I’ve been off the radar for the past two weeks, taking some time out to develop some ideas (as well as take a week’s holiday in Rome, which is a beautiful city that I highly recommend visiting).
Now, though, I’m back to work, and firing full steam ahead on two new projects:
OutMap is an accessible, powerful take on geographic information systems (GIS).
Let’s say you want to create a map of all the free wifi hotspots in the world: you create an OutMap space, and then invite people to contribute either directly, or via a service like Twitter or Flickr. It’s also sophisticated enough to be used for scientific data gathering, and we’ve got a scientific advisor on board who will ensure the service is relevant and useful to those users.
An initial version will be released in June, and you can sign up on the website to receive an invitation once the beta program starts (as well as to be notified when the site is available for general registration).
Ben Werdmuller Consulting
I now provide Web consulting services. As well as an inside knowledge of the Web, social media and the industry, I’ve got the technical, business and organizational knowledge necessary to turn a project idea into a reality. I’m excited about working with companies and organizations who want to be at the cutting edge of the user-generated Web.
I’ll be talking more about where I’m headed over the year; some of you who were at BarCamp Oxford will note that there’s another, third project I’m conspicuously not mentioning here. More on that later on.
Update: Interested in what I’m doing now? Check out my about page.
I have a major announcement to make:
I co-founded Elgg with Dave Tosh five years ago, and it’s been a heck of a ride. I’ve been immensely proud of what we’ve been able to achieve, not least establishing the most popular open source social networking platform, helping establish the first social network to run campus-wide at a university, and developing a commercial business with a first-class team of brilliantly intelligent, creative people. Each major milestone has been both a thrill and an honour.
However, I have decided that the time has come to move onto other projects. As of Wednesday, April 15th, I’ll no longer be part of Curverider or the core Elgg team. I’m immensely excited about my next projects, and announcements will be made about these later in the year – it’s too early to talk about them now, but I intend to continue pushing the envelope of what’s possible on the Web. I’ll also be providing expert advice to organizations who want to create excellent Web-based services.
I’m also very excited about Elgg’s future plans. I’m very proud of the team we’ve created, and the platform is about to enter its own new era. Keep an eye on Elgg.com.
OpenStreetMap is a project whose aim is to make a free map of the world. It’s extremely impressive: as well as searching the map in a normal way, the data is exportable via XML, PNG, JPEG, SVG and more, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.
But it shouldn’t need to exist.
In the US, federal government-created maps (and other data) are considered to be public information, and released freely. In the UK, such maps are subject to Crown Copyright, and the Ordnance Survey has been set up as a trading organisation that legally must make money from its efforts.
This was an archaic idea at its inception, but makes even less sense now. The economy is in dire straits, and what it should be doing is providing taxpayer-funded data for use by companies; this kind of data in particular could give British businesses a flying start. Instead, it chooses to make money from them instead, and web services are left to projects like OpenStreetMap, as well as US businesses like Google, in order to source information.
The Guardian’s Data Store is one British attempt to rectify the situation, but ideally all data in the public interest should be released in a format that is easily consumable by third-party applications. As well as helping entrepreneurs and small businesses, it’ll allow for a deeper understanding of, and participation in, how our country is run. Which can’t be a bad thing – can it?
One of the outcomes of BarCamp Oxford has been the organisation of a new BarCamp about transparency and ethics – a mix of social media, open government and cyber-activism.
It’s in its early planning stages, but it’ll take place sometime over the summer here in Oxford. If you’re interested, I suggest you take a look at the BarCamp Transparency wiki and throw your name into the ring. I was asked if I’d help organise, and while I can’t provide as much time as I’d like to due to prior commitments, I’ve volunteered to discuss openness in social media, provide web resources and help out with the event itself.
Transparency is hugely important, and becoming more so. As citizens we have more and more demands upon us to surrender our privacy and aspects of our civil liberties, but the government and politicians on all sides have been reluctant to provide more oversight into their activities. Meanwhile, social technologies have the power to enable us to find and share public information, organise ourselves into groups, and have more say in how our country is run.
This is a vital event that already sounds very promising indeed.