People who follow technological developments in the computer field are familiar with the concept of "open source" software where an application's normally secret source code is made available to the public, and programmers are invited to contribute their creativity to the product. Now, OneWorld International (a community of over 1,250 non-governmental organizations working for social justice) has brought the open source concept to the documentary form, and OneWorld TV may well bring a whole new definition to the term "reality television".
Launched in the spring of this year, OneWorld TV collects short RealVideo clips into storylines dedicated to specific subjects. Topics onsite at the time of writing include HIV/AIDS, tourism's effects on third world poverty, globalization, a collection of Israeli and Palestinian video diaries, and the issue currently featured on the home page, Climate Change.
Launching a special feature, such as Climate Change, reveals a subject home page with an introduction and list of related stories ("A Change in the Air," "Scientists and Skeptics," "Baked Alaska," etc). Each features a sequential collection of video clips, building into a unique combination of documentary and video dialogue. As an example, "Scientists and Skeptics" opens with a congressman and a climatologist speaking against such steps as the Kyoto accord, followed by a response from a member of the United Nations Panel on Climate Change, followed by pieces on how the change in climate is affecting Alaska and Costa Rica; how it could effect the global economy; what the fossil fuel lobby has to say about the Kyoto accord, and more.
Each clip opens into its own window, and is accompanied by tabs that offer notes and related offsite links, the next video clip in the series, a chance to offer feedback, and an invitation to contribute your own clip to what's called the "tapestry." This last feature is where things promise to get interesting, and the source of the open source comparison. Anyone with access to a video camera and an Internet connection has a chance to respond to the issue at hand, and provide visuals to support their argument.
If a company spokesman claims that the company doesn't pollute a river, or a mayor says that poverty isn't a problem in her city, OneWorld contributors can post evidence or provide personal testimonies to the contrary and then see if anyone responds.
As you may have guessed, outside contributions are screened before posting, much like many online forums and bulletin boards. But as with any documentary form, it's ultimately up to the viewer to judge the validity of the material.
It's going to be interesting to see how OneWorld TV develops. The potential for giving international exposure to "grass roots" documentaries, not to mention the concept of video rebuttal, are innovations that only the Web can provide. Add the ability to compare not only differing opinions about, but also multiple perspectives of, a given issue from first and third world, from street level activists and civilians, to teachers, film students and freelance journalists and OneWorld might actually elevate reality TV out of the land of the oxymoron. The concept is certainly a more worthwhile venture than yet another season of "Survivor."
OneWorld TV can be found at http://tv.oneworld.net/.
Jim Regan is a writer and humorist who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has been the links producer for csmonitor.com since its launch in 1996.