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An Interview with Ourmedia.org's J.D. Lasica

by Richard Koman
07/15/2005

If you want proof that grassroots media is exploding, you need look no further than podcasts. With built-in computer microphones or inexpensive higher-quality gear, broadband internet connections, and portable listening devices, thousands of people are becoming their own radio talk show hosts and DJs.

But podcasts are just the tip of the iceberg. Grassroots media is not just about someone with a mike and a cup of coffee. It's about social connections. The key to understanding Flickr's meteoric growth is to realize that it started out as social networking software and grew into photography.

"Sharing will be everywhere. It's the next chapter of the World Wide Web," Yahoo exec Jeff Weiner is quoted in a recent New York Times article.

As J.D. Lasica, cofounder with technologist Marc Canter of Ourmedia.org, explains in this interview, "Sharing is what you do with media." And so a whole generation--and to a lesser degree, their tech-enthralled elders--are documenting their lives with digital video, audio, and photography and sharing it via peer-to-peer networks, social networking, and public media sites like Ourmedia.

Ourmedia went public alpha on March 21, with the support of the founders, the Internet Archive for storage and bandwidth, and Creative Commons for licensing solutions. A nonprofit is in the process of being created.

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As J.D. notes, broadcast venues are starting to take notice. A San Francisco radio station is switching to an all-podcast format and Al Gore's Current TV network is looking for youth-created content. The promise of the digital, online world isn't in downloading copyrighted files, it's in creating an ecology where people create, share, remix, and distribute original content--perhaps not to millions, perhaps only to dozens.

But high-flown talk is one thing. What's actually on Ourmedia? The day I did this interview with J.D., the featured video was a long and extremely boring video of Paris Hilton and her fiancé walking to a club and back to their limo. Which doesn't say much for breaking out of the media's control of our consciousness. But on the other hand, Ourmedia isn't necessarily a consumption channel, but potentially a place for raw material for remixes. And Paris is rich for remixing.

I was, however, intrigued with this video of kids doing dangerous jumping tricks. And I was thrilled to find dozens of well-produced videos of Third World activists talking about the impact of the G8 on indigenous peoples. A producer for raisingvoices.org explained: "We work a lot with communities and film and we've found it really difficult to distribute video in an accessible way. The clips you see on Ourmedia came mainly from activists on the ground in Brazil, South Africa, and India. These are people who are deeply engaged with local struggles but with little resources and power to connect with mainstream media, even though they have an enormous wealth of knowledge and experiences to share. Ourmedia makes it possible to get these voices direct to a global community, unfiltered and uncensored. It's a really amazing thing, and such a powerful tool. We love Ourmedia and are so happy to have found it. We'll be using it in the future for all sorts of activist work, getting voices of people who are unheard out there for people to listen to directly."

Richard Koman: What's happened with Ourmedia since the launch on March 21?

J.D. Lasica: The idea for Ourmedia crystallized at the SuperNova conference a year ago. After a few false starts, we finally got our act together and launched the site. We were immediately overwhelmed. The first day the server crashed because we had so many visitors--many more than we expected. I think we had over 100,000 people the first week. We're up to 24,000 members. They've uploaded close to 10,000 media items since launch. The majority has been video. We also have a lot of audio and photographs.

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