Open Web: the shizzle

Things are wrapping up here at Open Web Vancouver 2008. It’s been an informative (dare I say fun-filled) couple of days here on Raincity’s beautiful corporate waterfront. No one’s commodified the breath-taking view yet, so that’s something…

I have to say, any misgivings I had about speaking to a hardcore geek audience have been dispelled. I received nothing but a warm welcome, despite being asked, right off the bat, on what authority I was giving a talk on open source if I wasn’t a programmer. I think I’m one of the very few academics here. Tim Bray, in his keynote, sorted the audience into (basically) two categories: programmer and “civilian”. At least 80% of the audience identified with the former category. I was among a handful of “communicators”.

Tim Bray is a character… I’ve seen him about town (he lives here though he works for Sun) – somewhere in the tech scene, no doubt. It was his trademark hat that I recognized. Anyhoo, his keynote was entertaining, engaging and elicited the odd guffaw from the audience – pretty good for a conference talk. Though he was speaking to a room full of developers, he seemed ot talk a lot about social media, blogging and the value and meaning of blogging in a Web 2.0 world. One of the insights from Tim was that blogs or websites shouldn’t be “sticky” – they shouldn’t lock people in and isolate them from the web (hey Facebook), but serve as a rest stop and a navigational tool to help visitors on their way to finding what they need. This was helpful and reassuring for me. One of my objectives for this blog is to collect a bunch of great links that will be useful for people, and keep them coming back. For more, check out Miss 604′s synopsis here.

I really enjoyed Zak Greant’s talk – The Age of Literate Machines: A Visionary Look at Open Source – as I knew I would. Though he’s quite diplomatic about it, Zak is a Free Software advocate – quite a rarity outside the activist/anarchogeek set. I always appreciate people who go out on a limb and take a political position – whether they announce it (like I do) or whether they let peeps figure it out for themselves – a more effective approach, no doubt. He led us through a history of technology – beginning with accounting systems, then language and on up to modern communication technologies form the printing press on up. This was all in the context of how critical free/open source software is to the future of free societies. Loved it.

I also got a lot from Joe Bowser’s walk through the birth and evolution of FreeTheNet in Vancouver. I’ve been following emergent movement this since last fall. I had a Meraki unit tacked to the window in my office till yesterday. What I learned at Joe’s session is that I could trade in my Meraki, whose hardware has been retroactively locked down, for an Open Mesh unit, which is the device now being used to build Vancouver’s mesh. (Which I did today – so if you live in my hood and have been hopping on the net via my FTN node – it’s down till tonight!) I was also reminded that the FTN movement is not just about free wifi – that it originated as an action in support of Net Neutrality in Canada.

I arrived bright and early this morning to hear Darren Barefoot’s talk, 1100 Stacies. Now here’s a bright guy – a creative guy (he writes plays), a well known blogger (his blog is in the top 10,000 in a blogosphere of over a billion) – and he gives a talk about caring. About not why we should care about the fate of the world and its inhabitant, but that we should care. That for some unclear yet obvious reason, we human beings should look out for one another. And Darren counts our karma earned, our necessary good deeds done, in Stacies. You can find out more about this intriguing currency here.

I’ve come to the point of my talk, which went well, and was fun, but I’ve already breeched one of Tim Bray’s golden rules for Web 2.0: Be brief. Arrgghh. My talk was entitled From Free Software to Open Knowledge: Open Source as a Method for Social Change. It was a mashup of my last academic presentation and one of my comprehensive exams in the combined style of my CMNS 253 lectures and my unconference talks. The challenge was to adapt my recent academic work for a non-academic crowd, and at the same time discuss open source with some sort of credibility.

I managed to get through most of my talk without tripping over my words and Molly from Vancouver Cooperative Radio said she’s going to broadcast it on Wednesday from 8-9pm. There was a funny moment – which I only realized after the fact. I was discussing unconferences and I asked who had heard of BarCamp, not realizing Chris Messina was in the audience. During his session which was next and standing room only, he mentioned my talk and I have to say I was chuffed.

I’m writing this post in Duane Nickull‘s talk, Web 2.0, Design Patterns, Models and Analysis. This is a ridiculous session for me to be in; he’s saying things like “first order of logic” and other equally impenetrable phrases, interspersed with references to beer and Jack Daniels. Duane is senior technical evangelist for Adobe; his abstract says the talk is about how successful companies use design patterns. He’s apologizing right now, and admitting this is a “deep subject”. Still, it might just be me. What I’m mainly taking away from this talk is that Duane is dressed like a rock star (e.g. Billy Idol hair, leather trench, studded belt, black jeans) but sounds (and sorta looks) like Owen Wilson. Which is why I can be in this session.

I think that about does it for me and Open Web. The day is waning and the few remaining sessions are just too technical for me. It’s been a great conference and I’ve met some really cool people, and made some excellent contacts for my research too. Now back to the grind.

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