Novacut: Not just vaporware.

I am not here to be a cynic and say that Novacut's funding efforts will fail (again). I am writing to say that the only way for the ideas behind Novacut to be realized is to stop pretending that throwing $25K worth of funding at it could possibly save the project. Over the past year, Novacut has put almost all effort into soliciting money. In the amount of time it would've taken to implement these features in existing software, Novacut has mainly been producing advertisements for itself.

What Novacut is doing is harmful to free software, especially existing video editors. While the broader goals of the Novacut project, like decentralized collaboration, are admirable and deserve support, the project's current course will only serve to further splinter an area of free software that has already suffered enough from people thinking they can make something better from scratch.

Graph illustrating the current state of free software video editors. 

I don't like writing about this, especially knowing how much an individual has poured into this effort, but it needs to be said. I don't think that Novacut should disappear, but its current path needs serious reevaluation.
Kickstarter is a very cool platform for funding all sorts of great projects. The problem is that sometimes, maybe even often, successful funding depends on making high quality videos to advertise the project, rather than the actual ability to complete the project. Even if we let that slide, is Novacut a worthwhile project? When all existing free software projects for some purpose (like video editing) are fundamentally flawed in some way, unable to incoporate a major innovation, or simply has an unwelcoming community, then starting a new project or forking an existing one may be necessary. This is not one of those times.
Jason Gerard DeRose, the one-man show behind Novacut, wants to reinvent the wheel and the axel, build a self-powered vehicle on them, open up a mobile ice cream shop, and have you fund it for him. Don't get me wrong, Jason has some cool ideas, but the project as it exists (or is envisioned to exist) today, is doomed to failure. A list of things you wish your video editor would do is not deserving of $25K worth of funding. Novacut displays an impressive combination of setting ridiculous goals, being unwilling to collaborate with existing projects, and deceptively marketing toward artists that are not intimately familiar with the ecosystem of free software video editing.
If Novacut gets the funding Jason is asking for, the money wasted isn't even the biggest issue. Novacut is distracting from worthwhile projects and promoting a development model that doesn't work, building a bad reputation for projects that really do deserve support.
Novacut is all talk and marketing and no code. All there is to show are some simple HTML5+JavaScript video demos: a video player/scrubber does not make a desktop video editor. Spending so much time on identity and branding, and having no code beyond the tiny demos to show for it, is becoming a trend that needs to be stopped.

What even is the Novacut project? Let's try not to feel too uncomfortable while we go through their awkward buzzword-inflated infomercial-style videos.
In their first Kickstarter video, they talk about a few ideas. Jason describes his vision to create video project "source code" to let you see all the files and editing done to produce a final cut. This is commonly known as the combination of the input media files and the project or save files from the video editing tools used. Nothing magical about it. You can't create a video editor without "video source code". Every video editor has this. It's simply up to the people doing the work whether they actually share their source files. Jason describes it as if this "source code" would also be contained in the actual video file you watch, but personally, I don't want to download 50GB of source files just to watch an episode of a show.
Next, he talks about a distributed workflow. This seems to be the only "unique" idea behind Novacut, and it's a good one, but we'll get into that later. This will be powered by a piece of software Novacut is writing called dmedia, the Distributed Media Library. The demo of Novacut's reimagining of the classic video timeline, equivalent to Final Cut's storyboard mode, is rather elegant, but there is not even a mockup to illustrate how collaborative editing will look, or even any aspect of editing other than this "slice and sequence" prototype.
He closes with a brief remark mentioning a "better business model" for artists, without describing what that entails. Next, Tara Oldfield appears to discuss creating a community of "teachers and learners" again, without giving out any details, but that would require some sort of web distribution platform. Oh yes! In this interview with OMG! Ubuntu!, Jason describes the plan for monetizing Novacut:
"After the initial editor development, we'll be building an online marketplace though which artists can distribute their work to their fans, and through which fans can support the artists they love. 
Our business model is for artists to make money, and when they do, we take a cut to cover the costs of the infrastructure we provide. As we won't require exclusivity and artists will retain ownership of their work, artists will always be free to seek other venues. This puts good pressure on us to truly take care of artists, to constantly earn their business. The marketplace will allow us to fund the video editor's long-term development."

