Yin-ing and yang-ing open everything

June 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

Writing up Open Everything Toronto debrief notes, I realized that striking the right yin-yang between impressive and surprising examples of ‘open’ will be one of the most critical factors for future events.


Open now has it’s fair share of large scale success. Linux. Apache. Wikipedia. 70 million CC photos on Flickr. While increasingly commonplace and obvious, these examples are unquestionably impressive. They show that open works.

On the flip side, we are seeing values and tactics commonly associated with open source trickle out into all sorts of new places. Embroidery. Tinkering. Office space. Teaching. Salad. These examples are surprising, and intriguing. They show that open is spreading.

Many people came to Open Everything expecting to talk about one or the other of these things. Our aim was to give them was a mashup of both. We succeeded most in the speedgeek sessions. At two ends of the impressive vs. surprising spectrum:

Marcus Bornfreund gave a super compelling but very basic talk on how Creative Commons licensing works. Surprising? Not really. However, Creative Commons is an impressive, established part of the open world we are building. It illustrates some basic principles (remixing) and tactics (hacking the law rather than waiting to rewrite it), ideas that were new to many people at the Toronto event.

Mark Kuznicki talked about ‘unconferencing public policy’. Mark and his fellow Metronauts are basically applying the BarCamp model to get people involved in redesigning the Greater Toronto Area’s transportation network. Impressive? Yes, but still small scale. Surprising? Absolutely, and also pushing the envelope. With the Mentronauts TransitCamps, we see open culture and tactics stretching not only beyond digital goods into real world processes (this is BarCamp’s claim to fame) … but also beyond tech into public policy.

The thing is: the impressive examples on their own can be boring. Most of us have heard them all before. The surprising examples alone are intriguing, but unproven and sometimes even trivial in the global scheme of things. Yet, when you look at large scale examples like Wikipedia side-by-side with the huge diversity of emerging experiments, open everything comes to life. Something huge and multidimensional is going on here. A playful yin yang dance between impressive and surprising helps to explain this. It makes it real, and understandable.

The Toronto dance wasn’t perfect. The speedgeek was good, but we could have used more of the ‘surprising’ in other parts of the event. It was a bit too tech. Having called the question, I don think this will be hard to improve on in future events. Of course, new examples on the surprising side are always welcome. If you’ve got ’em, post ’em.

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