In this edition, we conducted an email-based interview with Matt
Lee, a lead developer of The List, which is licensed under the
GNU Affero General Public License version
3 (AGPLv3), or at your
option, any later version. Matt is the technical lead at Creative
Commons. Matt has been working in free software for over a decade
and is a notable contributor to the GNU project and a former
Campaigns Manager at the Free Software Foundation, as well as
co-founder of Libre.fm and GNU social. Currently Matt is raising
funds to produce a film this
summer, Orang-U: An Ape Goes to College, which he plans to edit
using entirely free software and release under a CC
Can you tell us a bit about The List?
No one can be everywhere at once. But everyone can.
NGOs, journalists, government agencies, and cultural institutions
all need photographs to tell their story and educate others. But
there’s no way for those organizations to be in the right place
at the right time, every time. That’s where we come in.
Through The List, organizations will provide lists of locations,
people, and events that they need photographs of. And when users
are in the right place at the right time, they can claim an item
from the list and publish a photograph of it.
What inspired the creation of The List?
The List powered by Creative Commons is an experiment to see if
we can make it easier for people to contribute to the public
commons. There are millions of places for images that exist in
the public commons in our daily lives, from newspaper articles to
photos and illustrations on Wikipedia. The List hopes to bring
the people who have a need for such images and the people who may
take them, together.
How are people using it?
Right now we're still prototyping things and we're working on
getting some real world items into The List, but the way it works
is pretty simple: you fire up the app, choose some categories of
things you're interested in such as pets, beverages, etc. Then we
show you an item that matches the category, and the requesting
organization (Wikipedia, FSF, etc.) can choose to add it to your
list or not. After you go through this process a couple of times,
you wind up with a personal to-do list of images. Taking an image
is easy, too: just tap it, tap the camera and take your photo. Or
you can upload a photo you've already taken. The photo is then
sent to some servers at Creative Commons, where we add metadata
and produce a variety of thumbnails of the image, before sending
it over to the Internet Archive for permanent storage. And
moments later, the image is in the gallery in the app on your
What features do you think really sets The List apart from similar software?
I don't think there's anything else like this out there. For the
first time, there's an application that makes it quick and easy
to contribute to the public commons, and we do that by hiding a
lot of the detail away from the user. For example, instead of
presenting a choice of the six Creative Commons licenses, we
choose one and all images are licensed in the same manner. It's
also a license that's compatible with Wikipedia and other similar
projects—Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.
Why did you choose the AGPLv3 as The List's license?
In addition to The List mobile app, there's a web app in
development too. We based the web app and the processing code on
GNU FM, a project I
started back in 2009 that powers music communities such as
Libre.fm. That code is under the AGPL as
well, and it's a code base I am intimately familiar with. So much
so that we're using it for another project too: a new federated
search project at Creative Commons.
How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to The List?
The first thing you can do is if you have an Android phone, come
try one of the public beta releases on the website,
If you're good at Android programming, you'll find our Android
app in our source code under
If you're look at PHP, look under
And if you'd like to make some improvements to our website,
they're up there too under
We have a really simple contributor agreement up there too. And
we licensed that under CC0, if you'd like to use it for your own
All of this and more can be found at
What's the next big thing for The List?
The next big thing will be a proper public release. We're already
talking to the F-Droid folks, and we'll be in all the places you
normally find apps for your phone. And F-Droid will have the
pure, free software experience.
*Enjoyed this interview? Check out our previous entry in this
series, featuring Rainey Reitman, Activism Director for the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, about their new EFF Alerts mobile