I've been thinking a lot lately about projects that were created with the idea of collaboration introduced early in the lifecycle (that is in comparison to when it was released to the public), or that were intended to be collaborative from the beginning. Namely, I've been trying to find a good way to start one, or become involved with one, for the better part of 5 years.
My original idea was to create a web video series with a choose-your-own-adventure storyline, and only make one or two of the possible branches from each decision point, letting others fill in to the beginning, middle or end at any of the endpoints. Then others would be able to fill in between the contributors endpoints, and so on. For the longest time, the question was "What if someone decides to sell the product?" If I made it completely wide open, someone else could come along, put a price tag on the world, and make a boatload of money.
On the other hand, this assumes a whole lot of things:
- That the world I and my community created was any good.
- That the story this fictional capitalizer created is any good.
- That the capitalizer has more time than everyone else involved.
- That the capitalizer has more spare talent than everyone else.
The talent by itself is not that useful - I have a decent amount of computer programming talent that gets wasted while I'm on the phone, that doesn't mean I make money on merit alone. Most markets require someone to put the time into a project to be successful. The interesting thing in this scenario is that there are potentially dozens / hundreds of creative teams all putting time into the same universe.
The biggest and most important is this - is the idea any good? Would I pay for the end product, or sit through advertising to watch it? This has a little to do with the talent (production value, acting ability) of the capitalizer and his team, but also a lot to do with the vision.
This is the new "Iron Triangle" Eric Marden and I theorized about in our latest episode of Our Yellow House.
Sidebar: Drupal App Store
In the past few weeks, a theoretical philosophical battle has been raging in the Drupal community, with everyone in the community on the same side of the "thought experiment" posed by Robert Douglass: should Drupal have an app store?
Here is one of the quotes most relevant to this blog post, left by "patcon" on Earl Miles' blog:
"perhaps if I'd been allowed to throw a bit of money at the community, I wouldn't have felt as compelled to contribute back time and know-how... Maybe offering a route for payment would strain a much greater resource.
So what I'm suggesting is that maybe freeloader guilt is the real Drupal currency"
In this case, because traditional media companies have collected a few dollars from us, they expect us to want to treat media as a broadcast versus a conversation. I think that by choosing when and where to make the cash flow, the conversation can happen, but a few people can still make money.
With the right Creative Commons license, I don't believe the capitalizers would be able to reproduce someone else's script wholesale and call it his or her own. This means that just because a good script existed, and the capitalizers had the time and talent to pull it off, that the script writer would get left out in the cold. I think the license would need to have a non-commercial clause to it, so the capitalizer would need to gain permission from any script author he or she wanted to crib from. This way, fan fiction (this whole idea is a glorified fan fiction) would thrive, while commercial interest would require original work or the permission of a fan author. However, a fan author would still be able to borrow from and build upon a commercial work. I don't think the wholesale cribbing would apply in the other direction though.
Think Jack Black and Mos Def in Be Kind Rewind - in the re-interpretation of classic films, some things were gained and lost. Only when you decide to remake a film shot for shot, line for line are you truly stealing. In the days of the Jazz greats and crooners (what we now would call Easy Listening), covering someone else's song was paying homage to it. The same could be said of theatre in the pre-copyright era. Why should a play that is put on for free have to ask permission from the author? When does it stop being art, and start being a slimy Intellectual Property business?
Parody is covered, but not cover songs. That means when you take a hard core rap song and do a lounge cover, no matter how funny it is, it's not a parody. Who decided that? Of course it's a parody, it's just that the lyrics are done straight.
If you've ever seen someone play Movieoke, you'll know that you don't have to change much about the delivery of some classic scenes to change the entertainment from serious to funny. Isn't that enough?
There are lots of questions here, and few hard-and-fast answers. My thoughts about creating a universe (think Marvel Universe, Star Trek Universe, Roger Rabbit Universe, Cirque du Soleil Universe) and giving it to the world to play in has been on my mind for years, and I'll keep thinking about it until I think the time is right.
I've got a specific project in mind to test this out, but I am not the owner of said universe; which (if you ask me) is the right place to start.
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