September 6, 2005

Net_User_3 conference: Art, new media, and free software

Author: Daniel Secareanu

Net User is an international interdisciplinary conference that takes place in Bulgaria every two years and features a wide variety of current trends in network activities intended to develop a better theoretical and practical understanding of the creative use of new media and technologies. The third edition of Net User conference was last month on an island in the Black Sea, a mile away from Burgas, Bulgaria.

Net_User_3 was held within the framework of the 05trov Bolshevik summer gathering taking place on St. Anastasia island (a.k.a. Bolshevik Island). The event was organized by InterSpace Media Art Center from Sofia, Competenz Centrum Mur AT, and Medien Kunstlabor from Graz, Austria. 05trov Bolshevik is a pilot project for annual workcamps on art, technology, and the media, involving artists and Net activists from around the world, in order to contribute to the evolution of a contemporary art platform based on free and open source software.

Building on the previous two well-attended editions of the conference, Net_User_3 brought together prominent researchers and practitioners from a variety of disciplines and countries for a program of presentations, workshops, and informal networking. Speakers and artists from Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Georgia, and the United States of America took part in the third edition of the conference, which targeted the general Net user -- those people who use any kind of the contemporary technological networks, such as the Internet, intranets, mobile phone networks, and radio and television networks.

The location of the island in the Black Sea, at the border between the New Europe and Eurasia, provided a free and open territory for social and artistic experiments. The participants, coming from different cultures, were taken out of their typical environments and unleashed on an almost deserted island. This setting provided a productive workplace, fostered closer communication among the participants, and at the same time caused the transformation of an isolated and unpopular space into a creative environment. In this alternative atmosphere, the participants heard information and discussed issues about topics such as Open content – FOSS Licenses vs. Piracy; Software Localization – Language Diversity vs. Globalization; and Third Media Sector – The Role of the Community Media as a New Independent Civic Media.

The first day of the Net_User_3 conference examined pirated content on the Internet. While the creators and distributors of audio-visual content fight against the problem of pirated content circulated over the Internet, the reality is that they can never regain control over the way their content is redistributed. Thus, questions such as whether users in countries with lower standards of living can afford this content and whether there is a middle ground between total control and total piracy arise. The participants discussed the different models of pirated content distribution and the alternative of the Creative Commons license.

This session was moderated by Petko Dourmana of Bulgaria, a media artist and organizer of projects in the area of art and technology. Petko is co-founder of InterSpace Association and director of InterSpace Media Art Centre. His artistic research and activities are mostly on the cutting edge of communication and information technologies. His works have been shown at many national and international exhibitions and festivals and on the Internet. The other participants in this panel included Yovko Lambrev (Bulgaria) of the Free Software Association, co-founder of Open Culture Bulgaria portal; Antony Raijekov (Bulgaria), co-founder of Open Culture Bulgaria portal; Peio Popov (Bulgaria), translator and consultant on the translation on Creative Commons in Bulgaria, and lawyer for Open Culture Bulgaria; and Nenad Romic, a.k.a. Marcell Mars (Croatia), co-founder of Multimedia Institute from Zagreb and coordinator of Creative Commons Croatia.

In the world of digital divide and globalization, the culture and the languages of small nations are under the threat of being pushed into the cultural periphery. The broad usage of software in English impedes the development of applcations in local languages and leads to a massive use of foreign terms. Many computer users in small countries do not speak English, hence their ability to operate computers is restricted. These issues are addressed by individuals and groups who are concerned with localization of software. The aim of the second day of the conference was to bring together representatives of various projects for software translation and localization, as well as people who are interested in the topic. Participants discussed various issues, such as common problems of localization efforts, main tools for localization and translation, ways and means of starting and managing localization projects, Web infrastructure for localization, and tools for promotion of localized software.

This session was conducted by Vladimir Petkov (Bulgaria), who lives and works in InterSpace MAC. Petkov is especially proud that he takes part in projects such as Cult.bg, an online portal for art and culture and open source software for the Bulgarian NGOs, as well as *bpm zone for hyperculture. Petkov graduated with a degree in public administration and is now actively studying for a master's degree in virtual culture at the University of Sofia. He is style editor in the GNOME Bulgaria project. The other participants included Alexandar Shopov (Bulgaria), leader of the GNOME Bulgaria Project; Hristo Hristov (Bulgaria), leader of the OpenOffice.org Bulgaria project; Petros Velonis (Greece), representative of the OpenOffice.org project for Primary Education; Daniel Secareanu (Romania), IT manager at the Open Society Foundation and an open source activist; Nikola Kotur (Serbia and Montenegro), Linux User Group of Novi Sad; and Ana Keshelashvili (Georgia), an e-rider and open source activist.

The Third Media Sector referred to in the third session is made up of non-profit media serving a local community and having a clearly distinct identity alongside the national public and private commercial media. The right to communicate through community media requires sustainable access to means of communication, content production, and reception and distribution networks. In the ongoing process of concentration and commercialisation in the media sector a free press demands measures guaranteeing equal media access for local communities. The third day of the conference covered issues such as practices for creating a local community media, freedom of speech and media pluralism, promotion of cultural diversity, non-profit status of public media, and promotion of media literacy.

The session was led by Konstantin Petrov and had as participants Violeta Keremidchieva (Bulgaria), journalist, Capital newspaper; Ilian Ruzhin (Bulgaria), music editor, author of Sabotazh show, Radio NET, Bulgaria; Ales Zemene (Czech Republic), artist and developer of multimedia tools with open source technologies; Antonio Dimitrov (Macedonia), Program Director of Community Radio Channel 103; and Carol Parkinson (USA), curator, Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center.

The conference culminated with a presentation by Tim Pritlove, member of the German Chaos Computer Club (Europe`s largest hacker group, founded in 1981), organizer of Chaos Communication Congress, and co-author of Blinkenlights project. Despite the harsh conditions, the participants enjoyed the challenges, put their creativity to work, and created an audio orchestra of laptops, a video panorama photographed frame by frame with a webcam during a boat trip around the island, and several three-minute videos capturing metaphors of the island, and they broadcast a radio program through IceCast -- most of these by using free and open source software. But maybe more important than the creative work here was the solid networking among the participants that allowed for knowledge exchange and the fostering of future common regional projects.

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