Open Source as a Philosophy: #NCMR Reflections

This is the first of a series of posts reflecting on lessons I’ve learned through my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA at CAN TV and my time spent at the 2011 National Conference on Media Reform (NCMR) back in April.

I’ve been getting more and more into open source through working at CAN TV and seeing the great work that the Open Media Foundation and others are doing in the media access community using open source software. “Open source,” if you don’t know, is basically a collaborative method of development. Instead of being held as a secret, the blueprints for open source products are shared so that others can copy, mash up, and then improve them; they ultimately share them back with the community. The more people that participate the better the product becomes, and the more everyone benefits.

Open source is usually associated with software, but the same principles are applied to other products as well. As one of the panelists on the Open Sourcing Community Media panel, Craig Sinclair of Amherst media, said, “Open source is as much about philosophy as it is about technology.” This was a lesson that I thought is one that all nonprofits should take to heart. So many problems organizations face on a day-to-day basis are shared by hundreds, possibly thousands of nonprofits. And yet, their solutions to those problems are often not shared. Each organization eventually re-invents its own version of the wheel. Through a more open source-style approach, each individual action can benefit the common good.

As far as community media organizations are concerned, many are looking to open source tools as a way to engage in “broadercasting,” or using digital tools to expand the reach of public content. Fellow DASCorps VISTA Anne Jonas showcased Miro Community, a very cool tool for creating community video websites. I’ve been experimenting with it for CAN TV and I think there’s great potential. While it’s easy to find videos for any interest, it’s hard to find any that are truly local. By bringing these videos under one roof, Miro helps make the Internet local. Jen Gilomen of the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) showed how they use open source tools in their access center to manage equipment, upload videos to their website, and have them backed up digitally. These tools, of course, were first developed by people other than BAVC, and after making some improvements on its own, BAVC shared them back with the community. Thus it comes full circle.

Key Points:

  • Community Media centers need to be a “hub” of media production online and offline, a key component of the “new localism”
  • Need to develop media that connects, educates, empowers, and enables people to produce content.
  • “Open Source” isn’t limited to software- increasingly, open source is for hardware too.


“Community Media Centers should be a testing ground for all these new ideas.”


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Filed under Journalism, Non-Profit, Reflections, VISTA

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