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One of the problems in the Western world right now, in my estimation, is that we see “freedom” as an artificially good thing in an abstract & idealized sense. humans, whatever else we are, are animals, and we have developed biological and cultural systems to deal with the universe. and nothing is “free” in the universe. you must obey the laws of physics: when you get punched in the nose it hurts, and when you eat rocks, they taste bad and make you sick, and break your teeth. that they are painful helps you try to avoid getting punched in the nose, and discourages you from eating rocks instead of apples, both of which are helpful if you wish to survive in the world. that is what the universe is “like,” yet in the western world we have abstracted out “freedom” as some kind of thing which is good in itself. I too think freedom is good, but not “in itself.” i think it is good because increased freedom for a larger number of people results in a better ability to solve important problems (firstly, how do we feed and clothe ourselves, and protect our families, and then other more complex, but less important issues).

so librivox is a kind of demonstration that says: here are the rules. everything *else* is free, but the rules are not negotiable. and they are not negotiabale BECAUSE librivox has an objective that defines everything we do: “to make all public domain books available in audio for free.” the rules have been/are set in order to help us achieve that objective. everything is weighed against the objective, not against some abastract “freedom.”

that is very powerful. i believe one of the driving evolutionary forces that has made humans successful is our desire to build and pleasure at building things.

but building things takes discipline and dedication. it is always easier to sit on your ass and do nothing. and you are - in our very rich, and very easy world, “free” to sit on your ass and do nothing, but I don’t believe you will ever be happy if you take that approach. In order to be a happy human, I believe, you must build things.

and *that*, to me, is what freedom means: the freedom to build the things you want to build. not freedom to do whatever you want, wherever you want, because “freedom” per se is sacred, but the freedom to pursue objectives you believe in.

we have lost our sense of discipline, and I think that makes people very unhappy. I don’t mean that in any draconican sense, I just mean that in western world, we are told (by psychologists, parents, media, etc) that we can do whatever we want, that we are the centre of the universe, that our freedom is the most important thing and we have a *right* to it, that just believing in ourselves is enough to succeed. all of which is, frankly, bullshit.

and that kind of thinking makes, I think, for unhappy people, and a disfunctional society, because we are NOT the centre of the universe able to influence it with our belief in how important we are; we are just a little part of it, subject to its laws. among which is, not much ever gets done without work.

A few people have gotten involved with LibriVox, been impressed by the anarchist underpinnings, and argued that we needed to allow full freedom (ie to rant, to be disruptive etc). but librivox as a system works in part because of the laws of our little universe, some of which we understand, some of which are mysterious. I’ve been careful to try to defend and protect those mysterious things - even if I do not totally understand them (hence my defense of the “disclaimer” - I don’t want to mess with something that’s worked unless it is very clear that messing will make LV work better).

I read recently somewhere that real freedom only comes from the pleasure of succeeding within constraints. Which seems to me to be about right.

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(I am having a discussion with Tracey about the Parallel Structures post below, and you can read some of our banter over at dose…some of it spilled into email, and here is a revised version of something I just sent).

I think the only effective way to change things is to build tools and mechanisms to do things differently, and build them bit by bit. If they are successful, then they will win admirers; if they are not, then they will fall away (as they should). The net allows you to build all sorts of interesting projects with: an idea, a bit of tech development, and interested people. The results can be small projects like LibriVox, or massive projects like wikipedia.

Theory is fine, but it floats around in academia and grad schools and coffee houses, and has very little to do with the real world. Occasionally (say with the neocons in the USA, the CNT in Spain in the 30s) a group of idealist adherents gets power and implements an idea in a sweeping, revolutionary way. The usual result is tragedy of some kind, because theory does not map well to the chaotic nature of the world. Further, powers that be don’t like idealist revolution because they tend to take away their power. Even more, the majority of people do not trust radical change, because they prefer to trust the devil they know (that is, they are wise: they prefer to be shown a better way, than to trust an idea of a better way). Finally, good theories often don’t work in practice.

