OpenTech ’09

I attended the OpenTech ’09 forum on Saturday; organised by the UK Unix Users Group and friends at the University of London Union (ULU). For those interested in the social and political aspects of computing; this is an excellent forum to discuss new modes of political communication, privacy, advocacy and other issues that arise from the broader computing movement. There was an excellent talk on the two cultures of science/technology and the humanities from Bill Thompson who compared CP Snow’s pioneering work to present social circumstances. Bill basically argued that technological literary needs to rise considerably; especially in the political classes, otherwise we are doomed! He argued that many people in senior positions (as well as the broader public) do not understand the ‘power in code’ and this is perhaps why so many large government systems have failed in the UK (I just ordered CP shows book on Amazon for 10 quid).

Another interesting session was from a representative from the Guardian newspaper who discussed their experience of reporting the Ian Tomlinson death at the G20 protests earlier this year. The speaker explained how the video footage was released immediately  on the web rather the usual slower way through the print-edition. Although the analysis of this technique was not well communicated by the speaker, he did made the interesting observation that the Guardian in this instance had used their online distributing power to ‘crown source’ news rather than simply publish it. They had allowed others to use the video of Tomlinson’s death in Blogs and Youtube etc. rather than slowly releasing it thorough the print edition.

Another speaker from the Guardian talked about the paper’s very bold initiative to make much of their data open to the public. They have RSS feeds, an API system, and a sophisticated tagging system. I found their DataBlog one of the most interesting initiatives in that many of the facts that are researched by journalists have been aggregated for later use and open to the public.

The Guardian’s initiative to crowd source the expenses claims-documents of MPS was also discussed; along with the limitations and opportunities of this approach.



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