What can you open source to create impactful and innovative communities? — Part 2

The Wikipedia took down the Encyclopedia Britannica. WordPress has taken away big chunks of attention from newspapers. Bitcoin might be taking banking over. Unsplash is taken over stock photography.

You could say that “Open Source is going to eat the world”.

If a market only has closed options there will always be someone willing to create an open alternative. Apple iPhones were faced by Android’s free system. Copyrighted books are facing an increasing number of free creative commons books. And many paying development courses are being taken over by free courses like Free Code Camp.

Why? Because it makes it easier to get the attention, contribution and adoption of any audience. My theory is that at some point, everything is bound to become open source. 

The day Photoshop has an open source competitor that is as good in quality, it will take 80% of the market. And the same will happen to any closed or paywalled solution out there, whether you are in transportation, food, healthcare, education, art or whatever else you’re doing.

So, if it’s meant to happen in your industry too, why not consider what open source could do for you?

In the latest article, we shared how you can share 4 ideas in open source to inspire and gather a bumbling community to create and accelerate its own positive change. You can take the dust off your designs, software, hardware or internal manuals, and invite others to build with you.

If you didn’t catch it, you can go back to it here and check the four previous methods.

Below are four more ideas you can use to power a community to join and support you into changing the status quo:

5 / Open the original creations where you’ve invested months and years of your life.

You can not only share the stuff that you’re not using or can’t sell. You can also open the main creations that are the cornerstone of your commercial offering. 

This is the most courageous idea to open, and probably a hard pill to swallow for many creators. But those who dare have seen amazing rewards and their art is having the impact they could only dream for.

Opening the original creations you’re currently selling will allow the people who like your work to spread it by word of mouth much faster and cheaper than if you kept it behind closed or copyrighted doors. If your project is really remarkable, the crowd will spread it much faster than any marketing campaign could do for you.

Here are a few artists and companies who’ve seen this strategy do wonders for them:

Cory Doctorow has been sharing his books drm-free, in creative commons and for free download. Even though his ebooks are free to download, many people are buying the paperbacks or official ebooks either to have a more convenient format, to gift it to a friend or to support the author.

By giving away his books freely, Doctorow has gotten back his community to help him sell millions of books through word of mouth. And he has also invited his community of raving fans to share his ideas with their own friends and family to translate his books in dozens of languages, opening his ideas to new countries and cultures. Places he wouldn’t have easily accessed.

Lemonade is an AI-powered open source insurance that’s easy to approach from a consumer’s point of view. 

It has released for free the foundation of its business: its insurance policy. Lemonade has opened its policy to make it “simple, fair and approachable to everyone” so professionals and consumers can work together. 

Besides opening the core of its business, Lemonade has also been actively pursuing other areas of innovation in the insurance industry. None of this counterintuitive moves has prevented them from raising $120 million in Series C funding, headed by SoftBank Group, a Japanese telecom corporation. On top of that they’ve gone from 1% to 6% of market share in 2 years, and has experienced year-on-year growth of 237%, which is ridiculous. 

Sita Sings the Blues: When Nina Paley birthed her movie, she wasn’t particularly known in the movie scene. So she decided to release all copyrights on her animated film so everyone could download, distribute, copy, archive, show and share the movie without restrictions with their networks.

This made it possible for her to cut through the noise and get discovered and picked by some acclaimed critics that promoted her work. Since releasing her movie freely it has been viewed for free by millions of people. In return fans have supported her work by buying DVDs (yes, it was 2010), stickers and other goodies she offered on her website. In 2018, she repeated the move by releasing for free her latest movie Seder Masochism, attracting over 2 million views on its videos on Youtube and has been featured in more than 20 film festival around the world. 

TED videos: From 1984 to 2006, the TED conference was a closed invite-only event attended by a thousand people per year who were charged $4000 per seat. 

In 2006, with the arrival of online video, a year after Youtube went live, they started TED talks as an experimental video podcast. By doing this they discovered that people who watched them really loved them, and that the videos were starting to go viral, transforming a once-exclusive conference into a viral global phenomenon.