The most effective way to change people’s minds is to demonstrate that another way is better than the one they are using. If you describe a carrot to me (it’s a root, from the ground, it’s orange, tastes good!) I probably would not be inspired to seek one out. Give me one, let me taste it, and i’ll say yum! Gimme more.

That is, theories put into practice without proper testing and feedback mechanisms, without growing naturally, and without demonstrating that they are better than the alternatives, tend to cause unforeseen problems, and ideas are not a good way to change the general public’s mind.

Much better, I think, is to put little ideas into practice, and allow them to build organically so that they can grow and become a robust and healthy ideas that are actually implemented and do something interesting, and are supported by the pragmatic requirements of the universe, rather than planned in the abstract and applied as is. More specifically, ideas prove their worth by actually achieving things that people care about, rather than forcing people to abstract out the potential benefits of the idea itself. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Things that improve people’s lives are what matter.

Take wikipedia for instance. People could have come up with all sorts of legitimate objections to the idea (in fact they did, and still do). Six years ago Britannica would have laughed their asses off at such a stupid project. So if wikipedia went out in 2000 and said to the world, “Stop reading Britannica and come join our project to build an encyclopeadia that will be better than Britannica!” … it would have been hubris and silliness, and would not have worked. Instead, they said, “Here is our idea. Here are the tools and mechanism to implement our idea. The process is open and we’ll allow it to evolve as participants want it to.” And so, a complex and difficult series of norms and policies and compromises were implemented, all in order to better assure the central idea, and the project attracted more and more people to participate as editors, and also readers came, hungry for information, and now no one laughs anymore about wikipedia, because whatever Britannica or various critics have to say, it has become the top reference work on the net, and consequently in most people’s lives. It is the de facto starting point for information gathering on any topic. Whether it is theoretically “better” or “worse” than Britannica matters not, because it is *effectively* better. That is, it is the tool people use because it is most successful at being useful to them.

That, I think, is the only way that real change happens: not by giving people ideas (which of course are important), but by providing a better way (concretely) than the alternative. Free software is a nice idea, but free software never had any real impact on my life till Firefox(let’s forget that Google runs on Linux servers).

In my experience, then, the net allows you to easily and cheaply implement radical ideas, that might be more successful at doing certain things than the alternatives. In order to implement ideas you need:

a) a central idea, and central principles
b) tools and mechanisms to implement the idea

Even better, you should add:
c) open and flexible structures so that the mechanisms and tools to implement the idea can be improved
d) a community of people who believe in the central idea, and are able to shape the mechanisms and tools based on the real world challenges they, and the idea, face
e) information to allow b, c, d to happen in the best way

So: I envision a way to allow me and like-minded people have a large pool of money to do important social projects (important to me, to like-minded people), since it seems as though governments have less and less interest and ability to do so. (I also note that governments are pretty *bad* at doing many things. Imagine, for instance, if wikipedia had been a project of the Canadian government!). I envision, essentially, a sort of democratic/anarchist means of collecting and distributing money to projects. It’s a crazy idea, and I have no idea if it could work. I think it is a good idea - probably with many problems that you and others would find in the process.

But that implementation of an idea will have problems does not in any way make me nervous. The only way I would imagine something like this is in an open project, so that the project could be shaped by people who care about it, and so concerns and problems could be addressed somehow: I don’t know how, and I don’t need to … because I have faith in people’s ability to solve problems, given access to data and mechanisms to solve them.

[givemeaning.com, by the way, are doing something like this, and seem to have a great project going, tho it’s still a closed kind of project, and I think they need to open things up if they want long-term success]

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I’ve been chatting a bit with Austin Hill of late. I convinced him to join the advisory committee of the Atwater Digital Literacy Project, and we seem to be interested in many of the same things, mostly revolving around applying the power of online communities to idealistic goals. His Top Secret Project-Ojibwe (based on aboriginal gift-culture) is coming out sometime later this year, which if I understand is going to be one central project, with many little side projects, such as gifter.org.

