Agile in the public sector

I’ve uploaded some slides I put together recently for a couple of events. I’ve also posted my speaker notes below.

Many thanks to Leisa Reichelt and Emma Gasson for giving me some useful tips and links this week, to Alice for the slide template (and, spoilers, for the finale) and to Padma Gillen for letting me steal his construction metaphor. Huge thank yous to the dozens of people whose work I mention below and the hundreds of people who have taught me and influenced me over the past few years.

Title slide: 'Agile service delivery in the UK's public sector'

Continue reading Agile in the public sector…

Boring 2012

I spent today at Boring 2012. Now in its third year, in the words of conference organiser James Ward, Boring is “a day dedicated to the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked.” During the introduction he also told us that this was to be “the most boring one yet” and “I can only apologise”.

Raffle

Here’s what happened.

  1. James Ward himself was first up, talking about self service checkouts and unexpected item in the bagging area. Did you know that the first self service tills were introduced by Marks & Spencer in 2002? James presented a guide to self service checkouts that was useful as it was amusing, followed by a small collection of till receipts (or, ‘purchase certificates’ as he encouraged us to think of them) for things he didn’t buy.
  2. Peter Fletcher presented a clever invention, an ode to letterboxes including “inner portcullises of sharp bristles that repel anything but the most rigid of paper items.” A beautiful look at letterboxes from a poetic ex-postman.
  3. Ben Target performed an untitled performance art piece on rollerblades, to the accompaniment of a reading of ‘tables of weights’, which was evocative of Johann Johannsson’s IBM 1401, A User’s Manual, but with more rollerblading. Rachel was in tears of laughter. James calmly moved us on with “well, it’s not every day that you see that.”Leila and her IBM tills
  4. Leila Johnston presented her collection of IBM tills, of which she has collected over 40 photographs and wants you to share your own. Notable moments included the “white IBM ePOS 300; my Moby Dick” and revelations about Leila’s heavily IBM influenced childhood growing up in Greenock.
  5. Ed Ross shared “how I like my toast” including a comparison of various toasters and a proposed standard rating system from “warmed bread” up to “German rye bread” which is apparently very heat resistant.
  6. Rose George informed us that the least boring object in our houses is our toilet, and the rather sobering fact that 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to a toilet.
  7. Neily Denny shared memories, maps and photographs of five breakfasts, which ranged from delicious to disgusting.
  8. Helen Arney demonstrates the PSR-175Helen Arney started the afternoon by telling us about the features and specifications of the Yamaha PSR-175 portable keyboard (discontinued) in a provocative and entertaining live demonstration.
  9. Roo Reynolds (that’s me!) shared some of my collections in roughly chronological order, which you can actually read all about here.
  10. Greg Stekelman talked about being short and one of his favourite websites, celebheights.com, including some hilarious and carefully selected quotes which I wish I’d written down.
  11. Charlotte Young had prepared a short study of the contemporary celebrity culinary expert on television including surprisingly detailed dissections of both Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal.
  12. Andrew Male talked about yellow lines and their relation to the Festival of Britain and post-war zoning regulations.
  13. James Brown enthused about one of his favourite TV programmes; Antiques Road Trip.
  14. Rhodri Marsden shared a confession about, and several examples of, the soothing and soporific world of ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) videos; a whole subculture about which I’d previously been blissfully unaware.
  15. Elise Bramich informed us about tube carriage numbering. Did you know that London Underground trains going North or West have even numbers, while those headed South and East are odd, with the exception of the Bakerloo line and anywhere with loops? She also talked about Vampire Numbers.
  16. Emily Webber shared some of her carefully curated set of over 1000 photographs of London shop fronts, which she has been collecting for a while.
  17. Alice Bell talked about the Science Museum (where she used to work) and why museums are boring, except that she was so enthusiastic and eloquent about them that I don’t think she convinced us, or even herself, of this theory. “The technologies of the past which we chose chose not to have show us other possible futures we might have had.”Kathy Clugston recites the 31 sea areas of the shipping forecast
  18. Kathy Clugston revealed the arcane world of The Shipping Forecast, a subject about which she knows a great deal having read the forecasts on Radio 4 for some time. As well as being a great example of ASMR, Kathy impressed us all by reciting all 31 sea areas in order. More facts I can’t allow to pass un-noted: The shipping forecast is broadcast four times per day (5:20, 12:01, 17:54 and 00:48), For each area, you get the following four pieces of information: 1. wind direction / 2. wind strength / 3. precipitation / 4. visibility. Veering = clockwise, Backing = anticlockwise. Imminent = 6 hours hence, Soon = 6-12 hours, Later = 12-14 hours. “You can’t get excited when there’s a hurricane!”.
  19. James W. Smith finished off the day by talking about the benefits of walking to work which is “the only sort of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise, and therefore the only sort that I’m willing to do”. In the evenings, “I don’t drink much any more because of the cat…” James has calculated that a 3.3 mile walk = 7152 steps = 1 hour = 19ml of saliva, or 376.42 steps per ml. James ended with a rather thoughtful and touching encouragement to try walking to work.

Enormous thanks to James Ward for inviting me but most of all for putting on a brilliant – and not at all boring – day.