So Novacut will be tied to this online marketplace? This is turning into a rather large project. Still, the idea of an online marketplace to fund the development of a free software video editor isn't a bad idea, and it is especially nice that all videos will be required to use a copyleft license approved for free cultural works. But what about that distributed workflow? In the video for their current Kickstarter campagn, 100 tickets for their "Novacut cloud" are advertised for anyone who gives them $300 or more. So wait, even the video editing will be tied to a web service? I'm willing to bet hosting all those source files won't be cheap.
So, the Novacut project aims to build an unilateral, top to bottom, storyboarding, script writing, video editing, and distribution platform consisting of three major components: the collaboration-enabled editor itself, the community platform for distributed production, and the distribution venue. Let's ignore the last two, since the video editor itself needs to exist before those can even begin.

What has the Novacut video editor promised us? Video source code and distributed/decentralized workflows. Again, this is something every video with a "save" button already has. Novacut's solution to this seems to be storing or at least tracking all resources remotely, allowing multiple people to make changes, and then resynchronizing the changes. Not only is that not actually real-time collaboration, but this sounds like a whole mess of added complexity to both the user interface and the video "source code". Somehow, after writing yet another video editor from scratch, they will also be able to build complicated functionality to support their cloud service, a service that is not truly decentralized as you will have to host it yourself, or likely pay someone to host it for you. Jason has admitted that he has no idea how the user interface will look to support this. There are no mockups or even informal descriptions of how it could look, only a mishmash of feature ideas he wants Novacut to have and how he wants it to be perfect.
Even if they get funded, where would the money go? What can you do for 25K a year? You can barely feed one person in the USA. Developers are typically paid $90K per year. So, you manage to feed 1 person for a year, and then what, another fundraiser every few months? This is precisely why the trend of putting all efforts into Kickstarter funding needs to end. It's sad how desperate they've become, and no free software contributor should go through this:
"We've thrown ourselves into Novacut completely, and in the process have maxed out all our credit cards, burned through every drop of savings, and borrowed basically all the money we can." 
"We're desperate. We were about a week from having to pull the plug on Novacut when FCPX was released, so we thought we'd try one last ditch effort. The sacrifices we've made to work full time on Novacut the last year... have left our lives in shambles."

In public discussions on IRC channels, Jason has repeatedly refused to build upon existing video editors for a series of wishy-washy reasons along the lines of 'I don't want to be hampered in design', when he doesn't even have concrete design plans, nevermind actual mockups, and he never even attempted to work with other projects, dismissing them as projects that would not be interested in such revolutionary changes. Yet, for one thing, PiTiVi already shares the same goals as Novacut (collaborative editing has been an idea they've been interested in for a while), and a few years ago someone already started a patch that enabled realtime collaboration. There are also plans to create a storyboard mode like in the demo. Jason has failed to provide one good reason for needing to create a separate project.
In all of Novacut's videos, the project is described as if it is the first free software video editor ever, and as if it already exists. In the most recent video, they again utter all the abstract things Novacut hopes to be, and they actually say, "This thing exists". It doesn't. In a beautiful fusion of hipness and cheesy advertising speak, this entertaining infomercial goes over all of the ideas Novacut has, as if throwing money at it will suddently make them come true: automatically syncing audio, switching clips between speakers, regular backups, checking file integrity, distributed libraries of tagged media, etc. Yet, in their own words, Novacut should be adding these on to existing projects! Pros and cons? Pros: "It's open source, so any functionality that doesn't exist right now can easily be implemented in the future by the fact that any programmer can come along and...and add that functionality." Cons: "It doesn't exist yet".
So, what should Novacut do?
Simple: narrow their focus.
For the video editor, Jason needs to just swallow his pride and join forces with PiTiVi, as he has been invited to again and again. It uses the same powerful backends that Novacut planned to use, but real-time collaborative editing is something that could could actually be implemented soon. PiTiVi has just implemented audio sync and multi-camera alignment, and surely the rest of Jason's revolutionary ideas can be implemented as well. Novacut's main purpose could shift from creating a new video editor, straight to building the web platform for sharing source files and distributing final projects to their audiences.
Novacut has been gaining momentum, and that should not go to waste. There are some good ideas that really deserve fruition, but unless Jason can get over the need to build his own fantastical media sharing and editing megaplatform, he won't be contributing to the advancement of free software video editing. 

