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An OpenKinect Story: A made for blog special.

  • “The Open Kinect project – THE OK PRIZE – get $3,000 bounty for Kinect for Xbox 360 open source drivers” – adafruit.com
  • “Kinect Drivers Hacked” – readwriteweb.com
  • “Google’s Matt Cutts Issues New $2000 Kinect Bounty” – pcmag.com
  • “First sign of skeletal data from the kinect…” – @openkinect twitter

If you’ve been following the Microsoft Kinect release over the past week, you’ve probably seen headlines like the above. They’re interesting, energetic, compelling, and generally the same. By Reading through Gizmodo, Engadget or any ‘major’ blogging outlet, you’ll see that progress and results are moving fast and any attempt to regurgitate them and I’d probably put you to sleep (if you’re not already).

The press often glorifies results (what’s been accomplished) over process (how it was accomplished), so I thought, why not attempt to showcase the process rather than the results – after all, results are directly related to the process, aren’t they? Maybe not, but let’s pretend they are – it’ll make for a better story.

Disclaimer: This is a story – a story told by a non-storyteller; so, please prepare yourself for the inconstant tone and possible drifting. If you like it, feel free to share, if you don’t like it – well, feel free to share anyway.


So, once upon a time (don’t all stories start like this?), the Kinect was released in the United States. Soon after, adafruit.com posted a bounty of $1,000 $2,000 $3,000 for the first person to successfully provide an open-source driver that would allow the Kinect to be accessed through a computer and without an xbox (you know, the thing it was meant for). Before you could blink, the first signs of a possible winner were posted. Over night, these signs blossomed into reality as the first video showing the motor movement of the kinect hit the stage. The crowd went wild and praise quickly filled the room (or the youtube comments). However, this was short lived as the roar drifted towards a backlash and ultimately a whisper. What happened? Well, this first video displaying motor movement was a ransom – $10k to be exact. It was held up as if to say “look what I have and what you can’t” along with a underlining “na-na na-na boo-boo”. Apparently, preaching community values while sticking your tongue out and radiating “mine mine mien” isn’t an admirable approach. Like most stories, there’s usually a villain, and the court of open-source opinion easily found theirs.

Meanwhile, in the bat cave, someone we’ll call “JB”¹ was already planning a movement that would ultimately form a tiger team and use the power of joint minds to make any ransom attempts powerless. JB formed the open open-source OpenKinect project group (3 times the power of 1 open).  In an act of community prowess, a team was formed. The questionable motives of the villain perpetuated the urgency and interest of the quickly forming community. Those that were already inspired now had a heightened sense of awareness that evil could prevail. As the group emerged – 5, 10, 16, 50¼, 100 members had joined within the first 4 days.

On the 5th day, the skies opened and “The M”² appeared. The M posted a RGB/depth video along with the first open-source code and solidified himself as the hero who won the adafruit.com bounty. The M’s humble attitude complimented the growing OpenKinect group and he gracefully joined the community effort sacrificing his code for the greater good. The community bowed down in awe (ok, not really – but it could happen). Within a few hours, the ransom that had been held was dropped after it’s lingering powers were destroyed. As the next few days went by, hundreds of new members joined OpenKinect and shared information in a forthcoming and transparent way. Ideas were sparked and knowledge exchanged with no animals harmed in the process. A live discussion channel  (IRC #openkinect on freenode.net) was formed to help facilitate organization and provide a path for sustainability and momentum towards a united effort of OPEN KINECTS FOR ALL! With their powers combined, they are Captain Planet Kinect. No, this isn’t the end of the story – keep reading.

After 12 days, over 700 members had joined OpenKinect. A wiki had formed, a domain established, and a twitter account tweeted. How did this happen? Well, the power of ‘we’ occurred. The power of we? Yes! That thing that happens when a group of people realize that no one individual’s knowledge or abilities are greater than a collective and where “I’m great!” transitions to “We’re great!” – that’s the power of we. The ego of the individual will most always be slain by the power of we in the long run and despite human nature to be better than our foes, it’s important to realize that success is not always defined by our abilities, but our attitudes.

So, what’s the moral of the story? I don’t know, you tell me (in the comments, in the comments!!). If I had to answer, I’d say one perspective would be that it’s important to stop, look, and admire when something impressive happens. Results are great, but if we can understand the process of how great results occur, we can better replicate them. Why reinvent the wheel to success when there’s great examples all around us?

Now, it only seems fitting to end this story abruptly with…to be continued… (didn’t see that coming, did you?)

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Like all stories, events were skipped and many people were glanced over or not mentioned at all (including myself) and if I were to include everyone, the few that made it this far would probably stop reading (or maybe continue reading if their name was mentioned). My rambling point is, many people contributed to this effort – you’re probably one of them.

Why am I writing this? Well, because we all love a story of good vs evil documenting the formation of a bottom-up community is both interesting and useful. It’s hard to find a thriving community that share and communicate effectively and when it happens it should be noted; it’s quite amazing. We don’t often get to witness a  group of multi-disciplined strangers from around the world come together in a central place to form a common goal in such a short period of time and without a central leader.  The OpenKinect group was a meeting place and without coercion (that’s the key) hundreds of people grouped together. There will be more ‘villans’ and surely the group will be tested, but if the early success and hospitality of the community is a sign of things to come, the path to a united effort will keep strong (at least, that’s my hope).


¹ Yes, Josh Bake 😛

² Hector Marcan

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