Basement Interviews of advocates of open and free movements

Out of the 95 interviews that we have so far collated for our Interviews section in the wiki, quite a bit of the most valuable are references to the fantastic project by Richard Poynder, called the Basement Interviews.

Before letting him explain the motivations behind this project, just mention that we just added a very comprehensive interview on the endangered public domain, of James Boyle, by IP Watch.

Here’s Richard Poynder:

“A few years ago I could see an increasing number of “free” and “open” movements beginning to develop. And while they all had different aims, they appeared to represent a larger and more generalised development than their movement-specific objectives might suggest.

Indeed, I felt that they looked set to exemplify the old adage that the sum of some phenomena is always greater than the constituent parts. But if that was right, I wondered, what was the sum in this case?

I was also intrigued as to why they were emerging now. For while it was apparent that these movements, including Open Source and Free software, Creative Commons, Free Culture, Open Access, Open Content, Public Knowledge, Open Data, Open Source Politics, Open Source Biology, and Open Source Journalism etc., all owed a great debt to the development of the Internet, it was not clear to me that the network was the only driver.

The genesis of the Free Software Movement, for instance, could be said to lie in the specific culture of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT in the 1970s, rather than the Internet. And at that time software programs were still generally written as part of large-scale centralised projects, and distributed on floppy disks or tapes. So I suspected that the Internet was not a sufficient explanation on its own.

Additionally, I was curious about the individuals who had founded these movements: What had motivated them? Why did they feel so passionate about the cause that they had adopted? What did they think the various movements had in common (if anything) with one another? What was the big picture?

All in all, it seemed to me to be good material for a book; a book that I envisaged would consist primarily of a series of Q&A interviews with the key architects and advocates of what I had come to call the Free Knowledge movement people like John Perry Barlow, John Gilmore, Michael Hart, Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond, Linus Torvalds, Jay Rosen, Lawrence Lessig, Joe Trippi, Harold Varmus, Vitek Tracz, Stevan Harnad, Paul Ginsparg, Cory Doctorow, Yochai Benkler, Richard Jefferson, Michel Bauwens etc.

I eventually started publishing the interviews on my blog, as The Basement Interviews. And much to my pleasure I began to receive positive feedback almost immediately. I also felt the big picture was beginning to emerge, although the project remains ongoing for now.

Many of those who have contacted me have urged me to seek out a publisher. A publisher, they insist, would be able to market the interviews in ways that whatever the advantages of self-publishing on the Web, I was not able to do. Besides, they added, it would be great to have access to a print copy of the collected interviews.

Others were less sure. As one reader who emailed me put it, “Now the interviews are in the blogosphere they will surely find their own audience.”

What do you think? I’d be interested to hear. I’d also be interested for suggestions as to who is missing from my list of interviewees. Who else, that is, do you think of as a key architect or advocate for the Free Knowledge movement that has not been mentioned here? I can be contacted at [email protected]

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