Anyway, that project, plus the thinking I’ve been doing over the last few years, and my experience with librivox lead to this little epiphany the other day. Perhaps this is happening already somewhere (and I haven’t fully thought it through or fleshed it out, but there you go)… enough chatter, here’s the idea:

BACKGROUND
1. internet and distributed communities are very good at:
a) building software
b) sorting/managing/making info available (wikipedia/librivox)
c) massive peer-review, monitoring
d) democratic ranking (technorati by links, digg by diggs, wikipedia for info etc)
e) leveraging small-chunk work to make a big project cheap and easy

2. free softare, wikipedia, creative commons, librivox are all examples of PARALLEL structures, that do not concern themselves much with what is happening in the mainstream, instead focus on building something different, in PARALLEL.

3. government is increasingly (or always has been) removed from the actual desires of people - part of this is because the process is hidden from most people. it takes real dedication, time, effort to influence policy (hence pro lobbyists = money talks, not voices)

4. what does government do?
a) raises funds (tax)
b) plans policy
c) plans programs to implement policy
d) decides on budget allocation for different programs
e) (sometimes) implements programs
f) monitors progress of projects

5. this process is hidden, inefficient, and subject to influence peddling. But effectively it makes the rules, gets the money and spends the money.

6. while groups of individuals are not able to make the rules, they can raise money, and spend it.

7. charity generally is subject to some of the same problems … and often only 30% (check #?) of money actually donated to charity goes to programmes - the 70% balance goes to administration, fund-raising.

8. much of the reason for 7 (above) is that getting funding is difficult, time consuming, inefficient, and requires massive efforts, publicity, management. loads of paper.

8. re: #4 … without replacing government, is there a parallel system that could be set up, that could do some of these tasks… with a model like #2.

9. YES! again, looking at the government’s role, the internet & open projects can be very good at:
a) raising funds
b) deciding on budget allocation
c) monitoring progress of projects.

10. Probably not so good at:
b) planning policy
c) planning programs to implement policy
e) implementing programs

(these all take more energy, time, on the ground effort … which is possible, but is not the real power of a distributed system).

PROPOSAL

An open-style charity “foundation,” that works as follows:
-Members pay $20/yr each ($50? $100?)
-This money goes into a fund
-You can donate more money, but no one is given more power because of how much money they have donated (but maybe some sort of moderation karma points, as with slashdot)
-projects “apply” for funding (eg atwater digital media), by posting project description, budget, plan
-Members can:
-ask questions
-make suggestions
-rank projects

-On an ongoing basis (maybe every 3 months?) the foundation does an open budgeting process, where members decide on allocating: short-term, and long-term funding to projects that have ranked well.
-Projects will be required to update progress and info on an ongoing basis, solicit input, etc, and further funding can be decided based on that.
-(an aside: When projects run into trouble, the Members that supported the project should be aware, and can possibly offer more concrete help)

In this way a totally parallel system (to government & usual charity foundations) could be established to fund projects with a community of givers that:
a) funds itself, through membership
b) decides on where the money goes in an open process
c) monitors & provides feedback (and possibly more concrete support) on an ongoing basis
d) is transparent & efficient

NOTE: This principle should be applied also to an new open internet media production house too, to find a way to fund film-makers, musicians, etc, based on an open co-op system…film, music projects funded based on the interest of the Open Production House Co-Op members.

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In the spring of 2005, as I was discovering the joys of podcasting, I was looking online for an audiobook to listen to while cooking. I stumbled on a project by AKMA, to get people - volunteers - to read chapters of Lawrence Lessig’s book, Free Culture. A number of people chipped in, some famous names (I didn’t know those names at the time), and I listened to “Free Culture” over the course of several evenings. That was the most concrete inspiration for LibriVox, but of course there were others.

Probably the most significant of which is Richard Stallman and the free software movement. I had been aware of open source for a long time (I did not yet know the distinction between Free Software/philosophy; and Open Source/methodology). I loved the concept, the philosophy and the idea. As a non-technical guy, though, I was not able to participate as a coder, and in most cases the software required too much tech input for me to use. But the idea, I loved.

