August 19, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 19th 2019

  • Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle. A good article from Cory Doctorow about Facebook and its monopolistic walled-garden tendencies. This (and similar messaging systems like WhatsApp or Signal or...) reminds me of the mess of interoperability we had with mobile phone networks in the 90s, when you could only text people on the same network as you. It needed fixing then, we'll need to fix it now.
  • A Walk In Hong Kong. First-hand report of what the Hong Kong protests are like, from Maciej Cegłowski. We had a group of visitors from Hong Kong to DoES Liverpool the other day, and talking to them most would have been in the protests had they still been at home and some considered not coming on the trip.
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August 16, 2019

More Good Tech for More Good

Some thoughts on Chris Thorpe's recent blog post for The Catalyst - Sector Tech: talent, tools, data and reuse. I've got massive respect for Chris' work and I'm looking forward to what The Catalyst get up to.

I think the focus on helping organisations to become more "of the web, not on the web" is great. Helping them understand how working in the open will let them share standards and software with each other will stretch all their budgets further, and build solidarity (at a time when it seems more adversarial because less funding means that if you win, I lose).

Working out how organisations can bring some level of digital in-house is also, I think, important. It's something I wrote about a while back.

There's a tendency at the moment for doing good through the medium of the digital agency. I can understand why: it lets you help a bigger range of other organisations (rather than picking one);it's what a lot of the people setting them up understand; and it's natural to want to work alongside a load of your technical peers rather than colleagues who don't fully appreciate the amazing work you're doing (I'm not really conveying what I mean by that - it's not that I think non-technical colleagues wouldn't be impressed or thankful for your work, but it doesn't validate what you're doing in the same way that the respect of your peers does).

There's definitely a place for agencies but I don't think they'll achieve the digital transformation that they're after, or that the client organisations need. Not compared with embedding bits of digital into the DNA of the organisation.

The Internet makes it easier for isolated digital people embedded in other orgs to be less isolated, but I don't think it's enough.

We should be encouraging organisations to support their digital staff by getting them to blog about their work, and present it at meetups and conferences.

Experimenting more with flexible working, and finding ways to share staff with similar organisations will also help, especially for smaller organisations which don't need a full time coder or UX designer.

Maybe we can encourage them to let staff work from co-working spaces like DoES Liverpool once-a-week or once-a-fortnight. That would give them a wider network of other digital folk to bounce ideas off and keep their digital skills fresh.

That sort of approach could also help when training people up. Maybe programmes like OH's Catalyst or university tech/digital courses could provide students to organisations to help them with digital, but also embed them part time in DoES Liverpool too to help with the how-tech-is-done-in-the-real-world experience. It would need more support than placements in tech firms, because you need more guidance in what's useful or good tech to adopt rather than just the new shiny when you start out, and non-tech firms won't be able to provide that in-house. Maybe that's a paid mentoring role for one of the freelancers in the co-working space?

And none of that has touched upon the opportunities to bring physical computing and digital fabrication into the equation. That's another huge opportunity, and something for me to think about more. I'd love it if part of MCQN's income came from building open-source connected devices to help charities and social enterprises.

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August 05, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 5th 2019

  • London says FCK U BORIS. I passed this as I happened to be in London that evening, but sadly was en route to an event so couldn't join in.
  • Why the Open Data Movement Has Not Delivered as Expected. Maybe we should be talking about digital commons rather than open data, and having more conversations about safeguarding them. Maybe digital actually inverts the idea of economies of scale - coping with the bandwidth and server overheads of another twenty people using a resource for their side-project is basically free, but when a thousand users show up consistently that has a noticeable cost. How do we charge for the digital commons in ways that allow (and encourage) experimentation and small-scale projects, while ensuring that those which unlock massive value from the commons also contribute to its upkeep?
  • The Doteveryone definition of done: how we make complex ideas travel. Excellent advice on how to share/encourage people to take up your ideas.
  • U.S. Sanctions Impact on the Git Community. A reminder that "cyberspace" is still governed by laws in countries, and that centralised infrastructure is a single-point-of-failure.
  • Boris Johnson: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. This would be enjoyable watching if it wasn't twenty minutes of how terrible our country's new Prime Minister is.
  • England’s new rentier alliance. The lie that the Tories are the party of business becomes ever clearer as they show they don't care about anybody running a business if they can give preferential treatment to finance and landlords.
  • Anatomy of an AI System. Fantastic long-read unpacking the iceberg hidden behind the plastic puck of an Amazon Echo.
Posted by Adrian at 11:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

There Are Many Possibilities

Wordscapes and Engage Liverpool have recently run a series of events looking at Liverpool's World Heritage Site and the wider city too. I went along to the first one but sadly missed the other two as I was out of the city. However, Andrew Beattie (from Wordscapes) has written up some thoughts on the series in Beyond the Boundaries.

In it he captures one of the problems we seem to be afflicted with in the city, the overly simplistic level of debate over what we'd like to happen:

"So much of the online discussion around the issue has been poor quality, entirely lacking in context for why a city is given World Heritage Status in the first place and what it actually means. It’s set off on an ‘us against them’ type discussion – UNESCO is setting rules for us about what we can and can’t develop here etc."

I think this is because there are so few proposals and suggestions for what we should do to develop the city. The narrative is driven by the property developers who favour grand claims, despite evidence from previous grand regeneration projects that such a playbook doesn't work.

They cry TINA (There Is No Alternative).

Currently they get away with it because there aren't enough of us pitching other options. It's tricky with the docks, because they're all owned by Peel and they really don't care about the city, just how much money they can extract from turning derelict dockland into (alleged) "Magnificent world class buildings". However, their job is made so much easier when they can just say "well, what else should we do? Just leave the docks derelict?".

We need more ideas and stories of how things could evolve. Maybe we should be protecting the docks, if Brexit happens and we end up trading less with Europe then maybe our port will be on the right side of the country again and we'll need more warehouse space. Maybe we'll need the dock wall to also act as a flood barrier, and the docks themselves to have uses which can cope with regular flooding as sea levels rise. Maybe they can be used as testing grounds for firms building autonomous boats and marine sensor drones, or companies developing new sailing ship technology to replace the dirty bunker fuel of the current merchant fleet.

There are many possibilities and we should be developing them.


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