The first six TED talks reached one million views, and proved so popular that TED’s website was relaunched around them, giving a global audience access to some of the world’s greatest thinkers, leaders and teachers that were previously only available through their $4000 invitation-only event. Giving content for free attracted an enormous audience. This increased the numbers of sponsors and what they were willing to pay to showcase their brands in the website. And it also increased the number of people who were willing to pay the expensive tickets to the physical TED event.

Takeaway: 

  • What original creations, like research, policies, scientific publications, books, art or other intellectual property, do you have that could spread much faster with the help of your community if you gave it away for free?

6 / Open your Data to allow others to make it more valuable

If you are generating data in one way or another, whether though digital services or reports, it might be a good idea to share these with a larger community. This could trigger new opportunities and savings for any organisation through the re-use of your data.

Open Food Facts is a global database of food composition. Volunteer citizens digitize the information —  like ingredients and nutritional composition on the labels of more than thirty thousand references. The objective of this initiative is to improve consumer information. Another of its goals is to put pressure on manufacturers to encourage them to reduce the use of certain ingredients or reduce the distances travelled by products. 

Transport for London shared timetables, service status and disruption information in an open format for anyone to use, free of charge. This allows developers and partners to bring new products and services to market more quickly, and therefore extend the reach of TfL’s own information channels within stations, at bus stops and online.

Source

Deloitte estimates it has generated annual economic benefits and savings up to £130m a year. It also brought a few other benefits, like:

  • Saved time for passengers, 
  • Better information to plan journeys, travel more easily and take more journeys
  • Creating commercial opportunities for third party developers. 
  • Leveraging value and savings from partnerships with major customer facing technology platform owners. 

La Cura: From the moment Salvatore Iaconesi, an artist and open-source engineer, heard he was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 39, he felt an intense desire to get his medical records and brain scans, to be able to “see what was growing inside of him.” The records were not only hard to obtain, but when he finally received them, they were in a code only meant for other medical professionals. 

So Iaconesi decided to use his technical know-how, hack these files, and open them up for anyone to see on the website La Cura. He asked anyone in the world to send him a cure, be it medical or otherwise.

In return he got 500,000 views to his website that were multiplied by the press’ megaphone. He received suggestions for medical treatments, art, music, thoughts on lifestyle changes, traditional cures. One artist even printed a 3D sculpture of his tumor. Teams formed as neuroscientists discussed with each other medical options and artists collaborated on pieces related to Iaconesi’s cancer.

In the end, Iaconesi had a successful surgery to remove the cancer. Meanwhile, he also implemented many of the non-medical cures submitted to him, and credits these with healing him as well. 

7 / Share a Physical Space that creates meaningful opportunities for others

Having access to certain types of spaces is scarce. And maintaining them can also be hard for those operating a space. Here are a few ideas you can apply whether you have a space to share or not.

Makerspaces, Fablabs and Hackerspaces: These spaces are collaborative work spaces inside schools, libraries or other public or private facilities for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools. These spaces are open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, cnc machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.

Since their creation in the early 2000’s, there are 1100+ fablabs, 1400+ hackerspaces and 1400+ makerspaces that have sprouted in all continents (except Antarctica), gathering makers around expensive machinery they couldn’t have afforded on their own and learn new skills.

Community gardening: You have a plot of garden or land that you don’t know how to use or grow and that could be useful to communities of landless gardeners or people who want to learn how to grow their own food. You can open access and let them work on it. In exchange you’ll be getting a more beautiful place, splitting the food grown in your backyard and helping others improve or put in practice their skills. 

Community Garden at Aubusson

Incredible Edible: Much like the community gardens, the Incredible Edible project is an urban gardening project which was started in 2008 by Pamela Warhurst, Mary Clear and a group of like minded people in England’s small town of Todmorden. 

