Open Content Projects in non-Western Countries

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Survey of Open Content Projects in non-Western Countries
http://oc.openflows.org

Vienna, 04.9.2006. Openflows.org releases today a survey of open content projects in five non-western regions: Arab countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Brazil and South East and Eastern Europe. The aim of the study is to assess the potential of the open content production process for areas and fields which are under served by the commercial players. While we cannot claim completeness, we believe that the range of projects allows insight into the complex ways in which these projects interact with their particular contexts and the vast differences this creates.

Main Findings

Open content projects are extremely sensitive to local conditions. For their constituencies producers and users of the project) the practical value of the material tends to be far more important than abstract layer of licensing. Hence, very few projects view themselves as 'open content', in contrast to 'open source' software projects, where the sense of community across projects is much stronger.

Open content projects rely on at least a kernel of a civil society, comprised of dedicated individuals, NGOs, educational institutions and initiatives, and others who value open cooperation (i.e. where contributions are encouraged from people who are not formerly known). If that does not exist, be it that social tensions are too strong, or that economic situation is too harsh, open content projects cannot flourish.

For the majority to larger projects, some form of institutional support for basic intrastructure is necessary, because of the long-term nature of the projects. In Brazil, for example, this is provided by public institutions (educational and governmental), in collaboration with NGOs and other independent actors. Thus a number large, structured open content projects are developing strongly, particularly in the field of music and education. Where such institutional support is missing, for
example in India, such projects have a hard time reaching critical mass.

The situation is different for smaller open content projects, such a blogging. These can run on globally available commercial infrastructures (Web2.0 companies) and are hence in all areas growing strongly. Their social and political impact, though, depends highly on local conditions. Political blogs in Egypt, for example, are subject to entirely different dynamics than those in India.

Outlook

Apart from well-known project based in highly-developed countries (Wikipedia, MIT's Open Course Ware, Web2.0 companies) the field of open content is still nascent. Without support, the uphill battle to reach critical mass (when the project becomes self-sustainable) will be very steep for most larger open content projects.

The growth of a globally available infrastructure for collaboration, provided by Web2.0 companies, on the other hand, might help to unlock some of the creative potential currently held-back by the lack of stable, scalable platforms.

As of mid 2006, the snapshot provided by this survey, it's too early to say where and in which form this will happen. And without a general strengthening of civil society in these regions, it might well remain stunted for a longer time than necessary.

Principal researcher and contact:
Felix Stalder felix@openflows.org

Essential research partners:
Branka Curcic, Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro; Alaa Abd El Fattah, Cairo, Egypt; Tori Holmes and Tati Wells, Rio de Janerio, Brasil; Kerryn McKay and Heather Ford, Johannesburg, South Africa; and Lawrence Liang, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, India

Support:
The research was made possible by a generous grant from the Open Society
Institute's Information Program (Very Franz)
http://www.soros.org/initiatives/information

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