to build a book’s worth of (I hope) useful information, not just for LibriVox aficionados, but for anyone interested in the open movement, and building open, community-based projects. I don’t have any specific plans for the “final” product, but I’d like to see it in print somehow, and of course an audio version will be made available!

Again I would like to encourage anyone from LibriVox (or anywhere for that matter) to contribute through comments, and I’ll probably be asking for some longer contributions too, if anyone is interested.

*TextoSolvo, from the “About Page”:

TextoSolvo is a bit of morphed Latin. The definitions (from William Whittaker’s Words program), are:

text.o (V) weave; plait (together); construct with elaborate care.
text.o (N) woven fabric, cloth; framework, web; atomic structure; ratio atoms/void.
solv.o (V) loosen, release, unbind, untie, free; open; set sail; scatter; pay off/back.

I like texto*solvo because it works in two ways, the idea of buidling and weaving together (texto) in a loose and free network (solvo). This is what LibriVox looks like to me: a tightly-woven community, building something elaborate and important, in a loose, free network, scattered all over the world. I haven’t gotten my head around that last bit of the texto definition: “ratio atoms/void”; but I think there is something important there too.

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Musings on open collaborative projects, (mostly non-software) with a focus on idealism and not money-making. The starting point is the project. Mostly written by Hugh McGuire, but guest writers may join in as well. [more ...]