Delete Your Facebook for Your Birthday

As the need for free (as in freedom) tools to communicate and socialize becomes increasingly urgent, more projects have been popping up to take up the challenge: GNU social and StatusNet, Crabgrass, Apache Wave, and more. The list goes on, and on. If you're not yet familiar with the issue, or even if you are, you should watch this excellent talk by Eben Moglen here:
The first step towards digital autonomy is of course to stop using services that restrict your freedom, whether they do so through unfair terms of service, disregard for your privacy, locking you in, and/or any other means. Facebook is the biggest and baddest right now, so it's a great place to start. If you're like most Facebook users, you're probably thinking something along the lines of "This is great, but I could never afford to delete my Facebook account". Really though, it isn't that bad. Instead of just having one central web service you rely on, you'll just be spread out on what you're already using (phone, text, IM, email), and perhaps picking up some new tools. It is a small sacrifice, but sometimes, what's slightly more convenient to you as an individual, is extremely harmful to society on a large scale. 
So, if you're willing to do it, there's really no better time to delete your Facebook account than on your birthday. All your friends will be coming to your page to post a quick "happy birthday" note on your wall, only to find that they can't, and that you'll be leaving. It's a great way to maximize your impact, and make sure everyone has other ways to contact you.  It's easy: 
Not f'd — you won't find me on FacebookStep 1:  A while in advance (a week or more before your birthday) - Create a Facebook event for your birthday alerting people of your decision and why. Go ahead and copy the text I used for my event: 

For my birthday, I am permanently deleting (not decativating, so I won't be able to restore) my Facebook account. The day after this event, I will export all of my data and my account will be gone! 
If you want to keep in touch, here's how you can: 
Email: [your email here] Phone/text: [your number here] IM (Jabber/Google Talk): [your Jabber ID here] [other]: [your other contact here]
Why I am leaving: 
  • Facebook is bad for the world -  They've plainly declared war on privacy, they lock users in, and they're trying to take over every aspect of our online lives (and dumb it down).​/top-ten-reasons-you-shoul​d-quit-facebook
  • Facebook is homogeneous and unilateral -  What we use to communicate shapes us. As more and more stuff goes on Facebook, the more everything we do online has to conform to Facebook's platform. It's not adding to our online presence; it's sucking it up. 
  • Facebook is annoying -  The groups, the apps, the "likes", the marketing and advertising, the constant stream of immutable noise.
Will i ever come back?
My requirements for an acceptable social networking tool are simple. It must be free software (also known as "open source"), and should be federated (think about email: you don't need a Gmail account to send mail to a Gmail account, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail users can email each other, etc). Since Facebook will likely never meet those simple requirements, I will likely never come back. 
If you want to leave too:
Read about how to delete your account, get the word out, and export your information here:

Invite all your friends to the event by using this Chromium/Google Chrome extension which adds a "select all" option to the invite window of Facebook events:
Then, if you want to increase your chances of people actually reading the event, click the "Message Guests" button and either paste in the same text, or write your own. 
Step 2: Shortly (a few days) before your birthday - Go to your Facebook privacy settings, select custom, and click the "Customize settings" link. On that page, under the "Things others share" section, uncheck the "Friends can post on my Wall" option. Then, go to your event page, hit the "Share" link to post it on your wall, and add a message like "For my birthday, I am leaving Facebook permanently". 
Step 3: On the day or the day after your birthday - Backup all of your account data then delete! Some tools for this are: 
  •​webstore/detail/ficlccidpk​aiepnnboobcmafnnfoomga Chromium and Google Chrome extension that will copy all of your friends contact info and allow you to import them into Gmail.
  •​ownload/ Go to "Download Your Information" towards the bottom of your Facebook account settings. 
  • Get even more info. 
  • Create a temporary Yahoo mail account that will allow you to import Facebook contacts. 
Not f'd — you won't find me on FacebookThen delete your account! The "Deactivate Account" option doesn't delete your account and Facebook will keep your data. To delete, use this link:​lp/contact.php?show_form=d​elete_account
Now, you can bask in the freedom. 

