Opentech 2017

(The reason for the picture of Tower Bridge will become obvious later.)

The Opentech conference took place yesterday. It’s fabulous conference where people get together and share stories about using technology to make the world a better place. I always find it really inspiring.

I think I’ve been to every previous Opentech conference and I’ve written blog posts about most of them, so here’s what I saw yesterday.

Standards for Private Browsing — Hadley Beeman

We all like our incognito browser windows, right? Hadley pointed out that these private browsing sessions are subtly (and sometimes not really subtly) different across browsers and no-one can be expected to remember exactly what each browser does. She is on the W3C Technical Architecture Group and says that they would like to introduce standards in this area.

Getting to fairness in the platform economy — Rachel Coldicutt

Rachel is the CEO of DotEveryone and talked about how and why we need far more equality in the digital arena. For example, not everyone has the same access to the internet. Sounds like DotEveryone are about to start making a difference in this area.

People Before Pixels? — Rose Rees Jones

Rose runs the People Before Pixels Meetup group for people who are designing public sector web sites. There was plenty to think about in her talk and she ended with four questions that designers can use to help frame their work. I’m hoping that her slides go online soon, as I can’t remember what the questions were.

Real headlines of 2016 — James Ball

James was really plugging his book, Post-Truth, How Bullshit Conquered the World, but it sounded like a really interesting book. I’ve bought a copy already and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Real headlines of 2022 — Wendy Grossman

Wendy had a lot of fun producing some headlines that we could be reading in five years time. She also touched on mindset lists (what people born in different years see as normal). Her slides are online. Sadly, I had to leave this session before Wendy’s talk was finished as I was speaking in a different room during the next session.

Hidden Local History — Antony Carpen

Antony showed us some of the interesting things he had discovered when researching Cambridge (the town, not the university) history. In particular, he’s a big fan of the British Newspaper Archive (as am I).

Freeing Tower Bridge — Dave Cross

I talked about my project to make data feeds of Tower Bridge lift times available.

Curators vs Robots — Mia Ridge

Mia works for the British Library and talked about some of the very interesting problems they have curating such a large collection. She also touched on the ways that robots (by which she mostly means computer software) can help.

The State of Public-Interest Digital Technology — Tom Steinberg

Tom is a long-term contributor to Opentech. He founded MySociety and was their chair for a very long time. So he usually has very interesting things to say about the kinds of projects that Opentech is about. And this talk was no exception. One interesting point he made was that the Opentech old-guard like him are now, in many cases, the establishment and they are now being disrupted by a new generation in exactly the same way that we wanted to disrupt things fifteen years ago. This, in case it isn’t obvious, is a good thing.

Ada Lovelace in 2017 — Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw gave a brief history of Ada Lovelace Day, before talking about some of the things they have planned for this year. Something completely new is an online recruitment fair for women in STEM. It sounds like they also have some interesting research to share — for example, women only apply for job if they match all of the requirements; men will apply if they match 60% of the requirements.

Climate Symphony — Leah Borromeo and Jamie Perera

Leah and Jamie have taken various data sets pertaining to climate change and converted them to MIDI data which produces music driven by climate change. To be honest I would liked to have heard less about the whys and hows and heard more of the music (but I left before the end of the session — so perhaps I missed it).

Open Democracy Discussion — James Smith, Sym Roe and Ed Dowding

This was slightly different to what I was expecting. Instead of people talking about their interesting projects (Something New, Democracy Club and Represent.Me), they all gave a five-minute introduction and then the discussion was thrown open to the floor. Some interesting opinions were shared, but I’m not sure that any real conclusions were reached.

And that was it. As always, it was a fascinating and thought-provoking day. Thanks to the organisers and to all of the speakers. I look forward to hearing the recordings of the sessions I missed.

P.S. Kevin Marks made some much more detailed notes of the sessions he was in.

Originally published at on May 14, 2017.

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