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.
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.
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 VisionOn.tv. 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.
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.
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.
If you are interested in helping, the group meets every Sunday to eat pizza and hack.
*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.
— Graham Bleach (@gdb_) September 11, 2010
— Dan Benton (@dogsbodyorg) September 11, 2010
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.
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. Data.gov.uk shows how to do a successful IT project which comes in quickly and cheaply. And is genuinely useful. Kudos.