Miro

Who: Nicholas Reville
Age: 28
What: Co-Founder of Participatory Culture Foundation

This project is fantastic. Look it up, download it, and follow it. Nicholas Reville is one of the co-founders of a young team building Miro.

Entrepreneur Aims to Overthrow TV, Not Get Rich
By Bryan Gardiner 10.08.07 | 12:00 AM

As co-founder and executive director of the Participatory Culture Foundation, Nicholas Reville spearheads the Miro project, a video platform that aims to keep internet television open and accessible to all.

Most software entrepreneurs’ ambition is to sell out for a huge wad of cash, or maybe go public for an even bigger pile. Not so Nicholas Reville: He wants to overthrow the television industry, and he doesn’t care if he gets rich. In fact, as executive director and co-founder of the Participatory Culture Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Reville is unlikely to make much money at all.

Reville oversees the PCF’s core project: a free, open-source video player called Miro. Formerly known as Democracy Player, Miro is a desktop video application that lets you search and view videos. It uses RSS, BitTorrent and media-player technologies.
But the PCF’s ambitions go far beyond making and distributing a popular internet video platform. Ultimately, the foundation’s goal is to promote and build an entirely new, open mass medium of online television.

“We see TV as moving online in a lot of ways,” Reville explains. “There’s a chance to make it really open, or there’s a chance that companies are going to build proprietary systems and try to lock in users to creators. We think that video RSS is a really good way of making it a level playing field, so our goal is to push the video industry in the direction of openness — towards using open standards.”

Going the nonprofit route was an essential part of this goal. For one, Miro’s fate isn’t tied to finicky venture capitalists or stockholders. That’s generally a good thing when you’re trying to form an organization around values other than maximizing shareholder profit.

While a lot of for-profit companies have similar hopes of infusing idealistic values into their organizations (for example, Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto), Reville notes that the kinds of investors such companies are forced to take on inevitably exert pressure to change or “adapt” those values.

“You hear a lot of utopian talk in the beginning and then six or seven years later, they’re in a totally different place,” Reville says. “We wanted to be sure that we built the values into the company from the beginning, and a nonprofit is best way to do that.”

Values aside, Miro still has to make money like any other venture-backed startup or major media company. And as a nonprofit, Reville is the first to admit that that’s not always easy.

While the PCF just wrapped up a successful $50,000 fundraising drive, that money is a small portion of the project’s overall budget. Indeed, with 12 full-time staff members and two part-timers, most of Miro’s budget is earmarked for the employees responsible for what Reville characterizes as “the core of the application.”

Needless to say, the project still relies on large donors and grants. Supporters have included Skyline Public Works and the Mitch Kapor, Surdna, Mozilla and Knight foundations.

But the ultimate goal for the Miro team is to slowly wean themselves off of grants and donations over the next couple of years, as Miro emerges as a post-1.0 application. At that point, Reville says the platform should be able to start having some more-traditional revenue models.

“They need to find their Google search bar,” says John Lilly, the chief operating officer of the Mozilla Foundation and a board member of PCF. Lilly is referring to the Firefox search tool that through revenue-sharing agreements with Google and Yahoo, generates millions of dollars in annual income for the Mozilla Foundation.

Lilly notes that the big challenge for Miro will be finding a way to monetize internet video, so the company is eventually less dependent on donations. That may come by offering specific customized versions of the software to businesses and organizations — something the team is currently experimenting with — or it may come in some other form.

“If you look at nonprofits, they will typically have a large mix of income and are generally not dependent on independent contributions,” says Dennis Young, director of the Nonprofit Studies Program at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

Until it develops a revenue stream, Miro will likely continue to rely on the myriad forms of nonfinancial help the software is already starting to get. Which isn’t necessarily bad. “There’s all kinds of things (users) do for us that otherwise would be very difficult,” Reville says. “The software’s translated into 30 languages. That’s all volunteer work. Then there’s tons of testing, writing code, users supporting each other: All these things work because we’re mission-driven.”

Reville and Lilly ultimately believe this is how open-source projects and the nonprofit foundations behind them can successfully compete with commercial enterprises: by cultivating a community that really cares.

“They know you’re not just out there trying to make money,” Reville says. “That’s what propelled Firefox. They’re not out there spending their money on a bunch of TV ads. One user is telling another user. Users are helping to promote the software and helping to make it better … so that’s a huge, huge advantage we have. That’s probably more valuable than all the donations our users give to us.”

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~ by PJ on February 9, 2008.

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