10 minor #mozfest musings

https://secure.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/10483623934/
The Scrum Board https://secure.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/

I missed the second full day of #mozfest so don’t feel I can really do it justice with a full review but thought I’d just jot down a few general thoughts.

1. The Science Fair was amazing this year. Sooooo many great projects being demo’d and the crowd was seriously engaged. It was a little tough to fight your way to actually speak to the folk doing the demos sometimes but I figure that is a good problem as it shows how popular everything was! Check out this post with a load of links to what was there.

2. Despite my fears about the numbers it never felt too crowded – the drop in nature of the event seems to have ensured there was never a totally full house. The place always felt buzzing and busy without it getting to be too much.

3. The wifi seemed to hold up pretty well Friday and Saturday – pretty amazing considering the number of connected devices.

4. ‘Awesome’ is still overused but this year ‘hack’ overtook it. Apparently *everything* is a hack 🙂 Though I did love the DIY, Blue Peter style nature of so many of the spaces this year.

5. The volunteers were amazing (as ever) so well done Spike and the gang (sounds like a band). I will say though that while the red shirted volunteers were very prevalent it was harder to tell who the 300+ facilitators were at times. It seemed to be the same handful of people doing everything certainly on the floors I inhabited.

6. The Schedule app was very clever but really not very helpful. The inability to view across streams and properly plan a day was a real pain. Everyone I spoke to had missed sessions. I know the old wiki was a bit of a pain to maintain but it was much more user friendly in my opinion. Also it kind of made the assumption people would just follow one stream.

7. The diversity at these events always amazes me. I’m constantly reading about sexism and ‘brogrammers’ in technology circles but #mozfest just seems to buck that trend. So many women (maybe because so many of the leadership of the organisation and event are women), people from all over Europe, North (and South) America, Africa and Asia – and thats just people I met. Amazing.

8. I’m still not comfortable with the whooping, love bombing, awesome, constant clapping type ‘testifying’. I got the impression I wasn’t alone either. I do however have much more respect for it than ever and was once again impressed by how Gunner combines that kind of California hippy vibe with quite a Sergeant-Major streak as well to make sure things get done.

9. Really would have liked the team to announce when Anil Dash was speaking. I know it was my own fault I was late but I would have jumped in a cab rather than get a train then bus if I had known.

10. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The people are what make #mozfest great. I really have never encountered a more friendly, accepting group of people. The fact that they put up with a grumpy old git like myself with no useful skills is a testament to their collective patience 🙂

Anyway thanks again to all involved in making it happen. See you next time.

The #mozfest fringe

Quite a few years ago now I organised a ‘fringe’ event to the UKOER conference in a local pub the night before. It turned out to be an interesting evening with speakers from Creative Commons and P2PU (still thankful to Pippa and Nathan) and some notable attendees from both Canada (Brian and Scott) and all over the UK.

The following day after the actual conference we ended up with a fringe of the fringe in a basement pub in central London. Yesterday afternoon ended up being something of a rerun of that great afternoon with Alan Levine substituting for our shared Canadian friends 🙂

Tony Hirst (OU, School of Data), Joss Winn (Uni of Lincoln), Alan Levine (Mozilla Webmaker Fellow & ‘resting’ educator), Marieke Guy (Open Knowledge Foundation) and myself retreated to the rather bright and loud Slug and Lettuce for a couple of hours to put the worlds of higher education, Government procurement, open source communities, David Kernohan’s trainers and many other topics to rights.

One of the things I miss about (old) JISC was how often opportunities used to spring up for these sorts of ad-hoc meet ups. I didn’t know Tony or Joss were even at the event until the morning and only knew Marieke was attending a day or two before. There is a real sense of shared experience after working in HE educational technology in some shape or form through the boom and bust years and not unlike the talk Anil gave that morning we were somewhat bemoaning the web we lost.

I am much more of a Government focused geek these days and don’t miss some of the navel gazing associated with everything in the higher education world but I do miss the people and I am thankful to #mozfest for giving us the opportunity.

This rather spur of the moment ‘meet-up’ did rather throw my session schedule in to disarray but it was more than worth it. Like I tweeted last night (after a few more beers at the party with a few random but lovely folk);

Github for Government at #mozfest

The ‘Github for Government’ was interesting if not really what I was expecting from the description. Part of the problem is that I think that while there are clearly some parallels between open source and open data there were less than Ben from Github seemed to be suggesting and thus the premise was a bit flawed from the outset.

I have to be honest and say that the more interesting discussion for me would have been around the topic that Jon Foster, from Futuregov, raised about using Github to publicly work on policies and reports. Somehow this became about legislation in the session (partly my fault for raising legislation.gov.uk) but that is clearly more complex.

We touched on Prose.io and that is something I’d like to explore more with its ability to essentially mask some of the complexity of Git(hub) behind a pretty simple writing interface. There seems to be something there that could lead to a new kind of consultation maybe?

The differences between UK/Europe and US city/federal approaches to open data was obviously clear. There seemed to be a feeling that over here there is more top down pressure to do these things whereas in the US it is being led from the grassroots more? Maybe that is true but certainly it seems there is more grey areas to it than that as while we might not have a ‘Code for America’ we do have groups like the OKFN and ODI and a pretty passionate grassroots open data movement. Also I’m pretty sure there have been some pretty significant Presidential decrees about this stuff?

It was also interesting that of a crowd of 20+ only two of us were actually ‘government’ employees (the other being Steven Abbot from Parliament) and so it was an interesting insight to what people believe the attitudes and blockers within the civil service(s) are. Certainly it seemed a surprise to most people that Github is a barred site for the vast majority of us!

The talk of Github uptime currently being better than the US Federal Government was fun but also made a serious point – is it right and sensible for government departments and agencies to rely on a commercial, independent, third-party to provide these services?

