On Novacut

What follows is my opinion alone and does not represent the views of the Yorba Foundation or its employees.

There’s been some noise in the Gnomish blogosphere about Novacut and their recent (and second) attempt at fundraising via Kickstarter.  Probably the most slicing criticism I’ve seen yet comes from Danny Piccirillo at The Silent Number, who opens his complaint with this:

I am writing to say that the only way for the ideas behind Novacut to be realized is to stop pretending that throwing $25K worth of funding at it could possibly save the project. …

What Novacut is doing is harmful to free software, especially existing video editors.

I met the Novacut crew at the Orlando UDS last year.  They seemed like decent and motivated people who believed in both the power of open source and independent filmmaking.  It never crossed my mind that they were somehow, in any way, “harmful” to free software.

I’m not going to delve into my opinions of the Novacut editor or their dmedia project or even open source video editing in general (although I should point out that Yorba has some skin in that game).  I do want to express opinions on some larger points, however.

First, if the open source movement can really be so damaged by a few folks trying to raise $25,000 — which in the software industry is pennies in the couch cushions — then open source is doomed.  I don’t buy that argument for a minute.  One of the professed strengths of open source is its distributed nature, that no project can be shut down or washed out of existence (or do likewise to others, although it might overshadow them due to its success).  It’s particularly ludicrous to think that trying to raise a little money is somehow besmirching the name of open source video editors everywhere.

Second, I’ve grown tired of the “Never start a new project!” line of argument:

For the video editor, Jason needs to just swallow his pride and join forces with PiTiVi, as he has been invited to again and again. … PiTiVi has just implemented audio sync and multi-camera alignment, and surely the rest of Jason’s revolutionary ideas can be implemented as well.

My problem with the above statement comes down to one word: needs.  If open source is freedom, then it follows that contributors should join projects out of desire — out of freedom — and not due to some perceived imperative.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss my opinion here because of my involvement with Shotwell, a program I’ve put a lot of hard work into in spite of the viable alternatives out there.  This is not a new or convenient opinion for me, though.  I’ve felt this way for years now.  I could name any number of open source projects that prove my point; you may be using a few of them right now, as you read this.  Sometimes starting afresh — tossing out old assumptions, letting go of aging technologies, focusing on new ideas or techniques — results in something useful, interesting, wonderful, or even revolutionary.  Alternatives also create healthy competition, which can be even more motivating than $25,000.

Does that mean everyone should simply start their own project whenever they feel the itch?  Of course not, but the threshold line between join forces and start afresh is not for me to dictate either.  Each contributor should get informed, weigh the alternatives, and then proceed with the decision they’re comfortable with.  And, as an informed individual myself, I need to accept that decision — the only imperative need I’m comfortable with in a free society.

3 thoughts on “On Novacut”

  1. A huge thanks Jim!

    Crowdfunding’s growing success is a huge boon to Free Software just as it is to independent art. Call us early adopters 😉

    Novacut stepping foot into the Direct-to-User realm of Crowdfunding will hopefully inspire other projects to do the same.

    Search “cnc” in Kickstarter Technology, the category shared by Open Hardware projects and Open Software projects like Novacut.
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/search?term=cnc
    That’s a lot of users bootsrapping projects they personally find exciting.

    Take a look at the number of backers for a random handful of recently successful projects:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/discover/successful?ref=more

    The number of backers pledging Novacut….
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/novacut/novacut-pro-video-editor
    …is exciting for FOSS video far beyond our own project and for Open Software projects of all sorts.

  2. Good point about the implications of $25k damaging free software. The kernel of the idea had occurred to me when I read that article (via a link from someone on Planet GNOME, I think), but I hadn’t quite carried the thought to its logical conclusion.

    As for never-start-a-project, in theory I agree. In practice it seems to me more new projects are started, and have been started, than would have truly been best in the long run. (Or if not “more”, than at least a non-negligible number.) But it’s a massive hypothetical that’s impossible to test, and in any case I certainly can’t control how other spend, or have spent, their time. So I’m at best ambivalent about new projects for problems already addressed to some extent.

    Last (and the reason why I’m actually commenting, if it comes down to it): it looks like a few months ago, when this blog changed its URL, its feed URL changed as well. Right now Google Reader claims the old, defunct feed has ~200 subscribers; while the new feed has only ~25. I only happened to notice this move while pruning overall feed numbers and noticing in details for the old feed that it had run into an error when updating. I’d suggest adding some sort of redirect or something to make the old feed work. It looks like you’ve stranded a fair number of readers in changing blog URLs silently.

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