FOSS Open Content/Survey of Open Content Projects

Felix Stalder, in collaboration with researches in South Africa, India, Brazil, Egypt and Serbia, has done an assessment of the state of Open Content projects in these countries. The specific aim of the project was to examine the use, efficacy and extent of Open Content projects in the non-Western world. [65]

The study makes a conceptual distinction between two kinds of projects: those that are set up around explicit cooperation, with stated goals and some sort of accepted guidelines like the Wikipedia projects, and those where cooperation is less planned and is instead based on the affinities of independent actors, who remain visible as individuals or exist within small communities, such as bloggers. The project calls the first group "planned cooperation" and the second one "emergent cooperation." The study argues that "apart from a handful of Wikipedia projects (in Portuguese, Polish and other Eastern European languages), Open Content projects based on planned cooperation remain fairly limited within the regions covered by this survey. The most successful ones are closely related to FOSS projects, whereas others remain in very early stages and have not yet reached a critical mass." They also claim that if there is to be an increase in the number of people and projects that are involved in Open Content initiatives, there is a need for some institutional basis. This has to do with the fact that, given that there is very little infrastructure and technical support in a number of developing countries, it becomes difficult to inaugurate and sustain long-term collaborative projects. This is the main reason that projects that are not initiated with the support of either a university or some public institution tend to not last very long and fall apart before reaching a critical mass. Even in contexts where there is institutional support - for example, for many Open Content projects in Brazil - these projects are still small, indicating that such long-term projects can take a long time to prepare and get off the ground.

The study also suggests that the emergence of new technologies that enable the sharing of media in neutral platforms (like Flickr and Google Video) may have the potential to provide the kind of infrastructure that may assist emerging Open Content projects in developing countries. It can be added that the line between Open Content and Open Access projects is a rather thin one in the case of developing countries. A number of the immediate and pressing needs - especially those around questions of access to knowledge - may be addressed, for instance, through open-access mechanisms. In many ways, these kinds of Open Content cultural projects may, at the moment, seem to be concerns of the West; however, we perhaps need to be cautious of falling into the dangers of reducing the entire issue into one of real information needs and other more ambitious collaborative frameworks. The two need to be separated, and the promotion of Open Access should not be at the cost of making the question of the collaborative production of knowledge and culture an irrelevant one in the developing countries. The challenge perhaps lies in the integration of the two.