Just back from Opentech, so here are a few random notes. I’ll hopefully fill in more details later.
I started by listening to Danny O’Brien talking about “Living Live in Public”. Danny discussed his theory of how the geek world has a weird kind of celebrity where you can be incredibly famous to a very small subsection of the population. He also characterised fame as a situation where people know more about you than you know about them. Where’s the power in that relationship?
Then I went off to the seminar room to hear various people talking about Media Hacking. Before the talks started Ewan Spence, who was chairing the session, tried a bit of practical media hacking. He asked for volunteers who had an iPod Shuffle and five people came forward. He then put all of the iPods in a box, shook it up and handed them back at random. The iPod owner who was sitting in front of me returned to his seat distinctly unimpressed by the trick. The actual talks in the session started with Matt Westcott talking about running Linux on an iPod. An interesting trick, but not really interesting to me. Then Paul Mison spoke about ways of hacking iTunes. This was a good high-level survey, but could have done with being twice as long and more detailed. Mike Ryan introduced MythTV, the Open Source PVR package, which I’ll definitely be investigating further. Finally Michael Sparks introduced Kamaelia, a new BBC project for building complex applications out of simple components.
After lunch I was back in the main room for what were probably the two major talks of the day. The first was the official launch of BBC Backstage. Ben Metcalfe also announced a new Backstage data feed (containing weather data) and a competition to create an interesting application based on their recently announced TV schedule feed. Ben was followed by Jeremy Zawodny who was talking about how Yahoo! is opening up their data through the use of web services APIs. He also had some interesting thoughts about where the web services industry might be heading. An interesting question asked during that session was about the politics of persuading business managers that giving just anyone free access to all your company data is a good idea. Even more interesting if you know that the question was asked by someone who might be about to be involved in something very similar at another major content provider.
After a brief break (during which I got involved in an O’Reilly “meet the author” session) I went to a session on blogging and social software. Tom Reynolds gave some tips on how to write a work-based blog without getting fired, Paul Mutton drew graphs of social networks by monitoring IRC channels and Paul Lenz (from the company behind WhoShouldYouVoteFor) introduced their new site WhatShouldIReadNext.
Finally there was a session on web services. Don Young from Amazon gave what was a bit too much of a corporate presentation on Amazon Web Services, Gavin Bell talked about the concept of social documents and Lee Bryant introduced a couple of prototypes based on BBC Backstage data (did I mention the heavy BBC presence at the conference!) To finish off Simon Willison and Rob McKinnon talked about Greasemonkey. It was slightly badly timed given the major security flaw that was found in Greasemonkey this week, but a fixed version is promised in days. Simon demonstrated Matthew Somerville’s script for fixing the Odeon web site, but the biggest applause was saved for Rob when he demonstrated his script that reformats the New Zealand equivalent of Hansard on the fly. It takes something that is really difficult to read and converts it into something that looks like TheyWorkForYou.