Drumbeat 2011 – Media, Freedom and the Web

Alongside landing my job with the MRC probably my best experience last year (at least relevant to this blog) was my involvement as a blogger and conference attendee at the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona. I met a whole heap of interesting people and had a great time exploring Barcelona for the first time as well. The fact that it coincided with the OpenEd conference and as such there were alot of people in town who I knew at least a bit in person or via Twitter made it all the more special. I had originally hoped to remain involved at least a little with the initiative but unfortunately the new job took up alot more time initially and also the ‘community calls’ fall at a really awkward time for me workwise as well.

That said I have remained an active ‘lurker’ – reading the notes from the Etherpad produced at each call as well as following the Google Group and subscribing to the aggregated blog feed. This weekend I was interested to see Michelle Thorne had joined Mozilla after leaving Creative Commons a few weeks back and will be taking on the role of Event Manager for Drumbeat. I met Michelle briefly in Barca and she was extremely friendly as well as obviously smart as hell so I’m sure she’ll do a great job (as Nathaniel did in 2010). It looks like her first big job is sorting the 2nd Drumbeat Festival in late October/ealy November which will be focused on Media, Freedom and the Web and seems likely to be in either London or Berlin (I think Berlin might be Michelles ‘home’ city and I also think Pippa might be returning there soon as well so I guess it has its advantages!).

To be honest if it was in the UK I would have liked to see it somewhere other than London – but that is just personal prejudice. Sheffield, Manchester, Edinburgh, Brighton, Oxford or Cambridge could do a great job (obviously I think Bristol could as well!) and everything goes to London! That said it probably makes sense for an international event like this – fact remains though if I was to attend it will cost me more than my 4 days in Barca! I’m sure they have a venue in mind but if not I think Dev8D proved that the ULU on Malet Street is a great setting for this sort of thing.

As for the topic of Media, Freedom and the Web I have to admit originally I wasn’t that interested – I was hoping for an ‘open science’ theme where I could tie in some work ideas! I’m not that interested in the news media and technology stuff if I’m honest – I know it is important but I leave the thinking about it to people like @markng and @currybet – I am just a consumer in this space. However it seems the definition for ‘media’ is wider than that and includes things like comics, tv and movies – which if you know me at all – well you can imagine how excited that makes me. I’m especially fascinated in the longer term effects of technology on comics. Now if someone like Warren Ellis or Scott McCloud were to get up and talk about their visions for the future of comics you’d guarantee my conference fee immediately 🙂 I’m also interested in the future of genre, arc driven, storytelling and whether that is going to move to the web.

Anyway I’m glad to see there is going to be a ‘sequel’ and I’m hoping to get a chance to contribute a little again on the blogging side of things – I’m sure there will be a call for volunteers again at some point and I’m stick my hand up again.

[#drumbeat] reflections

I’ve had a week to reflect on my Drumbeat experience now and am feeling more able to report on it in a more balanced manner.

I did have a great time and found the event inspiring in places and never less than interesting but it wasn’t without its problems as well. I really struggled with the structure (or lack thereof) of the event – the fact that many of the conversations were ongoing from notional session to session meant it was difficult to just drop in for an hour sometimes – it felt like coming half way though a movie. I know this suited alot of people fine but from a personal point of view I found it hard work at times.

The language issue has been raised elsewhere and I did find it a little odd – the issues with Spanish and Catalan are pretty well known in the UK and I guess I expected to see more acknowledgment of that (even though lets be clear I would have been useless as I have no language skills whatsoever!) On a similar note I’m afraid I was also uncomfortable with some of the overt Americanisms I guess. If I ever hear the word ‘awesome’ again I might scream and all the loud, positive cheering from the crowd just had me backing out of the room rather than getting fired up (pretty sure I wasn’t alone here!).

