Interview: Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation)


Mark pic by Kate

Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and program chair of Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival, kindly gave me an interview about Drumbeat and why the Open Web is so relevant.

In three sentences: What is Drumbeat?

Mozilla DrumbeatOk. Three sentences. I’ll try 1. Mozilla exists to make sure the internet stays open and awesome. 2. With Drumbeat, we’re moving beyond Firefox to build more things that make the web better — not just software. 3. We’re doing this by reaching out new kinds of people — teachers, filmmakers, lawyers, journalists.

Why is that important?

It’s important because these people — in fact all of us — will have an impact on the future of the web, on what the web becomes.

If we care about the internet for the long run, that means getting people like educators involved in shaping the web in their world. Especially educators who are trying to disrupt and innovate. We can give them open web tools and thinking to help do this, which in turn helps the education web move in the right direction — towards something open, free and hackable.

This same scenario plays out with journalists, artists, filmmakers and so on. We want to help the innovators in these spaces take best advantage of the web, get them on board as our allies.

Which fields is Drumbeat focusing on?

Education and cinema are the two places we’ve put the most attention on in the first year. You can look at:

P2PU School of Webcraft, where we’re helping to build a free online school where web developers teach each other.

And Web Made Movies, a lab where filmmakers and engineers work together invent new kinds of web films.

These are examples of the kinds of things we want to do with Drumbeat. There are dozens more small projects brewing. I think you’ll see some the ones in journalism and art grow bigger next year.

In November you’re planning the Drumbeat Festival. What’s that?

It’s a crazy event where 400 people come to talk about the connections between learning, freedom and the web. And make things. And have fun.

More concretely: we have working on everything from web developer education to open text books to hackerspaces coming. And alot of tech and open source people. The ideas for them to find ways to shape the future of learning together.

It’s meant to be the first of many events like this, where we invite the the kind of people we’d like to bring into Drumbeat, find ways to work together and to work with each other.

Next year, we’ll likely have a different theme. Maybe ‘media, freedom and the web’?

How can the rest of us get involved?

It really depends what your interested in. If you are an educator or filmmaker, the projects I’ve mentioned above are easy entry points. And there will be more entry points in places like journalism, art, etc. coming very soon. Same goes if you’re a web developer or engineer who wants to help on projects like these.

More broadly than this, there want to do local Drumbeat events and a online activities and challenges that almost anyone can get involved in. We toyed with this in 2010, but really plan to go bigger with them next year.

Drumbeat Festival is from Nov 3-5 at Barcelona. The (already pretty sweet) program is further developed in the Wiki. Register for Drumbeat Festival here.

The interview was first published on under a CC by-nc-sa license. Photo by Mark Surman (some rights reserved).

Video: Augmented Reality in Education


Augmented Reality – VFX Breakdown from soryn on Vimeo.

A nice (if somewhat slick and artificial) video showcase of how augmented reality could be used in day-to-day educational work. Of course most the stuff shown here is in that odd space where on the one hand the technology is available, but on the others, the available interfaces are too awkward nowadays. Still, a neat little thing. The main point, anyway, is that educational resources could be pimped to a level where you could really transfer a lot of information in a very visual, easy-to-understand way. Much more so than current online learning environment allow. Ah, the futures. Enjoy!

Facebook for teaching and learning


For Barcelona/Spain-based Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), Max Senges, Thomas Praus and I write a blog on technological trends and innovation in education. In the blog – called UOC Fórum Innovació – we look at the opportunities social media and web 2.0 technologies offer for education in universities and other fields.

