I’m a big fan of Free Culture and free open source web services too, licensed under the AGPL. The example I use most is probably Identi.ca, because I’m a noisy git and I like talking to people. I also wrote about the creation of Libre.fm a little while back, and I think we could really use more of these truly “free” web services. So when I heard about a new AGPL social network for film fans, I was very happy. The site is called Filmaster and I was lucky enough to have a chat with Borys Musielak (the site’s creator) about how it all came to fruition. Borys is also involved with the popular website Polish Linux, which you may have heard about.
Dan: What exactly is Filmaster and how did it come about?
Borys: So, it got started in my mind something like March last year. I was pretty tired of existing film websites. IMDB – couldn’t stand its looks, rottentomatoes didn’t provide good recommendations, Criticker provided ONLY recommendations, and Flixter… well, is just a myspace for movies. Anyhow, it felt like there was some room for something different. And this is the English Internet, in Polish web it was even worse. Only one big film website, where you could not even discuss with people without being insulted. So in general I wanted a user-generated film website where people who love film could blog, talk and get some cool social features, like personalized recommendations based on taste / taste comparison with other users and more.
Dan: So how does it work technically? What platform or language do you use?
Borys: We use a whole range of free software to run it. The key ingredients are python (language), django (framework), postgresql (database engine) and apache2 as a web server. But there are lots of other tools and libraries that we used on the way. Subversion for version control, pootle for translation management, pinax project to get some free (in both senses) django libraries. Eclipse IDE / vi to develop, and probably more that I can’t remember right now.
Dan: Do you do all the development for Filmaster yourself or does anyone else help out?
Borys: No, thank god no. Otherwise I’d be still coding and we would not be talking right now. I started coding with Adam Zieliński, a guy who I worked with on other web projects before, like OSnews.pl – an IT citizen journalist website. We worked together from, say, August 2008 till January 2009 when first public beta of Filmaster.pl (Polish edition) was unveiled. Then when the website started to be recognized and had some 1000 users, we decided to publish the code on an AGPL license. Well, this is a bit of a lie because we planned it beforehand, but we wanted to release something that were not overly ashamed of I think it was in March 2009, 2 months before releasing Filmaster.com. It turned out to be a good move as a couple of developers started contributing from day 1. Some cool features like IMDB/Criticker imports, more reliable search engine and more was developed by contributors. Namely turin, bolo and mrk. The content is also published on Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.
Dan: Was it important to you that it be open source and promote free culture?
Borys: Yes, well… it’s user’s content after all, right? I don’t like the fact that companies set up websites, lure users to contribute and then take their content and can do anything with it, leaving the users with nothing. By making it free, all those restrictions are non-existent. Everyone can use the content and it’s a very cool thing. Especially when you think of some external projects that can now, e.g. use the content from Filmaster in their… I don’t know… media players for instance? It would be cool if VLC or some other free software project integrated with Filmaster to provide their users more information.
Dan: Filmaster has Polish and English language versions, you can use the same account in either language and it’s all integrated. Did this add to the development overhead at all?
Borys: No, not much overhead, as we planned it from the very beginning. the data structure assumes localization of the content but the metadata is common, its all nicely described on the wiki: http://filmaster.org/display/DEV/Localization
Dan: Could you add more languages? Would you want to do that?
Borys: Sure! Take a look here: http://filmaster.com:6666/projects/filmaster/. Catalan version is 22% done. Just today we’ve got two people who want to translate it to Spanish and Norwegian. A Turkish friend was mentioning a Turkish version, but nothing certain yet. So yes, there are plans to expand. What is important is we do not want to be taking care of all the local versions, we can host it and have it integrated but it has to always be a team of 2-3 people who would like to take over the maintenance of localized versions. This is not as easy as just translating the labels and deploying, there is a lot of work to actually get the potential users to hear about the website and start generating content. It’s the hardest job in a social media project.
I signed up to Filmaster shortly before talking to Borys, and I must say I’m very impressed. I like films but I can’t claim to be an expert or know a terrific amount about them. Even so, the snappy design of the site and open ethos make it very easy to get involved. It was obviously carefully planned, and the ability to add more languages is a prime example of this. I wish more web applications were as well thought out. The project has great potential and I hope it will go from strength to strength in future, building on open standards and strong community development to flourish. If you’re interested in film, get over there and give it a try.
You can read the full text of our conversation here if you’re interested