OpenCafe historyThis weekend we got together with a few “old OpenCafe people”. It was great to see Netanya again – we also got a surprise visit from Tobias and Sosh.

Netanya was our first ArtMarket artist and Tobias came to visit us on our first Linux fest back in the days in 2004. They have been working with us and have kept in touch no matter where they were in the country (guys thanks SO MUCH for all the support!).

The OpenCafe project started somewere in 2000 when we registered the domain. We planned to create a support desk for computer and Internet users here in Potchefstroom. We just arrived then – we had no clue what the people are like – we had no experience in running a telecenter or icafe or any other project of this kind.

Around 2001 we set up our first open source thin client “mini-cafe” and started our first trials – with artists, members of ngos and local sport clubs. We started teaching basic computer skills to the local Bambanani youth project, taught web site design skills to Netanya, set up a gazebo on local fleamarkets and even the Aardklop festival – a lot of different projects – we tested them one after the other to see how it all works on a day-to-day basis.

In 2003 we submitted a proposal to the Shuttleworth Foundation for the setup of an open source thin-client Internet cafe and in 2004 our application was approved and we received seed capital from the foundation for the setup of our cafe. We bought all the computers, workstations, and all other equipment and setup our cafe complete with 15 workstations all running Mandrake Linux. That was amazing – once everything was all done – we organized a launch and invited a lot of people from the local schools, universities and local municipality to get to know the cafe.

We were not really sure where we are heading with this project – we were sure of some of the concepts – open source, Internet, community center, training, open source style projects, cross cultural projects, open content, creative commons, open communitites – these are the concepts we were focusing on. In other words – our plans with the OpenCafe is much more than just an open source Icafe – it must be able to do more with all the available software, projects, training materials, online communities – than just being an Internet cafe selling Internet use and doing some printing.

We have done many such projects – we have worked with artists and published our first book under a Creative Commons license a few months after our launch, we have set up free art sites for artists and taught them how to manage their sites and how to use online tools like blogs, etc. We have also taken part in open source development projects and Linux training projects.

Looking back at all the projects we have started, all the people we met – we definitely learned a lot.

The first thing we learned is that for most people concepts like open source or open content is very unclear unless there are practical and tangible examples in front of them that demonstrates the use of a specific open source application or a Creative Commons based training programme. This is what we have to focus on a bit more intensively in the next years to come if we want to get closer to the type of community center we had in mind back in 2001.

The second thing we learned is that – sadly – even though the name is “Open”Cafe – we do have to close it sometimes and relax – otherwise we end up with real messy projects.

Visit OpenCafe history photoset on Flickr to see what the OpenCafe has been up to so far and if you have any ideas on great open source/open content projects for our cafe – please let us know by leaving a comment on this blog!


What started? The ArtMarketOnline project. Our projects normally start spontaneously – and develop as we go along – we don’t do too much planning really before we start a project. In fact projects are a way of life – rather than something that starts at a certain day and ends one year later.

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FiredanceI met Netanya long before the official launch of the OpenCafe (October 21, 2004).

I told her to bring all her jewelry – we take photos and make her a website – so that she can market her work. I also said I’d teach her web design so that she can make her own sites as well. She was really keen to do all of that and would come around often to carry own her Internet studies. In the process I also got to know her – an amazing person full of creativity – and the readiness to make something out of “nothing” every single day.

Though she was the very first person I started to work with as part of ArtMarketOnline – she is still “the artist” that fits my definition of “the ultimate ArtMarketArtist“. She has been taking care of her site since the day we met, she used the opportunity to spend time daily at the cafe, typed in all her poems, compiled her own book and was one of the first person in South Africa to realease a book under an open license.

Netanya – thank you for all your hardwork – it helped me shape ArtMarketOnline – all the ideas you came up with is still the foundation that keeps it all together! 🙂

If you are an artist and would like to participate in this project in any way – or you have some comments/suggestions for shaping this initiative – please leave your comment on this blog!

Visit Netanya’s site to find out more about her projects.