Grants/Open Font Library

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Open Font Library

Applicants: TUG, Dave Crossland, Pierre Marchand
Affiliation: Open Source Publishing (Brussels), TUG USA
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Dave Crossland
Coordinator: Dave Crossland
Project Start: 2010/08/01
Project End: 2010/11/01,
Download budget Discussion

Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

A large number of fonts now exist in the commons and are useful for all computer users. However, most people are unaware of this and have no way to easily browse and use these fonts. The Open Font Library aims to correct this by collecting and visually showcasing them on the web. The applicants are two web developers who have volunteered substantial amounts of time to the site this year, and are backed by a growing community of developers. We seek funding to focus on the project full time this summer and make it shine.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

This project has two tangible outputs: The Open Font Library website will have all major features working well, and the site will be well documented.

For the website to work well, the existing PHP code must be improved and new code must be written. The major features are to be:

  • A visual directory of all fonts uploaded
  • Font family specimen pages that preview the fonts well, providing simple ways to use the font family on web pages with @font-face and providing analysis of language coverage to motivate community improvement, and showing parent-child relationships of derivative works
  • A simple upload process that ensures font files have free culture license metadata attached, and font family metadata is well formed.

This would all be achieved by improving and extending the existing site, which runs with the Creative Commons initiated "ccHost" Content Management System.

Better documentation is essential for font users, font creators and the project's developer volunteers. Font users ought to know what they can do with fonts in the commons, including the new way of using fonts in their webpages. Font creators ought to know how to attach a free culture license to a font and how to upload fonts to the site. Finally, software developers ought to know how they can easily contribute to the site's ongoing development.

The documentation for font users and creators will be in video form, while documentation for site developers will be in text form on the website's wiki.

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

The Open Font Library's audience is mass market computer users, and especially those involved in visual creativity who are looking for fonts they can use freely. By providing a good visual directory of fonts, the site will benefit anyone creating free cultural works.

The Open Font Library's target community is people who create new fonts and would like to place them in the commons, and people who improve the fonts they use.

Placing fonts into the commons can be complicated by legal and technical details. There are many free culture licenses appropriate for fonts, and the Open Font Library's documentation will promote three licenses that cover the spectrum: CC Zero, SIL Open Font License, and GNU GPLv3.

CC Zero is the best way for font creators to place a work into the commons with no restrictions at all. The SIL OFL is a popular font license written specifically for fonts, which is recognised as free by the FSF, OSI, Debian, Fedora, and other important free software projects. The GNU GPLv3 is also a popular font license, although it is best used with additional font-related permissions for document embedding and renaming of derivatives.

Videos that explain the differences in an engaging way would help font creators feel comfortable in their choice of license.

All these licenses open the exciting opportunity for users to improve the fonts they use.

Most fonts have restrictive copyright licenses, and users are so familiar with being unable to fix the problems with their fonts that they may no longer perceive the problems exist at all! For example, some fonts are poorly spaced for typesetting paragraphs of text and users just put up with this.

More importantly, many users in Africa and Asia live in cultures with Latin-based writing systems and use Latin fonts that do not include the glyphs they need daily. Printing documents without the correct accented characters, drawing on the accents, and photocopying the document is not uncommon.

With freely licensed fonts, the people who need glyphs are free to make them and contribute them back to the commons.

Our font language coverage analysis feature can highlight how close a font is to supporting a particular language. For example, if a font only needs 5 more glyphs to support Turkish, this will be highlighted on the font specimen page, to motivate the Turkish graphic design community to contribute these glyphs to the commons.Unfortunately the site is not currently configured to highlight this opportunity well, such as listing fonts by language support percentages.

In these ways, the proposed project aims to make the Open Font Library significantly more effective at unlocking the potential of freely license fonts for all the world's />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

The Open Font Library was started in 2004 and today is the top Google hit for "open fonts" so it is well placed within the target community.

Pierre Marchand is a member of the Brussels-based Open Source Publishing group. He has been a subscriber to the site's mailing list since 2007, and volunteered full time for 2 weeks in May to work with Dave Crossland on the site.

