Last Monday I paid an information architecture house call at a friend at one of the beleaguered (a somewhat redundant word when discussing print publications here) Dutch weeklies. Looking forward to advice taken to heart and maybe some online Dutch media that I can consume with pleasure.
Tuesday I coworked at Hack de Overheid’s offices in the Open Coop in the newly fangled hip(ster)ness of Amsterdam North. Williamsburg it ain’t, but it is a place where one can breathe and build pyramids:
And then it was off to our friends over at Booreiland also in North to finalize work on a fun project we’re doing. See a pattern here?
Wednesday we kicked off an exciting new project that we’re running over the Summer break with Hack de Overheid. Look for some beach side entertainment announced soon.
Thursday it was off to the Open Data Experiences Conference in Rotterdam to serve as a milestone for open data development in the city of Rotterdam. I presented there on a track to supplement the heroic presences of both Toby Barnes and Tom Steinberg over from the UK to witness the great progress that is being made here.
I strayed a bit from the brief to give a hard technical talk and talked more about the open problems that we technologists should be solving. The technologists (developers/designers) I think are our only hope to break open things with functional interventions. I have had my fill of seeing people talk and do nothing much more than talk. There are more than enough thorny interesting problems for us to solve still, so we should be doing that.
On the highest level I identified three moral issues which I think is something of a nice niche on events such as these. I very much hope people took something away from these:
- The rationale for opening up data is usually stated in terms of efficiency and effectivity. This may be necessary to sell open data to bean counters, but it is too inhuman a formulation of why we are doing this. We are doing this to see if we can improve the lives of normal humans a bit, to make sure that the uses that open data is being put to create experiences that are interesting, useful and beautiful.
- We should make sure that the data that is being opened up and its uses are inclusive in a broad sense. If we manage to open up all of the data we want to and the smartest/fastest/evilest people take off with it and manage to build stuff for their own ends to the (partial) exclusion of others, we will have managed to switch out one power structure (an archaic but institutional one) for a new power structure of cowboys and parvenus. We will seem to have won, but we will have failed.
- Finally, the main point that Michal Migurski made at a panel at EYEO about the book Seeing Like a State. That the reductionism inherent in recording data (and the subsequent opening it up) manages to lose the essence of things and creates the high-modernist idea that that view of things is the right view (see also: “All Watched Over: on Foo, Cybernetics and Big Data”). Michal says:
My response to all this is something to the effect that people should help other people to see and represent their world usefully and accurately.
Which I paraphrased to say that we should make tools to help every person see as a state of their own and be able to decide better for themselves and others how to organize their lives, to in effect become better states themselves.
The next day (Friday) we did a big stint in Utrecht to plan things for project SABA and another secret project that is more on our own brief to unite games and television in an interesting way. Look forward to the first playable prototypes for that hitting this week.
As always proceedings in Utrecht are supported by superb coffee (four shots to start the day!) from the fine lads at the Village. Here we’re taking care of their pies: