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Openness, in the context of peer production, governance and property, refers generally to the availibility of the raw material for the social cooperation to occur. If such material is indeed "open", then it means that individuals and communities are "free" to use and modify it.

The open/free paradigm is part of the three processes that are necessary for the social reproduction of peer to peer processes, see the Circulation of the Common. We have attempted a defintion of a Open Movement which links those three aspects: open/free, participatory, and Commons oriented.



From the Open Everything project at :

"The essence of open (what makes something 'open'?)

In the world of software, we have concrete definitions of what makes something free or open. However, as we use these concepts more widely, it gets fuzzier. One of the things we want to map through Open Everything is the ways that people are using 'open'. List your ideas on the essence of open below by filling in the blanks on the following sentences:

Something qualifies as 'open' when it is ...

  1. Transparent. Meaning that you can see inside it, study it or understand it. E.g. open source software or an open government (not that we have great examples on this second one :)).
  2. Participatory. People can become involved in a substantive way. They can contribute to and shape the open thing in question. Eg. wikipedia or Jane's Walk.
  3. Flexible, malleable, editable. The people involved can change, evolve or improve whatever it is they are gathered around. E.g. an open space meeting agenda.

Some other things I notice about 'open' projects and orgs is that they ...

  1. Tend to combine extreme levels of idealism and practicality, which are things that don't usually go hand in hand. E.g. Firefox is a very useful tool, but its makers say they make this tool 'to keep the web open'.
  2. Taken from some work in the social innovation/enterprise area, this seem to have some relevance:
    • 1. Provide spaces for people as they are and as they want to become
    • 2. Embrace the richness and wisdom in differences
    • 3. Act with a light spirit, sense of fun, creativity and a perspective of opportunity
    • 4. Practical and productive application of techniques and approaches from non-traditional domains
    • 5. Distribute increasing control, earnings, and assets into the communities they serve

We will refine this list at our events, and then share it with the world to evolve further." (


David Wiley:

"Openness refers to the copyright licensing status of a creative work that allows individuals other than the rights holder to access the work and make a variety of uses of the work without the need to secure additional permissions or make payments.

In the Open Education License Draft, this author summarizes the four main types of activity enabled by openness:

  1. Reuse: use the work verbatim or exactly as you found it.
  2. Revise: alter or transform the work so that it better meets your needs.
  3. Remix: combine the (verbatim or altered) work with other works to better meet your needs.
  4. Redistribute: share the verbatim work, the revised work, or the remixed work with others.

In practice, openness is about using copyright and contract law to make the sharing of creative works and derivatives of creative works free, easy, and legal. Open licenses are used to extend the permissions provided by copyright and contract law." (


Tim Berners-Lee:

"I was recently asked to talk about the idea of “open”, and I realized the term is used in at least eight different ways. The distinct interpretations are all important in different but interlocking ways. Getting them confused leads to a lot of misunderstanding, so it’s good to review them all.

When we tease apart their meanings, we can understand more clearly which aspects of each are the most important. The first, one of the most important forms of openness for the Web, is its universality.


When I designed the Web protocols, I had already seen many networked information systems fail because they made some assumptions about the users – that they were using a particular type of computer for instance – or constrained the way they worked, such as forcing them to organize their data in a particular way, or to use a particular data format. The Web had to avoid these issues.

The goal was that anyone should be able to publish anything on the Web and so it had to be universal in that it was independent of all these technical constraints, as well as language, character sets, and culture.

Net Neutrality is essential to an open, fair democracy

Close to the principle of universality is that of decentralization, which means that no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything on the Web, there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure. This has also been critical to the Web’s growth and is critical to its future.

Open Standards

The actual design of the Web involved the creation of open standards – and getting people to agree to use them globally. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), of which I am the Director, helps create interoperable standards for Web technology, including HTML5, mobile Web, graphics, the Semantic Web of linked data, and Web accessibility. Any company can join and anyone can review and help create the specifications for the Web.

The W3C process emphasizes transparency, openness, and consensus. In practice, fairness, technical quality and speed of process are always a trade-off to balance.

Other bodies work on other layers of the design. The IEEE for physical internet connectivity and the IETF for internet interoperability, for instance. Organizations like the IETF, IEEE and W3C support ‘OpenStand’ which encourages the development of market-driven standards that are non-national, free to access, open to participation, and (for W3C) free of royalty payments.

Open Web Platform (OWP)

W3C’s Open Web Platform is the name for a particular set of open standards which enable an exciting stage of Web computing. Standards such as HTML5, SVG, CSS, video, JavaScript, and others are advancing together so that programmes that once worked only on desktop, tablets or phones can now work from within the browser itself. It has all the power of HTML5, like easily-inserted video and, in the future, easily-inserted conferences. It also features the APIs for accessing hardware and other capabilities on the device, such as a smartphone’s accelerometer, camera, and local storage. While native apps are limited, Web Apps can work on any platform.

With Web Apps, every Web page can become a programmable computer, whether it is on a mobile device, a desktop, a TV, or, in the future, a car console. Native apps are not on the Web, they’re not part of the Web. Native apps that work on a single platform or even a single device are thus more limited than a Web App. I therefore encourage everyone to build Web Apps.

Open Government through Open Data

In 2009, I resolved to encourage more use of data on the Web. Too many websites could generate nice reports as documents, but had no way to access the data behind it to check and build on the results. In February that year I stood up in front of a TED audience and asked them for their data; I even got them to chant: “raw data now”. In April that year, I met with Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister of the UK and with him began the UK Government’s ground-breaking work on Open Data. That same year President Barack Obama announced his commitment to the US Open Government Initiative. In 2010 I went back to TED and showed the audience some of what had been achieved, including Open Street Map’s role in relief efforts in Haiti.

It’s important to me that I can get at the source code of any software I’m using.

In 2012 we launched in the UK’s Open Data Institute (ODI). ODI is a non-profit institute that incubates startups and promotes open-data businesses in East London’s Tech City. ODI was created to take advantage of and to help guide the wave of open data adoption by business that is happening now. It is an exciting time for open data, but there is a huge amount more to do.

Openness with personal data on the Social Net

The word “open” is often used in the sense “I wouldn’t be that open with my personal life”. We are as a society learning how to draw the right boundaries in this new age. I won’t go into this in detail, but connected issues include the extent to which a social networking site which helps people share information also benefits from the data in completely different unforeseen ways, and ideas about what different sorts of data about people should be used for anyway. These issues may lead to be cultural norms as well as possibly new technical architectures.

Open Platform

While it’s not really a feature of the Web, a concern for a lot of people is whether they can choose which apps run on their own phone or computer. An Open Platform means having the right to install and write software on your computer or device. One motivation to close off a computing platform comes from a manufacturer wanting to allow you to experience their content on your machine without being able to store it or pass it on. Some systems are very closed, in that the user can only watch a movie or play a game, with no chance to copy anything or back it up. Some systems are very open, allowing users to take copies of files and run any application they like. Many systems fall in between, letting users pay for additional material or an experience.

The W3C community is currently exploring Web technology that will strike a balance between the rights of creators and the rights of consumers. In this space in particular, W3C seeks to lower the overall proprietary footprint and increase overall interoperability, currently lacking in this area.

In the US particularly, the situation is aggravated by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), two laws which allow a person who uses a computer improperly to be jailed as a felon for a long time. These unjust laws colour the debate so much in the US that some people react by saying that all platforms should be completely open, so that no one can be said to use them improperly. Hopefully these laws will be fixed through debate about how to balance the needs of creative people to be paid and the needs of consumers to be able to contribute but also to be able to rip, mix, quote and archive this material.

Open Source

“Open Source” is another way “open” is used on the web, one which has been and is very important to the Web’s growth. It’s important to me that I can get at the source code of any software I’m using. If I can get at the source code, can I modify it? Can I distribute the modified code and run it on my machine? As Free Software Foundation lead Richard Stallman puts it, “free as in freedom rather than free as in beer”.

Open Access

Open Access is a Web-based movement specifically about free (as in beer) access to the body of academic learning. Governments, and therefore taxpayers, pay for research via grants but often the results of the research are kept in closed-access academic journals. The results are only available to those at big universities. The poor and those in remote rural areas cannot participate.

Open Access journals are academic journals legally and technically available openly on the Web at zero cost.

These have to be funded either by publication fees, which in turn have to be agreed to by research funders, or through the implementation of a very low cost Web-based system. Nowadays, governments (with the US NIH taking a lead), and the European Commission are starting to require open access to the results of taxpayer-funded research.

Open Internet and Net Neutrality

When we talk about keeping the internet free and open, we are often worried about blocking and spying. One of the ways in which we protect the Web is by ensuring Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is about non-discrimination. Its principle is that if I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or a greater quality of service, then we can both communicate at the same level. This is important because it allows an open, fair market. It’s essential to an open, fair democracy. The alternative is a Web in which governments or large companies, or frequently a close association of the two, try to control the internet, with packets of information delivered in a way that discriminates for commercial or political reasons. Regimes of every sort spy on their citizens, deriving hugely accurate and detailed profiles of them and their intimate lives. Today, the battle is building. The rights of individual people on the Web are being attacked, and at the moment only a few people really understand and realize what is going on." (

List of Formal Open Definitions

Mark Surman discusses openness here at and has added a chart at

  1. The Open Standards Definition. By Bruce Perens.
  2. Open Standards Requirement for Software
  3. Open Definition
  4. The Open Software Service Definition, i.e. The Free/Open Service Definition (v1.0)
  5. Open Source Media Definition
  6. Open Source Definition

Free Definitions

  1. Debian's Free Software Guidelines
  2. Declaration on Libre Knowledge
  3. Definition of Free Cultural Works
  4. Franklin Street Statement on Freedom and Network Services, which concerns Network Service Licenses
  5. Free Content Definition

List of Open Concepts and Practices

(These lists are not maintained therefore the suggestion is to delete them. They can be found easily enough using the search facility)


Open Source


  1. Free Cinema initiative
  2. Free Content Definition
  3. Free Cultural Works Definition
  4. Free Culture
  5. Free Culture Movement
  6. Free Currencies
  7. Free Goods as Civilization Building
  8. Free Hardware Design
  9. Free Labour
  10. Free Maps
  11. Free Music Philosophy
  12. Free Music Public License
  13. Free Networks Movement
  14. Free Sheet Music License
  15. Free Software
  16. Free Software Business Models
  17. Free Software Movement
  18. Free Software Principles


Peter Murray-Rust:

"The features of “Open” that I value are:

  • Meritocracy. That doesn’t mean that decisions are made by hand counting, but it means that people’s views are listened to, and they enter the process when it seems right to the community. That’s happened with SAX, very much with the Blue Obelisk, and the Open Knowledge Foundation.
  • Universality of participation, particularly from citizens without formal membership or qualifications. A feeling of community.
  • A willingness to listen to other views and find means of changing strategy where necessary
  • Openness of process. It is clear what is happening, even if you are not in command.
  • Openness of results. This is universally fundamental. Although there have been major differences of opinion in Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) everyone is agreed that the final result is free to use, modify, redistribute without permission and for any purpose. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price.

A mechanism to change current practice. The key thing about Wikipedia is that it dramatically enhances the way we use knowledge. Many activities in the OKF (and other Open Organisations) are helping to change practice in government, development agencies, companies. It’s not about price restrictions, it’s about giving back control to the citizens of the world. Open Streetmap produces BETTER and more innovative maps that people can use to change the lives of people living right now – e.g. the Haitian earthquake." (

Opennness in Telecommunications

Vint Cerf:

"I would start with a principle of non-discrimination in the sense that the operator of the network does not discriminate among parties using the network. They should get what they pay for, and each party should pay in accordance with the bitrates they subscribe to. This does not mean that the operator cannot "manage" the network - if the system congests, it is understood that access will have to be moderated but this needs to be done pro rata with regard to purchased entitlement to access. Oversubscription is one of the reasons that consumer access networks are sometimes (often?) congested and this gets to another openness principle: subscribers should know exactly what they are paying for. This is also sometimes called transparency.

Another open principle is that devices that are compatible with the network should be permitted, whether they are provided by the operator or by other parties. The devices themselves should be "free" to use any application. The operator should not discriminate for or against any particular application or any particular party (consumer, application provider, etc). This principle is akin to common carriage notions.

Operators that offer value added service besides basic packet carriage should not be permitted to discriminate against third parties who offer competing application services. That may even dictate separation of businesses so that there is no cross subsidy between the basic carriage business and the application business that would effectively create an unfair competition between the application providers." (from a discussion with Gordon Cook, September 2008)

Map of Openness

Proposed structure of entries, from the Map of Openness

Information structure

Basic idea could be to have lowest common demoninator of metadata + more specific metadata.

  • Organisation (research about what kinds of fields are common?)
    • type (is there a standard taxonomy for this?)
    • area of work (initially unstructured text/tags?)
    • date started
    • number of people
    • link to projects
    • link to persons
    • income
    • mission statement
    • url
    • blog/news feed url?
    • mailing list url
    • contact details
  • Project
    • link to organisations
    • link to persons
    • funding/income
    • url
    • mailing list url
    • contact details
    • project description
    • tags
  • Person
    • link to organisations
    • link to projects
    • link to other

More Information

  1. See the defintion of Open Knowledge, at
  2. And also: Free Software Principles, and the Free Content Definition