For many professions, there’s a home for collaboration on the Net: programmers have SourceForge and Github (and many more). Electronics engineers have Open Design Engine (opendesignengine.net) and Upverter (upverter.com). Writers have tools like EtherPad Lite and Google Docs. But artists and designers? Not one I’m aware of.
Sure, there’s deviantart.com and flickr.com. Huge platforms, but not collaborative at all: the only thing to do there is present your work and comment on others. “Fork Me on Art Hub” project wants to fill exactly that gap. It wants to place artists and designers into an open content “rhizome of graphical knowledge”, where it feels like everybody collaborating with everybody else, and doing so without needing any special invitation.
Here’s how: A web-based platform for social collaboration in artwork and design, grown around version management for artwork files with git, the promotion of open content licenses (like CC-BY-SA), and “uninvited contributions” by fellow designers and those previously known as “art consumers”. This kind of “uninvited contributions” is well-known in the software world, for example called “forking” and “pull requests” on Github.
(Note: For the version management part, this project is complemented by the “Git for GIMP” project proposal. That project makes the workflow much more likable for designers, but initially the platform can also work without this and collaborate with SparkleShare for example.)
The portal’s functionality is best explained by assuming a “social network” type portal, plus the following features (listed by importance, and explained in detail in the “Project Description”):
- Free git project hosting. Artists and designers can register for free and host art project for free as long as they assign an open content license to it. All art projects are automatically versioned with git, and the different versions are also accessible via a web interface (gitorious is a nice base software for that). And not just the artwork will be in the git repo, also utility files and everything else needed to collaborate on an artwork, like scripts for generative art.
- “Fork Me” function to create derivatives. Like on Github, there will be a prominent “Fork” feature. Once you click this, it allows to initialize a new own git repo with the artwork in question, and to add own versions by building on original ones. Once you have something you want to contribute back to the original author, you can create a “pull request” for that version.
- One-click accepting of contributions. Ideally, it will be possible to include others’ updates back into your own work by just clicking “accept” for an appropriate pull-request notification that pops up on the website. It would be possible to get pre-views of the changes before accepting a change, of course.
- Embeddable widget with “Fork Me” function. This is one of the most innovative aspects here. For embedding an artwork into a website, whether the artists own one or any other, the Art Hub platform provides auto-generated “embed code”. That HTML snippet not only shows the artwork, but also a “Fork Me” button that takes the reader to the Art Hub platform and shows some easy steps to create a derivative artwork. And then, all derivatives are shown in a slideshow that is also accessible from within the embedded HTML. Which means that creating derivative works results in immediate publicity in all publications showcasing the original work – and the “consumer” is no longer consumer at all, but co-producer. Esp. for art-related publications it will be a lot of fun for the artistists and art-enthusiast readers to see the derivative works produced by their fellow readers.
- Social commit messages. To make the Art Hub system more enjoyable in spute of quite technical version management, the git commit messages for each new version should be split into a technical and social part. Giving thanks, making a funny comment etc. goes into the social part, and update notifications and pull requests on the web platform would should show these social parts of the commit message as well, alongside with the picture of the author, similar to the update notification feed found in social networks like Facebook.
- Derivative graph. With artwork, it’s not like with software: given a set of derivatives, people will hardly ever agree on a best version, while in software all improvements are regularly merged into the main version. So with artwork, there will be many forks that do not get merged back into the original, and these should be shown as a tree-like graph of derivative works (incl. preview images) on a project’s page.
This would even be the main feature of this invention: allowing not just one version of a graphic to exist, but a lot of interdependent versions. (They can be all incorporated within one git repo, as branches that branch into even more branches.) Those who search for a work to incorporate can then look through all the variants. And it would be the work of the main graphic project’s authors to provide a systematic collection of the derivatives that are the most relevant, in her view.
- “Getting derivatives” as reputation. Collaboration is also about culture: on Github, you can estimate the popularity of a project by looking at the number of followers and forks. And similarly, people creating derivative works should be considered a good thing on the Art Hub platform and their number would be shown prominently, to encourage the culture of sharing.
- Embedding option with automatic attribution. When generating the HTML snippet with the embed code, the platform also automatically includes proper attribution for all base works, in accordance with the artworks’ licenses. This automatic attribution removes a major practical hazzle when dealing with open content photography and images: keeping track of sources and attributing correctly.
- art hub integration into FLOSS graphics apps. There would be plugins for major FLOSS apps (GIMP, Inkscape,MyPaint) to open and fork Art Hub art repositories directly from the Internet. (Note that these app plugins would manage a local git repo invisibly, no need to care about that.) When saving back to the repo (or a new forked repo) with the graphics application, a “new fork / derivative / pull request” notice will appear on the Art Hub platform. Tihs feature is for workflow improvement only, and not needed for a first working verison.
- Federation. Some artists may want to fork the platform itself and create their own self-hosted artist community. As the platform software will be free and open source, this is clearly possible. However there should be an actively promoted “federation” feature that allows a global search on all platforms that have it enabled, plus cross-platform forking of artwork projects.
- CC licence registry. The platform can also take over the role of a “copyright licence registry”, here for open content licenses, as another way to promote collaboration among the arts. It’s a platform to record the fact of people licencing their work, to avoid potential later legal hazzle.
- Automatic pingbacks for derivatives. Of course the platform informs the authors about derivatives created on the platform, but additionally it can search the web (with image similarity search etc.) for other derivatives and likewise create notifications for these.
- New collaboration option for large graphics. This software would allow new types of collaboration on large infographics etc., by creating placeholders at first, putting them together into the master graphic, then letting everybody work on fleshing out one placeholder each and feeding the changes automatically into the master graphic.
Similarly, this kind of distributed, versioned graphics creation system should also work for multi-page DTP documents with lots of illustrations, like by integrating it with Scribus. So a lot of authors (including the general public) can work on creating a complex document, both the text and graphics.