Posted by Zach Blank, Creative Technologist, BBH New York

We are so consumed by the communities that Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare (and our local knitting website) foster that we often forget to take a step back and think about the lessons to be learned from these communities. Within each of these online ecosystems, participants, aware of it or not, share some of their most intimate secrets with the world. Conversations about relationships, ridicule for certain social behavior from the night before, bragging about their new iPad, and most importantly simply being open all seem commonplace.

Coders admirably follow the same model however on a significantly different level. Most, I believe, have taken this notion of community and have truly found the value in it for what they do, and there is much we can learn from that. Coders who have affectionately adopted the open source mantra are out there sharing their code, encouraging others to take it and well pretty much do whatever they want. The idea is that by making the work available to be built upon and expanded, it will be built upon and expanded into something better and exponentially more worth sharing.

A piece of work created this way, where the sum of the parts is less meaningful than the work in its entirety, or gestalt, becomes very powerful when considered in the context of the open source philosophy. Projects made up of libraries, code blocks, classes, and ideas whose authors individually poured hours into creating are incomparably more notable than their preceding work which undoubtably made it possible. This is the key most important value in open source. And it is that value that can be translated to other media and have the same result.

Open source technology has given birth to a large array of projects, from everyday utilities to intricate and involved interactive art installations. Each has a narrative behind it that has an impact on its own.

Firefox and jQuery are wonderful examples of utility-based projects driven by the ideals of open source. Firefox, one of the leading web browsers, has a powerful community behind it, thousands-strong, and constantly pushing it forward. The source code and SDK are available to anyone who either wants to tinker with the core of the browser, or develop add-ons to be distributed throughout. jQuery is an example of a company whose purpose has made anyone using the Internet happier, conscience of it or otherwise. It is a Javascript framework which now has hundreds, if not thousands, of plugins creating rich Internet experiences for us all. It started with John Resig’s idea and has been progressed exponentially by the community that has organically grown around it.

The story of these projects are most relevant to us in understanding how to use the ideas of open source. The two projects below carry strong narratives of how they evolved, lending a learning experience on a much different level than the end product. Thinking about the path that these projects took and the backstories behind their creation is an exploration of the creative process that went into them; therein lies the most powerful ideas.


You Fade To Light is a beautiful project by rAndom International (with software created by Chris O’Shea), existing in large part because of people who understand the power of sharing their work and encouraging growth. This project was born out of projects before it, borrowing code, leveraging libraries and frameworks to bring it to life. Audience, a separate project also by rAndom International (in collaboration with Chris O’Shea) adds to the narrative and creates its own. Have a look at that here.

sketches-5; A wonderful exploration of the process of creating 'I Want You To Want Me' from start to finish

I Want You to Want Me (IWYTWM) by Jonathan Harris ( and Sep Kamvar ( for the 2008 exhibit ‘Design and the Elastic Mind‘ at MoMA in NYC was created using OpenFrameworks, an open source framework in C++ for artists, interaction designers and creative coders. This beautiful work is in debt to all the work before it. Fortunately the IWYTWM team documented their process, their narrative. It is a prime example of the power that the evolution of these projects exemplify and the value in sharing them.

So, how can we leverage this power of sharing creativity in our business when we hold our ideas in such high regard and guard them so jealously? There is so much buzz around crowdsourcing at the moment because the ‘power of many’ has been proven. That is simply my argument. We need to adopt this powerful idea and understand how to make it relevant and practical for our work. How does the story behind the larger collaborative efforts fit into our business and make our work better?

The easy answer is it doesn’t. But it could.

We can open our ideas and leverage larger collaborative efforts. We need to start with sharing honest explorations of the process behind an idea. Again, IWYTWM illustrates this beautifully, and if we can embrace this idea and run with it we will come out with a whole new level of creative work – perhaps a new breed of creativity altogether.

We’d love to see more examples like the ones above. And we’re always keen to hear what you think.