We need a Freedom Press!

Free operating system, free software and free content are all great for us who have direct access to computer technology. However a huge majority – actually several billion people – of the world do not. If we want that “every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge” (Wikipedia Mission Statement) we need alternative distribution channels – something like a “Freedom Press”.

Many blogs are writing about the Freedom Toaster. With the Freedom Toaster – located in public space – visitors can make copies of open source software, for free on their own CDs. Freedom Toaster is made in South Africa and designed for African needs.

Many great FLOSS projects come at the moment from Africa. For instance the Free High School Science Textbook project is providing full study books on physics, chemistry and mathematics for Grades 10-12. What is remarkable is that this is not a plan or an idea, like most “free school book” projects around the world; the books are already online for anyone to download.

The National Curriculum on Wiki is another great FLOSS project that is coming from Africa. I like this, because information in a Wiki is dynamic and always under development. This is what curriculum should be. Curriculum should not be a static document that is made once for the next ten years. People should talk about it, fix, modify and improve it. South Africa seems to be leading the way to the Jimbo Wales prediction.

Despite of all these very good initiatives, free content does not help you much if you never get in touch with it. Most people do not, and never will, have a computer (either running propriety or FLOS software) and this is not likely to change soon.

What about having a Freedom Press – a similar kind of facility as the Freedom Toaster, but for printing out free content?

The Freedom Press should have a computer and a hard disk filled up with selected free content books and a printer unit. The content should be ready to print format (Latex, PDF). Both content and computer should be easy to maintain from distance. People could bring their own paper (or buy it from the spot) and print out content generated out from the Wikipedia,
and FHSST.

A local entrepreneur from a Tele-centre or a paper shop could run the Freedom Press, or it could be run by a local authority. People in far away villages could pool their money, make a trip to the closest Freedom Press, print out a collection and start a library back home.

Send me a picture if you’ll make a prototype of the Freedom Press. 🙂

3 thoughts on “We need a Freedom Press!

  1. Yes!I think I wrote about this somewhere, that the problem in spreading open content targeted to educational purposes is not the technology but the fact that most classes still start by buying a book. Often a writing doesn't exist until it's published in a printed form. Some teachers also just print out materials to copy for their students (often illegally) instead of pointing where to find that stuff.There are a couple of "freedom press"-only publishers, I can't recall their names but those publishers are releasing books under an open content license. These are traditional publishing business models, though. The users can't make a difference of an open book compared to closed book.Freedom press is a fantastic idea. A prototype with a simple interface is easy to build on top of Linux. The users could also pay a small fee for the ink in addition to bringing their own paper. Unfortunately there might be some mechanical problems so it can't be completely user-operated.Maybe the selected material could reside on a database somewhere on the web. There could be several databases maintained by different people. A rating system could be implemented, bringing global rating available to all books. People who actually printed stuff out at their freedom press terminals could read the reviews and vote through the web or right on the spot. The technology could be some kind of a client-server software, that makes it easy to browse, preview and print the books with the help of some kind of a simple touch screen.This might be a nice little push for open content, at least.


  2. I think you are right with your analyses of many classes starting by buying or giving a book for students. This kind of didactic approach to learning seems to live strong in our society. However, I think that even if we have more advanced pedagogical strategies we should *not* under estimate the need and importance of written, verified and published information. When suffering on information overload we easily forget that most people are still lacking access to basic information resources. Anyway, like you wrote, the class should start by teacher pointing out “where to find the right stuff”. I have already discussed with several people about the Freedom Press idea and will have more chat about it next month while visiting South Africa. The ink is a cost I forgot. I have some open questions: * How much is a unit price of a single page printed with digital print?
    * What would be the total maintenance costs of single Freedom Press kiosk if done from distance?
    * Could the Freedom Press kiosk be designed so that the tele-centre / paper shop keeper just need to take care that it is plugged to electricity and add ink in to it when running out of it.
    * Is it possible to make the Internet connection of the Freedom Press kiosks via satellite – so that the kiosk includes the satellite receiver (no need to modems etc.)
    By the way: I hope I am wrong, but it looks for me that the software running the Freedom Toaster – the software inside the toaster making it possible to select and burn the FLOSS operating systems with touch screen – is not released under any FLOSS license? 🙂 Maybe we should start “free freedom toaster” project on Sourceforge? If you find the software somewhere, let us know. It may help us in the design of the software running Freedom Press.


  3. I think it is a great cause but I see couple of problems. First one is the current lact of suitable ready-to-print public material. For example project Gutenberg distributes mainly public domain classics, but they are suitable only for a very limited type of reading and education – and they are usually written in languages spoken in countries that already have the technological resources to hinder the value of this kind of project. I'm not sure how essential it is for people to learn using primarily their native language, but I could guess that it would have quite an impact on the learners cognitive development.The other problem is the durability of the printed material. My sister works for the local church and once got an assignment to sew 50 or so bags for the purpose of storing bibles and educational material which were to be shipped as emissionary help. It had turned out that even hard cover books had very low durability when taken to conditions where there is sand all over in the air and overall hygieny is not as high as in more developed countries. So if hard cover books can't stand the use, what about cheaply printed versions?The third problem is the cost and transportation of the materials. We finns probably take high quality paper too much as granted because of the local paper indistries. To other countries it mainly has to be imported and if it is imported materially anyway, wouldn't it make more sense to print most of the commonly used material in mass quantities beforehand thus reducing the cost of manufacturing?I think that currently the main problem is the lack of freely available material and especially localized material. Also lack of people competent and willing to teach is an another huge issue. These, in my opinnion, outweight by far the difficulties in distribution of information.


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