The Free Game Lag

My article in the Free Software Foundation's Fall 2010 Bulletin, The Free Game Lag, was just posted online. In it, I explain why proponents of software freedom should not and need not dismiss gaming as a hopeless effort for free software. The version here includes a section on Blender's free game effort, which was not included in the FSF Bulletin due to space constraints, but you can read that version here. Printed copies of the Bulletin are sent out to FSF members twice a year. If you would like to support free software and the work of the FSF, you can learn more about membership and benefits here:
There is one category of software that many see as being unsustainable as free software. Free video games have lagged behind other areas of free software, and the reasons behind this are fairly simple. 

Still, even many free software proponents may fail to provide an answer to those who are skeptical about the viability of free gaming. While it is true that software should be ethical, video games need not suffer for it. The business models for production simply need to change, and just like they have for other software, they will for gaming as well. When people ask you how gaming as we know it can exist in a free software world, you should open with your response with, “It can't, but it can be better.”
There is a natural tendency for free software to take on more essential aspects of computing first. While subjective, it is clear that gaming is not a top-priority and, as such, has not advanced as rapidly as say, web browsers or word processors. That isn't to say that no progress has been made. Indeed, free gaming has certainly been catching up, but it will take a while to surpass the quality of proprietary games. This should not be surprising or alarming. We will get there in good time.
It's always funny to face the same arguments that have been presented to the free software movement and completely disproven in practice (e.g. Why would anybody produce free software?). The possible incentives for creating free games are as numerous as the motivations for producing other free software. Perhaps a graphics hardware company wants to fund the development of a game to show of the capabilities of their hardware. Perhaps a hospital wants to fund an enjoyable way for surgeons to improve their dexterity. Perhaps a school wants to fund a suite of educational games for students. Perhaps a competitive gaming league wants to fund their own game for tournaments. There are already a few notable examples of free games that are proving business models can be built around free games. 
Through a partnership with the Free Software Foundation, Winch Gate Properties Ltd released Ryzom, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, as free software under the AGPL, and its artwork as free cultural works under the CC-BY-SA license. As an online game, they fund development through subscriptions, so releasing as free software can only help them. 
Yo Fankie! 
Blender, the free software 3D media creation suite, organizes the production of films which are released as free cultural works and also organized the development of a free game based off of one of their films. These efforts help foster the development of Blender and showcase its abilities. They are able to successfully fund these efforts with DVD pre-orders and donations from people who support them. When you have a reputation for producing quality work, people will be willing to support you in making more. The game they produced, Yo Frankie!, may not be actively developed, but it does serve to prove that this model can be very successful. In less than one year and with a very small crew of people, they were able to make a fully functional game with impressive graphics. This is a testament to the viability of free gaming. 
The possibilities don't end there, and hopefully with these examples it becomes clearer how free gaming can advance with enough interest. Free gaming will never look like the world of proprietary games today. They won't use DRM to prevent you from sharing them, and they won't limit your freedom otherwise. We can look forward to games which are not crippled by antifeatures, and are able to build upon each other to develop faster than they would have otherwise. We should in fact take it as a great sign when critical questions that were once raised against free software as whole are now just pinned on one subset of software. Now, next time anyone asks, we should have a good answer for them. 