There was also quite a theme developing around the idea of ‘burning down the current system’ and the idea that code can solve everything. I tend to think both of these things are naive and unhelpful – I think the fact there seemed to be less educators there than I think was hoped (certainly there seemed to be less OpenEd badges than I expected) meant that the opinions were a little skewed. I think it is clear that things do need to change but I tend to lean in the direction of practical responses to the problems not just casting blame.

All that said I saw, heard and participated in conversations and sessions that really were amazing.

I’m pretty sure I saw the future of video on the web with the work the Open Video Lab put together over the two days – and combined with the Universal Subtitling project I think there will be some amazing things in this area springing out of Drumbeat. The talk Aza Raskin gave on rapid prototyping in the lab has already shown up on BoingBoing and really was amazing and well timed for me at least. The recent reading I have been doing around ‘product management‘ has alot of say about the idea of using prototypes and this talk has convinced me I need to update my long unused HTML, CSS and Javascript knowledge so I am able to do this myself rather than relying on my many, many cleverer friends. It strikes me that a good way to do this in keeping with my Drumbeat experience is to look for an appropriate course from the P2PU/Drumbeat School of Webcraft and get my hands dirty again.

I found the discussions around creating P2PU courses to help understanding copyright and Creative Commons interesting – I think it is something that should be a requirement for anyone working in UK HE libraries and certainly those working on JISC projects – would save an awful lot of time and effort if everyone could reach a common understanding. Also the fact people got together to hack together a proper plug-in for attribution of CC work was interesting to see – in the past I have used the Flickr CC Firefox plugin Alan Levine built but this seemed like it had a wider remit and could be invaluable.

The brilliant talk Anna Debenham gave about the poor state of web education in schools and colleges in the UK has rightly been hailed by many people as a highlight of the event. She gave a well researched, personal account of the issues and warmed to her topic as the talk went on. I didn’t hear anything I disagreed with – I think it is noticeable that of my many, many web developer and designer friends I can only think of two or three off the top of my head who studied the topic formally – the rest are essentially self (or peer) taught. This is an area where formal education really does need to change its tune – things more far too quickly in this field for traditional structures to cope.

I wrote a little about the John Beasley Murray talk about his Wikipedia in the Classroom work which I very much enjoyed and I did drop into various other talks on Wikipedia initiatives and also got some clues on how better to a) interact with the Wikipedia community from a content point of view and b) how to get MediaWiki markup to bend to my will a little more!

You can catchup with a whole host of posts related to Drumbeat on delicious.com where Mark Surman is curating a list but if you only read one post about Drumbeat (and or OpenEd) I recommend you read this one by Scott Leslie. I think Matt Thompson said it best;

Anyway I’m glad I attended – I met more amazing people than I can count and if there is another event next year I’ll do my best to attend again. Next time I’ll be a little more prepared I think though and maybe a little less preoccupied with reporting the event rather than participating – I’m sure I didn’t get the balance right this time.

So thanks to the Drumbeat team – and congratulations. See you next year hopefully.

Fun in the sun – a personal take on [#drumbeat]

I’ve committed to writing up an overview of my experiences at Drumbeat but I am going to give myself a little distance before I settle down to do that but I wanted to get some general impressions of the trip down.

There were alot of little wins for me on the logistical front – I managed the trip without once having to use a cab – strictly public transport and foot powered (well apart from the flight!), the AirBnB experience worked out great. The apartment was lovely and in a great area just across the road from the Estacio de Franca which is a stunning building.


Barcelona is a very attractive and sophisticated city with real architectural marvels around every corner but it also (certainly in the areas I was based) feels very sketchy. There were many, many thefts while we were at the conference and a healthy paranoia was required most of the time. It never felt aggressive though – you just needed to keep your wits about you.

The fact that it was lovely weather non-stop didn’t hurt it has to be said!

I got to visit the Nou Camp, go to the Picasso Museum, watch breakdancers at 2am on La Rambla and eat breakfast with the locals at La Boqueria.

