Week 273: Objects, Hack de Overheid, Copenhagen, European Data Forum, Linked Data, Metropolis Lab, all new Foursquare
I’ve been into something of a speculative realism binge lately reading quite some books and even more blogs from the field of current day philosophy. Last Monday I finished Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology which is highly recommended if you want to read up on object oriented ontology.
Preparations for our Hack de Overheid hackathon are entering their last weeks and things are speeding up. If you want a nice day of civic hacking with friendly people and good food and drinks, I’ll say head on over to our signup page.
Getting some work done and then it was off to Copenhagen with the Tuesday night train. Travelling that way with your own bedroom, going to sleep in one city and waking up in another is by far the most relaxing way to go (except when the train has a two hour delay before your 00:32 departure).
I visited Copenhagen for the European Data Forum to see what the data driven discussions were about on the European level. We got informed about a lot of European programs, a lot of talk about Linked Data and not very much pertaining to the stuff we do from day to day. Some friends from the open data movement were present and the event was quite informative all in all.
The focus on Linked Data in many of the participants is heartening and understandable but ultimately it is a doomed approach. I got into an argument about this during lunch with some developers. There are problems on two levels. On the low level, Linked Data does not solve any actual problems for developers but it does cause many for them because of lack of tooling, learning curves, interoperability costs etc. This is both a problem in proposition and marketing but it is not seen as such by the Linked Data community. Until that is recognized, adoption of Linked Data technologies will remain as dismal as it is right now.
On the higher level, the fact that there is so little interoperation and so much problems standardizing and getting things to work together may be symptoms of the fact that the models of the world being aimed for are too complicated. Engineers will always mistake the map for the territory, but it is curious that they would be able to sell that many other people on it. The engineers’ answer to the fact that things do not work yet is of course: that they need more time/money/resources thrown at the problem. The fact that the cost/benefit ratios have gone completely skewed is not being noticed because it is in no one’s best interest to do so.
Fortunately people on the ground doing real work in open data, such as us and the Open Knowledge Foundation, are encountering these problems and fixing them because in the real world we have no other choice. Rufus Pollock presented about the folly of perfect models and APIs and he’s right on both counts (I presented about this myself before).
Government agencies that can’t release their data on a website properly, are probably not ever going to have APIs that are usable or stable enough for anybody to build something serious on. They would better dump the data and have the developers with a vested interest build their own APIs or whatever they need. Similarly Rufus argued against overmodeling againts a room of European funded academics. I’m not very hopeful but some of it may have changed some hearts and minds.
The same day Berlin celebrated its own open data day, which I unfortunately had to miss. I hear that a lot of people showed up which is good because a lot of work is still to be done in that field. A list has been started to discuss open data in public transit, which should be a high priority. After having gone around Copenhagen for a couple of days with its Google Transit support, not having such a transit facility in a city is such an annoyance and cause of opportunity cost that it should be counted as a criminal offense on part of the transit operators.
After two days of talking about data I also visited the Metropolis Lab at the Overgaden art institute where they were having talks about developing the creative city. It was a nice and cozy event, pretty much the complete opposite of the previous one I had visited where artists, architects and festival curators were discussing their work. Given the description of the event I had expected a bit more about games and other procedural media/systems.
I did see Tor Lindstrand present about architecture and I must say that was an awesome experience.
The rest of the time in Copenhagen I spent eating and drinking quality things. Coming back to Berlin that was one of the most important differences I noticed, the fact that food and drinks in Copenhagen were about three times as expensive but also at least twice as good than I had in Berlin.
The other is that the opulence and organization of a Nordic capital is a stark difference to what we are used to in Berlin. It is nice being in a city that is not destitute for a while though Copenhagen may be too polished to live in for any amount of time.
I also browsed the Avignon festival website which I will be visiting in July and came across this item on the programme by Sévérine Chavrier who is staging a play “Plage ultime” inspired by the works of J.G. Ballard. I will be arriving just too late to see that, but I do wish that more theater makers would take note. My current experience indicates that France is doing well in theater innovation (Gisèle Vienne is another name to watch out for) and Kornél Mundruczó is also showing a work “Disgrace” at Avignon (who I saw before in Rotterdam).
And then it was back to Berlin on Friday night.
End of the week we also got surprised by the all new Foursquare, with a major update to both the mobile client and the website.
I have to say that I absolutely love the new engagement that this view allows. The main timeline that you now see, though noisy can stand up to the best that either Facebook or Path or Instagram have to offer and that showdown is clearly the direction that Foursquare is headed. Engagement around pictures, likes and comments is high and this update may very well increase that.
I have been a bit annoyed by some changes, but then again I may very well be too much of a power user while they are going for a mass market appeal. For most users what they have changed is an improvement.
For some others like myself and Tantek Çelik, the lack of a local friends view is a bit of an annoyance, especially if —like me— most of your friends live somewhere else. I quite like knowing what everybody in Amsterdam has been up to, but it does not have to be front and center to my experience because I can’t act on it (except in virtual ways).
For most users this is unlikely to be an issue because all of their friends will be in the same city anyway. Because I thought complaining is only going to fix that much, I made a single serving view of foursquare with only the people within a 50k radius: Old Fashioned Checkins.
This was very easy to do because of Foursquare’s excellent developer APIs and support. Another feature missing from the mobile client right now is being able to explore for venues that you have not visited yet. If I look around my house now, I almost only get to see places that I have already been to. Not much serendipity in that. These are undoubtedly things that are going to be improved upon on future updates, but this has been one of the first changes in foursquare that has been so jarring.
Then the rest of the week work to finish saba has continued apace as well.