Interesting 2011

Interesting 2011 was, as promised, more about activities than talks.

After the traditional Final Countdown singalong and introductions from Russell, we were all very much in the mood for an interesting day.

Conway Hall, set up for Interesting 2011 Russell

Stanley James Press provided all the equipment, instructions and patient help required for us to bind our own notebooks.

Next up, Leila Johnston introduced her Hack Circus:

After the Hack Circus, there followed a short period of making and doing, including Words and Pictures who helped us make a comic, and Oli Shaw and Lynda Lorraine who set up a plasticine creature creation workshop / stall [here are the results while Matthew Solle + friends allowed people tro try out their collection of circuit bent toys and other musical instruments.

Spherising tomato passataTo get us in the mood for lunch, Chris Heathcote led us in an amazing hands on session of molecular gastronomy. First, to see if we were ‘supertasters’ we all tried sodium benzoate (which I couldn’t really taste), phenylthiocarbamide (which tasted bitter and unpleasant. I think that means I tend towards liking sweet flavours. Which is true). Next we sampled dried tomato powder, pop rocks and monosodium glutamate before making tomato caviar (spherised tomato passata) and lastly trying miracle fruit (active ingredient: miraculin!) which confuses the taste buds normally receptive to sweet flavours to also be excited by sour ones. Lemons taste amazingly sweet, but the flavours in grapefruit and lime are what it’s really all about. If you’ve never tried it you really must. [More info and links for further reading via Chris here]

Mouse traps Mouse traps #1000mousetraps Mouse traps Primed Getting there

After lunch, Alby Reid (possibly the best science teacher in the world) used 1000 Mousetraps and 2000 ping pong balls to demonstrate nuclear fission. Serious fun.

[Alternatively, a much more lovely mouse-eye-view video from Paul Downey here.]

And finally, Stuart Bannocks provided some briefs to be address by putting stickers on boxes. Delightful, even having done it at Papercamp last year.

A massive, massive thank you to Russell and everyone involved in making it such a brilliant day.

Previous years: 2007, 2008, 2009.

Mash 2011

I spent a couple of days in Dublin this week for the Mash 2011 conference. 20 speakers (including me), three workshops and a whole lot of really nice people.

Here are some patchy notes from what I saw.

Nathan Hull, Penguin – The future of digital storytelling
Nathan took us through Penguin’s approach to eBooks, enhanced eBooks (EeBooks?) and apps. Examples included Fry Paper, Where’s Spot and many more. [I didn’t take notes because at this point I was already sitting on stage waiting to go up and speak.]

Hilary Perkins, Channel 4
Hilary talked about the importance of story-telling and how to use UGC in a way that doesn’t treat users as unpaid labour. [Again, no notes here. Do try to see Hilary present though, she’s great.]

Roo Reynolds, W+K London
That’s me! I somehow managed to show 68 slides (!) in 15 minutes to illustrate how the Cravendale ‘Cats with Thumbs‘ campaign worked as an example of advertising and engagement. I still didn’t cover everything I would have liked, but people were very kind about it afterwards and seemed to enjoy it.

Evan Ratliff, Wired USA
Having long been interested in the phenomenon of people who fake their own death, Evan and Wired set up a challenge. He would attempt to disappear and Wired would give a $5000 prize ($3k from Evan’s own pocket) to the first person who could hunt him down. In assuming a new identity he took the battery out of his mobile phone, rented an office in an fake name, used cash and cash-cards to buy disposable ‘burners’, used Tor to protect web visits and lots more. How to build a realistic looking FB profile? Find people who will friend anyone (people who do multi level marketing). A community of people looking for him quickly coordinated using FB, websites, Twitter (#vanish), chat rooms etc. 26 days later he was tracked down, partly via a Facebook app which logged users details into a database (tracked IP address, profile, number of friends etc) and trawled through lowest number of friends. Brilliant story.

Mark Rock, CEO of Audioboo
Product demo. When asked about monetisation, Mark said there will always be a free version. Possibility in future of paying to subscribe to users, with revenue sharing model.

Burt Herman, CEO of Storify
Storify lets you curate content: search, pick, add text to give context and Burt showed lots of great examples. “Social media makes everyone a reporter” [but not, I could feel the journalists in the room thinking, necessarily a journalist]

Edouard Lambelet, CEO of Paper.li
Paper.li let’s you showcase content based on lists/search/friend networks. Already up to 1.5M regularly active users (5M total). Being used for marketing by Game of Thrones apparently.

Marek Walton, The Mustard Corporation
‘The lessons learned from social games’. Marek shared some great examples of the real world value of virtual goods. Did you know the Entropia space station which sold in 2005 for $100k was sold again in 2009 for the equivalent of $330k?

Nicolas Lovell, Games Brief
Did you know there were 89M Cityville players last month, 11M yesterday? Publishing adds value through content distribution, but Internet has made content distribution easy. Which is great for content creators. Some (v few) people are prepared to pay a LOT of money. People will pay to: Fit in, Stand out, Fit in to a sub-group while standing out from the crowd, Build friendship, Flirt. Micro transactions: you can charge for status, emotion and identity rather than content. ARPU is not enough to know. What % of revenue comes from top 1% of users? SocialGold model of peasants, commoners, knights, lords, kings. Free users are really important; they’re the eyeballs, influencers, gawkers, leads and potential converts. Your job is to grab people with free stuff, and move them up the curve. Bower bird analogy: the Bower bird builds highly decorative nests decorated with blue things they’ve found: “look at how much surplus energy I have”.

