Supporting freedom of speech

May 13, 2009 | Leave a comment

BarCamp Transparency UK OutMap is sponsoring BarCamp Transparency by donating a portion of my time to developing the website (for which I’d already provided the copy), as well as providing Twitter walls and projectors on the day. If you’re in the UK and interested in open government, cyber activism or social media ethics, I highly recommend you keep the 26th of July free for a trip to Oxford. Some very high profile people are attending, and the discussions promise to be amazing. And, hey, if that’s not enough for you, mention that you found out about the event from this blog and I’ll buy you a beer.

On a not-entirely-unrelated note, I want to make you aware of GlobalVoices Advocacy, which aims to create a global anti-censorship network of bloggers and online activists in the developing world. This is important work; one of the really exciting aspects of the web is the way information can spread and undermine oppressive legislation. It’s also dangerous, as blogging in places where freedom of speech is not protected can have severe consequences. They provide tutorials on blogging anonymously, as well as blogging effectively for a cause.

Zemanta, a blogging tool that suggests content to include as you type, is offering a small funding award to the charitable cause that gets the most posts as part of their ‘blogging for a cause’ promotion. It’s a good idea, and if you like what GlobalVoices Advocacy do, maybe you could write about them too – or any other good cause that you think is deserving.

I vote for Global Voices Advocacy because freedom of speech and the fight against censorship is one of the most important fronts in the fight for human rights around the world. This is a fight that we can all participate in, without having to go through governments, and GlobalVoices Advocacy is one organization that shows us how.

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s "Blogging For a Cause" campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

BarCamp Transparency

April 7, 2009 | 1 comment

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.

Notes from BarCamp Oxford

April 5, 2009 | 4 comments

I’m exhausted, but I wanted to get some thoughts down about today’s BarCamp in Oxford before I crash. This was proof that there is an intelligent, proactive geek community in England, and that, with the right stimulus, is capable of some incredible stuff. That said, I suspect that with a few exceptions those in attendance were there under their own steam rather than being sanctioned by their employers – a shame, because unconferences are so much more productive (at least for me) than their more traditional alternative.

I led a session cheekily titled Why OpenID Sucks, which was a contentious way of drawing attention to the importance of what the standard is trying to do, while accepting some key shortcomings that need to be solved:

  • Usage is declining, even among technologically savvy early adopters
  • The identifiers are potentially confusing; an email address is always an email address, a username is always a username, but a URL is not always an OpenID
  • The user interface solutions to solve the previous point favour a small number of large providers; they provide "log in with your WordPress.com / AIM / LiveJournal ID" buttons, which makes it harder for a provider not on the list to be an equal, undermining the point of a decentralized, generalized standard
  • Because of the way it works (you expect it to forward you to a login screen on a different site), OpenID is particularly susceptible to phishing, particularly when it’s used using UI solutions like the above

Aidan Skinner took some notes from the session; I’ll do my best to write them up more fully soon.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who organized the day. This was the first BarCamp in Oxford, but the momentum and energy in the community is there for many more to come.