These are my notes, with some links for further reference from the first day of the conference strand of the Future Everything festival which consumes Manchester’s creative and digital sector for a few days in May every year.
There were so many different events going on across the city, it would be impossible to distil things into one blog post, so this is intended very much as a personal snapshot of two aspects – the challenges around opening data and the new future possibilities of the semantic web………..
I was involved in facilitating two panels during the morning, both on the topic of open data and both with panels of leading thinkers in this area.
From the first, Moving the Immovable, a gauntlet was laid down for those of us looking at these issues from a Manchester perspective as William Perrin from Talk About Local included some examples of success in this area from Birmingham and challenged the home audience to act now.
The examples included the remarkable BCC DIY – a very quickly created website to deliver council services started to shame the council’s expensive and lengthy delays in providing a useable ‘unofficial’ version and a survey of parking ticket hotspots carried out in conjunction with HelpMeInvestigate. Challenging the audience to start right away by issuing hundreds of FOI requests it was an invigorating introduction to some of the approaches individuals or groups can make.
His full presentation is here;
The audience was treated to a different approach in a case study from London – the DataStore – with a presentation from Emer Coleman which also highlighted some of the pitfalls as well as talks from lawyer Jordan Hatcher and Rewired State’s James Darling.
The second panel discussion, The Rewards and Challenges of a Transparent Culture, ended up being so over-subscribed we actually had to turn people away!
Easy to see why when looking at the diverse backgrounds of those involved – Tim Dobson, recent PCC in Manchester for The Pirate Party, lawyer Jordan Hatcher, GP Amir Hannan, entrepreneur Chris Taggart.
The presentation which prompted the most questions from the audience in the auditorium, and debate everywhere else I went afterwards, was the passionate Dr Hannan. A local GP (Tameside and Glossop NHS Trust) he detailed the work he’s carried out to open up medical records to patients, allowing them to see their notes, become informed about the medications prescribed and treatments available so that they become fully involved in the process. His views that “a doctor, a patient and a computer in a room provides three experts” was certainly refreshing and inspiring. (InsidetheM60 blog reports further on this here.)
Speaking from the point of view of someone who has worked (tirelessly) to open up council data to local audiences, Chris Taggart of OpenlyLocal gave a talk about the culture of failure and the need for organisational mindset change.
His full presentation is here.
Onto semantics. I should stress here (although I’m sure that will be quickly blatantly obvious to many!) that I’m certainly no authority on this subject so I took it as a rare opportunity to hear from some people who are.
I admit much of it was brain-jangling for a simple hack, but there’s no getting away from the fact that those of us who make our livings from publishing stuff online, need to wise-up as the world wide web moves from a ‘network of documents’ to a ‘network of data’.
And listening to some of those coming at this from a science point of view, it seems that day might not be far off at all……
I found Manchester University’s Prof Carole Goble particularly inspiring and accessible as she spoke of the challenges facing scientists in orchestrating and interlinking datasets and it was fascinating to hear how exactly the same issues face this community – how best to collaborate and share information.
And just as is happening in many other sectors, she made the point that the new generation of scientists were for the first time digital natives – something that will inevitably make a change in how business is done in the future.
She provided the following links for further exploration of this topic during her presentation;
vivoweb.org – describes scientists, semantic web
Alzheimers forum – a scientific discourse ,semantic way
Danah Boyd www.2010
Finally, the mini keynote from Nigel Shadbolt provided a clear and accessible look at the work he and Tim Berners-Lee have been carrying out with the UK government.
He lit up that idea of the shift from a web of documents to a web of linked data.
“It is still a set of simple protocols, really disarmingly simple – you should give objects of interest their own URLs.”
And he provided this address to explore more; Map.psi.enakting.org/how.
One of his ideas caught my attention too – just as with the original web, once we have the semantic web there will be unintended use, and misuse.
After the conference sessions I was doing some searches and reading around this subject and found this TED talk from Berners-Lee from last year.