This article originally appeared on the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision blog, as an opinion piece for the Apps for Europe project.
Since founding Open Images – an open media platform, stimulating the reuse of audiovisual heritage – in 2009 and participating in numerous publicly funded research projects, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision has been an active provider, user and advocate of open cultural data and content in the cultural (heritage) sector. As a publicly funded national archive for Dutch audiovisual heritage, we believe allowing (creative) reuse of our collections – when copyright allows – enables innovative applications based on our shared cultural wealth and contributes to a bigger, more diverse and – sometimes – more meaningful reach of these collections. Allowing this to happen contributes to our relevance to today’s society and adds value that would otherwise remain unlocked. A good example where this is evidenced is the contextualization of our historical newsreel collection in Wikimedia projects, most notably Wikipedia. Thousands of articles on various language versions of Wikipedia have been enriched with archival footage from our collection, attracting millions of pageviews every month.
In the beginning Sound and Vision mostly acted as an open cultural data and content provider but over time became involved in the advocation for and (stimulation of) reuse of open data and content through initiatives like Europeana and Open Cultuur Data. Sound and Vision hosted the first hackathon organized by Europeana in its building in Hilversum and co-founded the Open Cultuur Data network initiative in the Netherlands (together with Open State Foundation and Kennisland), helping other cultural heritage organizations open up their collections, and connect them with hackers through hackathons and app challenges. Involvement in the stimulation of (creative) reuse of open cultural data and content continues for Sound and Vision in projects like Apps4Europe, Europeana Creative and currently Europeana Space.
Hackathons and Sustainable Businesses
Sound and Vision witnessed a development of the hackathon concept in the cultural sector. At first – around 2011 – these hackathons were mostly functioning as events for developer involvement, open data/content advocacy and creating awareness of the innovative possibilities of apps based on open cultural data and content. The resulting apps often could (only) be considered prototypes showcasing a certain concept, and were not meant to be a sustainable product for end users (at that point). But with the popularization of the hackathon concept and the slow but steady increase in the amount of open data and content made available by the cultural sector in the Netherlands, attracting developer attention purely based in the incentive of experimentation and access to unique open collection became harder. In parallel, cultural institutions were increasingly challenged to facilitate the economic valorisation of their collections, through establishing links with the so-called cultural industries.
The developments described above are reflected in the approaches of some of the aforementioned projects, while also showing some of the current challenges. Apps4Europe helps app developers create sustainable businesses through the Business Lounge concept, but – speaking for the cultural domain – investors are mostly interested in innovative concepts. The reuse of open cultural data and content is not often an (important) criteria for them, let alone a unique selling point. Europeana Creative provided app developers with some key examples of the possibilities of open cultural data and content reuse, by developing inspiring ‘pilots’ for different domains (social networks, education, tourism and design). This provided excellent examples of the creative, innovative and social possibilities, but didn’t always convincingly show the business potential. Through challenges Creative gathered submissions of ideas and based on open cultural data and content reuse, awarding the best concepts with an incubation support package to help bring their product to market. The design of a sustainable business model for these winning submissions turned out to be quite challenging. Currently Europeana Space is contributing to job creation through the reuse of open cultural data and content, by following a three step process: First the generation of innovative concepts is supported through a hackathon, then the most promising concepts are supported through a business modeling workshop (focussing on the concept design and market value proposition) and finally one concept is selected for a business incubation trajectory. While the concept creation is based on open cultural data and content reuse, the quality of the concept put forward by the participants and their previous experience, drive and market savviness are equally – if not more – important. Further support is given by Europeana Space in the form of content sourcing and providing technical infrastructures that enable (easier) reuse of open cultural data and content.
In conclusion, I would like to share some observations. Firstly there is still very limited ‘hard’ proof that the reuse of open cultural data and content leads to the generation of economic value. Also there are few viable business models available that can exemplify this at a level higher than theoretical. Value increase that can be easily observed are of a more social nature, like greater and more diverse access to culture, meaningful contextualization of cultural resources leading to new and open knowledge, new forms of creativity and new and/or stronger relations between the creative industries, cultural institutions and their audiences. In our experience these values are often also still the incentives that predominantly motivate the participants to contribute to open cultural data and content reuse (including the related hackathons, app challenges, etc). This however does not mean that economic factors are not and will never be involved here. In our experience the most successful open data business in general are based on provided data services (data aggregation, data enrichment, data analysis, etc.). These types of services can also emerge from concepts based on open cultural data and content. This also complies with our experience that investors aren’t interested in the (open) data and content that is ‘feeding’ these services, they are interested in innovative concepts. Therefore, open cultural data and content reuse provide a perfect opportunity for app developers to create innovative concepts for a social or creative good, while building their portfolio toward economic sustainability and job creation in the cultural sector. To accelerate this process support actions like business development and incubation are welcome additions to the open cultural data and content reuse realm.