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Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

EDITED TO ADD: Please see this followup post, and subscribe to the saveaussiemusic mailing list if you’re interested in this project.

So I’ve been thinking about this project for a while, and it doesn’t have a name, but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. At least I have my startup-style it’s X for Y pitch: it’s like for Australian indie music.

Tweet by mendel: @Skud "Like what for Australian indie music?" "Like the Web Archive of BBS era text files, for Australian indie music." "The web what?" :D

Yeah, well, let me explain.

For background, I’d better start by saying I was pretty terminally uncool, music-wise, in the 80s and early 90s. My family weren’t big on following popular music, I lived somewhere with no decent record stores, records were priced out of my range, and even at school the kids I hung with weren’t hip enough to make mix tapes of anything much but Top 40 stuff. Despite this, I somehow got exposed to a certain amount of Australian indie and alternative music. I say “somehow” because I honestly don’t know where I heard most of this stuff. I guess 3XY and EON-FM, early on. Later, I listened to a lot of Triple J, and watched Rage.

These days, of course, I get most of my musical knowledge and exposure from the Interwebs, and the availability of digital downloads and information about musicians is really helping me backfill a lot of the older Australian music I wish I’d known better at the time.

Like, for example, The Go-Betweens, a Brisbane indie band that I was only faintly aware of until a few years ago, when Grant McLennan died and many of my friends online were expressing sadness at his passing. Of course I quickly figured out that they were part of the soundtrack of my childhood and teens, I just didn’t know them.

The Go-Betweens were pretty well known, and it’s not hard to find their albums, but a lot of equally important Australian music from the 70s to 90s is no longer readily obtainable. Much of it’s not available for (legal) digital download. In many cases CDs are out of print, or there may never have been a CD release, and the only version is vinyl mouldering in someone’s garage. Even information about older Australian music is hard to find: now-defunct labels and publications don’t have websites, and bands that would otherwise pass Wikipedia’s notability guidelines often don’t have articles because it’s so hard to find sources/citations. Only a handful of hobbyist websites and generous-hearted bloggers are keeping vast swathes of our musical heritage alive.

So why did this happen? Well, obscure music is always hard to find. That’s what makes it obscure. But in Australia even a bunch of pretty well known stuff, stuff I grew up on in my no-hipster-cred-whatsoever suburban youth, is rare as hen’s teeth now. For some reason, music that was released on the Mushroom and Festival labels was particularly likely to have this problem. So I asked around, and learnt that those labels, which had released some of the best music of my adolescence, had been consumed first by News Corp and then by Warner, who didn’t care enough to keep the back-catalogs available. I don’t even know how many smaller labels were caught up in this, but I’m guessing plenty.

(The good news is that this seems to be clearing up a little now. More stuff seems to be available in iTunes since last time I checked, and I hear that Warner recently sold back Flying Nun Records (NZ) to the original owners. So there is hope.)

So here’s what I want to do. I’d like to start a project for people — techies, music nerds, archivists, whoever — to come together and work on projects to preserve and disseminate (information about) Australian music, in as free and open a manner as possible: open source code, creative commons licenses, non-commercial and optimised for maximum sharing and reuse.

First project (something I’ve been meaning to do anyway) is to extract pertinent facts about artists, albums, and labels from a variety of online sources (such as, for example, the archived website of The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop) and use it to update MusicBrainz (and from there, hundreds of sites and apps that use MusicBrainz’s data).

Then I’d like to make sure that any Australian musical acts that are sufficiently notable have Wikipedia entries. In many cases this will mean grovelling through pre-Internet dead trees publications, but I’m going to be in Australia and probably unemployed through the summer and I hear that libraries have air conditioning and Internet access these days, so that actually sounds quite pleasant. Along the way, I hope to make a resource list for other Australians who’d like to do the same thing: which libraries have useful collections of music periodicals? Who’s got zines or clippings they’ll scan if you contact them? What online archives already exist for you to trawl through? That sort of thing.

Those two projects are pretty simple, but they’re important because free, open-licensed online resources will be the foundation for later projects. I don’t even know what these later projects are, yet; I just know that having the information out there will make them easier.

So, I’ll take a shot at MusicBrainz and Wikipedia regardless of whether anyone else is interested. I suspect that lots of people are interested, though, and that with a sufficient number and variety of participants there are a lot of other, more ambitious things we could try.

So I’m looking for coders, open data nerds, Wikimedians, librarians and archivists, scholars, music journalists, zinesters, fans, broadcasters, copyright law experts, free culture advocates, and past and present musicians, producers, promoters, and label folks who might be interested in this project. I’m planning to set up a mailing list and/or website for it, so leave a comment below with your email address (which will be hidden, not shown to the public) and I’ll let you know when there’s something to join.

Also, still looking for a name. Ideas welcome.

EDITED TO ADD: Please see this followup post, and subscribe to the saveaussiemusic mailing list if you’re interested in this project.

Image credit: the image used on the front page of to link to this post is a collage of clips from Party Fears, a Perth music zine from the 80s-90s now archived online by its creator, David Gerard.
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Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

TL;DR version: please go to and donate $512 (or more) to fund vital work supporting women in open technology and culture.

The Ada Initiative Seed 100 campaign: donate in June to support women in open technology and culture

Longer version:

In May 2009 I was invited to keynote the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) speaking about two open source projects that had large numbers of female contributors. I was asked to make the talk “positive” and offer constructive suggestions other projects could follow, rather than focusing on the problems women face in open source, so that’s what I did. But I knew that no matter how positive my spin, people would take issue with what I said, and that I could expect negativity, trolls, and harassment for my pains. I knew, too, that I would undoubtedly burn out, but that I could probably manage a year of being the go-to woman on the subject before I had to withdraw for my own sanity.