Interview with Libre Graphics Magazine at Libre Graphics Meeting 2011

I was recently able to attend the 2011 Libre Graphics Meeting in Montreal, and there i had a blast meeting lots of people and founding out about so many great projects. One of these, is Libre Graphics Magazine and the fantastic people behind it: ginger "all lowercase" coons along with Ana Carvalho and Ricardo Lafuente of Manufactura Independente.
The magazine is all about free cultural works made with free software, as the entire magazine itself is and was (you can even see all of the revisions ever made to the magazine in their git repository)! I had the pleasure of interviewing them and video has been blogged over at Creative Commons labs. It's truly an outstanding project, but to find out more either see the blog post or watch the interview below!

View on YouTube or / ( CC BY-SA 3.0 | FAL 1.3 | GFDL 1.3 )

Do you work on a free software desktop app? Do you want more contributors?

You'll see it in virtually every free software project: lots of users would love to get involved with contributing to the project, yet they haven't for one reason or another. It definitely isn't due to a lack of demand for help. OpenHatch, the awesome community participation engine, is working to identify and address the obstacles in free software projects which hold users back from joining the development community. We work toward this goal through the website and through events, continuing to find more ways to approach the new mission of lowering the barriers of entry for new contributors to free software. 
One such barrier is that many people simply haven't gotten through the first step of compiling the program. That's not to say there aren't other places where new contributors get stuck, just one that's significant enough to require attention and provide an opportunity to bring new people into the community. 
So as part of OpenHatch, I'm helping an event: five sessions to help free software projects teach potential/wannabe contributors how to compile the app and turn them into community members who feel comfortable following discussion on the project's development lists. Soon-to-be contributors can have a dedicated time to be walked through the compile process and engage with members of the development community. Simple, but very useful! 
Over one week, the target is to have five projects email their mailing lists to announce that experienced people will be on their IRC channel at a particular time, waiting to help you compile the app. If you are a member of the development team for a free software desktop app and you want more prospective contributors to join in, please email us and pick a day and time for you and others to be helping people in your project's IRC chat room.
Sound interesting? here's what you do:
If you're a free software contributor and know how to compile a program you work on, we want you to run this event within your project.
Email with one sentence or shorter answers to each of these questions:

  • Your project's name
  • What you like about this outreach event
  • How you heard about the "Build it" week

Remember that space is limited, and we'll get back to you to let you know if there are still slots available. We're particularly looking for projects with plenty of users, which means a healthy pool of people to draw from. 
If you want to read more, check out our wiki page about the event:
If you want to chat, I'm reachable as for StatusNet and as sarvodaya in #openhatch on Asheesh (paulproteus on IRC) is also helping organize.

