Phillip Smith

Reflecting on the transformational power of "Open."

Thoughts on "The two-by-two of Open." Version Two.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of people who are enthusiastic about the idea of “Open.” Collaboration with folks like Dymitri Kleiner to wax poetic about open-source software and Gabe Sawhney to dream about free and open municipal wifi; with purposeful individuals like Jason Mogus to facilitate incredible events like Web of Change and with power couples like Mark and Tonya Surman to help bring some amazing projects to life like the Awesome Foundation Toronto and the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership.

Through all of these collaborations, conversations, and friendships, one theme has been consistent: the transformational power of “open.”

I tried to capture the emerging movement around these ideas back in 2009. It was a pitch to my friends at New Internationalist to dedicate an entire issue of the magazine to the unfolding global movement happening around open. This was the same year that Salman Khan quit his job to focus on the Khan Academy full-time. It felt like a pivotal moment.

Reading that essay now, I’m struck by how quickly the movement has grown and how far it has spread in the last three years: from recent announcements like the one made by Harvard Library about the need to move to open access journals, to the expanding number of open education initiatives like Peer-to-Peer University, Hackasaurus, Codecademy, Stanford’s free online courses, Udacity, and Coursera.

At the same time, as there have always been, there are new warnings about the forces that work against the power of open. Companies want our attention, governments want our information, the academy wants our knowledge, and the rich and powerful want our obedience. The persistent tension between these forces is almost Zen-like.

I started this post wanting to explore a question about how to live an “open life,” without the spectacle or narcissism, but I’ve managed to blather on without getting there yet … I’ll leave that for another day.

Suffice it to say that “open” remains a powerful change agent – in the world, intellectually, and I suspect individually too, both spiritually and practically – and the question I’m left with recently is: how can I embrace more open in my work life, and in my personal life?

Perhaps you have some great, inspirational, examples from your own experiences to share? :)


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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