We’ve been writing this for a little while now with rather low frequency, but we’re getting to a point where we produce more steady output. Partly we cover basics, partly more edgy ideas. This one is a classic, Thomas about how Facebook can be of value for university education:

Social Communities have grown rapidly over the last years, offering people the chance to publish personal information and connect with each other. The biggest social community today is Facebook with more than 120 million members. Due to the myriad possibilities to use Facebook, there many ways to support teaching and learning. Facebook started in 2004 at Harvard University and was aimed at connecting students. Now, almost every American student and many Europeans have profiles on Facebook. They use it to share information, such as links, photos and videos, to arrange real life events and to communicate in groups. The use of Facebook also shows the current cultural differences between teachers who slowly have to adapt to new technologies and students who grew up with digital communication. The differences in media use and learning behaviour between so called “digital native learners” and “digital immigrant teachers” are shown below. Understanding how to use Facebook opens up a way to stepping closer to actual student behaviour and to create a more appropriate way of teaching. image source: Apple Image source: Apple

Read more…

Creative Commons for German Public TV Could Save Costs, Archives


German public TV and the Some Rights Reserved content licenses by Creative Commons don’t seem to be a natural mix.

Then again, maybe they do.

As NDR, one of Germany’s regional public TV stations, proved by putting some shows under Creative Commons, open licenses and public TV may be a pretty good match indeed. (This goes both ways: During production of pieces, for example by using Creatice Commons music, and to license the TV shows.)

(For the US-Americans of you: Public TV plays a very different role in the media landscape in Germany than it does in the US. Like, people actually watch it, and it’s good stuff.)

At re:publica, Chief Editor of NDR Online Jürgen Werwinski shared the broadcaster’s experiences with going Creative Commons. Despite quite a bit of internal resistance (or rather: unfamiliarity with the subject), the station hasn’t regretted taking the steps towards to licensing their content more freely. After all, all the content is paid for by public funds, and making the content accessible is part of the public stations’ legal mission. (At, Markus Beckedahl has been asking for more Creative Commons-licensed coverage for a long time.)

To stress my point of how important freely licensed content from public stations is, let me share a story that a friend told me. She works for public TV, where she’s an editor for a kids news program, Logo. The show is great, and also technically up to date, they even offer all the shows as a video podcast. Yet, the archive only goes about a week back, then disappears.

Of course, the shows don’t get deleted (I assume), but they aren’t accessible from the outside anymore. This is, to a large extent, due to the background and atmo music used in the news pieces: The music licenses only cover online use for a week or so, after that extra licensing fees would be due. Of course, the stations can’t just go on and keep paying ever-growing amounts of licensing fees of public funds, so they hide the archives. Effectively, this destroys these huge amounts of great shows which would be a priceless knowledge base for kids and teachers.

For obvious reasons, Creative Commons or similar licenses would help solve this issue single-handedly. Depending on the exact license, the music is available free of monetary costs, i.e. the stations wouldn’t have to pay at all; All they would have to to is credit the works, and – again, depending on the license – also license their content for external use. (More about share-alike licenses here, German version here.)

This, of course, is a highly political decision: Do we really want to give up a little bit of control, open up, and allow people out there to distribute our content freely?

My take? Yes, yes, and yes.

That’s not because I’m an info anarchist. (I’m not!)

Creative Commons make perfect rational sense for the public TV stations to use to fulfill their mission.

Why is that? First of all, Creative Commons licenses make it easy for viewers (users? citizens?) to share the content they like. This has both a valuable social aspect and helps the stations distribute their content more cost-efficiently. More reach, better distribution, easier and more wide-spread access.

Second, if you allow viewers to use and endorse this publicly funded content, it increases the feeling of ownership. That’s a key issue for public education.

Third, Creative Commons allows for fairly granular control of what you want to allow to do with your content. (An overview of the available licenses here.) For example, you could allow non-commercial use only, or also allow commercial use. (Non-commercial probably being the right way to go in this particular case.) Also, while allowing to remix your shows is pretty darn awesome, it’s understandable that institutions like public TV stations wouldn’t be comfortable with remixed versions of their content, so they could settle for non-derivative use, i.e. a no-remix license. Only the show as such may be redistributed, no changes allowed. This is particularly important if you’re worried about your stuff being used out of context.

Fourth, it’s free advertisement, as every show needs to be credited to the original creator.

