OpenTech 2010

by @edent | # # # # # # # | 8 comments | Read ~252 times.

A quick report on OpenTech 2010 – the London event for geeks interested in Government data, openness and generally doing good things with tech and data.

Get Excited And Make Things

Copyright Matt Jones used under a Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution, share-alike licence.

I attended last year’s event which inspired me to create my “VoteUK” service for the 2010 general election. I had considered doing a talk about the trials and tribulations of using open – and not so open – data. Instead, I gave a more general talk about how to harness the power of the mobile web to empower people – and why iPhone apps are the wrong way to get data to the masses.

More details in a moment. First off, my thoughts on the rest of the presentations.

Mozilla Drumbeat

Gervase Markham always gives a good presentation. The new projects coming out of Mozilla Drumbeat look great – I’m particularly enamoured with Universal Subtitles. For too long, web video has been inaccessible to those with hearing difficulties – or who do not understand the language spoken.

A rather ramshackle presentation from I fail to see what they’re doing different than Miro in terms of getting activist video out to the masses. Their ideas of training Citizen Journalists seems to be a good one – but they failed to articulate what exactly their credentials were.

Openly Local

Chris Taggart gave an inspiring talk about Openly Local. His efforts in scraping inaccessible data and setting them free are truly heroic. The work he did to open up to obstinate Charities Commission should be the stuff of geek legend.

LinkedGov: Filling in the Gaps

Hadley Beeman took us through the intricacies of tying up hundreds of disparate data sets. Not a naturally exciting topic, but one which went to the very heart of the issue of open data. Thousands of separate databases, all containing indecipherable acronyms, frustrate even the hardiest geek.

Open Data in Clinical Trials

Ben Goldacre retains his title as most impassioned speaker. Working with Louise Crow, they are in the process of opening up clinical trial data. With this, they hope to be able to see which drug companies are withholding trial information from the public.

Rewiring the State

The speakers from Young Rewired State were the stars of the day. Seeing the dedication and enthusiasm of people – not yet school-leavers – as they hack away at open data was hugely uplifting. A full list of the projects is available.

The most impressive was Issy Long‘s site to display Government energy usage “GovSpark”. I’m sure this young woman will go far.

The folks were out in strength. They announced at OpenTech 2009. This presentation was a summary of where they have got to and where is left to go.

I demo’d VoteUK to Thayer Prime and won a swish t-shirt! Hurrah!
Yay! I won a tshirt. Hurrah! Thanks @thayer #open... on Twitpic

Wild Ducks – An Open Source Symbian Phone

Sebastian Brannstrom from Symbian took to the stage to talk about marrying Open Hardware with the newly opened Symbian Source Code. The (unfinished) result is Wild Ducks – a completely* open phone. Open hardware and open software.

ARM Coretex A8 omap3530 open source phone from Symbian. #open... on Twitpic

If you are interested in helping, the group meets every Sunday to eat pizza and hack.
Help Wild Ducks make an open source phone #opentech #ota10 on Twitpic

*The radio driver, has to be closed source for various legal and regulatory reasons.

Why Doesn’t Your Site Work On My Mobile Phone

My presentation. Slides and further discussion are available. Unfair of me to comment – so I’ll let twitter do the twalking.

People Power in Your Pocket

Craig Heath lead an informative session around security and personal privacy. I’d advise anyone interested in mobile to take a look at Symbian’s Security Roadmap and Strategy. This talk would have been more suited to the Over The Air conference – but for mobile wonks like me, was very interesting.


This is exactly the sort of empowering technology I love hearing about. The FrontlineSMS project aims to be “Outlook for SMS”. Using a cheap laptop, a GSM dongle and free software – anyone can become a campaigner. It’s used for coordinating disaster relief, informing farmers about diseases in their area, telling trader the best prices. Its software has been expanded to work for medical, legal, business and political campaigns. Open Source – so hack away!

Apps for Good

I really admire the theory behind Apps for Good – teach disenfranchised young people how to make apps. However, I think their approach is 100% wrong. They’d clearly done no market research – they were trying to create Android apps when their target demographic are BlackBerry users (as they admitted). Some of the projects they showed off would have been much more successful and useful as mobile websites. For example, the Stop and Search app is only available on expensive Android handsets. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have created the app – just that they should have created it as an enhancement for a mobile website.

That said, I’m filled with hope when I see what they are doing. Getting young people into programming, designing, creating is vital to raising their awareness of the opportunities out there.


Loving the ACTA stickers at #OpenTech on Twitpic
A fantastic day – huge thanks to Sam Smith and all the organisers. It’s really inspired me to get cracking on some of the open data ideas I’ve had bubbling away. Every Council Chief, Mayor and Senior Civil Servant should attend OpenTech 2011 and understand why we need Open Data and what magical things we will create using it.

Huge thanks to the Government for sponsoring the event and finally creating an open data platform. shows how to do a successful IT project which comes in quickly and cheaply. And is genuinely useful. Kudos.
The Govenment

8 thoughts on “OpenTech 2010

  1. Was a bit of a shambling talk sadly came back from holiday 2 days before OPENTECH to find that all the backups for our website were corrupt and the site was down. We were up to 3.30 in the morning the night before putting the site back online… so all a bit frazzled…

  2. Aaron says:

    Hey Terence

    My names Aaron Sonson I’m one of the guys behind the creation of the Stop and Search app. I understand what you are saying in regards to Android not being the best platform to release our app onto but felt abit offended by your “they clealy done no research” comment. The Apps For Good course was structured around creating an application for the Android market, we came up with and developed the idea and they paid for it to be programmed. Obviously we are now working on improving the app and getting it rolled out across other platforms which will do more to cater for our target audience, however at the time it was Android or nothing. In this instance a line from a Damien Marley song comes to mind “the average man cannot prove most of the things which he chooses to speak of”…

    1. Hi Aaron,

      I’ve recently attended an Apps For Good presentation and now have a better understanding of how the programme is structured.

      From what I remember of the talk last year, there was no mention that the course was Android specific – it was presented as just a general app development course.

      I’ve just listened to the audio of the talk to refresh my memory – at 30m 20s the presenter talks about how the people she talks to all use BlackBerry.

      So, what I was trying to say is that “apps for good have clearly not done their research.”
      I didn’t mean to imply that the app developers themselves had been lax and I’m sorry if I’ve upset you with my careless use of words.

      Now that I understand the limitations that you were under, I can see why you went Android first. I’m also glad that you’re extending it to more platforms.

      Good luck with your future endeavours – as someone who has been stopped and searched before, I certainly appreciate what you’re doing.


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