Open Data Open*

OpenCon 2014

So, I got to go to my first international conference. And what a conference. I suspect it may have spoiled me for future ones…. Apart from the fact that I could say that I literally flew to Washington DC for the weekend (OK, and the Friday and Monday) which was such a short time, it was fantastic.

There are already a couple of good review posts out there (cf: Karin Purshouse, Ross Mounce, Hilda Bastien at Scientific American, Emilie Champagne) so I am not going to try and replicate them, but talk more about my own experience.

First off, Washington is a pretty cool place, especially the bits we were in. Lots of lovely old buildings, stone-clad buildings, parks, statues and memorials and so on. The Metro is also pretty cool, and driving my car to campus today was a bit weird after how easy it would be not to have one there. Also, I got to go to MUSEUMS. I managed to find the time to visit the National Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Library of Congress. All totally awesome, and who can argue with an entry price of “free”. I will probably put some pictures up soon, but I was getting chills so often at these places. The Apollo 11 Command Module. The original Wright Flyer 1. Freedom 7. Spirit of St Louis. Getting chills again. This was an amazing bonus for me, although without it the conference would still have been totally worth it.

The Conference

The American University College of Law was a great venue, with all of us fitting in comfortably and with no major logistical issues (apart from some issues with the WiFi on Saturday morning and the fact that they ran out of tea at one of the breaks). The organisation of the entire conference was top-notch, so well done to the entire organising committee.

Said organising committee also chose the keynote speakers and panel speakers. Who were universally amazing, inspiring and approachable people. There were discussions about publishing (both historical and novel), about the development of Open* in various parts of the world (the discussion about the situation in Latin/South America was particularly interesting), general projects, the impact that Open* can have, the responsibility that making things open brings…. All in all, pretty wide-ranging.

Also very interesting was the advocacy day, on Capitol Hill. Actually getting close enough to see how government works (a little) was really valuable. I do wonder how well it will transfer to South African government, but who knows….

My fellow attendees (alumni of OpenCon, to borrow from Mike Carroll’s closing talk) were also inspiring, friendly people. I have made a number of contacts that I hope to keep in touch with. It was also fantastic to meet some of the people that I have only seen online. Special shoutouts to @Protohedgehog and @rmounce, who started my interest in Open* last year some time (in fact, “Mounced” is apparently a word for people who have gotten converted after interacting with Ross. I can safely claim to have been Hedgemounced.), and Joe, David, Sarah and Georgina from the Button team. To all the new people I met: you were amazing, and I can not list all of you here.

My Current Plans

So, with all the inspiration that I got from meeting people doing cool stuff, what do I plan to do?

  • Get a student-led OASA off the ground, in co-ordination with Uvania Naidoo at UCT. We each have some contacts, so the idea is to try and get groups of other interested students at other institutions around the country to start working in a more unified manner, essentially by building a national network. This will also probably involve tapping some existing communities, such as the Open Knowledge, who already have a local group here. They are mostly focused on open government data, but many of the issues are much the same.
  • Keep an eye on the tech side, for open data standards and such, which @wilbanks and @EvoMRI were briefly discussing, and that I think are well worth attempting to develop. @wilbanks in particular had a good point about essentially smuggling Open* in under good design: if a system works really well, and it happens to be open, people will use it. The majority will not use it if the only improvement is that it is Open*.
  • Continue work with the Open Access Button. OpenCon really brought home just how important this project can become, and how useful it really is.
  • Set up an informal videocall on a roughly bi-monthly basis for people to discuss issues in advocating, successes and such things. I will be co-ordinating this with @KarinPurshouse, so if you have any ideas, let us know.