Stupid Developer Tricks: Democracy Rocks

Why create a free, multi-source, multi-platform media player built using open source technology.

Democracy Player is a free, multi-source, multi-platform media player built using open source technology. It's the brainchild of the Participatory Culture Foundation, a non-profit based in Massachusetts. I spoke with the organization's executive director, Nicholas Reville, about why his group found it necessary to create this software in a world increasingly defined by YouTube.

What inspired you to create Democracy Player?
The other founders and I had gotten immersed in various online activism projects for a couple years, and we were experiencing first-hand the power that the Internet provides to get messages out to millions of people without having a big budget. We were also seeing that the biggest impacts came from new technologies and new software. Online video was coming soon -- and we wanted to make sure there was a strong open source delivery system in place that would be open to everyone. We don't think video over the Internet should be controlled by a small group of corporations, the way offline media is.

What's the ultimate goal here?
To build a platform that's open to everyone. We want publishers to be able to use any tools they want to get their content out there and we want viewers to be able to connect to any publisher. Unfortunately, the near monopoly of Google/YouTube means that viewers and publishers are facing increasing pressure to push everything through YouTube. That's bad for innovation and very dangerous for media diversity.

How have people responded?
We're seeing very good growth -- downloads have more than doubled in the past three months and we're seeing over 100,000 per month. I think it will double again in the next few months as we continue to improve the software.

Video online is too important to be centered on commercial Web sites and proprietary systems. It reminds me a little bit of AOL before the Internet came around -- impressive, yes, but nothing like what happens when things are truly open.

What tools, languages and platforms did you use, and why?
The bulk of the software is written in Python, with some front-end code for each platform. The strong cross-platform back-end lets us make improvements on all three systems at once, and the platform-specific front-ends let us have the look and feel of a native application. The Windows version uses two important open source technologies -- XUL Runner, made by Mozilla, and VLC, the video player.

What challenges did you face?
The biggest hurdle was getting the basics of the app working on all three platforms -- getting the interface to appear, function, download and play videos. There were some major technical challenges. We're taking some approaches that have never been done before. But somehow, we've built an extremely talented team of developers, far beyond what you might expect for a new organization like ours.

About the Author

Chris Kanaracus is the news editor for Redmond Developer News.

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