Handing over quietly

There was no cake, no champagne – not even a speech. And it’s only now that I’ve been able to take a breath, that I can say this about my decision to hand over the public leadership of Creative Commons South Africa to Dave Duarte.

In 2004, I came back to South Africa after an incredible 9 months at Stanford working with Creative Commons as part of my Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship programme, supported by Benetech. Benetech had funded my fellowship because I had originally pitched to the digital society entrepreneurship programme a project to use GIS systems to predict conflict in the African Great Lakes region. But a few months into the project, having been volunteering for Creative Commons, I realised that my passion was with this young organisation. Benetech supported my decision, even though it would have no direct contribution to their work in conflict management. For that, I cannot be more grateful.

After coming home in 2004, so many people need to be thanked for their help in growing this fledgling cause. I remember feeling like a bible salesman when I first started making appointments to go and see people I thought might be able to support, since at that stage, Creative Commons was only a year old and very unknown: a crazy idea by some funny-looking white American man that I believed South Africans should take ownership of.

My parents funded Creative Commons for the first few months. After that, the incredible Anriette Esterhuysen from the Association for Progressive Communications agreed to allow me to host an awareness-raising programme funded by Osisa with the APC, and then two amazing women, Luci Abrahams and Alison Gillwald agreed for the LINK Center at Wits University to host a two-year programme funded by the IDRC called ‘Commons-sense: Towards an African Digital Information Commons’ which supported Creative Commons in South Africa as part of its mandate. Two years ago, I started with iCommons – a new international organisation, incubated by Creative Commons, with HQ firmly on African soil. Since then, the team at iCommons has done an incredible job flying the CC flag with the fabulous CC Salons and consultation work that we’ve done to help organisations, communities, companies and individuals to understand the application of Creative Commons.

There are so many more people to thank – everyone who volunteered and supported Creative Commons when it was unknown but offered just the kind of vision they were looking for, everyone who listened to my continuous sales pitch about why CC was so great, and my dear friends who came to listen to me speak about Creative Commons when they made up 70% of the audience.

I decided to hand over my public leadership mainly because iCommons is now separate from Creative Commons in the sense that Creative Commons is no longer the sole member of iCommons – still a member but now one of four. At this very critical stage of iCommons’ independence, it is important for us to forge a new identity, separate from Creative Commons but still tied to the broad, common vision that we both share.

Handing over to Dave was an incredibly easy task. Dave is already a passionate volunteer. He has done some incredible things already in his teaching and community work to raise awareness of Creative Commons and its potential for innovation and sharing. Most of all, Dave fundamentally ‘gets it’ and he’s also a bit crazy in his own way which makes him exactly the right person to carry on the Creative Commons South Africa story.

I’m certain that we’ll still be working together in the many, many areas of mutual concern, and I can’t wait to see the great things that will happen to CCSA in the next few months.

Good luck, dear Dave. May the force be with you.

Players love making stuff

This is another great video from TED – and not just because it’s about toys.

Will Wright makes an interesting comment about his experience in designing the Sims near the beginning of the movie. I think this perfectly encapsulates the world that we’re navigating and trying to make sense of in the free culture space:

‘Players love making stuff. When they were able to make stuff in the game they had a tremendous amount of empathy and connection to it. Even if it wasn’t as pretty as… professional artists would make…, they really stuck with it – they really cared what happened to it.’

It’s interesting. I was looking for a photo to illustrate one of my blog posts and, even though Joi’s photos are absolutely incredible and millions better than mine, I really still wanted to use my own. Wright does say that it doesn’t take too much to build the characters in this game (and, as such, there are limitations) but it shows how the need and opportunity for us all to actively create has been widely recognised. Figuring out how the power plays out, I guess, is the challenge.

‘Dictionaries are not clubs that only good words can get in to’

erinandh.jpgWhat a cool, chic chick. I’m in a Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board retreat in Taipei and have met Erin who is so incredibly clever, funny and – most importantly – loves dresses.

Erin calls herself a “dictionary evangelist”. She thinks that dictionaries are misunderstood and under-valued – and does a lot of speaking about this at conferences around the world (one of the latest was at TED).

But, the coolest thing about this gal is that she loves dresses and sewing even more than me – and has an awesome blog called ‘A dress a day‘ where she talks about her fabric, patterns and other similar blogs like the great blog ‘She wears shweshwe‘ from someone called Ann in Jozi.

Jimmy Wales says that she’s an incredible speaker and I’m really looking forward to hearing her here at Wikimania. And I’m going to send her shweshwe fabric for her next dress!

Pic: CC BY-SA 2.5 South Africa (dress by Erin)

Open letter to Carte Blanche

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I anticipated the Carte Blanche story about Wikipedia with great interest, but was highly disappointed when the program was finally shown on Sunday evening. Here was a wonderful opportunity to show how the Wikipedia community has developed a widely acclaimed free global resource – but more importantly, to show the democratic process by which the community governs itself and to give some insight into the local Wikipedia community that highlights its relevance and importance to South Africa in particular.

The first problem with the program – common to many reports on Wikipedia by the mainstream media – was on the focus of the segment. The questions: ‘What is Wikipedia and why is it relevant?’ was answered by assessing whether the articles are as accurate as more traditional resources. This reflects a particularly masculine way of analysing the phenomenon by focusing on the phenomenon as a black or white issue – accurate or inaccurate, reliable or unreliable – rather than focusing more on the process of meaning-creation in a more holistic way.

