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[ox-en] Report from OKCon 2011

Hi list!

I'm just going home from `OKCon 2011`_ in Berlin. I have to say it was
really a great conference and I'm really happy that I were there.
Knowing what organizing conferences like this means I'd like to say a
big thank you to the organizers.

I don't have exact numbers but would think that about 200 people
attended the conference.

The conference was rather big in terms of program. For two days there
were five parallel tracks from 10:00-20:00. A regular slot for a
presentation was only 30 minutes unfortunately so beyond some
superficial questions there was no room to discuss the things
presented. Also there were no time in the schedule between the
sessions so it was always a hurry to change rooms. As a result
everyone was in a constant hurry which made it difficult to talk to
each other.

Well, critique aside. As I said the conference was really great. The
program_ did not contain only OKFN core topics but for instance had
many presentations about Open Hardware. I attended some of them and
for me they were the most exciting ones.

Since this conference I'm convinced that the Open Hardware stuff will
be the next big thing in peer production. I'm watching peer production
since twelve years now and this branch of peer production is gaining
more and more momentum during the last years. There seem to be really
a lot of hackers out there who really want to hack that mechanical

When I compare the current state of what I see in Open Hardware
movement with the history of Free Software then I'd say we are
somewhere around 1987. I.e. the Linux kernel has not yet been invented
and it's still twelve years until the general breakthrough of this
stuff. I'm really curious what will happen here.

What really strikes me is that very similar to Free Software the Open
Hardware movement starts with building the basic tools from which more
Open Hardware can be built. Remember that very early GNU software was
Emacs (an editor - well at least it can also be used as an editor
;-) ) and the GCC (a C compiler - a very basic tool to compile C
programs into machine language) with the accompanying toolset. These
are both very complex programs which are needed to write software -
proprietary and Free alike. For both tools it took time since they

Another interesting parallel which I learned about is this. Remember
GNU/Linux 15 years ago. It existed and you could install it but it
still was better you understood what you are doing. This is no longer
the case for many years now - nowadays every idiot can install say
Ubuntu on a normal computer and ends up with a running system. I
always argued that such a dynamic is possible because in software you
can automate things and this way obsolete special user abilities. I
think this type of dynamic is a very important feature to make a
family of peer products successful. However, I thought that this is a
special feature of software.

Today I learned that similar things are possible with mechanics. In
his presentation Lieven Standaert briefly compared the RepRap with the
MakerBot. Although it is possible to build a RepRap it takes weeks to
build and to fine-tune it so it gets close to some precision without
which the whole thing makes no sense. The parts of the MakerBot on the
other hand are created by a laser cutter which has itself a very high
precision. This high precision is "inherited" to the parts so it's
easy to quickly build a pretty precise machine even for a laymen. This
quite closely resembles the dynamic I described above for software:
you can design things in a way that obsoletes special user abilities.
Being not an engineer I wonder whether this type of dynamic is
applicable more generally or whether this is possible only in rare
instances like this.

I didn't take notes during the presentations but the slides from most
presentations were pretty good so you may check them out when they are
online (which I guess will happen at some point).

Here are the presentation and talks I attended and I found remarkable
with some short comments:

* `From Openness to Abundance`_ by Glyn Moody

* `Implementing an Open Data programme within government`_ by Andrew

  Andrew gave a very good idea of what it means to implement an Open
  Data policy in government.

* `Global open data: a threat or saviour for democracy?`_ by Chris

* `Scholarly Publishing Reform: What Needs to Change?`_ by Björn

  Björn gave us an interesting insight in how the current scholary
  rating works - and how flawed it is. Björn also gave some idea of
  what needs to be changed. This may be of special interest for CSPP.

* `Structural changes of the information economy – Google Books as a
  Blueprint?`_ by Jeanette Hofmann

  Jeanette gave us some very good insights into Google Books and how
  it changes the way of using books. One only can hope that this will
  not be the blueprint of information economy.

* `The emergence of a free culture movement`_ by Mayo Fuster Morell

  Mayo interprets the things going on around free culture as a social
  movement. In her talk she highlighted similarities and differences
  between classical social movements and this social movement.

  I found it interesting to see things this way. As you may know my
  approach is to see this movement more as the new "class" which is
  already part of the new society. Its main interest in this society
  is to support their own interests. This is similar to the early
  capitalists which supported their own interests in the feudal
  system. They were more part of the upcoming form of society than the
  feudal one. I guess it was just as difficult to classify these early
  capitalists in terms of feudal notions as it is today for the peer
  production "movement". I talked to Mayo afterwards and I understood
  that basically she agrees with this perspective.

* `We are the Creators!`_ by Till Kreutzer

  Certainly Till's presentation was one of the most entertaining ones
  because he gave us some funny videos of mixing culture. Beyond this
  Till gave interesting insights in how copyright and the need to
  license stuff prevents culture to flourish. He finished with some
  suggestions on what needs to be changed on copyright. The most basic
  measure would be to change the focus from the rights of the creators
  to the rights of the public.

* `Developing open & distributed tools for Fablab project
  documentation`_ by Anu Määttä

  One of the main ideas of Fablabs is that you can produce designs you
  find elsewhere. Anu gave us some insights in the difficulties on how
  to organize a proper documentation so this is actually possible. She
  also presented solutions to this problem.

* `Repairable machines: lessons learned developing open hardware`_ by
  Lieven Standaert

  That was the session I talked about above. Check out `Lieven's
  website`_ (link is from my memory so might be wrong).

* `Open data as business model`_ by John Sheridan

  Instead of what the title suggests John gave us reasons why there is
  a need for a business model for high quality government data: Cuts
  in public budget which make it increasingly difficult to have high
  quality Open government Data. He argues that for this it is
  necessary to develop a business model to fund creation of high
  quality Open government Data.

Unfortunately I had to leave so I missed presentations from Benjamin
Mako Hill, Stefan Meretz and Christian Siefkes. @Mako, StefanMz,
Christian: May be you can tell us about your presentations here.

Well, I also have to say that if I see the level of the more
theoretical discussion on the conference the level we reached here on
Oekonux is still quite ahead...



.. _OKCon 2011:

.. _program:

.. _From Openness to Abundance:

.. _Implementing an Open Data programme within government:

.. _`Global open data: a threat or saviour for democracy?`:

.. _`Scholarly Publishing Reform: What Needs to Change?`:

.. _Structural changes of the information economy – Google Books as a Blueprint?:

.. _The emergence of a free culture movement:

.. _We are the Creators!:

.. _Developing open & distributed tools for Fablab project documentation:

.. _`Repairable machines: lessons learned developing open hardware`:

.. _Lieven's website:

.. _Open data as business model:

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