Sometime in the fall of 2004, a friend of mine who was doing a Master’s in Environmental Studies, with a focus on Biotech and Intellectual Property, asked me to accompany Stallman from one speaking engagement (at talk at UQAM about free software), to the biotech class, where rms had agreed to do a talk on IP in general, and how (he believes) it stifles innovation. My first meeting with rms was … quirky … I knew very little about free software at the time, other than a general interest, so I didn’t have much to say; Stallman carried an old beaten-up laptop in a plastic grocery bag, and when I left him for a minute to confirm where the class was, I came back to find him sitting on the hallway floor, typing away. Other than that, when I asked how a non-tech person should get into free software, he suggested I install GNU/Linux on an old machine, and just hack away till I got comfortable. Which I never did.

But still, I was inspired to read more of rms’ essays, and to listen to much of it too (scroll down to speeches and interviews). I was curious to read what academics - philosophers and political scientists - had to say about this very active and successful pseudo-anarchist movement: amazingly, very little. But I read what I found, including the dotCommunist Manifesto by Eben Moglen, Columbia Law prof, and legal mind behind the GNU Public License, the brilliant bit of institutional underpinning on which the success of the free software movement built: you are free to use copy modify and redistribute this software, as long as whatever you use it for maintains those same freedoms.

The free software movement was a revelation: here was a man (Stallman) who rejected the idea of proprietary software… and instead of thundering around the world complaining about software practices he didn’t like, he did something much more interesting. He started building an operating system, gnu (gnu’s not unix), to be a free piece of software for anyone to use. His objective was long term, and he knew he had to start with the basics. He wanted all software to be free, and he knew he had to start at the bottom, on the operating system. GNU became the kernel for the famous Linux operating system, the posterchild of the open source movement. And Stallman continued (and continues) his evangelizing for free software, a movement that has, some 25 years lated, built an impressive array of free open versions of software anyone can use, copy, modify and distribute for free. Now most of the web sites you surf (google, amazon) are built on GNU/linux-based servers. There are free/open source software alternatives to Microsoft Office (open office), Internet Explorer (Firefox), Internet Outlook (Thunderbird), Photoshop (GIMP), and a good audio-editing suite called Audacity.

Though I was excited about the practical software applications of free software, it was the concept behind it I found fascinating. Here was a successful movement built not so much in opposition to the predominant ethos of, at least, the past 40 years (ie, greed is good, the only useful motivator for large scale problems is the profit motive); but rather in parallel. A place where those inclined were free to contribute their time and energy for large projects …for reasons other than personal financial gain. And more: there was a theoretical and legal framework for doing so, and the movement was successful. I started using some of this software around this time, and it turned out some of it was better than the commercial alternatives. I was impressed that from a humble start at a free operating system, and based on clear articulation of ideals, such a powerful movement had grown, and was now even threatening the proprietary model. And further: I wondered whether (and how) this model could be applied to non-software projects.

I discovered blogging at the same time, and here was another revelation: free, easy publishing. Publishing on the web had been around for years, of course, but not for me. This was different: I didn’t need to know html, and I didn’t have to pay a dime. I sensed the world shifting.

From free software I found the Creative Commons movement … which aimed to do for culture what Free Software and Open Source had done for software. Spearheaded by Stanford Law prof Lawrence Lessig, the Creative Commons project provided a legal framework for those who wanted to make sure their art would be available to other artists to build on, and brought renewed thinking about the importance of the commons, and the public domain.

Creative Commons grew out of a belief that total corporate control of culture is not in society’s best interest. Art has always been built on previous art, and the notion that every bit of cultural heritage should be owned by someone, or rather, something: a corporation … especially corporations keen on charging vast sums, or threatening to sue anyone who they deemed had infringed their copyright. Creative Commons offered a space (legally defined) for people to contribute their art outside of traditional copyright, allowing certain uses of the works. Again, this was a parallel movement built for artists who wanted to maintain the importance of a commons for new art.

