Digital Featured Perspective

Mozilla Festival: Media, Freedom, and the Web

Mozilla FestivalOriginally appeared on Kasabi’s Blog:

This last weekend, I found myself wearing a lab coat, meeting people working on some of the most interesting projects on the web, while in the queue to an entirely free espresso bar. And, I kept seeing human-sized foxes walking about and dancing. I was fairly sure I needed to wake up.

In fact, I was at this year’s Mozilla Festival, so all the interesting people I was meeting were gathering in London to hack and learn. The lab coat was because Chris and I from Team Kasabi were “Human APIs” at the event, and Kasabi was involved and partnered with the Mozilla Foundation. The espresso? That was because the event organisers were saints, and I’m still not sure about the giant foxes…

The themes broadly covered data-driven journalism, education, and multi-media web tools; and the Mozilla Festival was organised into learning/sharing sessions and design challenges. In the lab coat, Chris and I were able to dip in and out of many different sessions, and try and help people with any questions they have. As a result, I got to see people hacking the news, writing a data guide for journalists, and playing with an eight-bladed helecoptor-camera with Popcorn.js (I hereby coin the word: octopoptocoptor).

The hacks and learning/teaching sessions covered a lot of ground, and touched on many aspects of using the web to further society, tell stories, and uncover the truth in journalism. Data played a central role in this, especially around data journalism, and it’s a topic that needs even more coverage over the next year, I think. Many of the ideas and projects planned this weekend will need to develop strategies for dealing with vast amounts of data, and to get the most out of it! The Mozillian organisers seemed very keen on keeping the momentum rolling, too, with plenty of emphasis on this being a kind of kick-off for projects to develop, grow and mature, so I think there’s a lot of scope for great ideas getting traction.

Before the Mozilla Festival, I wrote about some of the things I’d like to cover at the event:

There is a growing, and important, trend for stories to include more than just words. I’m keen to see more data behind journalism. Partly, this is because it’s more transparent, and encourages wider fact-checking and accuracy. But it also enables a lot more interesting things to be done with stories.

I was certainly not disappointed, but would like to carry on working with people looking to make their data work better, and tell stories from it.

The Mozilla Festival blog has a lot of round-up info, so I won’t try and re-write the whole thing. It was a great event covering a huge amount of ground, and I’m looking forward to catching up about data-driven projects over the next few weeks. I’d also like to hear from anyone who’s interested in journalism and media on the web, to discuss getting your own datasets published, or building on top of others as part of your project.

Digital Semantic Web

Future of Web Apps

I’m planning to attend this year’s Future of Web Apps conference in London. Their list of speakers sounds fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to meeting some folks in real life.

I’m particularly interested in this conference for its stated focus on the web community. Just have a look at the Agenda:

  • How to grow and nurture your community
  • Work/life balance or Blood, sweat and tears: Which is the startup way?
  • Colliding Worlds: Using Jabber to make awesome web sites
  • Startups live – An interview with three new European startups
  • How to survive outside of Silicon Valley
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
There are also “Networking Opportunities” there. These sound brilliant despite the rather corporatese description.
They’ve apparently got seats left, and if you book before 4th August, you save £100.
If you’re going, let me know—we can meet up. I can tell you a bit about myself and Talis.

Punching Folks? (Also, first post written on Windows Live Writer…

So, Tim Ferris has decided to start punching people. I know, shocking. I have often thought about this, and thought about the consequences of actually carrying out my own form of impromptu corporal justice. To me, three thoughts rise from this idea:

1st, and slightly cliche’: “Where would it all end?” With only a personal standard of right and wrong, where does the line get drawn? There would inevitably be situations in which my view of the right reaction would be in conflict with someone else. No doubt, this would almost always be at odds with the person I decide to punch. What constitutes a ‘punching offense’?

Second, there does seem to be, in both British and American society,

Caledonian Road, Kings Cross

a complete lack of regard for personal consequences in public. Having lived in Kings Cross, Central London, I’ve probably seen about the worst people have to offer. From middle-class, middle-aged men trawling the streets in posh cars for paid sex to drunk teenagers being violently sick or urinating on the street. Many times, while catching a bus to university or walking back home, I was forced to think about mine and my wife’s safety. We saw someone casually walk into a phone box and rip out the coin compartment. I was harassed almost daily by the drunk homeless who hurl abuse about themselves like Pigpen from Peanuts. This is a bleak picture, and we also witnessed people giving up large portions of their lives in drop-in centres or with the Salvation Army, befriending prostitutes and making a difference. More about that later. The point here is that there is not enough regard for others’ dignity, and I must admit, I’ve often wondered if some sort of bodily reminder might stop someone’s abusive, uncaring actions.

Finally, what about them? I wonder if I’ve ever been in a position to merit a stout punch in the face? (This question is not directed at immediate family or my wonderful spouse!) While at a stag do (bachelor party) a few weeks ago, I was concerned that our group  was being too loud. Granted, this was not a typically-rude party, and most people were sober enough to walk the half-mile or so back to their hotel, but we were being very loud in a small pub. At one stage, the best man was performing his duty of making an ass of the lot of us by slapping another member of the stag party firmly on the arse while shouting: “Whoopah!”. Anyone who’s met the best man will know his voice booms out like Brian Blessed, and the older gentlemen at the table next to us did actually shout for us to be quiet. (Most of us couldn’t hear above the “Whoopah!”) Had I been trying to enjoy a quiet chat and pint in a wonderful Tudor pub, and the table next began shouting like this, I might have been tempted to punch a few faces myself.

So, will I start punching jerks again? On balance, I don’t think so. I’d have only myself to answer to, and I know who I am, and that I am not infallible. I’ve also made mistakes, and wouldn’t have wanted to have been punched for them all. On the other hand, there does seem to be a lack of respect going around, for which a normal citizen has very little recourse. What do you do when a hippie spits on you? Well, since the problem is systemic, there seems to be only one course of action: make the system better. Those volunteers in a Kings Cross drop-in centre were making a tangible difference, for absolutely no thanks. (The homeless they served treated the women as if it was only right for them to give up every morning to cook them breakfast and provide them with clothing!) And, we’re told to turn the other cheek. I can only think this is ever more relevant in a society losing its mind. There is no longer a social standard for issuing a challenge (though I can see its appeal), but there is an example to follow for those of us who follow Jesus, and it’s entirely counter-cultural:

27-30″To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. (Luke 6:27-30, Message)

Live generously. How the hell do we do that?

Also, I like this Windows Live Writer thing. It’s very Mac-like, ironically, and easy to use. It’s also a lot easier than logging into my CMS, but I haven’t seen how it posts yet. For that: here goes…