The Edinburgh Festivals API: a case study in innovation

May 14, 2012 | Leave a comment

I was the inaugural Geek in Residence at the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab, working with Rohan Gunatillake and the Edinburgh Festivals on open data and digital accessibility.

Here’s a video from Rudman Consulting for AmbiTIon Scotland about the Festivals API portion of the project:

Hacking culture

May 19, 2011 | Leave a comment

Ben talks sense

I’ve always thought that the term “the cultural sector” was a bit disingenuous, because it makes the assumption that science, engineering and everything else under its umbrella can’t for some reason be a part of “culture”. Ditto “creatives”: it doesn’t take much thought to disprove the conceit, but theatre, music, fiction writing and so on are inherently thought of as creative, while fields like software development and structural engineering are not. What a bunch of hooey.

So I was proud to be a part of Culture Hack Scotland, the first cultural hack day celebrating both the Scottish cultural sector and the country’s incredibly talented tech community. Principally organized by Rohan Gunatillake, my brilliant partner in crime over at the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab, in conjunction with Get AmbITion and Trigger, it was seamlessly organized, beautifully presented and, in many ways, utterly revolutionary.

During my first-ever meeting about becoming Geek in Residence at the Innovation Lab, I made it clear that I wanted to highlight Edinburgh’s independent developer scene, who I believe are every bit as creative as the city’s festivals. Edinburgh contains some of the largest arts festivals in the world (including the largest). The University of Edinburgh also has one of the best-ranked Computer Science courses in Europe. Both are propelled by the fiercely independent, anarchic, creative energy that pervades the city, and while it sometimes feels like the city’s infrastructure wants to stub this out, Culture Hack Scotland embraced it in a way that was both fun and greatly respectful to everyone who came. The outputs speak for themselves.

There is a division between the cultural and technical sectors, which has traditionally led to abusive relationships between the two. Organizations that look down on developers and cowboy digital agencies that see cultural organizations as cash cows are definitely still around, but I think they’re diminishing, in part because these sectors need each other – and they’re merging. Cultural organizations need to have in-house digital knowledge; as technology improves, the digital agency skillset begins to incorporate storytelling, animation, game-playing, music and more. Case in point is the meteoric rise of Apple, which famously describes itself as being at the intersection between technology and the liberal arts.

Regular readers will remember that last year I was involved in an event called Intersection: Publishing, which aimed to do something similar for the publishing industry. Earlier this year, one of my co-organizers, Perini’s Paul Squires, and I hatched a plan for Book HackDay, which took a different tack by exploring the form of the book itself rather than examining how technology could save the industry. With support from a raft of excellent partners, it was a great success. My contribution was to design and establish BookHackers, a social community that aims to provide a permanent space to discuss the evolution of the book. It’s not affiliated with my Edinburgh Festivals work, but I believe it’s in a similar spirit.

I’m doing this as part of Idno, my social technology imprint. If publishing companies can have imprints, why not developers?

Image: Ben talks sense [hah!] by festivalslab, released under a Creative Commons license.

Where to find me at SXSW

February 27, 2011 | Leave a comment

I’m stoked to be at this year’s South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin.

As well as enjoying the talks, attending events and enjoying wandering around one of my favorite cities in the world, I’m appearing as part of two panels:

The Why & How Of Decentralized Web Identity with Blaine Cook and Christian Sandvig (March 12, 11am in the TX Ballroom 2-4 at the Hyatt)

Wikileaks, the Web, and the Long, Strange Journey of Journalism with James Moore and Scott Braddock (March 15, 9:30am in the Town Lake Ballroom at the Radisson)

Power!In both cases, these are part of a stream. If you’re interested in decentralized identity, you’re probably going to want to start with Federating the Social Web, a panel with’s Evan Promodou, TummelVision’s Kevin Marks and Socialcast’s Monica Wilkinson, which starts at 9:30am in the same room. Meanwhile, if you want to hear more about Wikileaks, you may want to stick around for Wikileaks: The Website That Changed the World?, with Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, Vanity Fair contributing editor Sarah Ellison, and ProPublica managing editor Stephen Engelberg, which takes place in the Town Lake Ballroom at 12:30pm.

I’m very excited about working with the participants at both events. I’m pleased to say that James Moore, my co-panelist for the Wikileaks event, is a colleague at Latakoo, and it’s a pleasure to have found another way to work with him. You may know him best for his book Bush’s Brain, about George W. Bush and Karl Rove’s role in his presidency; he’s made a name for himself as an incisive political commentator in print, on television and in documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11. Here are his not inconsiderable contributions to the Huffington Post. For his Wikileaks panel, he’s brought Edward R Murrow award-winning investigative journalist Scott Braddock on board, and I’ll be there to provide technical and web culture context.

Blaine Cook, meanwhile, was the primary author of both OAuth and Webfinger, which are two of the most important building blocks for the decentralized social web; they’ve been influential in how web applications have been designed and built over the past few years. Formerly lead developer at Twitter, he’s now part of Osmosoft, a part of British Telecom that works on open source, web-based collaboration tools. As well as kindly asking me to join him on his panel on decentralized identity, he’s secured the wisdom of Christian Sandvig, who is Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Finally, although I won’t be speaking at this one, my colleague at the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab Rohan Gunatillake will be speaking with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’s CEO Kath Maitland about Edinburgh, Austin and the Future of Festivals on March 14th. If you’re interested in digital and the arts, or my work as Geek in Residence at the festivalslab, this will be worth your time.

If you’re in Austin this March, I’d love to see you at either of these events, or anywhere else. I’ll be heavily using Twitter during the festival, so you can always message me there, or drop me a note here in the comments. It should be a lot of fun.

Open data in the arts

December 3, 2010 | Leave a comment

I’m in New York this week for a whirlwind series of meetings with Team Latakoo, but I wanted to draw a little attention to the introduction to open data in the arts I wrote over on the festivalslab blog before I got here:

Open data sounds like a much more techie concept than it really is. It’s really a way to let third parties plug into and spread your organization’s information, in a way that you control, and allows them to create publications, products and services that you don’t have the time, resources or inclination to develop or maintain. You become the centre of a creative ecosystem – something arts organizations, and especially festivals – are already brilliant at. It’s a perfect fit.

You can read the whole thing over here.

Next Page »