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November 23, 2007

BarCamp Leeds: 2007

I've been meaning to blog all week about Barcamp Leeds, and to this end I've been nagged to the hilt. I've rather neglected this blog as of the late which is another story. So many things I want and need to say, but not the subject of this post.

Last Saturday I attended Barcamp Leeds: 2007. This was a hearing geek event, which I'm going to write about but I will also try and throw in some Deaf perspective.

Bar Camp Leeds 07

What is Barcamp?

Its an unconference, where sessions don't get planned. A group of geeks get together, throw about their creative energy and networks, and make the day what it is. Of course, this event does not happen by itself, and requires planning, commitment and sponsorship on the part of a few people, who deserve a thumbs up.

Bar Camp Leeds

So many conferences could learn from an unconference theme, as it forces participants to organise and be creative rather than being passive receivers. Deaf events especially, where everyone expects to be spoon fed, and through a traditional paternalistic attitude, hampers creativity. Instead lets encourage the creative juices to flow, and demonstrate how people can truly rock.

What was special about this Barcamp, it had two Deaf attendees, and two BSL/English Interpreters. Except, I'd forgotten how much of a bubble geeks can live in, and what can only be labelled as a geek culture.

Bar Camp Leeds

On arriving at the venue, one of the interpreters asked, "Why is everyone taking photos?"
The only answer could be given, "Because they are all Geeks" (with a capital G of course!) Mainstream people possibly have yet to latch onto the fact geeks record everything, and share their lives online. Such as uploading photos of the event to Flickr.

This was my first mainstream geek event, and I'd been out of the loop for a while, so I was nervous. Whilst I can absorb uses of social software online, and have an early adapter streak in me, being in a physical space was another ballgame entirely. J and I had the conversation beforehand, 'What if we aren't geek enough', and perhaps started to feel a fraud. Had we robbed someone of their place at BarCamp, since the event was full and oversubscribed. However, one thing I'm particularly keen on promoting is reminding the mainstream we are out there, and to think of wider use of applications and accessibility, beyond the immediate obvious.


The presentations we're really decided on until the start of the day, where attendees could grab slots and present on a topic of their choice. The presentations were numerous and three sessions happened simultaneously, so you had to take your pick which one you wanted to attend. From a Deaf perspective, the biggest downside was lack of detail on the content: 'live demo', what did that mean? Sure I loved the flexibility, and the relaxed attitude to it all, however the traditional me was yearning for more information to make better choices. The fact people were crowded around a board made up of post it notes, underlined the informality and on the spot creativity of it all, but I couldn't help think ... isn't there a tech solutions for this? Okay had wifi being used to post / view all this electronically, perhaps it would not had the same mash up feel to it. I'm not complaining, it was just a point that made me smile inside.

TV 3.0 Harnessing the Power of Fans: Mark Sailes

I had two motivations for attending this session: multimedia content is usually not accessible for deaf people (the internet is going backwards in terms of deaf access, from a largely text based platform which was great to audio content) and the desire to encourage people to think about this; and secondly my curiosity needed to figure out where the 3.0 came in. How this as supposed to evolve beyond 2.0, which was about user interaction as opposed to take the information and go 1.0 approach?

This session essentially was about tagging moving picture on IPTV. The example used in the presentation by Mark was tagging of characters through perhaps a series. Say you wanted to home in on character Joe Bloggs throughout a series, and how that character develops. Via prior tagging of his appearances, it would allow you to easily locate and thus just watch content where they appeared.

Discussion took place around whether this would be useful, and questions arose around would such tagging lack context?

However, I couldn't help but think of wider uses: tagging themes, and presentation modes. E.g. if a video contained BSL, and to use this as a wider application. To dig out BSL across the net is difficult, and via multiple tagging e.g. BSL + soap, would return x number of hits. A good way of retrieving information that had been decentralised. All this reminded me of Dabble.

The session went slightly off tangent in re how hearing people will talk on the telephone at the same time as watching a particular TV programme, and whilst this is happening and more to the point discuss what was happening on tv. Parallels were presented how interactive television would would, discussion alongside media. As a side note I will sometimes discuss television on IM, but its usually as a passing reference: its sometimes difficult to watch two screens at the same time, where hearing hearing people have an advantage of auditory input. Interactive television via a computer could somewhat alleviate this, with the benefit of conversation / television happening on the same screen.

In all a useful session, and made you think about where the net was going.

Why big companies are missing a trick by ignoring social media: Ian Green

This was quite possibly the presentation I enjoyed the most, because of its personal touch and another example of end application. My real interest is how people use online space to come together and create a social space and also collaboration. Software always has to be about end users. In a nutshell a group of bloggers created their own Whisky Private Members' Club, to distill their own whisky! My liking of whisky really does not have anything influence over bias here, honest!

The club was set up in response to members being fed up of companies dictating to the consumer a product, and feeing powerless to change this over and above the usual laws of supply and demand. Here an economic model was taken further, by mass collaboration of consumers, and vast geographical space that arose out of specialism was overcome by using online tools, of a many to many nature.

