Tag Archives: Free culture

Sitting around the data campfire

Similar to Gail Ramster, I went along to the Friday afternoon part of UK GovCamp 2012 without really knowing why. I suspect most people would say the same thing. You go because… well, you never know which useful people you might bump into, and what interesting things you might hear about. Plus a colleague Janet Hughes was going, and I’d cleared my desk of essential work for the week.

Here are a few takeaway thoughts from my afternoon.

1. I barely knew anyone

It’s years since I was a fish in a geeky pool, active in the free culture movement, the KDE community, software patent activism and other odds and sods.

For the past five years or so I’ve moved onto land, or perhaps a coral reef, to be more involved with issues around the environment, housing and pay inequality. The past two or so have been working as a local government employee at the GLA, supporting Green Party Members of the London Assembly. They have pushed for open data, but it’s not exactly a hot topic in our weekly meetings. My only remaining connection has been OpenStreetMap, my one geeky obsession.

Still, it didn’t matter, go along even if you know no-one at all.

2. It was nice to reconnect with optimistic techies

The event reminded me of one of the things I most like about these crowds: they’re all optimistic about the future and enthusiastic about the common interest.

I’m glad I managed to quickly chat to a few people I did know, sort of… Gail via Twitter, and Giles Gibson from the Herne Hill Forum, but sadly I only said as much as “hello” to people like Emer Coleman¬†and Chris Osborne. That’s what you get for arriving late and leaving early.

3. It’s more meaty than you’d think

That’s “meatspace” as in “the real physical world”, compared to “cyberspace” online. Compared to events a few years ago on open data and technology, most of the discussion I heard was about councils and companies working on staff structures and consultation processes, and then thinking about how technology and data could help.

I used to get frustrated with discussions that started with the assumption that open data and technology was going to revolutionise the world. That seemed upside down to me. So I was pleasantly surprised at this.

4. There’s a lot of “we”

Somebody pointed this out in one session – it’s very easy to apply “we” to the wider population when you really mean “we sort of people in this room”.

Often “we” are innovators or early adopters of ideas that become more mainstream, like using a smart phone to access services. Sometimes “we” are set to be a significant minority, like journalists, bloggers and politicians who use data to enhance their investigatory work. Just as often “we” are a world unto our own.

It’s fine, innocent mostly, typical of any event with like-minded people. It just grated on me when people talked about reconfiguring public services or management around their preferences, as though the rest of the world will thank them.

I might make a badge for myself if I go again, with the slogan “we’re not normal” or similar!

5. Theres a lot going on out there

Cocooned in City Hall, working on affordable housing or the pay gap, it’s hard to keep even a toe dipped in this pool. It was great hearing from so many people in so many walks of work and life doing so many useful things.

Sometimes when I map an area for OpenStreetMap, walking down a street noting house numbers, I feel a bit bewildered by all these people living here! London feels impossibly enormous. I left UKGovCamp feeling similarly bewildered by the enormity of work going on in this field, relative that is to my own small bits and pieces in my job and my free time.

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Boris the culture commie?

Are free photos evil? I’m going to stick my neck out and defend the Greater London Authority for setting up a Flickr group where Londoners can submit photos to be used on the GLA web site. A few photographers are upset that anyone can now get decent photos for free from citizens who donate them. Shocker. These photographers want the GLA to use our taxes to pay them for their hard work.

I’m sorry, but that’s just plain ridiculous. Should we condemn the GLA for using free software for their web site, instead of paying for a proprietary content management system? Dearie me. Look, the web has changed many creative industries and bust the business models of those few who were charging for stuff that lots of us will happily share quite freely. Get over it.

This storm-in-a-lens-pouch has been picked up by the venerable Boris Watch and the Telegraph, who both seem to sympathise with the photographers. They echo the photographers and conflate this issue with the way that the police and the More London security guards act stupidly towards photographers, as though this has anything to do with the GLA (a different organisation) inviting its 7.56 million citizens to contribute their lovely photos to the GLA web site.

The great collection of photos in the group – including a few of mine – suggest that most people are quite happy donating their work.

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Dear Lily, culture is about more than cash

This video is just brilliant, it’s great to see ORG’s campaign against Labour’s absurd “three strikes” proposal picking up steam.

When I was more involved with the free culture movement I wrote my Masters thesis on a Lockean argument against Lily Allen’s view of copyright. The thing I love about the video is that it doesn’t just argue on the economics, as this brilliant essay on Liberal Conspiracy does quite effectively. No, he plays with – and demonstrates – the claim that culture should be something we all enjoy consuming, producing, sharing and learning from. He bought Lily Allen’s CD for his mum, which she loves, but that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

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European Parliament elections, the Green Party and free stuff

Open AccessGavin Baker, a really fantastic free data activist from the US, nudged me recently about his post on the position of different European parties on open access to research. Scott Redding, one of our Green Party candidates in the elections and also doing amazing work getting more online activism for the party, gave a fairly strong statement on his intention to support the cause of open/free data.

So where do we stand? It’s easier to explain by talking about our wider policy and activism around intellectual property. So here’s an update on a previous post:

The Green Party in England & Wales hasn’t done much work specifically on open access to research but I guess the message to Gavin and other activists is: we have strong, clear policy on this, and we’re an open door. Green MEPs will always listen to you, turn up to vote on directives, write letters and within reason support the cause!

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