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How to Openwash Your Product: Ben Gray's Wuthering Bytes Talk

Gareth Halfacree

As we count down the days to Wuthering Bytes, the UK Maker Belt's greatest - in both senses of the word - technology event, we'd like to draw attention to a talk which really resonates with us: 'How to Openwash Your Product and Make Your Millions' by our friend Ben Gray.

Regular readers, and anyone with an interest in hobbyist robotics, will recognise Ben as the creator of the MeArm. Recently released as version 1.0, the MeArm is a low-cost laser-cut robotic arm designed primarily with hobbyists and education in mind. It's a wonderful device, made even more wonderful by the fact that its design is released as open hardware under a permissive licence allowing reuse and remixing.

The MeArm is a true open source project, but that's not always true of devices that fly the flag of open hardware. Many, unfortunately, promise much and deliver little, using the cachet of being open source to drive interest without ever releasing anything of value - and, in some cases, without ever releasing anything at all. It's a problem Ben has described as 'open-washing,' painting a project in the colours of open source without ever intending to behave like a good community citizen.

Ben developed a quick rule-of-thumb for detecting open-washing: if you can't find the design files or source code within ten minutes of learning about the project, then it's probably guilty. It's a rule that Ben himself has occasionally fallen foul of, albeit as a result of working hard on revisions and neglecting to update the publicly-available files. "I would say that up until yesterday MeArm was guilty of open-washing," he admitted in our recent interview. "You couldn't find the latest version within 10 minutes as it wasn't shared."

There's a definite difference, however, between neglecting to keep files up-to-date and deliberately misleading users as to their availability or the permissiveness of the licence, and it's here where Ben is looking to focus his talk during the Open Source Hardware Camp 2015 track on Saturday the 26th of September. For anyone interested in open software and hardware, either as a consumer, a contributor, or a creator, it promises to be a must-see - and the morally ambiguous may even pick up a tip or two to help them on their way to the millions promised in the talk's title.

The Open Source Hardware Camp weekend, which includes a day of talks on Saturday the 26th and a workshop day on Sunday the 27th, is part of the Wuthering Bytes festival at Hebden Bridge, which runs from the 26th of September right through to the 2nd of October. More information, and tickets priced at a terribly reasonable £10 per day including lunch, is available from our dedicated microsite.

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