Membership cost over £3k, and in turn people came together to buy land in Scotland, pull a distillery together, plan a blend to be ready in 5 years time. The leases arising out of this purchase would last 50 years. In other words, some form of a business. What fascinated me was the trust that had been established through software alone, and the fact these people felt confident enough to go ahead an invest / set up a long term business.

I think Ian cited another example of business partners who had been in business several months, yet had their first physical meeting / met for the first time several months later. This gives rise to the suggestion that blogging as a tool really can help you trust a person, whereas something like a forum it would be more difficult to achieve that level of trust. It underlined how different types of software could have a different influence on personal relationships as the end result.

This I can relate to, I've collaborated with a couple of projects with people whom I would call 'friends', yet I've never met them in real life! And I've only known them online for 3-4 years, and speak to them practically every day. They possibly know more about me than someone who I would see in a physical space. There were so many parallels I could take away from this presentation, and it was good to get a totally different context or application.

Deaf people reading this, its an excellent case study of what can be done, including the power of individuals to turn things your way.

Ian's presentation slides can be found here.

Open Street Map: Tim Waters

This was around GPS, and what was funny from a Deaf perspective was its application to hearing people. How looking at a GPS system you perhaps start to bump into things, or not appreciate your environment! Bumping into things like lamposts (usually because of watching someone signing) is something that Deaf people probably go through frequently! It was rather surreal to watch the principle applied to the masses.

The idea was that you could either receive GPS information via audio, or via tactile information. It was the latter that interested me the most, and it was suggested on the back of a GPS device that a series of pins were placed. These pins would change depth when a point of interest was reached, this a person could leave the device in their pocket. Of course I immediately thought about deafblind people, and perhaps it could be a method of navigation.

The other point from this talk, people could upload points of interest to their GPS device, for example history about the area, restaurants, etc depending on what level they wanted. This was good, but what would be even cooler would be an open API for this, where communities could create their own specialist maps, e.g. Deaf history maps, Jewish maps, etc., which would be cost prohibited by the mainstream.

Presentation slides can be found here, and the visuals should explain this better.

Edocr: Manoj Ranaweera

This presentation was around getting feedback to documents created, and enabling a two way street via an application called Edocr. I found it difficult to latch onto this idea at first, as personally, if I want to access information online, I expect it to be presented in web fomat and not documents. Thus I found it slightly difficult to get into a corporate mentality.

However, I can see the benefit where companies would want this, and it kind of brings a compromise Web 2.0 approach to a corporate environment, in that it encourages constructive feedback from an intended audience via comments. Allowing users to view other comments, would encourage wider feedback, which in theory should be higher than expecting someone a random reader just to e mail to give feedback.

Edocr encourages documents to be uploaded on a central website, which comes across as a hosted solution. However, I could not help think that some large companies or services might want more control of user feedback and content, and thus want the application installed on their own server. A bit like when it comes to blogging, installing Wordpress or Movable Type on your server, as opposed to a third party hosted solution. I immediately had to wonder if there would be a market for choice, to allow some companies to retain control?

Not quite the presentation (the link for the presentation on SlideShare was a bad link), however here's the slides for similar talk: Wikis and Edocr.

BarCamp Ottawa

As part of the Edocr presentation, there was supposed to be alternate presentations from
UK-Canada via the net, however this never happened due to technical issues.

Bar Camp Leeds

Intelligent human-computer interfaces and their possibilities: Reinhold Behringer

This presentation I landed in accidentally, as the interpreters had not moved when I went to get a drink, and ended up watching a presentation on computer human interaction! In a nutshell how to get a car from A to B via a lot of obstacles, with no human driver. This involved some sort of artificial eye, and huge monetary prizes (millions) paid donated by the Defence budget in the States. Immediately I had to think of other uses for this 'artificial eye', which could navigate obstacles. Could a variation be applied to blind, or deafblind people via auditory or tactile guidance? Of course I had to wonder if such an application used by others would work *with* a person, as opposed to an attempt to turn this around and change their being. (cf: the cochlear implant debate and Deaf people).

There was a couple more ideas (read presentations) in this slot but by this time my head was mush.

J and I left late afternoon, and by this point I was exhausted. For personal reasons, I had not followed an interpreter for that length of time for ages, and my eyes had given in, my head given up. My regret? I wish I had the opportunity to network in an informal setting later, but recognised I was still new to this scene. Perhaps next time.

Apart from the brain food, a huge thanks to Imran Ali, Tom Scott, Dom Hodgson, Deb Bassett for the organisation of fab event and pulling together a group of cool people. Thanks for allowing me to experience such energy and inspiration, you all rock.

About BarCamp Leeds elsewhere:
Slides on Slideshare
Flickr: BarCampLeeds tag
Imran Ali: We Made a BarCamp!
Graeme Moss
Simon Wheatley: Mark Sailes TV 3.0
Mark Rushworth & Dominic Hodgson: SEO Clinic at BarCamp Leeds 2007
Simon Wheatley: Introduction to WordPress at BarCamp Leeds 2007
Tom Smith
Kevin Whitworth
Ian Hay
Mike Nolan
Connect Yorkshire
Peter Childs
Paul Stanton
Tom Smith
Dom Hodgson
Ian Green
Manoj Ranaweera