As I was thinking about all this stuff, I was working on a writing contract for a friend, who was doing a big exhibit for the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, on dinosaurs. The project included a number of information kiosks, essentially little web-sites packed with information and games. I was doing a fair bit of the writing, which required a significant amount of research. And as I plowed through this project, researching on the net, I found again and again that the best source of first-level information was Wikipedia. I had heard about this project too (this was in 2004), but had never paid it much heed: until I needed it. Again, here was a voluntary effort, parallel to other sources of information, and often better than anything else I could find (for free) online. I used wikipedia extensively on that project, and as I was using it, I thought I should give back. Where articles in wikipedia were light on information that I had, I added what I could. I got hooked. The great thing about the project was, you could start an article on, say, the Western Interior Seaway, with very little information or attention to style. Someone else would be by to add to it, correct it; and you could continue to make improvements if you wanted. Harness humans’ interest in sharing information, in helping each other, and don’t force anyone to be an expert, let it grow slowly, and build an encyclopedia. The beauty was, what I added didn’t have to be perfect: just adding something constructive was enough participation. Taking a long view of things, eventually the wikipedia would improve. Don’t let it’s flaws at any given time detract from the larger picture, the larger plan: to become the most complete encyclopedia in the world, available to anyone for free on the internet.

A project I had investigated numerous times was built on a similar foundation: Project Gutenberg, which has been in existence since 1970, and is the real granddaddy of all free culture/information projects on the net. Gutenberg offers a library of some 20,000 free public domain texts, in many languages, in plain vanilla format. I had been to the site often but had never actually read a book from there … I’m not good at reading long texts in digital format. Still, knowing they were there was a great and important resource, especially since those texts could be used for anything: they were public domain.

At some point, as I was listening to huge numbers of podcasts, I heard Brewster Kahle’s talk: Universal Access to All Human Knowledge, a profoundly ambitious talk. In it Brewster argues that it is technically and financially feasible (for some couple of hundred million dollars, not such a big sum when you consider the scope of the project) to put all text, audio and video ever created by humans online and offer it up to the world (for free is Brewster’s idea, though he’s not so much an anti-copyright evangelizer as a promoter of digital access to a robust public domain). From this talk I found his project, the Internet Archive, and realized that there was a home for public domain and creative commons media, a place where storage and bandwidth were free, and with a vision to keep those files forever. A modern version of the Library of Alexandria, with redundancy and back-up systems (servers all over the world) built in to avoid that tragedy of one fire.

The pieces were coming together. The last bit was Audacity: a free, open source, easy to use audio editor. I tested it out. It was easy.

So I had a format (podcasting), a publishing tool (wordpress), a philosophy (free software), a legal framework (creative commons/public domain), a source of texts (gutenberg.org), free hosting (archive.org), free audio editing software (audacity), an approach to information creation (wikipedia), and a model project (AKMA). And finally, after all that stuff mixed around in my brain for a while, I had an idea. Put it all together to make public domain audio books. How about all public domain books? Why not?

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Famous Montreal digital entrepreneur Austin Hill is launching a new (top secret) community-based start-up, focused on philanthropy. (He’s also agreed to be on the Advisory Committee of another project I am involved with, the Atwater Digital Literacy Project). We’ve been talking a bit about a bunch of things, but generally discussing building online communities with a specific purpose - which his blog talks about a fair bit (he also did an interview with me)

He had one post a while back, about leadership, which contained some quotations from the “Tao Te Ching”, the guiding philosophical text of ancient China. Among the gems:

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.
Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

To the extent that I can be considered a “leader” of LibriVox (Christine calls me the “mayor of LibriVox”), I was surprised to see so much of my approach reflected in this and other bits of the Tao. It was a struggle in the early days, releasing LibriVox from my ego and letting it go where people wanted to take it. Of course, I still try to bend it to my will in certain directions, but in almost all cases that bending is in favour of openness: the two big controversies are “reader standards” (we have none, all are welcome to record no matter how “good” they are); and “niceness” (we don’t tolerate jerky behaviour on the forum - UPDATE: someone asked my how banning jerkyness could be considered in favour of openness … and the answer is inclusion … our forum is very welcoming, so people who do not like other internet forums like ours. Certainly it is a bit of a Nice-Police State, but the results pay off: more people enjoy the forum and contribute to the project; jerkiness would drive away many people. So it’s sort of an openness=access argument, rather than an openness=total freedom…of course this contradicts the Tao a little, but what can you do.). Other than that, things are pretty open. Though as we have evolved, we have become more complex, and more rigid in our way of doing things.

