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July 23, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

OpenTech 2005

Here at OpenTech 2005, feeling very much in my natural habitat: surrounded by fellow geeks. Although a bout of delayed jetlag knocked me out a little this morning and I spent the second session sitting in the hallway talking to Alan Connor, who was suffering dreadfully from a hangover and thus was pretty much in the same state of mind as I.

The session I chaired, Practical Open Content (with Rufus Pollack, Paula le Dieu, Steve Coast and Tom Chance - thanks guys!), went pretty well I think. We discussed various open content projects, including Science Commons, Remix Reading, Free Culture UK and Open Street Maps, and the various issues faced by them. It was all videoed, and as usual I feel a bit of a loss about what was said because I was so busy concentrating on it that I can't remember it. I'm sure someone somewhere took notes, but it was a good discussion with interesting questions from the audience.

Because I'm feeling a bit tired, I haven't taken notes of everything. In fact, there's just the BBC Backstage launch and the discussion about launching a British/European version of the EFF. I'm sure that others have taken notes, so maybe try the Opentech tag on Technorati. Oh, and don't forget the Essential OpenTech 2005 Primer, which is just ace.

BBC Backstage
Ben Metcalfe announced the official launch of BBC Backstage, wherein the BBC make various bits of their content available for non-commercial use - as they put it 'use our stuff to build your stuff'. He went through a bunch of slides explaining what sort of stuff they are releasing and how, and what sort of stuff you might like to think about building with their stuff.

Really cool examples:

- Dynamite, which is a site remixing BBC Travel news, local news, Flickr, weather and Google maps. Ubercool.
- BBC News Front Page Archive, which shows every change made to the front page of the BBC News site, e.g. the archive of July 7th. (Related fact: BBCi was fielding 50,000 hits a second yesterday.)
- Rebotcast Reads BBC News, which is a podcast of a bot reading the news

He also announced a competition for BBC Backstage developers, to encourage people to come up with prototypes that demonstrate new uses for the BBC's programme schedule data and win actual real prizes such as a server. Geek bling!

Should there be a British EFF?
Ian Brown, Rufus Pollock, Danny O'Brien, Cory Doctorow

Missed Ian's short talk, sorry.

Rufus, has worked with FFII, UKCDR, Friends of the Creative Domain. But rather go through the organisations, why we are having these discussions because these issues that relate to the knowledge economy are suddenly becoming very important. Similar to the environmental issues from the 60s onwards when it became important. So there is a whole spectrum of groups who are working in that area - there is no single solution to how we organise activism and policy etc. Those of us here believe in an open approach but there's not a lot of representation, e.g. at a political level, and in the media they are not taking both sides of the debate. At the basic level, we need to have a group that people, e.g. journalists, know they can call. FFII does get calls, but that's only just started happening. But we need a spectrum of people - extremists and the guys who cut the deal are required, we need people to say XYZ is unacceptable, to stir things up, and the people who then actually do the deal.

Cory, from the American EFF. EFF is not a legal defence organisation, but they take very narrow cases which can change the law. They have no funding or resources to be a defence organisation, although they have contacts. EFF didn't start out to be an impact litigator. It was founded and funded by some people who wanted to defend people in need, so they hired attorneys and it developed from there. Do grassroots organisation, work on policy/standards/treaties and lobbying, but what we don't do very well is grassroots stuff that goes beyond letter writing and sending us a cheque. There's a real concern that if there were chapters of the EFF that they would stray from the EFF's position and could end up in court arguing against themselves. Are now leading some free software project, but need other things, say for designers, and any UK organisation needs to consider that. Cory is the entire EFF staff in all of Europe. Often bad laws are created by a sort of too-fro process by edging things forward on two fronts. Cory is here to work on the issues where American laws might have an impact on European laws. In the States, had a big victory for the Broadcast Flag, but in Europe there is a similar initiative that goes further than the Broadcast Flag did, and that's the sort of thing that a European/UK activist group should be addressing. You don't need to be a geek to understand some of these issues.

Questions from Danny: What works and what's missing?

Ian - what doesn't work is membership organisations, and things such as FIPR or No To ID which is a single issue thing and costs only £10-£15 to join, haven't been successful. It's not that people don't like joining (look at Greenpeace or the RSPB), but for some reason these things haven't worked as well as in the US. Activism in terms getting people to write to MPs for e.g., doesn't seem to work either, and when people write it doesn't really work in getting MPs to change their mind if it goes contrary to party line. Lobbying is better, e.g. House of Lords are far more interested in digital ID than the House of Commons, especially Labour MPs.

Rufus - potential approaches, we are lucky that we care about something and that's what motivates people. Abstract issues are difficult, but concrete things involve people. Pitch actual examples to the grassroots, not the concepts, e.g. all software developers would be affected by software patents, but open source people were the most involved in the campaign to resist them. So getting people engaged is to look for people who are affected. Often membership organisations bootstrap from donations, although often membership orgs don't pay their own way. Will be difficult to run a policy organisation on volunteers - activists yes, but not policy. If you're doing to talk to the government and press you need funding, which is hard to get in the UK. Can provide a community and try to grow it, but without funding it's difficult.

Cory - EFF doesn't take government money. Here think tanks can get money, but activists can't. EFF has built coalitions with other activists groups and that works very well. Appeals to the constitution also works, e.g. with strong crypto they used a free speech argument which worked rather than the arguments about technical issues. Human rights issues are very strong and powerful. There is the European Court of Human Rights, and it overrides local law and it's important to look at that, because young lawyers will do it for free. Letter writing campaign, even duplicative letters, work in the US. If you get someone to write a letter, even a duplicative letter, introduces them to actually doing something. Appealing to industry does not work in the US.

Danny - Money's what's missing. Historically, every few years the idea of organising a big thing comes up. Danny's done this and money is lacking.

Stef Magdalinski - We can do a lot without money, theyworkforyou cost £2k, and has gone round the dot.com millionaires and asked for money and they just vanish. Having given up on the UK guys, the US guys have made their money globally and shouldn't we ask them to fund a global project.

Danny - there's more than just dot.com billionaires, there are organisations that are in this area. But because we are used to doing this on a shoelace, and there's no access to these people.

Richard Alan - Ex-MP. Was in the house of commons. Letter writing does work. Any MP that got 100 letters on an issue would act. Making it concrete is important, you have to make things relevant to people, say 'this is what will happen to your constituents', then that is concrete. Money is important and has been lacking. Another thing is about liberty, because although we have a Liberty, they muddy the waters by focusing on human rights.

The Rest
Back in the hallway, mainly cos their's wifi here. Probably not going to take anymore notes, but has been a damn good day.

Originally posted on Strange Attractor.

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