Announcing Open Attribute

I am so proud to announce the launch of Open Attribute, a suite of tools that makes attributing openly licensed content as easy as cut and paste. Today we are launching browser add-ons for Firefox and Chrome that detect Creative Commons license information on a website, and pull that information into a properly formatted attribution that complies with the terms of the license. We have an Opera add-on coming soon, and our next steps will be to build plugins for WordPress and Drupal. This project is a mere three months in the making, and it has been incredibly exciting to be a part of.

Allow me to indulge in the sharing of a little back story. I’ve been involved with Open Attribute since its inception at the Drumbeat Festival last November. It all started in the peer learning tent on the first day of the festival, where Jane Park from Creative Commons was leading a workshop on open content. We broke into small groups to consider the question “What are the barriers to reuse of open content?” More and more people and institutions are publishing open content, but the reuse rates, as far as anyone can tell, are very low. What’s the point of open content if people aren’t using and building on it? After we came up with a list of barriers, each group focused on one and asked “What might some solutions be to this barrier?”

The group I was in quickly zeroed in on attribution, specifically, how confusing people find it. All of us had heard from individuals who resist using open content because they don’t understand how to comply with the attribution requirement. Workshops and how-to guides and step by step flowcharts haven’t reduced the confusion, so we thought, “What if we can just create attributions automatically? Like the citation generators in academic databases? Click a button and you can have a properly formatted citation in MLA style, APA style, Chicago style. Technically, there is no reason why we couldn’t do a similar thing for attribution.”

As soon as this idea came forward (no one remembers who said it first, but I think it was Jane), we all got really excited. We knew we were on to something. Here was a tool we could build to solve a problem that training alone hadn’t solved. And we had come up with it in a setting that was all about connecting the people with ideas to the people with the skills to make those ideas a reality.

At the end of the first day, we reported out on our idea to the whole Drumbeat festival, and a couple of people from Mozilla quickly reached out to offer support with coordinating the project. Several of us spent the second day of the conference working on an outline of the idea, some basic specifications for the tools, and some text that would help us recruit other interested participants. Most of that work is still hanging out in our neglected wiki page.

Mozilla asked me if I would be the “educator lead” for this project. I had no idea what that meant. I don’t think they did either. Nathan Yergler from Creative Commons was to be the “technical lead”. We created a Google group, participated in a couple of Drumbeat conference calls, and through some magical mix of Mozilla outreach, Twitter, and luck, we ended up with a great team of people who had the right skills and a huge amount of energy. At this point, I don’t think anyone knows or cares who was supposed to be the “lead” on the project; everyone pitched in and worked hard, and we made decisions on everything from development priorities to icon design more or less by consensus. Three months later here we are, launching our first tools.

I have never worked on a project like this before. Partly it’s that it was significantly more technical than anything I’ve ever done, with techier collaborators – I had to learn how to use IRC! But mostly it’s that here was a group of people, from vastly different personal and professional backgrounds, most of whom had never met in person, scattered all over the world, who spent substantial time working on Open Attribute just because they cared about it. Yes yes, this is what free and open software is all about, but I’m not a programmer, so I’d never experienced this kind of distributed collaboration before now. It is awesome. I am so proud of what our team has accomplished, and I’m excited to get to work on the next phase of development. Oh, and also, the add-ons themselves are great. I am already using them. They make attributing CC licensed content so much easier. Go install one.