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.

16 thoughts on “Announcing Open Attribute

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Announcing Open Attribute « Molly Kleinman --

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  3. This sounds really great. A question though. Are there plans to make such an extension for Internet Explorer?
    My uneducated guess would be that people who haven’t taken the step of using either Firefox or Chrome are actually the people who most need to be helped when it comes to CC content and how to reuse it. And IE, while losing market shares, is still the browser most present on the market…

  4. Pingback: Open Attribute, a simple way to attribute CC-licensed works on the web | Ray's Rants

  5. @notafish – We do not have plans to build an add-on for IE, though ones for Opera and Safari are in the works.

    To address the issue you describe – many of the people who most need help with attribution don’t know they need it, and so aren’t going to run out and install a browser add-on (let alone switch browsers) – our next step is to build plugins for content platforms, so that people who publish open content can put an “attribute this” button right on their site, similar to the “cite this” button that appears on every page of Wikipedia. We’re planning to start with WordPress and Drupal. It’s true, this still won’t help everyone, but we hope that a content-side solution will reach more people.

  6. @Molly Thanks for your answer. I really think the idea of a content side widget/gadget/whatever is going a long way in making this easier.
    What is the reasoning behind not working for an IE extension/plugins (whatever it’s called, I’ haven’t used IE in years ;)) though?

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  9. This reminds me of a presentation I heard a few years ago on preventing medication errors, which is a major problem with morbidity and mortality in health care. The speaker described the introduction of automated dose calculations based on age and weight so if a physician put the decimal in the wrong place, or added an extra zero, the machine would not distribute the incorrect dose. He used an analogy to the automobile manufactures who introduced a feature that you cannot get your car key out of the ignition if the car is not in Park. When I was a child, we lived in a house with slight incline towards the street. My parents had their offices at home so we often had people parking in our driveway. I can’t tell you how often cars would roll down the driveway into the street. If you leave a car in neutral, it can roll. The addition of that one feature to cars has saved a lot of accidents over the years. The more automatic you can make an act, the more often it will be used. Congratulations!

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  11. Go Team Open Attribute! Just installed the Firefox Add-On here at work, and we will look forward to Drupal/Wordpress plugins when they become available.

    We instruct our staff to cite properly, but most people a) are using pictures they took themselves or b) are SUPER busy – so we’ll happily integrate the Drupal plugin to to make their lives a little bit easier.

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