Aidan Kelley, Candy
In a gorgeous and refreshingly simple presentation, most remarkable for its visuals, Aidan shared his long-running independent PDF magazine Candy with us. (Also referenced Issuu).

Nora Casey, Harmonia
Couldn’t have been more different from Aidan, and you almost got the impression the two of them are like positively and negatively charged particles; I was anxious they not touch for fear they would annihilate each other. Nora is a Dragon (in the Dragon’s Den sense of the word) and very well known in Ireland. She started off by saying that “My whole future is about digital” but appears confident about printed magazines and very dismissive of anything replacing them. We’ve been reading for 25,000 years [Bill Thompson would later point out it was actually 6,000], “Print will survive because it requires no electricity or machinery”, “Magazine readers will be around for another 20 years at least”, “If online works so well, why are so many tech and games magazines printed on paper?”. Bonus fact: 70% of revenue in womens monthly magazine comes from ads, apparently.

Next up was a panel discussing Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Despite being very happy to never hear that name again, this was a particularly interesting and enjoyable panel because intelligent people were actually discussing and arguing rather than agreeing with each other. Very unusual at conference, and very welcome.

Vaughan Smith, Founder of the Frontline club and associate of Julian Assange
“Julian Assange stays at my farm in Norfolk”. “I remain as committed to Julian as I was in November”. “i saw a man who was courageous, principled and frightened and had not been treated fairly”. Traditional journalists do not like dealing with J.A. because he [like them] is “a strong opinionated character”. Insistent that the rape allegations from Sweden are “a smear” and “a sideshow”. “Most people in Britain believe he is innocent”. How you do know? “I speak to a lot of people.”

Fintan O’Toole, Deputy Editor of The Irish Times
“Our instinct as journalists has to be in favour of publication of all information unless there’s a very good reason not to” But… “You cannot set yourself up as a force for liberation unless you are personally accountable”

Sarah McInerney, Political Correspondent at The Sunday Times
There is a problem in being too reliant on Julian Assange. He has an agenda, he controls the access. “I think he has too much power for one individual”

Christian Payne, Bill Thompson, Nik Butler
The three chaps (with Nik joining via Skype) conducted an informal and wide-ranging discussion covering closed platforms vs the open web, what happens when bandwidth increases and the possibilities of IPv6.

John Mulholland, Editor of the Observer
John introduced a series of film clips (in what amounted to a documentary and would make a very good one) about ‘the paper’s biggest story’, former Observer editor David Astor who used his position to bring injustices in apartheid era South Africa to light. First paper “to cover africa in a post colonial manner”.

Bill Thompson, head of partnership development for BBC archive development team
We want to believe things won’t change because it’s comfortable. Language is mind, culture is society. We are now living in a digital culture. The world itself is not digital, and the real world has not gone away, but it’s no longer wholly analogue. Digital data is everywhere. Revolutions on this scale are rare (think: writing rather than printing press). Not adapting your thinking will make you functionally illiterate. But we need to ensure we don’t forget the past, and take it with us. Digitising a book doesn’t mean we then shred it afterwards. It can mean visiting the relevant physical book becomes easier. BBC working with institutions to define a ‘Digital Public Space‘.

A day to make your head spin. Wonderful stuff.

My notes barely scratch the surface though. To get a much better idea of what happened at Mash, take a scroll through this collection of photos, video clips, interviews and attendee tweets curated by a team of students using Storify (of course) while the conference was taking place.

Culture Hack Day 2011: Lightning talks

An exciting blend of arts, culture and tech; the lightning talks session at the Culture Hack Day mounted at W+K today were interesting and inspirational.

Speakers

Tom Uglow, (Creative Director, Google and YouTube, Europe) talked about “What if the Web is a Fad?”. He’s pretty sure the internet isn’t going away, but thinks the web as we know it could be on shaky ground. He also pointed out that people don’t want to interact with cultural institutions online. They want to interact with the content.

Clare Reddington (Director, iShed and Pervasive Media Studio) asked “What if We Forget about Screens and Make Real Things?” asking what if all objects had their stories attached to it? She also showed, and sat next to, Tweeture.

Leila Johnston (author, blogger & comedy writer) asked “What if We Have Fun?”, and said ‘If you’re looking for inspiration, everything is fun; toys are all around you, even if they don’t seem like toys’. [update: more notes and links from Leila]

Tom Armitage (Creative Technologist, BERG @infovore) challenged: “Sod big data and mashups: why not hack on making art?” and referenced about several of the works of Tom Philips, plus Caleb Larsen’s ‘A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter‘ (an installation that continually tries to sell itself to the highest bidder)

Tom Dunbar (Producer, Hut V) asked “What if the audience had access to metadata embedded in visual media?”” and imagined

Matthew Somerville (developer, Theatricalia @dracos) asked “What if You Never Needed to Miss a Show?” and showed us his lovely Theatricalia project.

