Open Tech 2009 Report

On Saturday I went into London for Open Tech 2009 at ULU. By the end of the day I was suffering from information overload so rather than hanging around I went to Camden Lock before heading home. Fortunately I made some notes, which I am going through now.

For the first session I was in the Main Hall where someone from the Space Hijackers (Robin I think?) gave an overview of what they are about and described some of their escapades. The session continued with an excellent talk by Heather Brooke about her part in exposing MPs’ expense receipts to public scrutiny.

I moved to Room 3E for the second session, which was a triple bill. First up was Paul Downey with a talk about the politics of standards. Then Francis Davey explained why our Internet liability laws are broken. Finally there was a really interesting talk by Charles Armstrong about a new, lightweight legal structure for community groups called One Click Orgs. I spoke to Charles after his talk about the possibility of getting a group I am involved with to participate in the beta stage of the project (it is still in alpha at the moment).

After lunch (which I bought at nearby Planet Organic and ate in Gordon Square) I went to the Upper Hall for another triple bill. Peter Murray-Rust talked about a project called “Is It Open?” which is pushing for open data in science. Jordan Hatcher then spoke about a new share-alike licence for data and databases which is being adopted by OpenStreetMap. The session was due to finish with a talk on OpenStreetMap by Steve Coast but he didn’t show up – perhaps he got lost:-) If you are interested in these sort of issues then check out the Open Knowledge Foundation.

I stayed in the Upper Hall for the fourth session, a presentation titled “Web of Power – what’s next after politicians?” by Richard Pope and Rob McKinnon, who were influenced by a book called Who Runs This Place? by Anthony Sampson. The basic point was that MPs are by no means the only people who wield power in this country – what about corporations, bankers, political parties, the media etc? Having access to MPs’ expenses is all well and good, but we need the same sort of transparency with all these other groups and organisations. Websites referred to included Help Me Investigate, The Straight Choice (Live Election Leaflet Monitoring Project), freerisk (freeing financial data and risk modelling) and Companies Open House.

After the break I went back down to the Main Hall where Gavin Hall kicked off by talking about the persistence of information on the web. He was followed by Gary Gale speaking about location and privacy. Gary works for Yahoo! and contributes to their Geo Technologies Blog. He strongly advocated that your location should not be exposed by default and mentioned Fire Eagle several times. To end the session, Gavin Starks of AMEE gave a presentation titled “Your Energy Identity”.

For the sixth and final session of the day I stayed in the Main Hall for a continuation of the previous session, in which someone from AlertMe was supposed to be talking about automated energy saving using their smart energy and home monitoring system. It turned out they weren’t there to give the talk, so a woman whose name I don’t recall stepped in to give a general talk about the need for smart meters.

So that was about it for the day. I obviously missed a lot of stuff because there were at least three separate sessions going on at any one time, but even so, there was still rather too much for me to take in. I exchanged email addresses with a few people and have various things to follow up on. I don’t know whether there are plans for Open Tech 2010 but if it happens I will probably attend again.

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