This was the first time I’d ever participated in an Open Spaces workshop, and I have to say that it worked very well. The basic premise behind Open Spaces is that the floor is open for anyone to speak on any topic. You simply sign up to lead a session on the "grid", and then lead it. If you wish to participate, then participate. If not, go to a different session.
The first session I participated in was led by Reg Braithwaite. I’m paraphrasing, but my takeaway was that software should "just work". He used numerous examples to illustrate situations in which a little more contextual information could be used to produce a more relevant result for the user. For instance, Reg pointed out that Yahoo consistently presents advertisements for dating services to him, when his Yahoo profile says that he’s married. Naturally, this theme resonates with me. iotum’s technology focus is the use of context to filter communication requests on the basis of relevance.
Following that, David Janes gave a short presentation on microformats. Very interesting, but too short. This could have used a lot more discussion. The basic idea is to embed structured data for applications like calendars, contacts, social networks, tags, lists, outlines, reviews, votes and so on, into web pages, feeds and streams. Applications can then consume these. David showed Greasemonkey consuming calendar and contact information from a web page, which presumably could then be inserted into Outlook, or some other contact management solution. The real power, I think, is in formats like the hReview format. For instance, I write reasonably often about wine. You could use the hReview format to construct an aggregator of wine reviews from multiple sites.
Patrick Dinnen hosted a session on Wireless Toronto. Not of interest to me, living in Ottawa, but there was some interesting discussion about how to create public / private hotspots. Apparently a firmware upgrade to the Linksys WRT54G routers is available which will allow public access to the internet, and (via a WEP key) private access to the rest of your network. This could be a real benefit to owners of coffee shops and restaurants who want to provide internet access to their customers.
Leila Boujnane and Paul Bloore showed us idÃ©e’s Espion visual search engine. This was a very impressive demo. What they’ve built is a tool for searching millions of images, based on image content. Think of it as Google for pictures. In the same way as Google revolutionized web page search by returning relevant pages, Espion will revolutionize image search by returning relevant images. There was a spirited discussion around whether it really "worked" when one person asked if it could differentiate between a dog and a cat, or a dachsund and a bassett hound. There’s no image recognition involved. Rather there is an algorithm for calculating the signature of an image based on colour, shapes, luminosity and so on. Very impressive!
There was a very stimulating session a little later talking about the role of channels in media distribution. Or, at least that’s how I internalized it. The organizer Mark Kuzniki is consulting to the government on interactive media, but the session devolved quickly into a discussion of business models as they relate to the media industry. Consensus was: we don’t want more government intervention in cultural products. It would be better for the entertainment industry to choose new channels themselves.
The second to last session I attended was Ken Schafer‘s "Making money". An excellent, and stimulating conversation around the ways to monetize product and content. Ad-funded, affiliate, and other models were discussed, including Google’s Click-to-call.
And the last session of the day was a discussion of how to keep the momentum going. Albert Lai has offered up his offices to run a demo event in December. That would rock. I am personally interested in seeing if we could build a Barcamp event for Ottawa.
Many thanks to David Crow for organizing this. It was great fun to spend the weekend hanging out with bright passionate people. I met a lot of new people, and hopefully made some new friendships.