As Chris has already written about, Saturday saw the return of Open Tech, the British geek conference, after an absence of three years. I went along, hungover like a bastard, and a good time was had by all.
Some quick highlights:
Danny O’Brien (excellent as always) somehow turning the Open Rights Group talk into a revivalist meeting, as Bill Thompson led a movement of those not yet saved to come forward and be baptised (and hand over a tenner). Also, the first half of the talk was conducted entirely in Foundation references, the second half entirely in Doctor Who references. It was all very enjoyable, and a delight to see how well the completely spontaneous idea (ahem) that Open Tech 2005 came up with has progressed. If you care about any of the issues ORG fights on – privacy, e-Voting, freedom of information, copyright reform, and host of others – you should probably go and join them now.
The MySociety guys giving the lowdown on WhatDoTheyKnow?, another great, simple political application that makes submitting FoI requests easy, and automatically publishes any response. It’s a great site, and along with all the other MySociety stuff (the video on TheyWorkForYou, the travel time maps) gives you hope that maybe this world isn’t entirely doomed after all.
The same goes for the guys behind the Power Of Information project, who are actually doing cool things within government to free up data and give it to people to use – it’ll be fascinating to see how ShowUsABetterWay works out, because it’s a potentially brilliant scheme.
The guys from guardian.co.uk, who explained the thinking behind the architecture for the Guardian’s web refit. I’ll not go into detail right now (it’s too late to try channeling Martin Belam) but I was pleased in an entirely egotistical way that a lot of their thoughts were similar to thoughts I’d had. Hurrah. They, of course, have the advantage of actually having done them, rather than just vaguely thinking about them.
Overall, there wasn’t quite the same sense of excitement as there was at previous iterations of the event – no “wow” factor stuff like TheyWorkForYou being unveiled, or Audioscrobbler being explained and me totally failing to get it, and a lot less of the useless-but-fun tech hacking that it had in its NotCon days – but instead there was a sense that things were maturing and actually getting stuff done. Which is good, I think,
People I saw but didn’t have anything sufficiently interesting to say to that would have justified me talking to them: Ben Goldacre, Danny O’Brien, Toms Steinberg and Loosemore, Simon Willison, Rufus Pollack and an awful lot of familiar faces whose names I couldn’t quite place. People I was going to talk to but then couldn’t find: Becky Hogge, who now runs ORG and I went to university with. People who I realise I never actually introduced myself to although I was technically in a conversation with even though I wasn’t saying much: Tom Reynolds. Puzzling conversations about Charlie Stross books with someone who clearly thought I was someone else: 1.