Well, it’s over a week since I attended the Foundations of Open: Technology and Digital Knowledge local summit. For those outside Australia, in November last year Australia elected a new government after eleven years. One of the new government’s first initiatives was to announce a plan for a Australia 2020 summit. The summit proper is being held next week, with 1,000 attendees taking part. The whole thing is very encouraging of participation, and part of that includes the “local summits” by MPs. Senator Kate Lundy held hers with a focus on open source, open access and related issues. In 12 years, where might progressive and friendly government policy lead us? This summit was about putting heads together and dreaming big, then filling in the steps in between to try and make the ideal a reality.
Appropriately enough, Senator Lundy runs her own website using Joomla, and the summit co-chair Tom Worthington put up all the notes from the day into a Moodle course. (And I noticed while slides and things were being set up that Senator Lundy runs Ubuntu. Mad :D)
Anyway, for some reason I find the video files time out or something and won’t play. You can download them directly instead. The recordings are excellent – close up and very good sound. (The small sized files are quite decent quality, don’t feel obligated to download the large files.)
I particularly recommend
- Professor Lawrence Cram, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of ANU – Launch & keynote (video, 23min) – wide-ranging talk about his experience in the university/research sector and “foundations of openness” (academic freedom, open access, management of university reasearcher IP)
- Jeff Waugh – “Foundations of Open” (video, 43min) – “The Foundations of Open is a model for understanding the different aspects of openness in a digital age including standards, knowledge, governance, source code and the market.” [by the by, the James Burke ‘Connections’ clip he shows can also be found on Youtube]
- Pia Waugh – “Open Source as a public resource” (video, 43min) – “Specific ways we can better explore Open Source opportunities and innovations for business, government, broader social benefit and the Australian economy.”
- Andrew ‘Tridge’ Tridgill – “Open 2020 – Taking Advantage of FOSS” (video, 33min) – Public policy needs to guide business down a path that benefits society. Removing “structural impediments” (DMCA, software patents, trade secrets, “chilling effect” of lawsuits) to adoption of free software.
- Alan Smart, ASIBA – “Spatial potential” (video, 30min) – “Geospatial information needs to be open so that Australian businesses can add value, innovate and commercialise in order to be globally competitive.” (If you ever needed evidence to argue about the benefit to business, government and the public of open access/freely licensed geospatial data – all kinds of map data – then this talk would be a fantastic source.)
The first four are very good speakers, each in different ways. Tridge was very impassioned and articulate. Jeff is has quite a showman style. Pia is straight-up and her talks are information-dense and clearly informed by her experience. The integrity and leadership of all three, from the free software movement, is inspiring. While they know the importance of being able to speak other audiences’ languages (business, government) and how “selling” free software can help it spread, they also know there are certain values that cannot be compromised — and they are up-front about this too.
Professor Cram’s talk is considered and nuanced; he’s clearly aware (in a way that perhaps people from the free software movement tend to underestimate) that there is a cost to freedom (from (7’20’‘):
I think the way that we’re [ANU] thinking about it [university open access policy] is interesting to reflect on. There’s a technology layer that we’ve already got control of: the repositories, and the interfaces that people can access our work through are now available, and in many respects turned on. We’ve got a policy layer that has to do with the management of copyright, the interactions that we have with publishers. […] And then finally there’s the user layers, and they’re really quite interesting.
Just to show the kinds of things that we have to worry about: suppose that we conduct medical research. And our medical researchers publish a paper that’s quite erudite about a treatment for diabetes. And suppose that that, then, is on the web. And it’s uninterpreted. People will access that. The writers of the article never intended it to be addressed by people who worry about diabetes, and it’s not, therefore, interpreted in a way that’s helpful to them. It would be wrong, I think, to withhold the information, but it also has elements of wrongness to not interpret it as well. And the interpretation is something that we don’t think of doing at present. If you publish a medical paper in a medical journal, you’ve got a pretty good idea about most of the audience, and you don’t need to interpret it. So we are thinking about what it would mean to interpret, the portal through which the community accesses our online information.
(Professor Cram’s talk of “interpretation” reminds me of Andrew Keen in The Truth According to Wikipedia, lamenting the loss of “gatekeepers”, editors and publishers who choose what to publish — except Professor Cram can see the potential benefits despite the guaranteed difficulties on the way. It strikes me that Andrew Keen can see no better society than the one we had 10-20 years ago.)
There is also Jessica Coates from Creative Commons Australia (video, 37min), just in case you’ve never heard a Creative Commons spiel :) and Ann Steward from the government Information Management Office (who knew such a thing existed!), (video, 29min) if you want to hear some more perspective from someone actually in the public service (eg. what barriers exist to adoption of FLOSS). (I also found out about this document: Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies.)
…FLOSS. I just wrote “free software” and changed it. The phrase reminded me of a “nomenclature problem” that came up from Ann’s talk. Tridge earlier had deliberately used the phrase “free software” (well, I kinda feel everyone who uses it must do so deliberately). Ann, during her talk, said something like “Open, but not necessarily free, software”, then talking about the cost of e.g. training. “Open, but not necessarily free” is a strange thing to people who hear the phrase “(as in freedom)” in between the words “free” and “software”. After her talk, Tridge tried to make clear the distinction, of free-as-in-freedom software, but it didn’t quite make it.
Stallman says, Every time you say “free software” rather than “open source,” you help our campaign. Sadly I think the campaign for keeping alive that distinction is one that does not survive outside the software development community.
Anyway, Foundations of Open is now done, and the presenters’ submissions are now available. Let’s see if this big picture thinking can translate into anything concrete!