Open Content and Access in the Knowledge Society

Open Content and Access: Democratising and Disruptive Impacts on the Knowledge Society

 

by Madanmohan Rao

Editor, The KM Chronicles

http://twitter.com/MadanRao

Bangalore; Dec 16, 09

 

 

If you are ever in Bangalore on the third Wednesday of any month, you must attend the Bangalore K-Community: the monthly gathering of knowledge management professionals! This time, I invited two speakers from the information industry and ICT4D sectors (see www.Kcommunity.org for speaker profiles). The theme was Internet content models and governance. The Internet is a key game-changer in the knowledge society, through its vast archival and real-time content, applications for social media, and governance models.

 

N. V. Sathyanarayana (“Sathya”), Chairman & Managing Director of Informatics (India), set the stage by charting changes in the online media landscape. In less than ten years, Google has become the dominant media player, overtaking 100-year old rivals like Thomson/Reuters/Reed/Elsevier. In fact, the top 10 players in the online content industry are all free-content (ad-supported aggregator) companies: GYM (Google, Yahoo, MSN). Free and open content have disrupted the traditional paid content model, but the paid model will work for those content providers who can find an assured base of institutional buyers. The free content model is based on ad revenues which in turn are based on the overall performance of the economy: the current downturn is shaking up the content industry.

 

The dominant rise of information related to human resource activities as part of the overall content pie is a notable trend in recent years, said Sathya, citing research from Outsell. Online access has completely transformed research and academic activities. Just a few decades ago, researchers had to first monitor and read all available published material before making connections and drawing analyses – now a number of automated tools can provide alerts, search resources, identify trends and help visualise domains of knowledge. The Internet has also greatly extended the shelflife of content; many journal publishers who used to make money only on sales of new copies to libraries now make even more money on digital access to back issues.

 

Sunil Abraham (http://twitter.com/Sunil_abraham), executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society, focused more on the democratic potential of the Internet for knowledge dissemination. He charted out the evolution of the open model for software, content, access and educational resources. He distinguished between “muft” and “mukti” interpretations of the often-misunderstood term “free” – it can mean free of cost or freedom/liberation (translations from Hindi). Sunil dwelt on the implications of copyright, copyleft and copycentre models of IP, as well as governance models such as WikiPedia in English and other languages. These open code and content models are in turn affecting business models of companies ranging from IBM to Apple, and will also impact online content access for marginalised and needy communities.

 

An interesting discussion followed, touching on “healthy useful piracy,” IP models of scholastic v/s entertainment content, ownership rights of translated materials, “responsible” authorship and metaknowledge in Wikis, outdated information policies and knowledge cultures at companies who block employee access to social media, the need for more knowledge sharing in the fragmented NGO sector, the need for organisations to incentivise not just innovation but also copying/sharing of knowledge, and even Christian v/s Hindu worldviews and binary v/s polytheist interpretations of fee/free/layered content models! Now that’s a profound note on which to end 2009; see you all in 2010!

 

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