Nick Harkaway (author and blogger for FutureBook @harkaway) asked “What if you need IP?” – and made the point that privacy protection often goes hand-in-hand with IP protection. [Update: Nick shared his own notes here.]

Chris Thorpe (ArtFinder @jaggeree) asked “What if you could see through the walls of every museum and something could tell you if you’d like it?” and imagined the ‘angel’ character in Disclosure walking around galleries; wants people to look at the art, not screens. ‘technology should get out of the way’.

Update: more, and better, writeups of the talks from Chris Unitt, Mia Ridge, Erin Jo Richey, Pervasive Media Studio and Simon Hopkins. Many of the talks were also recorded as videos, here.

PaperCamp2

PaperCamp2 happened this afternoon. Like the first one, it was excellent.

Ben Terrett has done nice little review and you should check out the rest of his photos of the day too.

Stuart Bannocks (more photos) and his team, who no longer call themselves the fabrats but don’t yet have another name, gave us all a chance to be participate in some hands-on protosynthesis with carboard boxes, stickers, pens and our imaginations. (By the way, if you don’t know Stu, you should utterly take a look at the Badge a day project.)

PaperCamp2

I was asked me to wrap up the day, so I stood up at the end and rambled a bit about what I’d enjoyed. Below, I present a tidied, expanded and explicated version of the notes I used. Here’s what I wanted to say:

1.) Matt Jones [@moleitau] kicked off the day by saying he had “a new admiration for primary school teachers” and today has reminded me a lot of first school. Everything is creative. Making things is fun and there’s no such thing as a mistake. What a lovely way to spend a day.

2.) Matt Brown [@irvinebrown] started things off by introducing us to
the work of Josef Albers, origamic architecture by Gerry Stormer, curved folds by David Huffman and clumsy but magical self folding origami. (When we wondered out loud how it works, Ben Terrett patiently and accurately explained “it’s got stuff on it”.) Matt’s clearly having a lot of fun at BERG, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpse behind the scenes of making Dimenions, especially the paper-based ‘post digital augmented reality’ of holding a small drawing on a piece of paper in front of your face to get a sense of the pyramids on the horizon or a Spitfire in flight (“It’s smaller than you’d think”). Update: Matt has written up details of his talk, so you can see what post digital augmented reality aka ‘Sticking A Bit Of Paper In Front Of Your Face’ looks like.

3.) At this point I noticed the tea urn in the Conway Hall sounds like applause. Comforting. It’s been there all day, quietly applauding us all.

4.) Jane Audas [@shelfappeal] told us that “nobody wants what I want on ebay”, which surprised everyone who loves what she loves. She introduced us to various paper artists including Su Blackwell. I was especially excited about her examples of different sorts of packaging, including this beautiful 1950s egg box from Sainsbury’s. It gets me thinking about packaging. Remember when the bag-in-the-box which cornflakes came was made of paper rather than plastic, and milk came in glass bottles? We’ll be seeing a lot less plastic and a lot more card and paper packaging in the near future. (In fact, of course, we already are.)

5.) Camille Bozzini [@therealcamille] showed up some interesting and effective examples of paper advertising, including a rather nice ‘Ombro Cinema’ animation technique which is surprising and delighting, something that can’t always be said of adverts in newspapers.

6.) Laura Dickinson [@pbz1912]. I mean honestly, what must her brain be like? She maps mathematical models, constrained by the affordances and dimensions of paper, into 3d space and then back to nets which she cuts our and assembles into amazing shapes. There’s something delightfully pure and neat and accurate about it.

7.) Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino [@iotwatch] told us why she loves postcards, and made us love them a bit more too. I got a shiver from the postcards from the future exhibition at the Museum of London.

8.) Have you heard of Riepl’s law? Wolfgang Riepl, writing about ancient and modern modes of news communications in 1913, hypothesizes that new media never replace the old. Instead, we end up using the older media differently. Television didn’t replace radio, it sits alongside it quite comfortably.

The internet won’t kill off books, or television. Even if circulations of printed newspapers are dropping, newspapers are not going away.

Look at what happened to painting when photography came along. Not dead, just different.

At the end of his talk, Matt Brown summed it up nicely when he said “the pressure is off books for just imparting information”.

Update: bonus thing 9.) just as we were tidying up and getting ready to go to the pub, Basil showed me this amazing paper procedural generator he built. Brilliant.

Guardian Activate 2010

I went to Activate 2010 yesterday. It’s a conference about technology, society and the future (‘changing the world through the internet’). This is the second time the Guardian have run an Activate event (Activate 09 was very interesting, though I see I mainly ended up writing about how the event embraced the Twitter back-channel by displaying a moderated selection of tweets on stage. They did it again this year and it seemed to work, and was much less controversial, though I’d say that this year a higher percentage of people had laptops, iPads etc in their laps anyway…).

The programme featured an impressive list of speakers from a range of disciplines. It was a real treat to be made to think by a range of futurologists, ethnographers and researchers. A day to wake up your brain and make it think about important stuff. Many of the sessions were split into multiple streams, so I missed some of the best bits of the day, but what follows is some of what I saw.

