Xtech Day One: Open Data Track

Some notes on the first day of the XTech 2005 conference.
The opening keynotes of the conferences were from Paula Le Dieu of Creative Commons International and Mike Shaver, Project Co-ordinator for the Mozilla Foundation.
In his opening remarks as conference chair, Edd Dumbill, explained that the keynotes underpinned his goal to broaden this years conference to incorporate some new topics. For those that haven’t been following along so far, the conference includes an entirely new track this year — Open Data — and is co-hostedby the Mozilla Foundation.


I’ve always found the Xtech (nee XML Europe) keynotes to be excellent, and this years were no exception. Le Dieu’s was a refreshing change. She discussed the work of the BBC to embrace a creative commons licence under which it would licence its archives for its audience to “rip, mix and share“. The presentation was lively, incorporating 3 separate video clips which neatly reinforced Le Dieu’s points on how open licensing of content enables artistic innovation. See the conference wiki for some additional pointers.
Mike Shaver’s keynote provided an interesting perspective reinforcing the value of leveraging the web as it exists today rather than reinventing it piece by piece. Small, rather than big bangs were Shaver’s preference. AJAX and the canvas element both being examples of these. One wonders whether there was a guarded message in the talk, considering that the conference includes presentations on the related work of both the WHATWG (HTML4 extensions) and the W3C (XHTML2)
I spent the remainder of the day in the Open Data track, including presenting my own paper on Connecting Social Content Services with FOAF, RDF and REST.
The track was lively and incorporated some of the most thought-provoking and innovative work that I’ve seen for ages. Ranging from an introduction to the Science Commons through to activities of “civic hackers” like Tom Loosemore (TheyWorkForYou.com) and Gavin Bell (talkeuro.com)
The afternoon schedule took on a slightly more technically oriented focus with my own presentation, followed by that of Ian Forrester of BBC World Service. Forrester’s presentation was very well received. He presented on RSS Syndication for a worldwide audience and discussed the issues behind producing RSS feeds for 43 different languages. The generally poor support in RSS readers for displaying mulit-lingual content being a particular content.
Apparently RSS support in some countries is almost none-existent because of these issues. Forrester exhorted developers to try to meet content producers, such as the BBC, half-way so that the issues could be resolved.
One thing that struck me about the Open Data track was how several of the talks, including that of Loosemore, Bell (and my own) started with definitions. Respectively these were for: open data, social documents, and social content services. I felt that we were each grasping for terms to help describe facets of a new application area; one that is raising issues in many different arenas: technical, business and legal. The ability to clearly and simply licence data for reuse was a recurring theme throughout todays talks.
This year is the first conference that I’ve attended that has included free wireless access, as well both a wiki and an IRC channel for use by conference delegates. I’ve felt that the IRC channel (#xtech) in particular has added an interesting dimension to many presentations.
Ending with the obligatory beers, convivial chat, and a splendid caribbean meal, I can honestly say that I’ve thorougly enjoyed my first day at XTech and am looking forward to enjoying the breadth of talks available tomorrow.
Oh yes, one last thing. Despite the typo, no small horses were harmed in the making of my presentation!