Dave Crossland became involved in the site's developer community in 2006 and in 2008 took on a leadership role when he raised US$10,000 from Mozilla, YesLogic, River Valley and TUG to develop the site. The funds were paid to the Libre Font Fund operated by TUG, and were used to hire two graphic designers and two software developers.

Throughout 2008 and 2009 they produced a graphic identity for the site, customisations to ccHost, and libre font previewing and analysis software. However, the success of this activity was limited as it did not bring these pieces together into a live site.

Dave became committed to a Masters degree programme in Typeface Design, so was unable to dedicate time to development and things slowed down. But he is now focusing his energy again on the site.

In the run up to the conference in Brussels at the end of May, he worked full time for 2 weeks with Pierre Marchand on bringing the work done in 2009 to fruition. This volunteer work continues today.

Since the applicants have worked together on the site successfully, we believe we are the best individuals to lead this project.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Open Font Library is no longer funded by other means and the TUG Libre Font Fund currently has nothing saved.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

The project's impact can be measured quantitatively by how many fonts are downloaded from the site each month, and how many new fonts are uploaded each month, after the project concludes, compared to how many fonts have been downloaded and shared to date.

The project's qualitative impact on the site will also be evaluated, and on bringing more software developers into the site's on-going improvement efforts.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

Two participants will be involved in the project, Dave Crossland and Pierre Marchand. We are ready and willing to spend up 1 to 3 months full time on this project, depending on the funding opportunities available to us. We have worked successfully together full time on the project this year, and are excited to see the site succeed.

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

Fonts are integral to all visual content and are used by all computer users.

Many free cultural works are encumbered by their use of proprietary fonts. The Open Font Library increases the amount of creativity fully in the commons by providing free-culture fonts to creators so their works are no longer encumbered. It does this by providing a visual directory of libre fonts for the public.

It also increases the amount of creativity in the font domain by helping font creators to place their works in the commons easily, and promoting wider language support of fonts uploaded to the site.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

The site uses ccHost, a PHP-MYSQL based Content Management System. Dave Crossland is a systems administrator, graphic designer, and holds a Masters degree in Typeface Design. Pierre Marchand is a freelance software developer, known for his free software project "FontMatrix," a Qt font management application. We have no technical needs beyond the laptops and internet connections we already own.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

ccHost is a complex tool, and customising it is hard work. This can be overcome by spending time learning its intricacies and fixing bugs as they are discovered.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

The site has a long history of slow volunteer development, and the key driver of the slowness is that how to become a contributor has not been well documented. This project will create that documentation.

The effect of the project will be to significantly increase the site's traffic, and some of that traffic will convert into new volunteers for development if the documentation is in place.

Future revenue will be raised by applying to similar grant programmes, and by a direct call for donations on the website to the TUG Libre Font Fund.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

Since the project is most simply stated as hiring 2 developers to improve the site, the project can scale from 1 month at a cost of $3,000, to 3 months at a cost of $9,000. It could even scale down to hiring 1 developer for 1 month at $1,500.

The site is hosted with technical support and unlimited bandwidth at no charge by the Oregon State University's Open Source Lab, so I believe its load scalability is good; the OSUOSL provides a cached web server infrastructure, and the ccHost system is proven to handle high traffic sites such as

All the site's code is published in our Subversion repository as free software, so if another project wished to operate a font sharing site, they would be able to do so.

The project's core aim is to improve the administrative scalability of the site.

The site's base technology is PHP and MYSQL, which are incredibly popular web development technologies. The ccHost system is however complex and quite obscure, so this project's functional scalability is limited. However, one of the project's aims is to mitigate this.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

In 2009 Creative Commons sold the ccHost codebase to a free culture record label, and its primary developer now works for that company, so Creative Commons can no longer provide direct support for customising ccHost. While Grant page mentions web hosting is available from CC for accepted projects, OSUOSL provides excellent supported web hosting to the site free of charge. Therefore Creative Commons is not expected to provide support to the project beyond funding it; however, if Creative Commons can connect with web developers and motion graphic designers interested in volunteering on the project, that would be excellent.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

The Open Font Library has a discussion mailing list with 163 subscribers, and communicates with the wider graphic design community through its website.