Emily Bell, in what I think was her last day as director of digital content at the Guardian, introduced the day and welcomed us to the first keynote panel, which set the scene for the day very well with its ambitious title of Society, Humanity, Technology and the Web. (‘Using the power of connected networks, ubiquitous information, cutting edge technology and the spirit of the web to overcome the global challenges of our age’).

Ethan Zuckerman, founder, Global Voices gave a thoughtful and powerful eye opener. Especially for someone who had only landed in Heathrow 90 minutes earlier.

  • We need to point to, and amplify, repressed voices rather than attempting to represent them. It’s silly to speak for someone who is already seizing the microphones themselves
  • Social web = usually a place where you interact with people you already know. However, big cultural events are an opportunity to talk with strangers
  • Sending a million t-shirts to Africa (Million T-Shirts) is a bad idea. Donating clothes damages thriving local businesses.
  • TMS Ruge: “our voices count, and it would be good to partner with us – to have a conversation with us first – before any projects are started”
  • The Iranian ‘green revolution’ was mainly Iranian diaspora raising awareness in West. Twitter is not where you want to organise a revolution; the authorities read it too.
  • we need to listen to people in the developing world tell us what they care about

Jamais Cascio, The Institute for the Future is a self deprecating californian futuroligist with a TED talk and a book (‘Open the Future’) under his belt.

  • technology is culture. It’s not a field, it’s a manifestation of our beliefs, norms and politics. To understand the future of tech we need to think about the future of how we interact with each other
  • 3 drivers: consumption (watching youtube, reading twitter, reading blogs, …) creation (writing/making things), and connection (how do we relate to each other)
  • consumption + creation = attention ecology: making and reading. Largely the world we have today
  • creation + connection = ‘Lego Land’: making and creating and sharing new forms to facilitate further development. creation as collaboration
  • connection + consumption = empathic spectrum: focus on reputation, empathy (rather than attention), slower and richer than the world we have today
  • ‘will technologies make us smarter’ is less important than ‘will they make us better people’
  • human + computer = human
  • technologies are not independent of us. we create them and control and determine what shape they take

Georgia Arnold, SVP for social responsibility at MTV & executive director, Staying Alive Foundation talked about how MTV uses their brand for social good.

  • TV is technology too. 1 trillion hours of TV is watched around the world each year.
  • MTV ‘Staying Alive’ campaign = HIV and AIDS awareness campaign. Staying alive foundation funds young people doing prevention work
  • ‘Shuga’ – Kenyan TV programme. cult viewing whilst also being informative. Multi-layered social campaign: website, FB page, radio, marketing, press, teaching guide, plus lots of fan=created communities. Creativity is vital
  • actors trained with messages and become ambassadors themselves
  • success: releasing results in AIDS conference in Vienna in a couple of weeks
    stats say that if you watch Shuga you are more likely to get tested
  • technology doesn’t work in isolation. Need to think about people
  • technology is the glue that connects people, it doesn’t replace people
  • social media is not yet the most prevelant or influential agent for social change, but social media will be revolutionary in amplifying voices
  • we create everything rights-cleared for everyone to be able to use (including broadcasters)

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, biomedical gerontologist & chief science officer, SENS Foundation gave a disarmingly blunt and comic introduction to regenerative medicine. His exasperation at people who fail to fully understand why living longer is a good thing was probably less useful than trying to actually convince us.

  • SENS foundation is US registered charity focusing on regenerative medicine
  • 2/3 of all deaths worldwide are due to causes related to aging (proportion is much higher in the west)
  • because aging is (was?) inevitable, we tend to put it out of our minds rather than become preoccupied by something ghastly
  • Three approaches: Gerontology (slowing and preventing damage), Maintenance (repair of damage), Geriatrics (preventing death after damage is done).

  • claim: the maintenance approach, focusing on damage, may soon achieve a big extension of human healthy lifespan
  • his book: ‘Ending Aging’
  • eye opening quote: “there’s not much point having a voice if you’re wrong”

After a presentation from mendeley.com (who won the Activate VC pitching day award the day before) there was an interesting, if buzzword laden, panel discussion about VC funding. Bingo if you had ‘groundsourcing’ and ‘crowdfunding’, but don’t forget to take a drink every time you hear the word ‘ecosystem’.

The panel was

  • Esther Dyson (angel investor & chairman, EDventure Holdings)
  • Julie Meyer (founder & CEO, Ariadne)
  • Anil Hansjee (head of corporate development, EMEA, Google)
  • Nick Appleyard (head of digital, Technology Strategy Board)

and was chaired by Charles Cotton (director, Cambridge Enterprise).

I struggled to care about VC really, and the only thing that stood out to me was Esther Dyson’s insights about solving one small problem that make other things easier being better than trying to do everything all at once.

(Why was this a plenary session? Felt like this one could easily have been swapped with a later steamed session). Anyway, I wish we could have had more tangible examples from this panel and less vague hand-waving about ecosystems. Rather than write about this panel, I’m going to recount a little more about Medeley, which helps researchers work smarter and makes research more collaborative by building a research database. A desktop app extracts research metadata (authors, abstract, citations, etc) and aggregates research in the cloud. It can then distill trends, give realtime insights into who is citing who. Very very interesting. Clearly not aimed at me, but it looks so interesting that it makes me want to have a reason to use it.


