CUT, COPY & PASTE AT MOZFEST

It has been an inspiring & exhausting weekend at Mozilla Festival in London, meeting hundreds of people who are working hard every day to keep the Internet open, safe, inclusive and magical :)

Together with Judith Carnaby, I ran a two-day interactive installation of Cut, Copy & Paste – a workshop format introducing people to open source collaboration, without using digital tools: participants build a commons of creative work using rubber stamps, a typewriter and a photocopier as a version control system.

I’ve been developing these workshops as part of the Mozilla Open Leadership Program, so it was also wonderful to meet the team, my mentor David and my fellow cohorts!

In this iteration, visitors were asked to share their experiences of MozFest.

Participants are also encouraged to remix the work of others, and add the results to the growing commons. Working with photocopies means that we can ‘fork’ and evolve a story in a different direction, without diverting the original.  The participants can then can draw from this increasingly diverse pool of stories and images to make their own individual zines.

What’s the aim of Cut, Copy & Paste?

I have been advocating for open source beyond software for years, but I often feel that just telling people isn’t enough. In theory, open source culture, hardware, and animation sounds nice, but to many it sounds… well, like a theory.

The people who really grok open source are those who have experienced it. Programmers learn open source concepts from the moment they’re learning to code. They can inspect other people’s work, view the source of a web page, use open source learning resources, build upon open source libraries, etc.

For most artists & designers, the idea of publishing unfinished work, or basing your work upon somebody else’s is scary enough. When you’re also giving up the copyright monopoly that allegedly is the sole way to earn a living… that’s against everything we learn at art/media/design school, and all the advice we receive from the creative industry.

Even if somebody excitedly tells you about this other way to do things – no matter how interesting it may sound – beyond software, open source is still seriously niche, and it requires a profound change in your practice and your business model. That’s too risky, too much work, and the likelihood of actually getting the purported benefits of open source collaboration is low, because so few people are doing it.

So in order to kick-start more open source collaboration outside of software, Cut, Copy & Paste is an attempt to give non-coders an open source experience in a no-risk, low-tech environment, with a very high likelihood of work being remixed. Here the focus is on the concepts and the potential of this process, rather than learning git commands.

Cut, Copy & Paste at MozFest

We were able to draw on the fantastic diversity of MozFest itself and connect with visitors to the top-floor Open Innovation space. We had contributions from young and old, from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds – running the whole gamut from punks, to librarians, to punk librarians :)

Many had never heard of open source, but we also had seasoned coders and free culture advocates coming by – and pretty soon we had some nice forking starting to happen.


Summer’s rhino – CC-BY-SA Summer

One example: one young attendee called Summer (young in years, but a MozFest old-timer!) stopped by early on with her Dad, and shared a story.

The simple formula was easy to copy and adapt – other stories soon followed, building off Summer’s original →

CC-BY-SA Sam Muirhead, based on work by Summer

[Detail] CC-BY-SA Isla Staden -based on work by Sam Muirhead & Summer

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Participants could leave invitations to others to continue the work in different directions, soon Summer’s rhino found itself playing different roles in 7 separate remixes.

What worked, what didn’t?

Those who went through the process and committed work were really excited about the experience, and seemed to really get what open source was all about – so, goal achieved, right? mmm, sort of.

The problem was the effort expended to reach that outcome.

We learned that Cut, Copy & Paste can work as a drop-in installation, but it’s not the ideal configuration – due to the high number of distractions at MozFest, the packed schedule and the 9 floors of other exciting activities, participant commitment is overall quite low, which makes for an exhausting experience for the facilitators.

For each commit to the repository, where a new participant actually goes through the process, we explained the process to 3 or 4 more people who often appeared enthusiastic, but didn’t want / didn’t have time to share a story or remix a work. We had 63 commits over two 5-hour days. By comparison, during the workshop prototype at the Open Source Design Summit, we had 30 commits in 40 minutes, showing what a difference it can make to have participants focused on taking part in a workshop, compared to fishing for people walking past an installation.

On the plus side, we verified that the updated process works well with complete beginners, the documentation feels ready for others to adapt the workshop, and we think that the ideal format would be a two-hour focused workshop, with 5-20 participants.

And hey, we still managed to make a couple of zines! Here you can click through The 9 Floors of MozFest.

Summer came back on Sunday afternoon to see how her rhino had evolved, and for one last bash at the typewriter to cap off an amazing weekend, hers was our final, beautiful commit. I’ll leave you with her review of MozFest, and please check out the section below for more info on getting involved in Cut, Copy & Paste!

Get Involved

For anybody interested in further exploring open source processes in the arts, some of the networks that you might like to get involved with include: Open Source Design, Constant, Libre Graphics Meeting, Open Source Publishing, EightyColumn

Got more to add to this list? let me know!

Do you like the sound of Cut, Copy & Paste? Here are a few ways you can help the project, or get involved:

Improve

Check out the project issues and see if you can help solve any of them. Let me know what’s missing from the project repository.

Share

Suggest other ways to teach Open Source in a fun, experiential way (how could it work with poetry/comics/other media?), or share examples of others working in a similar way. Tell people about the project on social media :)

Run a Workshop

This process does require a few specialised tools which you’ll need to organise, but it does not require me to run it. I would love to guide others through the process of setting up and running a Cut, Copy & Paste workshop. If you’re keen to try it, great! if you don’t think you have the right facilitation/open source/collaboration experience, it doesn’t matter, together we can find the right people to help you out. Or, if you think this workshop would be good for your organisation, but don’t want to run it yourself, get in touch and let’s see how we can do it.

Get in touch

This work is licensed CC-BY-SA Sam Muirhead