Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Open Archaeology

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I went to the Open Knowledge Foundation conference, OKCON in London a few weeks ago, and have been meaning do a review of it ever since. Whilst little of what I saw had a direct relevance to what I do, it was invigorating to be in a room with a whole bunch of people with imagination, who believe knowledge should be free to anyone, and who basically like to disrupt the status quo.

A few quotes:

[2009 was] the year open data went mainstream (Rufus Pollock)

The threat [to the record industry] is not piracy, but obscurity (Glynn Moody)

What would happen if every school had a reprap? (Ben O’Steen)

One paper that was quite relevant to me was “Dig the new breed” by Anthony Beck, about opening up archaeological data. There are related articles and mailing list posts here and here. I feel uneasy about some of the details (it’s not lethargy or ethics that dictates the data we do or don’t release, it’s money) but in general it’s a no-brainer. We’re doing our bit with our Eprints library, but we’re at an early stage with getting reports on there.

The only problem I see is figuring out who to lobby- I would add the developers and the county-level curators to the list as well as the actual archaeological units. I know of specific cases where developers would not provide the money for making the results of an excavation public access, and also where a regional Historic Environment Record would not allow “their” data to be shown on a web map.

Otherwise, I particularly enjoyed Glynn Moody’s paper on The Post-Analogue World- focussing on the “plight” of the record industry, struggling to cope with the transition from analogue to digital, and Ben O’Steen’s paper on Making the Physical from the Digital. Bookbinding, repraps, MP’s expenses and Cory Doctorow all in one talk. Can’t be bad!

Many of the talks are available to download here, and OKFN have working groups for both archaeology and geospatial data if you’re interested. I hope to have more involvement with both, and to investigate links between OKFN and OSGeo, now I have some time and mental space. More to come…

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