As often happens, the place where distractions are fewer is a place with no internet connection, and as also often happens, there is no WiFi on an international flight.
I'm flying back from Doha and Al Jazeera's HQ, where I've been giving some training and making more friends. While I was there I also took the opportunity to pitch Hyperaudio to a few people. I have been there before, and is always nice to immerse myself in the hushed tones of Al Jazeera's newsroom, but this time I came with a mission: to partner with Al Jazeera to bring Hyperaudio to a worldwide audience.
To some extent we've already worked together on interactive media based projects, while I was working as a Knight-Mozilla sponsored OpenNews fellow, I got to try out the concept of Hyperaudio in a few interactives. Now with the imminent launch of AJ+, we have the opportunity to couple interactive transcripts with a new fresh form of video based media. Journalism is certainly an application of the technology that we'd like to explore and AJ+ with their new approach to media seem like a good match.
A couple of weeks previously, I'd made the most of what was to turn out to be an whistle-stop trip to the US, I managed to visit the San Francisco offices of Internet Archive, Al Jazeera and Mozilla. I was there representing Hyperaudio as part of our partcipation in Mozilla's WebFWD 'accelerator' program.
It was great to meet up with the other teams and to finally graduate, but a little strange being the only nonprofit amongst our fellow cohorts. The question that often cropped up, was "why is Hyperaudio nonprofit?" and at times I had no better answer than "it felt right". So this is probably a good time and place to articulate the reasons behind that nonprofit decision.
First, let me get one thing straight, I am not allergic to money. I'm a pragmatist and I realise that for better or worse, a certain amount of income is required to be happy in today's world. It's just that when it comes to creating tools and software in general, it's nice to base them around the pursuit of a mission, without making the pursuit of money the focus.
Of course, investment can be a hugely powerful catalyst when it comes to scaling a business, but it's also important to maintain as much control as possible over ensuring a vision that will better the world.
Peace and love ☮
At this juncture, I'd also like to point out that I am not being completely naive. I know from experience that it is possible to build impactful open source projects without relying on for-profit organisational structures.
Part of what I do, day-to-day is help run what I'm very proud to say is a successful open source project known as jPlayer.
Personally, I think nearly all open source projects are successes and there's a certain amount of luck to creating a library that is used by over 200,000 websites and is downloaded 400 times a day - timing and dedicated colleagues being two of those pieces of good fortune.
Riding the waves of its popularity we have been able to make a living creating audio and video based projects for companies around the world. Recently we started an adjacent site jPlayer.it - the idea is to sell skins and add-ons and I have to say it's shows signs of potential, actually it's incentivised us to work harder than ever on the core open source technology.
So yes, sustainability is possible. It's just not easy, (but it can be relatively easy-going) and unlike jPlayer, with Hyperaudio I've been considering sustainability from the very start, we even have a business model or two.
In an increasingly corporate world, it has been so refreshing to work with nonprofits such as Mozilla, The Internet Archive, the Participatory Culture Foundation and the BBC. It's nice to be able to collaborate with these organisations on an equal footing without any ulterior motive. This is not entirely selfless - you might be surprised about the deals and incentives that exist for nonprofit entities.
Freedom is also important, freedom to not worry about shareholders, equity and all that goes with being profit-driven and no, Hyperaudio is not solely bootstrapped, but for the hours we've put in, we surely could have made much more money on other things.
Every one of the Hyperaudio team has contributed above and beyond what you could reasonably expect, I inclined to think that this is due to the passion and belief in what we are doing.
I believe community coallesces most effectively around nonprofit entities. Again, that is not to say you cannot make money from your endeavours, but the idea is that the core technology remains open source and in the hands of a nonprofit. I watch with great interest the progress that our friends in the Node.js community make. (It would be perhaps unfair of me to compare Oracle's Java community). With equal fascination I watch succesful enterprises built around Node spring up. Sure, Hyperaudio is no Node, but I think the concept is relevant.
Fish Eat Fish
In a fish-eat-fish world where technology companies can be bought, sold and extinguished, it makes sense to ensure your core technology is as open and as free as possible — it indicates commitment and a certain level of protection, it attracts community. And when it comes to community versus corporation, well I think you've probably guessed where our passion lies.