The very fact that most people are aware of the fact that this is a resource created ‘by all for all’, and that it is subject to bias and incorrect facts (true of all information but rarely admitted) makes students come to the resource with a critical eye that is almost always lacking when approaching something like Encyclopaedia Britannica. Research by ‘Nature’ magazine shows that Wikipedia has about 4 errors per article, while Britannica has about 3 – other research shows that the error rate is lower in Wikipedia articles because they are longer. Whatever the true comparison is, you start to understand that ‘accuracy’ is a very subjective way of assessing the resource. More important is the critical eye of the user as well as the opportunity of the user to actively be involved in changing and improving the text itself – something that is virtually impossible with traditionally published texts like Britannica.

Secondly, the ‘experts’ interviewed for the program were from a very specific demographic. All of them were over 40, male and white – but more importantly they were all from the ‘old guard’ mainstream media. (Derek Keats from the University of the Western Cape who has done incredible work in South Africa to build free digital resources like Wikipedia was the brief exception here). Although I completely respect Barry Ronge for his great movie reviews and Anton Harber for his contribution to the journalistic field in South Africa, I find it puzzling how these two men were all that Carte Blanche could find to give some depth to a story that is really about how South Africans are creating meaning in the world in an active way – not as the immobile ‘victims’ that the media so often to portray us as.

Where were the people who develop local language articles for Wikipedia? Where were the people from the local community who actually contribute to the resources on South Africa in Wikipedia? Where were the active users – the new producers or navigators of meaning from one of the most democratic media resources on the planet today? Where was anyone under 30 in this program?

When I came to thinking about how the program was framed, I realised that it was really set as a story about being “on the outside looking in” – a common perception with technology in the developing world that media such as Carte Blanche seem to continually reinforce rather than critically examine. The insert actually began with the words “In this country we are used to our (Internet whiz) kids making loads of money and shooting off into space or even building the rockets to get there.” Right from the beginning, this was going to be a story about ‘our kids’ rather than ‘us’.

Secondly, it was framed as a story about a foreigner’s visit to see how his creation was being used when, in actual fact, the incredible thing about this story is that it is about so many people – many of which live in this country. Jimmy Wales is not Rupert Murdoch. He initiated a project that empowered people to create meaning together rather than as isolated experts. But the Carte Blanche program frames the story as one about a man with ‘the people’ in the background of the entire insert. They were at the University of the Western Cape during school term – all they needed to do was turn the cameras to a couple of students who use Wikipedia!

Carte Blanche wasn’t the only one to ignore local efforts in such areas. ‘Maverick’ magazine produced articles on Jimmy Wales and on Creative Commons CEO, Lawrence Lessig, but in seven pages didn’t even mention the fact that there is a local Wikipedia volunteer community and that there is an active Creative Commons South Africa office.

And so, like many of the stories about the Internet that we see reported on by our mainstream media, the way that this story was framed is exactly about reinforcing existing power relations in a way that denigrates and disempowers the incredible democratising power of initiatives like Wikipedia in this country. This does complete injustice to the incredible work going on locally to build active citizens of a new media that defies individual supremacy over the combined efforts of communities.

It’s disappointing. I guess I’m disappointed mostly because if Carte Blanche – with a (albeit depleting) brand of criticism and alternative viewpoints – can’t grapple with the future in a critical, knowledgeable way, then who will?

Heather Ford.

A tale of two competitions

picture-7.pngOver the past few months we’ve seen good and bad ways of running competitions for user-generated content on the South African Internet.

Exhibit A: Apple South Africa’sGetPodcasting‘ Competition. In March, some eagle-eyed bloggers caught sight of the draconian terms and conditions on the site which didn’t enable people to use other content (for example, a soundtrack licenced under Creative Commons) and forced entrants to give up all their rights to the sponsor if they won (amongst other terms discussed by new CC South Africa volunteer, Paul Jacobson on chilibean.co.za). To their credit, Apple SA responded with a call for suggestions from Jacobson by saying that they would replace the old terms and conditions with his edited version within 30 minutes of receiving it. But, in the weeks that followed, instead of the terms and conditions being amended, they disappeared altogether from the site.

Today, the site has shut down and the content has disappeared. Because the terms didn’t allow for CC licencing, much of the content can’t be constructively reused or re-purposed.

Exhibit B: This week, BMW SA launched a competition on zoopy.com calling for submissions of video using the Creative Commons South Africa Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 licence. A couple of weeks ago, they invited me to chat to them about Creative Commons licencing and more recently, invited Paul Jacobson and Andrew Rens to help draft the wording for the terms and conditions, ensuring that entrants to the competition would all retain copyright and would licence their works to the public for non-commercial sharing according to the terms of the licence.

We think that this is an example of great ethical online business practice. Not only has BMW thoughtfully developed intellectual property rules with a ‘take only what you need’ approach, but its partnership with Zoopy shows us how the company is thinking of itself in terms of a local ecosystem of Internet players, rather than believing that it can build everything from scratch and retain all rights just ‘because it can’.

Now, because BMW has partnered with Zoopy and enabled entrants to use the CC licence that will permit down-the-line sharing, content that is developed from this competition will be available on other sites that showcase the video or develop non-commercial remixes out of it long after BMW has moved onto other promotions.

These two examples display the essence, not only of best practice in terms of intellectual property management of Web 2.0 projects, but of new relationships between the company and its public. We hope that this will act as a model for companies engaging and experimenting with the Web and its opportunities in South Africa in the future.

Thanks to Scott Gray for being a great pioneer in this space. We know that it’s not easy.

This was was first published on http://za.creativecommons.org.