The real lightbulb moment for me came right at the end. The discussion about the work Max Ogden is doing on the .dat standard was *really* interesting. An acknowledgment that .git is actually not great for dealing with large datasets and the needs of the open data community has led to a project to build;

“..an open source tool that enables the sharing of large datasets, allowing for a decentralized collaboration flow similar to what git offers for source code.”

Now it seems to me that a tool like that combined with a tool like Github for the community elements could be a game changer. One to watch for sure.

So learning more about that project was one of my actions from this session. The other was to learn how to properly use .git and Github. I really should have taken up the other from Ben for the Github 101 run through.

The Github for Government site has real potential to be a great resource for everyone involved in Government digital & open data so that is something to keep an eye on (and to add more UK/Euro examples..)

Morning at #mozfest

Despite being good last night and leaving the pub at a decent hour I still managed to be late this morning and as such missed the start of the Anil Dash opening keynote 😦 (luckily its available online – though there is some dead space at the start ) I did show up in time for him to speak about the need for people to learn from the history of digital and avoid making the same mistakes all over again. This gave me the warm feeling of vindication 🙂

As ever this opening session was full of whoops, awesomes, love and ‘f’ bombs and a whole load of North American enthusiasm. As usual I found it slightly unnerving but a useful opportunity to tune in to the atmosphere!

I spent the morning on the fifth floor for the ‘Build the Web’ strand. The wall of wonders that is the ‘scrum’ backlog is pretty amazing and a significant move forward from previous years in terms of focusing efforts it feels. Within minutes of the intros being done by the various people representing the areas of works teams were forming and coding away – always slightly amazing to behold!

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There are a couple of things happening in this space that I might try and get involved in tomorrow but as I don’t really add any dev or design skills its hard to get started.

Instead I focused on the less techy but no less important session with representatives of various organisations which have ‘open’ agendas. Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Open Knowledge Foundation, Global Voices, Working Examples, the BBC, Mozilla and others (oh and me!).

It was an interesting opportunity to share thoughts on how these organisations could better collaborate, avoid duplication of effort and sometimes work together to ‘speak with one voice’ on topics which effect them all.

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There was no shortage of problems identified and it was clear that collaboration and communication relied on a huge amount of different online tools and a lack of opportunities for face to face discussions. Given the international nature of most of the organisations that isn’t really surprising but it does identify a weakness.

That said we decided to focus on a more practical outcome from the session immediately – creating an aggregated blog that different organisations could contribute to (automagically) to provide a single clearing house for latest ‘open’ activities etc that might be of interest to the audiences (and members) of all the organisations. I might even have a stab at building this myself in WordPress!

This isn’t that different to the ‘Global Melt’ meet ups that Michelle Thorne (current Empress of #mozfest) organised in her Creative Commons days but I think it is something we need to keep trying. From my point of view, as someone who supports (with his wallet) a number of these organisations the more they work together the better the wider impact will be.

Lunch now. More posts later.

Who is the [science] fairest of them all? #mozfest

I’ll admit my only real understanding of the concept of ‘science fairs’ comes from a mild addiction when I was younger to shows of the ‘Saved by the Bell’ genre. So any such event without Screech is a little bit of a let down.

The #mozfest version is however something to behold. There were apparently more than 50 stands with people demo’ing things – from an amazing robo-painter to real time 3D maps of the London underground to websites for reporting potholes. Every single table seemed mobbed and there were all sorts of splinter demo’s happening in free corners of the building.

The atmosphere, once again, was buzzing and once again it felt like a young and diverse crowd. Seemed to be even more of our American cousins this year? What I love about this event is that it seems to fly in the face of all the depressing stuff I read about tech/dev culture – it is dominated by amazing women, there is no brogrammer vibe and the international nature of the delegates is inspiring.

I didn’t really get to speak to the exhibitors I set out for. Rob(in) Hawkes and his ViziCities demo was a hot ticket and he never seemed to have a second. The MySociety guys were similarly caught up so that was a pity for me, if not them!

The conversation I had with the team from the Met Office was hugely helpful though as I’ll be doing some similar work in the near future – I was really impressed with the extent to which they had embraced an open way of working with their data and also the almost ‘Pervasive Media Studio’ arty element they had started to bring to their hack-days etc.

I also chatted to Francis about some of the stuff the Royal Society are up to. Their involvement in the recent ‘Women in Science’ edit-a-thon with the MRC and Wikimedia UK was something I was really happy to see take place – certainly the poshest venue for an event I can remember seeing!

Bumping into the great Alan Levine (@cogdog) early on was a real treat. I briefly met Alan in London a couple of years ago but have followed his adventures online for a long time. His early work with WordPress when he was at the NMC was something that I cribbed from shamelessly while at JISC and his work with the ds106 gang has always been great fun to watch. Also I think I have used more of his pictures that any other source in my presentations over the years 🙂

The gang from my last #mozfest where I was a Rep are all around so I had chats with Leo, Henrik, Spike and briefly (as he was on the clock) with Laurian. These guys are really dedicated to the Mozilla cause and are lovely chaps as well.

It was brilliant to see Marieke as well. She and I have known each other through the JISC world for a number of years and share a lot of friends – she escaped the JISC implosion to the Open Knowledge Foundation where by coincidence my main #mozfest buddy Heather is now Community Director. As usual Heather led my astray 🙂 and I ended up in the pub with a gang of OKFN folks and interested strays.

The word is that around 1500 people could be attending tomorrow – and that there are more facilitators this time than there were attendees at the first event in Barcelona. I’m not going to lie I think that is a challenging number and I wonder if the event can retain its unique quality at that scale. That said if anyone can make it work it is Michelle and her merry band of event ninjas – I’m certainly interested to see how it shapes up thats for sure.