Reflections on the Students for Free Culture conference 2011 in NYC

I can't believe this was my first Students for Free Culture conference-- I've been missing out! Firstly, wow. Running a conference is a lot of work. The board deserves serious props for all the time and effort they put into making this event happen and be awesome! 
Learning about the long history of “Who let the dogs out?” was wildly entertaining, and listening to the fashion panel discuss how the industry is able to thrive thanks to a lack of copyright restrictions (as introduced by the TED Talk) was insightful. It was great being able to closely inspect a single work, revealing how every creative piece has a story, that everything is a remix, and also to be able to zoom way out and see how there are thriving industries that would not be possible with Intellectual Property restrictions. Seeing other industries unrestricted by IP that we take for granted would be useful in contrasting and comparing to those that are, and painting analogies that will help unfamiliar folks understand what we stand for. The ideals of the free culture movement are reflected through so many aspects of everyday life, and this was a great reminder of that. 
I saw lots of friends and made many more. Everyone, from all different backgrounds and political persuasions, clearly wanted to do everything in their power build a freer culture, a freer society. The people at this event filled me with hope, something I am always struggling to sustain. I'll be sure to carry this on to the Free Software Foundation's similarly-themed LibrePlanet conference, which is specific to free software. 
I was especially glad that web services were a major focus, as the Diaspora team gave a keynote presentation. Non-free, centralized, “walled-garden” web services like Facebook are an especially problematic and challenging issue, and it's great to see people interested in the up and coming alternatives. It was slightly frustrating, though, when the question and answer session became a ranting session for audience members who demanded that the Diaspora team use their New-York-Times-acquired fame to spread some loosely-defined ideals of “open source” to everything imaginable. As someone entirely committed to software freedom, I sympathize with anyone who wishes we had louder voices on our side. I am even lovingly critical of the Diaspora project, as I support them entirely, but also fear for their success and regret that other projects like GNU social don't receive anything near the same amount of attention. As they said in their attempt to respond, they use MacBooks, they don't use Gitorious, they are pragmatists before idealists and probably not the best people in the room to talk to about making everything free. Still, I would not use their Q&A time to tell them to be the megaphone for my ideals. I can only be thankful for the work they are doing. It was still a great keynote, and the conference would not have been complete without the remix panel and education panel, two essential parts of today's free culture movement. 
The unconference was a blast! It was almost an entire day run by the attendees! The breakout rooms talked about everything from gender issues in the free culture community to FreedomBox and the importance of free network services. It was great to learn about cool projects like which lists free software web services like BeWelcome, an alternative to CouchSurfing, and lots more. For almost everyone, it was their first time hearing about free web services like Diaspora and StatusNet/, so I hope that many SFC followers begin migrating from Facebook and Twitter and resolve to delete their accounts there. I also gave a quick lightning rant on how free culture supporters should pay closer attention to licenses and talk about free ones instead of Creative Commons ones, as there are not only licenses for free cultural works that are not Creative Commons like the GNU Free Documentation License and Free Art License, but also Creative Commons licenses that are not for free cultural works, like those with the NoDerivs or NonCommercial clauses. I don't think it went too bad for my first public speaking experience! 
The entire conference covered lots of reasons why free culture rocks, but next time, I would love to see more dedicated discussion on action and organizing. I've certainly strengthened my commitment to boycott Facebook, and been inspired and motivated to start my own project which will someday be ready at (or check the wiki in the meantime). A dedicated space for people to share their own or their favorite free software and free culture projects would also be great, whether it's a physical space at the conference or a space online. The lightning talks didn't seem to be enough to cover projects in addition to the other interesting opinions, facts, and stories people shared. Also for next time, the more the merrier. Let's make these conferences huge-- tell everyone about the next one when it rolls around! 
As a strong free software / free culture activist, I've long been concerned with bringing these movements into the public eye, and it was at this conference that I really saw it for the first time: we, as a society ever-adapting to our technology, are becoming aware of the implications of ownership and control on how we are able to express ourselves, speak freely, and communicate in a digital world. And what's more? We care profoundly. That's not something to be taken lightly. 

Benjamin "Mako" Hill to do a Reddit AMA video interview

Benjamin "Mako" Hill has agreed to do a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) video interview on his work for free software and free culture where he will answer the top ten questions on this a 12 foot Igloo i built.

Mako works on issues of technology, intellectual property, and society and is a key person in the free software and free culture movements. He is a core-developer, active contributor, and founding member of the Ubuntu Project, and he continues to serve on the Community Council board that oversees all non-technical aspects of the project. For nearly a decade, he has also been an active member of the Debian GNU/Linux Project, which Ubuntu is based on.

Mako is an Associate Member and a member of the Free Software Foundation's Board of Directors. Reddit just became a corporate patron of the FSF, and you can support software freedom by becoming an Associate Member yourself. Together with Erik Moeller from the Wikimedia Foundation, Mako founded the Definition of Free Cultural Works based on the Free Software Definition. This definition is agreed upon and used by the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, and Students for Free Culture.

Mako serves on the advisory board of the Wikimedia Foundation and the One Laptop Per Child project. Currently a researcher and PhD Candidate in a joint program between the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Media Lab, and a Research Fellow at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, Mako looks at social scientific analyses of social structure in free software and free culture communities.

Another fun fact: Mako's apartment is where Reddit was founded, and there is spray paint on the roof to prove it. 

Ask him anything! 

Spread the word: 


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