After the break were some Lightning Presentations (‘Visionary sound bites from the brightest names on the internet on everything from the future of free to the power of unfettered information access to initiate a new world order’).

I went to stream #1…

Danny O’Brien, internet advocacy co-ordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists was excellent. He ran out of time a little bit, so I asked him to fill me in on what he missed. The last couple of points below are what he would have said if he hadn’t needed to truncate himself.

  • Danny’s work at the Committee to Protect Journalists is especially around internet journalists. Half of the journalists that were imprisoned in 2009 worked on the net, many of which are freelance without the support of big institutions
  • how do we burn in protections and reverence for free speech when building media institutions, in the same way that TCP/IP has free speech burned into it
  • Global Network Initiative – ensuring privacy and human rights of people around the world
  • whatever you build, however trivial you think it is, people will use it for vital free speech. What should you do?
  • preserve the confidentiality of your users (including protecting data from state-level adversaries)
  • make your rules public and even-handed (common trick is for states to use the tools of control against the people they want to silence, complaints, by making the rules obscure people don’t challenge)
  • keep your door open (in as well as out) – give people back their data when they want to take it elsewhere
  • make struggling speakers in dangerous regimes a use case when designing
  • turn on SSL

Sharon Biggar, COO & co-founder, Path Intelligence talked about ‘google analytics for the real world’.

  • the falling cost of sensor tech means: online research and analytics innovations can move offline, more experimentation, less need for market research
  • online shops know what we look at and choose not to purchase. Offline: if you walk into a shop and leave, the store doesn’t know what you were looking at
  • Path Intelligence works by detecting mobile devices anonymously and aggregate data around where the device goes. Currently detecting 10M unique visitors every month
  • “a little bit of information about a lot of people” rather than ” a lot from a few people”
  • At this stage, I can’t tell if I’m intrigued or frightened. This could well be an Orwellian spoof. She’s acting, right? She’s working for Liberty or someone and this presentation is going to get increasingly weird and scary until we all want to do something about it. A creative way of delivering a dystopian message about privacy perhaps?
  • surveys tend to underestimate length of time people are shopping
  • Oh. Ok. It’s not a spoof. This is an actual sales pitch for Path Intelligence’s products and services. Gosh. Why are we watching a sales pitch?

Sobia Hamid, co-founder, DataGiving.com

  • Ventroy – took data from Kiva and CrunchBase to show how many micro-enterprises could have been funded by failed startup investments
  • DataGiving beta
  • This is more world-changing, but still I’m seeing a lot more ‘look at what I’ve made’ pitching this year than last year

Matt Stinchcomb, director, Europe, Etsy

  • Etsy: “even the servers were built by hand”
  • last year $190 million of goods sold (doubling each year)
  • $0.20 listing fee, 3.5% commission
  • no reselling allowed, you have to be the maker
  • people before products
  • we think a lot about he cluetrain manifesto: markets are conversations
  • More pitching, though it would be hard not to like Matt and his open delivery.

A keynote panel on Politics, Democracy and Public Life (‘Mobilising democracy, streamlining government, improving access and empowering citizens through the internet’). Moderator: Tom Steinberg, founder, MySociety

Martha Lane-Fox, UK digital champion

  • 10M people in UK have never used internet. 2M have used it and not gone back
  • lots of organisations inviting digital engagement, and it always seems to be via the web
  • the UK could be the first country to have 100% use of internet by 2012 olympics
  • 500,000 computers are locked up in schools every night
  • computers have to somewhere you can get at them: doesn’t necessarily have to be in your home
  • don’t overcomplicate what it taks to get them online. Start with people’s passion. Focus on the benefits to them
  • People don’t yet know what the benefits are for them. Design services on line for people who don’t use them, not for people who do – start with the difficult customers
  • I think I’m a tiny bit in love with Martha Lane-Fox

Steven Clift, founder and executive director, E-Democracy talked about creating online public space for neighbours with common interest

  • every neighbourhood should have a local online space that connects people
  • Pew Internet research: 27% of US adult internet users use digital tools to talk to their neighbours. That’s 20% of adults overall
  • local voices matter, but you need the capacity to listen
  • civility matters. most people see and expect public conflict (flame wars) rather than civil conversation
  • by the way: putting up photos on the screen with ‘Creative Commns via Flickr’ as the attribution is not at all cool
  • real names work, creates reputation, builds trust and community
    inclusion matters
  • changing the neighbourhood rather than changing the world
  • e-democracy.org

Nigel Shadbolt, director, Web Science Trust & The Web Foundation talked about Open Government Data

  • politics is dog eat dog, but academia is the other way around
  • Since data.gov.uk launched, we’ve seen an ABSOrometer (how many ASBOs near where you are now). Was briefly the top free download app in the iTunes store in the UK
  • More worthy examples: UK dentists – find the nearest UK dentist
  • Showed Post Code Data newspaper as an example of what you could do with data if licensing wasn’t a problem
  • principles of public data: available in machine readable form for resuse including commercial reuse

Beth Simone Noveck, deputy chief technology officer, United States and director, White House Open Government Initiative talked about the US open government initiative, with a bit of healthy competition for data.gov.uk. Most interesting to me was a consensus on the panel that while anonymity is important, requesting first + last names, with explanation of why, creates sites in which the names mean more, with a focus on reputation and civility. I also now need to go and read the US government’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace proposals.


