Open Bento: Collaboration is Coming
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If only you could buy stock in phrases. I think I would buy it in this one: “so let’s build a better online presence.” While this can’t quite be considered an “age-old” statement, it can be considered the genesis of a major project. Or for a lot of us in public media… it’s another Monday morning meeting (which is followed immediately by an endless variety of emotions). On top of this, for a lot of public media professionals whose jobs are dominated by Digital, it can be extremely hard and, dare I say, impossible to keep up on all the technology that exists. Some of this technology would help calm the more extreme emotions we often feel when thinking of overhauling our Digital presence.

Thankfully, one of the key tenets of public media is spawned from the desire to do better work and almost always with less. But how can we do better and more innovative work on the web if we also have all this other stuff piling up in our inboxes? Arguably the best way to achieve this level of innovation is through collaboration.

As we were looking internally at our own CMS product (Bento) and how to create services for stations off of it, immediately an open community discussion began and was met with a lot of positive and confident head nods. If you aren’t familiar, an open community is designed to share others' knowledge, work and skills by providing creditability and expertise on features of a given nature. It’s like actually being able to share your notes from class without the detention and public scolding if you get caught. The idea isn’t to copy or simply provide the same products, but to elevate the system as a whole by removing the technological barriers we all experience from time to time. Thus, the idea of the Open Bento Community was born.

Open and Bento: 
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The purpose of the Open Bento Community is to help build and cultivate a more robust developer 
presence around station-created website features for Bento. Bento has the potential to alleviate the stresses and strains which are commonly associated with building websites through its use of easy-to-manage website building tools, and product integrative foundation. That said, it is not a requirement to be using or trained on Bento to take part in the Open Bento Community.

The success of the Open Bento Community is based on its four pillar workflow which includes: creating and leveraging a product knowledge base; creating a forum to facilitate a variety of discussions; celebrating and promoting success; and strengthening the health of the community through collaborative projects. This open structure is something we want to expand beyond CMSs and platforms to include as many people as possible with the goal of enhancing Digital at stations.

For posterities sake the formal mission statement for Open Bento is:

PBS Digital’s Open Bento Community is a collaborative network of public media professionals sharing knowledge, passion and skills to grow stations' digital presence. Community members can/will create, contribute to, and produce innovative website-building tools which can be used and adopted by the Bento system at-large. 

Now What?
I know what you’re thinking: “Well that sounds great. But where is it and when can I use it?”

Let’s take the Where first. We are currently working with a small group of alpha test stations to get this community up and running. Stations involved in the alpha group include: CET/Think TVWMHTRMPBSPanhandle PBSKETDelta BroadcastingWYCCWNIN, and MPT.

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These stations were selected based on the unique web tools they already created in Bento. This will make up a good portion of the initial content available on the open platform.

Now to address the When. The alpha group is slated to run through April 2014. We are looking to get the platform itself open to the system by then. Throughout this process, the SPI team’s main goal beyond facilitation will be to share tools, tips, and discussions this group produces around widely relevant topics.

To address additional questions, we have put together a public facing FAQ, which speaks to the community’s goals and infrastructure.

Next steps
We are looking to continue providing the system with as much information on the project as we can. Stay toned to the SPI blog for more updates. In the meantime, you may also want to check out Open PBS and Digital Entrepreneurs Group (DEG), which showcase innovation within public media.