MozFest 2015: Why open-source, -science, -knowledge, etc. can't be passive

At MozFest you’ll hear the word “open” a lot – open data, open news, open knowledge, open science, open web and so on. I wondered, though, what does “open” really mean?

A few years ago, I found out about open source software. My understanding at the time was that open sourcing a project was simply allowing other people to see its code. That simple understanding was enough to get by. But after hearing “open” prepended in so many different ways here in London, I decided to reevaluate my basic understanding.

The Oxford Dictionary says that open means “allowing access, passage, or a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked” or “exposed to the air or to view; not covered.” So in the context of MozFest, I think that open means accessible, available, and transparent. Open is a commitment to lowering the barriers to entry and ensuring that information can be understood, utilized, or improved upon by all who seek to do so.

From that perspective, open source software might be more than just sharing the code or the dataset. Without documentation or curation, can the information be fully accessible? And maybe we should question usability too; who can or cannot make use of this project? There are many similar questions that we can ask to evaluate and develop the openness of our work. This brings into view issues of inclusion, internationalization, and privilege.

My biggest takeaway is that openness is necessary in building and empowering communities and that openness is active. Over the course of MozFest, I had the opportunity to talk to a few people from The Engine Room, School of Data, and the Open Knowledge Foundation. What excited me the most about their work was that they each approached opening information in a unique and active way. To me, this highlights that openness is a full process. It starts at motivation and education, goes through development and mentorship, and ends in social and technological innovation.

In that sense, I think openness is a digital citizen’s responsibility.

About the author

Bomani McClendon

Student Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

  • Bringing Historical Data to Census Reporter

    A Visualization and Research Review

    An Introduction Since Census Reporter’s launch in 2014, one of our most requested features has been the option to see historic census data. Journalists of all backgrounds have asked for a simplified way to get the long-term values they need from Census Reporter, whether it’s through our data section or directly from individual profile pages. Over the past few months I’ve been working to make that a reality. With invaluable feedback from many of you,......

    Continue Reading

  • How We Brought A Chatbot To Life

    Best Practice Guide

    A chatbot creates a unique user experience with many benefits. It gives the audience an opportunity to ask questions and get to know more about your organization. It allows you to collect valuable information from the audience. It can increase interaction time on your site. Bot prototype In the spring of 2017, our Knight Lab team examined the conversational user interface of Public Good Software’s chatbot, which is a chat-widget embedded within media partner sites.......

    Continue Reading

  • Stitching 360° Video

    For the time-being, footage filmed on most 360° cameras cannot be directly edited and uploaded for viewing immediately after capture. Different cameras have different methods of outputting footage, but usually each camera lens corresponds to a separate video file. These video files must be combined using “video stitching” software on a computer or phone before the video becomes one connected, viewable video. Garmin and other companies have recently demonstrated interest in creating cameras that stitch......

    Continue Reading

  • Publishing your 360° content

    Publishing can be confusing for aspiring 360° video storytellers. The lack of public information on platform viewership makes it nearly impossible to know where you can best reach your intended viewers, or even how much time and effort to devote to the creation of VR content. Numbers are hard to come by, but were more available in the beginning of 2016. At the time, most viewers encountered 360° video on Facebook. In February 2016, Facebook......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More