I failed a bit on the local bar front though – I found them small, smokey and a bit intimidating – despite the friendliness of the patrons and staff for the most part. This led to me retreating to Dunnes Irish bar on a regular basis for free wifi and a break. I do consider this to have been useless of me and aim to do better in the future.

I also got to meet some amazing people – in many ways that is my barometer of a great event – I’m never that big a fan of talks and I’m certainly no hacker so it is the conversations around the edges that I find most interesting.

So in no particular order I’d like to thank the following people for contributing to my Festival experience (there were dozens more but these guys spring to mind);

Phil Sturgeon for bringing a bit of the West Country attitude to Spain and his ‘dad with a libido’ Graham Brown-Martin for both interesting, challenging conversations and drunken madness.

Heather Leson another of the blogging team who brought an energy and enthusiasm to every conversation (once she’d had some coffee and time to wake up!)

Issa Mahasneh
from the Jordan Open Source Association for the chat about the opportunities for OERs in the Arab world.

Michelle Thorne for always taking the time to say hi despite seeming to always be in several sessions at once (and being another of the ‘make Jukesie feel ancient’ team!)

Pippa Buchanan who worked her colourful socks off but remained an oasis of calm throughout the event.

Chris Pinchen an ex-pat Barca based Brit who spent some time living in Brizzle. Thanks for the beers and great conversation – a much needed sense check amongst all the madness.

Desigan and Christian both from Mozilla who brought a bit more of a restrained, UK attitude to things rather than the West Coast revival meeting hooting and hollering that often dominated.

Simon Buckingham-Shum for the company and conversation during a sun drenched lunch sat in the square with unidentified food from the local bakery.

Prize winning Sufian Hassan from Young Rewired State – who was officially President of the aforementioned ‘make Jukesie feel ancient’ team!

Brian and Scott – and John and Novak – for the beers and rescuing my flagging mood (and agreeing to come to the cheesy Irish pub!) on the Friday.

Also Heidi Chen and Matt Garcia who I only really got to say hi to but who were so helpful before the event.

Like I said there were many, many other great people and that it what I’ll remember in the years to come.

I’ll leave things with this tweet from Phil as it is too funny not to post somewhere;


Chatting with the Chief Lizard Wrangler – Mitchell Baker [#drumbeat]

Well chatting suggests I opened my mouth which I obviously didn’t but it was worthy hour of my life listening in.

One of things she opened her discussions with is the lack of a short, sharp elevator pitch for the wider aims of the Mozilla Foundation. The Mozilla Manifesto is worthy but too big and doesn’t speak to the general public (it also didn’t come into existence until the Firefox was well established which I didn’t know). The recent talk about the ‘open web’ helps in some ways but as no one can agree what that means it brings it’s own set of problems! They’d like something along the lines of “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it” that Make Magazine use but so far have not been able to boil it down (in any language!)

Talk about sovereignty over personal technology and being a citizen of the web is too heavy for your standard Firefox user just trying to check his or her Facebook page!

I liked the talk about the browser being your house on the web and with Firefox you have the keys and own he place but with other browsers and tools you are just a lodger. If they could get e right message there are 400 million users to speak to!

There was a lot of talk about the issues of who controls identity on the web and how dangerous it is that Facebook Connect is becoming the default and that there needs to be an easier neutral option to handle all of that.

It was very interesting to hear about the potential split in the community between the old guard free software advocates and the more mainstream Mozillians over the issue of creating a marketplace/app store that allows people to sell their plugins etc – the old school see this as a betrayal of their beliefs and on the other side they are looking for a way to let people earn a living from their skills in a more direct way.

The conversation did take a detour to talk around mobile – the interesting element of that was the idea that maybe the only way for truly open mobile was to control everything from the chipset up and that wasn’t a route Mozilla fancied (yet!)

It was also interesting to hear that people hold Mozilla to a higher standard because of their non-profit status and this is challenging to manage sometimes as they try to innovate and maintain a strong position in the consumer internet marketplace.

It was amazing to have that kind of informal access to someone of her status and was another example of how amazing this conference has been so far.