Final keynote presentations were grouped in the theme of Where Do We Go From Here? (‘Where next for the web? Future technologies and their impact on society and humanity’)

Joe Cerrell, European director, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation talked about philanthrophy and technology.

  • “Devices have the power to change the way we interact with media and change the world”
  • Shared examples of investments in: mobile money in Haiti, room temperature vaccines, Evidence based advocacy
  • ‘living proof’ showcase of investment results

Jan Chipchase, executive creative director of global insights, Frog Design seems to have the best job in the world. Jan (the man, sounds like ‘yan’) observes how products are used in the real world. He talked about ethnography and empathic design.

  • The poor can least afford poorly designed products and services
  • There will be 5bn mobile phone subscriptions by end of the year. 1.1bn sold every year. There’s a design responsibility that comes with that
  • Reputation has value. Reputation is collateral
  • The poor can least afford poorly designed products and services
  • And they know it
  • And now they know that you know it

Desiree Miloshevic, board trustee, Internet Society

  • How should the Internet be governed?
  • Who decides who decides?
  • Currently, mostly governed (controlled by) private sector interests
  • Used a Princess Bride allegory which I can’t relate in sufficient detail to do it justice, other than to say that the Internet = princess who is elegant and simple and virtuous by design, and there’s no clear outcome.

Clay Shirky, professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU talked about Cognitive surplus.

  • Example of Kenyan election disputed. Media blackout. Realtime news via blogs eg Kenyan Pundit -> Ushahidi
  • human generosity + free time + platform for collaboration (specifically incremental building and sharing)
  • Wikipedia is 100M hours of humans thought. Television 200bn hours eveey year in US alone. Wikipedia every weekend just in adverts in usa alone
  • Hang on a minute Clay: it was 100M hours over two years ago too.. surely that’s gone up a bit since then?
  • The future is random: Infrastructure widely spread means mass rather than depth of participation is often most important. How many people use it is more important than how fancy is it.
  • ‘Design through lack of hubris’. People who are certain of what will happen next try fewer things. People who are willing to learn through incremental public failure often find the inobvious solutions
  • Geographic spread. Innovation coming from oustife traditional centres.
  • Future is harder to predict but easier to see (globally)
  • Paying attention is a valuable tool for understanding the future

Unfortunately, I had to miss the closing presentation from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his interview by Alan Rusbridger. Real life got in the way and I had to jump out a tiny bit early. Here are the two videos of it though:

And for much more nitty gritty of what was going on and who said what this year, rather than just the bits I saw, the Guardian’s live blog coverage is what you need.

BeeBCamp 3

The first BeeBCamp was about 14 months ago (here’s what it’s all about and here’s what happened at that first one).

Today’s was the third such event, and opened up not only to more non-BBC guests than the previous one, but also to people who don’t happen to work in London. We had live video link-ups with Manchester and throughout the day, one of the tables in London had remote guests from The North virtually joining us at the end of the table. It was a great way of bringing the two locations together for fun, creativity and getting to know our colleagues and guests. These events serve to get people together from across the BBC (and beyond), build our networks, let us spend a day away from the normal work and think a bit differently about things.

Why do this sort of thing? As Philip Trippenbach, who produced todays event, says,

It’s not just the number of brain cells you’ve got; it’s the connections between them, and the strength of those connections, that makes intelligence and creativity possible. The metaphor applies to an organization like the BBC, with its thousands of employees in different fields. … Ideas and solutions that may be obvious to one team might be revolutionary to another. The trick is to get people together to talk about those ideas.

BeeBCamp 3 sessions Blogable/Unblogable (pretty sure these are spelled wrong) Dan Biddle and Paul Murphy Wii game demo BeeBCamp

What are people saying about it?…

Playful ’09

Playful 09 was great.

Playful 09

I really enjoyed Playful 08 so was delighted to be asked back. Last year I demoed my Rock Band MIDI guitar hack. This year, rather than extend my P5 Glove project into another MIDI instrument, I decided to set myself the challenge of talking about games and films. This was perhaps a little foolish, as I know only a little bit about games and barely anything about films. However, the audience were mercifully forgiving of my ill-prepared nonsense and laughed in all the right places.

In case you missed it, here are my slides, complete with dodgy audio recording of the talk.

Thankfully for all concerned, the rest of the day was much better. Here’s some of what happened:

Playful 09 Leila at Playful Robin Burkinshaw talks about Alice and Kev Daniel Soltis at Playful James Bridle's MENACE Rex Crowle at Playful

A great day with lots to take home and think about. Thanks to Toby Barnes and everyone else at Pixel-Lab for making Playful happen.

