Opentech 2010

On Saturday I was at the Opentech conference. Some brief notes about the sessions I saw.

The day was sponsored by data.gov.uk, so it seemed polite to see one of their sessions first. I watched Richard Stirling and friends talk about some of the work they’re doing on releasing lots and lots of linked data. There were some interesting-looking demonstrations (using a tool that, I believe, was called Datagrid [Update: Sam Smith reminds me that it was actually Gridworks]) but I was in the back half of the room and it was a little hard to follow the details. The session also had a demonstration of the new legislation.gov.uk site.

The next session I attended was in the main hall. Hadley Beeman talked about the LinkedGov project which aims to take a lot of the data that the government are releasing and to improve it by adding metadata, filling in holes and generally cleaning it up.

Hadley was followed by Ben Goldacre and Louise Crow who have a cracking idea for a web site. They want to expose all of the clinical trial data which never gets published (presumably because the trial didn’t go the way that the people running it wanted it to go). They already have a prototype that demonstrates which pharmaceutical companies are particularly bad at this.

The final talk in this session was by Emma Mulqueeny and a few friends. They were introducing Rewired State, which runs hackdays to encourage people to build cool things out of government data. I was particularly impressed with Young Rewired State which runs similar events aimed people under the age of 18,

It was then lunchtime. That went disastrously wrong and I ended up not eating and getting back late so that I missed the start of the next session. Unfortunately I missed half of Louise Crow’s talk about MySociety’s forthcoming project FixMyTransport. I stayed to watch Tom Steinberg give an interesting explanation of why he though GroupsNearYou hadn’t taken off. Finally in this session, Tim Green and Edmund von der Berg talked about how three separate groups had worked together on some interesting projects during the last general election.

I was speaking in the next session. Unusually for Opentech, the organisers decided to have a session about the technology that underlies some of the projects that the conference is about. I talked about Modern Perl, Mark Blackman covered Modern FreeBSD and Tom Morris introduced Modern Java (or, more accurately, Scala).

The next session I attended was largely about newspapers. Phil Gyford talked about why he dislikes newspaper web sites and why he built Today’s Guardian – a newpaper web site that looks more like a newspaper. Gavin Bell talked about the future of social networking sites and Chris Thorpe talked about automating the kind of serendipity that makes newspapers such a joy to read.

For the final session I went back to the main hall. Mia Ridge talked about why the techies who work for museums really want to open up their data in the same way as the government is now doing and asked us to go banging on the museums’ doors asking for access to their data. And finally Robin Houston told some interesting stories about the 10:10 campaign.

As always the conference was really interesting. As always there were far too many things that I wanted to see and in every session I could have just as easily gone to see one of the other tracks. And as always, I have come away from the conference fired with enthusiasm and wanting to help all of the projects that I heard about.

Of course, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to have to pick one or two of them.

If you weren’t at Opentech, then you missed a great day out. You should make an effort to come along next year.

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