As communications change and the demand grows for local networks, our mission becomes clear: we are being called upon to organize an army of geeks to accomplish the tasks that lie ahead.

The Background

Joaquin Alvarado presented the plan for National Public Lightpath to public broadcasters at the Integrated Media Association conference last week in Atlanta. He called on the audience to actively build partnerships in their local communities and apply for economic stimulus grant money to make the network a reality. This is a common goal to be shared by NPR, PBS, CPB and all the stations.

Doc Searls followed on with a blog post that expands Leonard Witts vision to turn PBS into a news powerhouse. Robert Patterson took these points and drafted an emerging plan to make this a reality. Key points in Patterson’s plan were to lower costs systemically and yet attract resources beyond money – in particular technology resources. I believe this point hinges on two key actions:

1) Wide adoption of Drupal open source platform
2) Call to arms to rally geek talent at the local level

Adoption of Drupal Open Source Platform

With the super-high-speed network in place, one of the key requirements will be a software platform that can support the many organizations connecting to the network and distributing content. This is an opportune moment for the whole system to adopt a common, open source platform.

A survey conducted last fall by PubForge (a collective of public media web developers), concluded that the allocation of resources to web development and maintenance is critically low. Recent cutbacks due to the economic climate don’t make that picture look any brighter. This is why adoption of a shared platform is so critical. A shared platform will allow open access to developers to both share common code and also extend the platform to create custom applications for their communities.

Open source platforms have a lower acquisition cost and offer a global development team via the open source community. Drupal is a platform that has gained the support of many public media stations and is used widely by non-profits. In fact, Obama recently launched Recovery.gov on the Drupal platform.

Rally Local Geek Talent

We should advocate for a national call to action among the geek communities of America. Public media stations have long rallied volunteer staff to work in service of their stations. The call to service should be made to geeks to come to the aid of a public service Internet. This should be done in coordination with a national effort to develop a shared platform that could be used throughout the system.

The amount of work needed to digitize our nation’s history, create public participatory systems, and to create an information network is not by any means a trivial task. It will take an army of geeks. The first two rounds of Internet innovation (web 1.0 and web 2.0) created a distributed network of talent across the country. This network is currently connected through popular social media tools and in real life via local meet-ups and geek gatherings. There are a growing number of coworking innovation centers around the country that also serve as a geek commons.

As part of the RadioEngage project, we are calling on our local geek community to rally resources around a volunteer public media project. The specifics of the project will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Volunteering on the project will provide participants with the opportunity to support their local media station in a way that best utilizes their talents. The data migration and integration needed to create a rich media archive and interface will require many developer hours. By leveraging the passion of local geeks and providing a place to showcase their efforts, we create an ecosystem that supports a new model of public media volunteerism. The end result could yield a depth and diversity of applications developed to support public media content in a local context and provide a strong case for open source tools.