dave's picture

I went to an unconference the other day entitled Openeverything.  The basic premise was to encourage discussion around bringing the concepts of Open Source software to other structures (business, government, travel, hardware, academics, healthcare...).  It was really interesting to have group discussions with such a diverse array of professionals.  There was lots of cross-discipline cross-pollination.  

For those of you who don't know what an "un"conference is, it's basically just like a conference, except that the schedule is created organically on the day of.  Other than the keynote presentations, no one knows what the conference is going to be like.  It's expected that if you come to the conference you will participate;  Participate more than just taking notes and listening quietly.  If you're really passionate about something you might even prepare some slides ahead of time.  Then at the start of the day there's a board with open slots for each session.  If you've prepared something, or if you're just interested in having a focused discussion about some topic, put it up on the board.  The most famous unconference is barcamp.

Here's what my day looked like:

Keynote #1 - Haggen So, Creative Commons Hong Kong: Open Everything - Ideal or Reality.  He spoke about the inherent differences between open and closed structures.  He suggested that closed structures are akin to  communism, while open structures are akin to free market economies.  He also suggested that the two are incompatible within the same system.  I'm not sure I agree with that point.  At Advomatic we're building an internal project management tool out of Open Source components, but it's a closed tool.  It will be so specific to our needs that no one else would see benefit from using it.  By nature it will need to remain closed.  

Openness in Mental Health - This was a discussion around the topics of connectedness and loneliness facilitated by Jeffrey W. Rybak (I think.  I'm having trouble matching business cards to faces).  Jeffrey is a clinical psychologist with a background in using the web to help people with rare disabilities find community with other people with the same challenges.  We talked about how connectedness is not the opposite of loneliness.  Instead it might be quality relationships.  Connectedness may help you build those relationships.  But in the end, facebook is simply a tool.  It is neither good, not bad.  How it's used is up to the individual.  

Guilt In Open Organizations - Lead by John Britton (John also did most of the organizing for the event).  John talked about how he participated in Google Summer of Code for the Gallery project.  He hasn't participated much in the project since and feels a bit like he just took the money and ran.  I've been feeling similar things about the Drupal modules that I maintain.  There's some bugs in the queue that are over 6 months old and I haven't had opportunity to deal with them.  Those poor souls that downloaded my modules and now I can't support them.  We talked about the idea of guilt vs. gratitude vs. obligation and gift economies vs. commerce economies.  John and I are going to co-lead a session on the same topic at DrupalCon DC 2009.

How to Encourage Open Organizations & Societies.  Another group discussion facilitated by Mark J. Pixley of Leadership Inc.  Mark gave a few ideas about how to encourage openness and then the conversation just flowed all over the place.  We ended up debating the differences between leaders and managers.

Hong Kong Drupal Users Group - SohoLife redesign.   The story behind getting the venue for this event is rather interesting.  One of the Hong Kong drupallers, Nick Wang, has a family friend that runs an after-school English school.  Their current website is utterly terrible.  They can't edit the content without paying someone an arm and a leg, and the site is completely invisible to Google (due to the fact that it's all Flash).  Nick negotiated an agreement with the school that HKDUG will remake their site in exchange for the use of their conference room once a month for our meetups, and use three of their rooms for OpenEverything.  The venue is really nice.  We described how we, an ad-hoc group, came together to remake their site in only ~20 person hours.  The new soholife site is almost ready to go.

Peer 2 Peer University.  Also presented by John Britton.  There's a whole lot of really smart people in the world that are experts in things that you want to know.  However the traditional university model excludes anything other than a rigid professor/class/student model.  You could simply go try and learn things on your own, but most people don't have the focus or discipline to accomplish this.  You could try distance learning, but due to the lack of face-to-face interaction a lot of the potential learning is lost.  P2P uni is the idea of combining the strengths of these three models.  Experts run courses via the Internet, and individuals or groups can decide to join a course, participants are grouped with others locally to engage in face-to-face learning.  People are already getting accredited university self-directed study credit for this.

Open Public Information.  This was lead by a woman named Val (that's all I got for ya) with ties to the OECD.  Hong Kong is the only developed nation (or shall we say pseudo nation) that doesn't have a freedom of information act.  So if the government does a study on a contaminated area, they don't have to release that information to the public, and often they don't.  Val has started an NGO to study why HK is so far behind in not having freedom of information laws, and how to make it happen.  Even China has a FOIP law.  Not that you could trust any data released by the Chinese government as being accurate.  

Keynote #2 - John Bacon-Shone, Hong Kong University: Open Access to Research Data & Publications.  Similar to the previous session.  Hong Kong has no repository of university research data.  So if a research foundation or government  agency funds a study on a particular topic, there is no way for subsequent studies funded by the same agency/foundation to build upon or refute that work (beyond personal contact).  John described the history of his work in trying to get such structures setup.  A repository for academic use is of course only the first step.  It would be much more valuable to have this data available to the general public.  The worldwide academic community is moving in this direction which of course is causing major waves in the publishing industry (libraries would no longer need to maintain subscriptions to thousands of very expensive research journals).  

And when the day was done we went for dinner and drinks in Lan Kwai Fung.  It's amazing what you can get for free if you just ask.  John talked to this pub owner a few weeks in advance and said "I'm bringing a group of 20-30 people on this day, can you give us a deal?".  We got happy-hour prices on beer + two-for-one drinks + free fries and onion rings.  Great deal.  

This was a really fun unconference.  Lots of really interesting sessions happening at the sime time as the ones I went to.  Can't wait until next time.