The person who taught me most about burnout, back in 2009, was Valerie Aurora. Valerie is a Linux kernel hacker who, in 2002, wrote “HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux“. When I met her — at the same OSCON where I gave that keynote — she was burnt out on “women in open source” activism and had decided that the best way for her to encourage women was simply to be an awesome kernel hacker and a good technical role model.

Then in late 2010, a mutual friend of ours was sexually assaulted at an open source conference, spoke up about it online, and received further abuse for doing so. After that, Valerie decided that simply being a role model wasn’t enough, and that she needed to wade back into the “women in open source” fray. Only, this time, she was going to be smart: instead of trying to fit a second shift of activism around an already busy software development workload, she quit her job at Red Hat and, together with Mary Gardiner, founded The Ada Initiative, a non-profit focused on helping women in open technology and culture.

One of the Ada Initiative’s most successful initiatives to date is their work on conference anti-harassment policies, which Valerie started even before the Ada Initiative had officially been launched. Their anti-harassment work isn’t just about empty words, but about helping event organisers develop and communicate policies that actually make conferences safer and more welcoming for women and others. So far conferences including, Ubuntu Developer Summits, and all Linux Foundation events including LinuxCon, Linux Plumbers, etc, have adopted policies based on the Ada Initiative’s work, and at least one conference this year has managed to respond effectively to an incident because they had the policy in place. There’s more information about anti-harassment policies on the GF wiki.

The Ada Initiative do not charge for consulting on these issues. However, they’re not a volunteer organisation. They know, as I do, that volunteer activists burn out quickly, as they try to balance activism (and dealing with the harassment and abuse the receive for that activism) with their jobs as software engineers, sysadmins, etc. Instead, the Ada Initiative employs full time staff (read their bios) who can devote themselves to projects that require more time and energy than busy volunteers usually have available.

To support this work, and other projects they have planned, they need funding. They already have a number of corporate sponsorships, are planning a general fundraising drive for smaller donors, but right now they’re reaching out to those people who’ve said “I really want to help, what can I do?” and asking them — especially those who are well-paid tech industry people themselves — to contribute $512 or more to their work. 100 “seed” funders at this level will help the Ada Initiative through their startup phase and support the next phase of their work.

I don’t know what each of you is paid, but based on the after-tax pay I get from my tech industry job, $512 is about 2 days’ work. I’ve put in at least 3 months’ solid work on this issue since 2009, so when I think about that, 2 days doesn’t seem like much.

Lots of people — equally senior people in the tech industry — have said to me, over the past couple of years, “I’d love to help but I don’t know where to start or where my contribution would be most useful.” To those people, I say, please donate to the Ada Initiative.

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Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

I’ve been having this conversation a bit lately so I just wanted to put it out there.

From 1998-2007 I worked full time in open source software. I considered myself a member of the open source community. Open source was kind of my “thing”.

This is no longer true.

I still use open source software extensively (I’m writing this in WordPress, using Mozilla on Gnome on Ubuntu), but then, so does everyone, whether they know it or not. Sometime around the early 2000s, Linux and other open source software stopped being a fringe, weirdo thing and started just being a sensible choice for most Internet projects. And since almost everything’s on the Internet these days, well, open source is just something that is.

To put it another way: if the open source movement were a software project, I’d say that software project is in maintenance mode. It’s out there, it has widespread adoption, and while there’s still work to be done, it’s more the ongoing work of keeping things going than the initial big push to get it launched. And I’m not much good at maintenance projects.

So what am I doing these days? When people ask me I usually say, “Open… stuff.” And then I wave my hands a bit. In my day job with Freebase I mostly work with open data. But I’m also interested in those sort of open principles as they’re applied to other aspects of our lives.

A short list of things I consider to fall under the umbrella of “open stuff”:

  • Intellectual property reform and alternatives to the current copyright system (eg. Creative Commons, anti-DMCA efforts, etc.)
  • Increased access to knowledge, information, and art (Wikipedia, open access journals, Scarleteen)
  • Decentralised social networking platforms (StatusNet, Diaspora)
  • Radical online collaboration and novel ways for groups to work together online (Wikipedia, of course, but also Anonymous, which I think is fascinating and important even if I mostly disagree with them)
  • Using technology to connect and empower members of marginalised groups (Genderplayful Marketplace, disability hacking)
  • Using the Internet for social change and grassroots political activism (too many to list, but #jan25 seems timely)
  • Non-traditional, non-hierarchical ways of working on projects (Agile, consensus-driven, anarchic)
  • Grass-roots, community-run, egalitarian events (unconferences and the like)
  • Unofficial/unlicensed fan activities, especially creative/critical/transformative fanworks and the communities around them (Organization for Transformative Works, vidding, scanlation)
  • Small-business and micro-entrepreneurial activities on the Internet, especially as they enable independent artists/writers/musicians/creators (Etsy, Kickstarter, Bandcamp)

There’s more, of course, but all those are things that excite me. It feels like there’s something broader there — not just software, but a whole cluster of Internet-related things that are about giving people more options, more ways to express themselves, more ways to make a difference, more ways to (at the risk of sounding a bit woo-woo) realise their potential. Ideally while not being beholden to, or at the risk of being shut down by, any one corporation or government or institution.

Of course open source software is a part of this, but I don’t think it’s the only part, and it’s definitely not the leading or most important part for me any more. So, if you invite me to speak or write or come to an open source event or whatever, and I say “I don’t really work in open source any more,” this is what I’m talking about. Hope that makes sense.

(That said, if you read this and you’d still like me to speak/write/attend your open source thing and talk about “open stuff” in a more general sense, let me know.)

Dolores Park mural

Random pic is random: Dolores Park mural, at the corner of 18th and Guerrero, San Francisco. In the style of Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

April 2014

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