More people who have written about it: Suw Charman-Anderson, Leila Johnston, Howard Pull, Adam Davis, Lawrence Chiles, Libby Davy, Daniel Soltis, Priyanka Kanse, Melinda Seckington and more, plus the official record: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Interesting 2009 – forty even more interesting things

As is becoming traditional (2007, 2008), I’ve made a very brief list of what happened at this year’s Interesting

Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Bubblino at Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Hello, Interesting 2009

  1. Tom Loosemore on the race to sail faster than 50 knots.
  2. Jessica Greenwood on why the least interesting things about sport is the score (football, with all its attendant drama, is a $500B industry).
  3. Robert Brook spoke on being a gentleman (by birth, costume or behaviour).
  4. Toby Barnes on a brief history of cheating in video-games (cheating, when it involves other people, is wrong).
  5. Leila Johnston read some snippets from her very funny book, ‘The Enemy of Chaos
  6. Cait Hurley talked about Arthur Jefferson (Stan Laurel’s dad and an awesome guy).
  7. Alby Reid told us that everything we knew about nuclear power was wrong (How many people died as a result of Chernobyl? 56.)
  8. Katy Lindemann enthused about robots (Tweenbots are especially adorable).
  9. The very cute Bubblino made an appearance on stage (blowing bubbles across the stage every time ‘interesting’ was mentioned on twitter).
  10. Dominic Tinley explained why we don’t see the colour violet on our computers and cameras, as well as what Radio 4 would look like if we could see sound.
  11. Andy Huntington took us on a tour of keyboard instruments and explained ‘equal temperament’.
  12. Alice Taylor talked about ‘merchants vs craftants’ (give some love back to the crafters).
  13. Tim Duckett kindly taught us morse code in 10 minutes. For example: Z = Zinc Zoo kee-per– – . .
  14. Michal Migurski talked about maps and paper and a much-photocopied intersection map of San Francisco (paper wiki).
  15. Josie Fraser talked about psychological violence in UK 1970s and 80s girls comics (‘it can be dangerous to mock a monkey’).
  16. Dan Maier talked about Sir Francis Galton (I now really want to read Galton’s book ‘The Art of Travel‘, and to a lesser extent his thoughts on ‘Africa for the Chinese’ (“one of the 5 most racist things I’ve ever read”, according to Dan) and ‘Arithmetic by Smell‘).
  17. Asi Sharabi showed us 6-8 year old children’s ideas of interestingness (which centered around technology, friends, motors and animals).
  18. Meg Pickard taught us about drinking rituals and associated customs (toast, cheers, your good health, chin chin, rule of thumb).
  19. Alex Deschamps-Sonsino got us to make a very complicated origami box.
  20. Tuur Van Balen talked about yoghurt and DNA synthesis (“I’ve never done bio-technology under such time pressure!”)
  21. Jon Gisby taught us how to conduct a symphony orchestra (“It’s like riding a horse at speed; fun, but with a significant risk of abject and public failure”).
  22. Jessica Bigarel discussed, and beautifully presented, her meta meta data data (capturing each flight of stairs travelled up or down was “an arduous dataset and it was very disruptive to my life”).
  23. Craig Smith talked about his dad (“he sharpens a drill bit better than any man in Huddersfield”) and showed us the types of water wheels (under shot, breast shot, over shot and pitch back).
  24. Tom Fishburne talked about innovation and cartoons.
  25. Anab Jain talked about her Indian superpowers.
  26. Naomi Alderman talked about greek tragedy and goats.
  27. Gavin Bell talked about the writing of his new ‘Social Web Applications’ book (wifi is a blessing and a curse).
  28. Emma Marsland shared the ponies she has loved, real and imagined, from since 1970
  29. Nick Hand shared his ongoing journey around the coast of mainland Britain (5000 miles in 100 days).
  30. We heard about the ‘BIL‘ unconference in Oxford next summer (BIL is to TED as Bar camp is to Foo camp).
  31. Mark Earls and his Darwinian Display Team demonstrated random drift.
  32. Robert Thomas demonstrated RjDj (‘Music as Software’).
  33. Gem Spear talked about electric trains and underground creeks (GM’s inglorious part in killing off the inter-urban railway systems in the US, and a rather nice discussion of running surface runoff water through gardens rather then through underground culverts).
  34. Paul Hammond showed us how to win at Monopoly (if you can buy it, buy it; trade up to a full colour group asap; go for the oranges (stats!); unless it’s early in the game, stay in jail; create a housing shortage; don’t play house rules, as they’ll only make the game take too long; don’t play it at all, it’s a rubbish game. Instead, play German board games, which are not all German and not all board games).
  35. David Smith gave a touching and powerful talk about teaching (you can’t teach children well unless you love children).
  36. Richard Reynolds mentioned his Guerilla Gardening book and told a lovely story about planting sunflowers opposite Parliament.
  37. We watched Jim Le Fevre‘s beautiful astrotagging film.
  38. Claire Margetts told us about the ‘Do’ lectures.
  39. Matt Ward showed us why frivolity is important by showing his plans for watching a bullet reach the top of its trajectory (“Understanding comes through doing”).
  40. Dan Germain talked about sunsets (“basically, when the sun disappears”, by which time it has apparently already happened) and asked why we persist in taking bad photos of them, pondering whether it’s because they remind us of death).

Interesting 2009 Matt David Smith at Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009

Another great job from Russell. Three years in a row, Interesting continues to live up to its name.

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