Still, as a general principle behind building communities, my experience is:
a) articulate a goal
b) follow the tao
c) if you need to check your direction, check against the goal first (objective), and the tao second (way to objective)

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When LibriVox was just a wee project, with a couple of books going, I did most of the management myself. When things got more complicated, a number of people came to the rescue: Kristen helped with the website design and Kara took the reigns on the cataloging, and several others helped in the early days as well. Things got much bigger over time, and now there is a busy team of people (some have come and gone, others have just stayed) who do all that back end work to keep things going. I don’t have much talent in all those areas, and so my role in the project has become more rallying of the troops, and articulating project philosophy and objectives once in a while. Usually this happens on the Forum, generally when a controversial debates come up. These long-winded posts usually get read just by those interested in a particular thread (often many admin types).

One of the big controversial issues that comes up again and again is reading standards, and criticism of recordings: the short answer, is we don’t have any standards, and criticism is not wanted unless requested. This came up again recently on the forum, and here is part of my response which describes why:

Now it so happens that my preference (this is personal) is for readings that are not theatrical. For my ears, more theatrical readings do something interesting: they are performance, and so the reader is taking a text, interpreting it, and infusing it with a particular emphasis and meaning. (True of course for every recordings). But to me, the performance can often overtake the text.

In more subtle, perhaps “flatter,” “duller” readings, two very curious things happen.

Firstly, the text itself becomes more important than the reader. You don’t so much hear the reader’s performance battling for predominance over the words themselves. The text, if it is good, wins. And with great texts, they transcend the voice reading them in some ways, especially if the voice gives the words the space to transcend. To my ears there is less space in more theatrical readings.

Secondly, the reader’s personal relationship with the text somehow adds another layer of humanity to the sounds of the literature itself. With less-theatrical readings, the honest connection between reader-text-listener seems very pure to me, again precisely because the reading is not a performance, but a human somewhere, reading a text they love for me. That is, to me, a beautiful thing, and one of the most wonderful and unique things about LibriVox.

But one is not really better than another; they are just different approaches. Some may wish to change the way they read … they might, for instance ask for advice on how to achieve a certain voice, a sound, how to inffuse more passion or oomph into their recordings. That’s fine, and if someone asks for advice, by all means give it. We have a big wiki filled with information and suggestions, and people often ask and give advice in our forum thread: “Need Help? Got Advice?”

But we do not insist on a certain style, a way to read, a way to interact with the text. We do not promote certain voices, professional diction, BBC accents, or Hollywood voice-over techniques. We are happy when we get them, of course, they add to the diversity of voices. But they are not better, or worse than any other voice. What we insist on is that people read texts the way they would like to read them, without fears of criticism that they are not good enough, talented enough, BBC enough, or anything enough…if you have a voice, and you wish to record a text, you are welcome here, and you will be thanked for adding yet another bit of literature to the audio universe. That is enough. It is not just enough, it is something much more than enough, with all sorts of wonder and beauty attached to it.

Listeners will like some readers better than others. Of course. And they are free to seek out the readers they prefer (soon a brilliant searchable catalog will be released where you can search by reader).

But that one person perfers reader X, and another prefers reader Y is irrelevant to what we are doing here, which, again, is getting volunteers to record the public domain literature which they love. That is what we do, and that is what we encourage… and even if no one finds reader Z as their favourite, it matters not one whit, because reader Z has still gone to the great, and sacred trouble to offer his or her voice to bring a piece of literature to the ears of anyone in the universe who cares to listen. and that is enough.

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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 ibiblio.org)

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 LibriVox.org project. Mostly written by Hugh McGuire, but guest writers may join in as well. [more ...]

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