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Lessons of Ourmedia
Jamais Cascio, 13 Aug 05

Ourmedia is a project allowing any person with net access to publish their text, image, audio and/or video files for public consumption, for free, with the promise of permanent web presence as long as the host, the Internet Archive, exists. (Dina mentioned Ourmedia in her survey of worldchanging social tools in April, and guest author Kenyatta Cheese mentioned Ourmedia in his coverage of "citizen television" in June.) Although blog hosting sites and other web providers can allow the publication of one's own media creations, restrictions on content, file size or type, and questions of the long-term viability of any given provider weaken the potential power of true collaborative popular creativity. By promising permanent free hosting and almost no restrictions on media, Ourmedia has the potential to become the cornerstone of an alternative media system. It's also suggestive of where activism may go in the months and years to come.

Ourmedia's goal is to expose, advance and preserve digital creativity at the grassroots level. The site serves as a central gathering spot where professionals and amateurs come together to share works, offer tips and tutorials, and interact in a combination community space and virtual library that will preserve these works for future generations. We want to enable people anywhere in the world to tap into this rich repository of media and create image albums, movie and music jukeboxes and more.

(Ourmedia's rules are fairly broad: copyrighted material is generally prohibited, and they ban the publishing of "pornographic" material -- although they don't define it, making some kinds of content of ambiguous acceptability.)

Ourmedia is still in alpha, with many features yet to be implemented; nonetheless, it currently has over 34,000 publishers uploading material to the site. It's easy to find fault with the current version -- and not so easy to get a good connection for some of the content -- but it's not hard to see the potential this system contains. Given a good tagging, searching and rating system (imagine a Technorati model on top of the content, for example), Ourmedia could provide a powerful alternative to traditional media, both for news and information as well as entertainment.

But what struck me about Ourmedia was the model it suggests for future activism. I've written before about the "green panopticon," the notion that abundant networked video capture tools (e.g., cameraphones) would enable a kind of information sharing about both problems and solutions. Previous discussion of such a system focused on the tools for creating the video stories; this, then, is the other end of that system, the mechanism for sharing the material. The same logic -- distributed collection, archival publication -- would apply to other kinds of political or activist media. I would expect to see, for example, a nascent online archive of personal videos of campaign rallies and candidate meetings by the 2006 election in the US, and a widely-used system by 2008. Just as savvy political figures in 2004 saw the utility of blogs and "meetup" groups, cutting-edge candidates in 2008 will be taking advantage of a distribution method for interviews and conversations with voters that is both more personal and able to bypass the gatekeepers at the cable news media.

That assumes, of course, that Americans embrace the system. But there are good reasons to believe that, despite its US origins, Ourmedia could come to be dominated by voices from outside of North America. The first is the slower use of cameraphones and the like in the US (PDF); the more widespread use of mobile networked video devices (as well as faster mobile networks) in Europe and Asia means more potential source material. The second is the slower broadband growth in the US; it's simply easier (and, in most cases, cheaper) for people in much of Europe and Asia to upload and download larger media files.

If I were to make a guess as to who would be most likely to take real advantage of a system like Ourmedia, I'd have to say the citizens of South Korea. South Korea already has the highest broadband use rates in the world (25% of inhabitants, vs. 13% for the US), and is home to companies making advanced (and popular) camera and video phones (the research PDF linked above puts cameraphone penetration in South Korea at 32%, behind only Japan and Germany). The success of OhMyNews means that many South Koreans are comfortable with bottom-up citizen media, and may look at Ourmedia as a terrific place to host their material. If anyone from Ourmedia is reading this, I strongly suggest hiring a Korean translator for the site ASAP.

Have any WorldChanging readers made use of Ourmedia yet? What has your experience been with the system?

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Comments

Jamais, great writeup and analysis. I'm the exec director and co-founder of Ourmedia.org (and I'd be happy to hear about both successes and problems that folks have had with the site).

We've spent our first four months shaking out the bugs and adding new features and functionalities (still have a long way to go on our roadmap).

We have moderators now in 10 countries, and we're still adding 2,000 members a week, but we need more volunteers (moderators, coders). We hope that Ourmedia will increasingly be seen as a home for citizens media, whether it's covering political conventions or newsworthy events.

As for the international dimension, we'd love to discuss creating foreign-language versions of Ourmedia, for South Korea or elsewhere.


Posted by: JD Lasica on 13 Aug 05



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