Society — Barcamp Auckland 5

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I attended a few sessions at Barcamp Auckland yesterday that concerned the Internet’s role in society. Vikram Kumar (@vikram_nz) and (@robertobrien) hosted a discussion about designing privacy into services and products. This was a wide-ranging talk — I learned about a few interesting projects.

Fire Eagle, from Yahoo!, is a framework for building location-awareness into an application in a way that offers users fine-grained control over the privacy of their location information.

Ideo’s free Human-Centered Design Toolkit is intended to help international staff and volunteers “understand a community‚Äôs needs in new ways, find innovative solutions to meet those needs, and deliver solutions with financial sustainability in mind.” It’s designed specifically for social enterprises operating in impoverished communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but I’m sure there’s a lot in it for social enterprises in general. And it’s free, which is nice.

Vikram and Robert also handed round a copy of Business Model Generation (“A handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers.”), a rather nice coffee-table book about building and maintaining modern business models. It looked well worth reading as far as I could tell. There’s an iPad app too.

Later, Peter Mangin (@peteinakl) facilitated a nicely nuanced discussion on the evolution of social networks. He pointed out that they’re not evil — not even Facebook! — they’re just businesses trying to make money. He singled out two Google initiatives as being forces for good in the space. Obviously, the Circles feature in Google+ aims to clarify the privacy ambiguities that Facebook has struggled with (and it may well eat Facebook and Twitter’s lunches in the process.) Meanwhile, their Data Liberation Front aims to give Google’s users as much control as possible over their data. As people become more concerned about privacy, this will become a Google feature that Facebook will simply have to copy.

This year, for the first time Barcamp hosted a panel discussion. There were three members of parliament, representing the three main parties, and four others representing various organisations and views. The discussion was worthwhile, though with the Barcamp crowd the views expressed were pretty much what you’d expect: More Power to the Internet! Of the politicians, Clare Curran the Labour MP and Gareth Hughes the Green MP both seemed to have a good grip on the issues. National MP Sam Lotu-Liga mostly just parroted the party line. At least he was obviously not pandering to the partisan audience.

It was great to see a lot of discussion on wider social issues relating to technology at the Barcamp, rather than just coding and designing the latest web app. There was a bit of that though: I’ll write up my notes for that sometime soon.

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