But instead of sharing an individual or shared plot, they have taken public spaces to start growing food to bring people together through actions around local food, helping to change behaviour towards the environment and to build a kinder and more resilient world. In some cases, it also aims at having the groups become self-sufficient in food production, hence having all food being produced locally.

Since its creation, the Incredible Edible philosophy has been spread up by communities all over the world and there are now 120 Incredible Edible official groups in the UK and more than 700 worldwide.

Takeaway:

  • Do you have any space that could attract others to learn new skills, to create common opportunities or that could be improved by getting others to participate? If not, are there degraded public spaces that could be improved by organizing a collective action around them?

8 / Engage your community by letting them decide how to use your Money

You’re probably often appalled at the passivity of other citizens and their lack of engagement in the public life. 

We’re all noticing the same problems, but most of us don’t do anything about it.

But often the problem is that we’re only offered to vote for representatives every 4 years, and then we let them take the decisions on politics and budgets for us. So the systems doesn’t open many doors for ordinary people to get involved.

Here are a couple of interesting initiatives that open the money decisions or its access to outside communities. 

Paris Participatory Budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary citizens decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting invites citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how the tax-payers money is spent.

In 2018, there were 2054 projects submitted, among which 22% were selected to receive 100 Million Euros in investments.


Adafruit Kinect Challenge was a contest released in response to Microsoft’s Kinect launch in 2010, Adafruit organized a $3,000 challenge to create an open source driver of the motion control system.

Microsoft responded by condemning the challenge to modify their product, but after significant advancements in the open source drivers, Microsoft backed off and corrected by saying that they did not condemn it. They were in fact excited to see what the community developed.

So there you go, launching a contest to create an open alternative to a closed project can be a great way to start changing the culture of an industry.

Takeaway:

  • Do you have money from your tax payers or cash set aside? Can you put aside a part of it and experiment which projects your citizens, customers or community decide to allocate it? 

Let’s Recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article series. Now that you know that open source can help take your project get to the next level, what content can you put in open source and why would it be beneficial for your project? 

Take a pen and paper, go through the lists below and note down which content and what advantages you can open:

  • Designs or research that are gathering dust in your drawer? 
  • Data you’re generating and not using? Or Data that you don’t have and that could be easier to retrieve with others?
  • Procedures or Manuals that could help others spread what you’re doing much faster than they can on their own? 
  • Your brand, so that others can increase their credibility while contributing to a common mission that’s dear to your heart? 
  • Software tools, libraries and frameworks you’re using for your own but not using to make money?
  • Hardware blueprints that others can study, tweak and enhance what you’ve done? 
  • Physical Spaces for others to experiment with you? 
  • Money that can make new projects emerge for the common good?

And why would you open? What benefits could it bring to your projects? List down the benefits you think you could activate by opening the asset you listed previously. 

  • Produce and develop faster like TED has done with its TEDx conferences
  • Improve the quality of your product through new use cases created by the community like WordPress with its plugin and theme ecosystem
  • Lower the costs for ads, PR, support… like Adafruit does through its forums and its community word of mouth
  • Spread faster and create quality content like Free Code Camp with its crowdsourced Medium articles
  • Have a better integration with other projects like Font Awesome did by building on top of Bootstrap, another open source project that grew exponentially
  • Build an infrastructure that would make your products more valuable, like Tesla did by opening its patents or Facebook does by opening its data center infrastructures
  • Identify and attract new employees like Adafruit is doing by spotting contributors in the community or like Facebook is doing by releasing its development tools 

Well done! Now you know what you can open and how opening certain contents of your business can be beneficial to your own project.

Keep your eyes peeled. In the coming days you’ll be receiving another email sharing great ideas of places where you can find a community of contributors, and ways you can get them involved. If you would like to get it, subscribe below.

And remember, if more people shared their stuff in Open Source, we’d all be ahead. Go tell the others!

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Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

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Jaime Arredondo

Creator at Bold&Open and shaker of collaborative projects
Jaime Arredondo
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