We recently embarked on a program to create an "open content" reference design for of a home-built balloon suitable for first time amateur builders. (The concept of "open content" is analogous to that of "open source" software.)

This work is being supported by a generous grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund.

Creating and distributing plans for balloons is hardly a new idea. In fact, such plans are available from several vendors. However, all of these plans are "closed content". The open content notion of creative development is very different. The differences are subtle, tricky, and important. A brief but complete explanation is impossible. (Numerous books have been written about this issue.) So with that caveat ...

Under the traditional "closed content" model, a creative work is tied to its creator. There is no real opportunity for a work to evolve and improve over time nor to incorporate the creative energies of people other than the original creator.

To use a specific example, let's say Bill has created and sells sets of balloon plans. Potential buyers can decide to buy them or not. Pretty straightforward, so far.

If, let's say, Fred obtains a copy of the plans, sees a better way to do something, he can then contact Bill about the idea. If, and only if, Bill also agrees that Fred's idea is an improvement, it can be incorporated in future versions of the plans. If Bill is not inclined to make the change, then the idea goes nowhere.

Fred is of course free to draw his own set of plans. However, unless Bill agrees, Fred can not base his modified plans on Bill's original because that would create a so-called "derivative work." So again the potential improvement dies in the vine unless Bill, and only Bill, thinks it's a good idea.

In an "open content" arrangement, if Fred comes up with an improvement, he is free to make the change and then publish the improved version. In this way, a creative work has a life of its own, independent of its original creator.

Open content creations tend to quickly "mutate" and then the best designs become popular in a very Darwinian-like process. The results are often a far better work than can be created by any single creator (even if that creator is a large corporation like Microsoft.)

It may sound counter-intuitive, but it works amazingly well.

So the idea isn't so much a matter of creating yet another set of plans. The idea is to use an "open content" approach to creating and then evolving plans over time.

For further information, see the article on Open Content at Wikipedia. Wikipedia itself is an example of a large and highly successful open content project.

All information on this site is subject to the following disclaimer.

The balloon plans and descriptions provided here are
Copyright 2007-2008 Daniel Nachbar and Paul Stumpf
Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.