Fifth, and most importantly, without the licensing fees you get an ever-growing archive of shows and knowledge that you don’t have to take offline anytime, ever.

And sixth, not having to pay licensing fees means saving a lot of money. This money can then be spent on furthering the cause of spreading knowledge and fulfilling public TV’s legal mission.

Of course, there are downsides as well.

First, in day-to-day work, editors often pick music more or less by association: If you deal with a certain topic and a song just comes to mind, this song it is. (Example? It’s a piece on the end of the school year, so School’s Out by Alice Cooper it is.) This works well and is easy to do because we all have a common base of pop cultural references we grew up with. Most Creative Commons songs haven’t reached this kind of popularity, they simply haven’t been around long enough. (Keep in mind that CC have been around for less than a decade.)

Second, this very mechanism (or lack thereof) also means that it takes longer to pick songs, simply because the editor has to go through a lot of songs to find some stuff they see fit.

However, these problems seem to be temporary – once the mechanisms are in place and editors get more familiar with what’s out there, speed picks up. Also, more and more songs become available as I’m typing this. There’s no inherent reason not to switch to a different policy here.

Who can change this policy?

Now the tricky part is who to talk to about this. As I see it, there are two main arguments you could make to convince the stations to switch to Creative Commons licenses, both for their own content and the music they use:

First, the mission statement argument: Creative Commons can help the stations fulfill their missions as best as they can by making access to their publicly funded contents easier. We’re talking distribution and archives here.

Second, the cost argument: Without horrendous music licensing fees, the shows can be produced with the same level of quality but for less money, making a more cost-efficient alternative. The savings can be used to either produce more stuff or to experiment with new formats, both of which the stations have inherent and legitimate interest in.

So where are the economists out there to crunch the numbers? Who’s got the ear of the decision-makers? This is something we all should be interested in. I’m very interested in personally, and I could imagine some of you are, too. Get in touch?

My Masters Thesis On Weblogs And Political Journalists: Now Available On Amazon


Exciting news (well, for me): My masters thesis on the Relevance of Weblogs for the Work of Political Journalists just went into print. (It’s German only, sorry, but you’ll find the abstract at the end of this post.)

The thesis is now available through

Author: Peter Bihr Publisher: Vdm Verlag Dr. Müller (March 2008) ISBN-10: 3836464292 ISBN-13: 978-3836464291 Pages: 228 Price: 79 Euros

A bit of a steep price, if you ask me, but that’s not my decision. On the other hand, props and thanks to my publisher VDM for being so open-minded when it came to using Creative Commons. They’ve been incredibly supportive when we negotiated the licensing details, so the full text is also available as a free download under a Creative Commons license here (PDF, ca. 1MB, 227 pages).

If you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch through email ( or through the contact form.

And here’s what the thesis is about:

Abstract As either competition or partners of traditional media, weblogs are assumed to become increasingly relevant for journalism (see Gillmor 2006, Neuberger 2006b, Bucher/Büffel 2006, Benkler 2006): In US election campaigns, bloggers have long since become heavyweights in their role as political commentators, and in Germany corporations and political parties also increasingly use weblogs as a means of communication.

How relevant are weblogs for the day-to-day work of political journalists in Germany? For this study, I interviewed political journalists working at German newspapers (print and online) as well as news agencies about the relevance of weblogs for their work.

The interviewed political journalists attested weblogs to be of little relevance for their work. Weblogs were attributed more relevance for international political reporting than for domestic political reporting.

Keywords: Weblogs, Blogs, Blogosphere, Political Journalists, Citizen Journalism, Participatory Journalism, Web 2.0, Journalism

Twitter In Plain English


Lee LeFever has struck again: This time, he explains Twitter In Plain English:

If you’re not familiar with the format, make sure to check out the other installments of The CommonCraft Show – so far, they’ve failed to disappoint, ever. It’s just great stuff.

(If you speak German, there’s also a quite funny take on Twitter on Disclosure: I was involved in shooting the Blogpiloten-Video.)