What is Open Content?

The movement toward open content reflects a growing shift in the way academics in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed in their courses. Information is everywhere; the challenge is to make effective use of it. Open content embraces not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well. Part of the appeal of open content is that it is also a response to both the rising costs of traditionally published resources and the lack of educational resources in some regions. It presents a cost-effective alternative to textbooks and other materials. As customizable educational content — and insights about how to teach and learn with it — is increasingly made available for free over the Internet, students are learning not only the material, but also skills related to finding, evaluating, interpreting, and repurposing the resources they are studying in partnership with their teachers. There are two sides to understanding open content — on the one side are institutions that are allowing content to be shared. On the other are those institutions that wish to make use of open content. Understanding the frame of reference and context for an open content project is more and more dependent on knowing which of those groups an institution belongs, as the challenges and issues are quite different. What is interesting in open content right now is the concept of linked open data, which enables content from different places to be connected and queried.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • In many cases, providing Open Access (CC0) collections images representing physical objects unencumbered by third-party IP rights is an excellent means of serving institutional mission by enabling teaching, learning, and other core activities. Likewise for putting collections metadata (at least tombstone metadata) into the public domain and making it as widely accessible and reusable as possible. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
  • The movement toward better utilizing centralized, pan-institutional, external platforms will require that content that is able to be freely shared be easier to freely share and distribute throughout these platforms. For museums, open content means allowing your collections and other assets to go where the people are, helping institutions to increase their public value more broadly by taking best advantage of the increasingly interconnected web. While the "increasingly interconnected web" seems like an antiquated thing to harp on, too many museums are still working in silos, making the argument worth repeating. - LoriByrdPhillips LoriByrdPhillips Oct 13, 2012
  • Another perspective here.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • For many museum holdings of visual works from the last 90 years (and sometimes further back), a key factor to note is the role of third-party rightsholders in enabling or preventing the provision of digital images as open content. See also a comment on the Alternative Licensing Q1 page re: whether there may be so much overlap between the evolving roles of Alternative Licensing and Open Content in the museum community that it may be worth treating the two together. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
  • There is a much wider culture shift around open content that will continue to impact how we think of this trend, and the shift is clearly towards becoming more open. "Open" can come in the form of clearly releasing licenses, increasing the ease of sharing content, and even in the transparency & increased public dialogue in museum interpretation. While museums tend to fall on the traditionalist side of these cultural shifts, this is not the time to sit back and wait. Museums should in fact be at the forefront of open content- modeling how best to share content, establishing standards, and taking part in the global conversations about policy, the commons, and open culture. - LoriByrdPhillips LoriByrdPhillips Oct 13, 2012
  • Many museums are starting to see through the failed financial model of generating real revenue through image licensing. This along with new IP options is starting to change how some museums think about making their content more accessible.- scott.sayre scott.sayre Oct 14, 2012
  • Another perspective here.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • In a word: Huge. In two words: Really huge. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
  • I totally agree, that this is huge. Projects like Art.sy, ArtFinder, Google Art Project and Artstor are slowly pushing the genie out of the bottle and many museums are starting to see that being ready and able to play makes participation easier and in some ways is easier than trying to do everything themselves.
  • Over the past two years I've been on the receiving end of perceptions around Wikipedia, and through that lens I have seen the shift in acceptance within the museum field and the level of impact that open content has had. I'd say that this year has been a watershed moment in the broad acceptance of open content among museums. It was only recently that I have no longer had to explain why open content is important (people already get it), but have instead focused on how to do it. For this reason I feel this year is more relevant than any other in considering open content a top trend. The impact lies in the potential for museums' open content to be dispersed, and utilized, all over the web and in ways one would never fathom- essentially making the most use of crowdsourcing. The results of what the crowd (or other museums) may do with open content can then be reintroduced into the institution that originally released that content, having received a useful product that that institution may not have had the means to produce themselves. At a time when cost efficiency is key, opening up content is a no-brainer. - LoriByrdPhillips LoriByrdPhillips Oct 13, 2012
  • Another perspective here.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.