Steal This Siddur
If anyone might be poised to understand how a project of decentralized authority and radically distributive ownership could operate in a market-based economy, it would be the treasurer of a kibbutz.
That's precisely the profile of Yochai Benkler, who emerged from Kibbutz Shizafon to become, in the estimation of Lawrence Lessig, "the leading intellectual of the information age." Here, in a video by the TED conference series, he explains how collaborative enterprises like Wikipedia and open source software are transforming not only our economy but our culture:
As Benkler indicates, our emerging economy will be built on networks. This model comes naturally to Jews, who, as a dispersed people, have been "networking" for millennia.
But in Israel, while the networking culture is robust, the country's grounding in military technology might cause it to lag in the open source world. To address the issue, the workshop/venture capital fund Cantina was launched to push open source technology into the spotlight in the Holy Land. A video from the Israeli media agency Leadel introduces the players:
We must remember, of course, that while open source technology has fueled remarkable Jewish innovations like the Open Siddur Project, it has at times enabled an atmosphere of bias, mob rule, and worse. What's next? Well, in this knowledge economy, we may no longer be able to passively observe or predict. Rather, we'll all be cast as a participatory—and judgmental—Fourth Estate.
The larger problems in the Jewish open source world are:
* Proprietary interests blocking access: There's a lot of digitized Jewish material out there, and much of it was digitized using philanthropic or even taxpayer money. But it's also locked behind new-copyright claims and end user license agreements, effectively closing it to the open source world, so effort (time and money) must be wasted in duplication in order to open up access to it, let alone the ability to comment on it, translate it, openly link it, and otherwise improve it.
* It's too small: There's a lot of Jewish material out there and there simply aren't enough volunteers currently out there who are technically able and/or willing to devote the time to the great task of digitizing and making them available.
* Funders don't understand it: "Open source" is a buzzword in the Jewish community, but the people using the term don't understand what it means. While some small open source (and partially open source) projects have been funded, funders who like to think they're thinking big prefer small projects with small goals that require little followup or community building after their completion.
Further, not all open source projects must involve consensus of ideas. Wikipedia necessarily has one article per topic, so consensus is important. (I dispute that Wikipedia's consensus model is broken, but that's another topic.) Open Siddur (Disclosure: I am lead developer there) has no political or denominational affiliation, and emphasizes pluralism. The system is being built from the ground up to support textual variants. While the content that goes up now on the opensiddur.org blog and has to go through a gatekeeper, we do very little gatekeeping and publish under the disclaimer that the project does not endorse the views of its contributors. When our application is ready, users will simply enter variant texts directly without any gatekeeping. Trolling may become a problem, but, as of now, it isn't. In the worst case, the user can simply ignore material he or she doesn't like.
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