Barcamp Hong Kong 2013

I went to the first day of Barcamp Hong Kong 2013 at HK Polytechnic University on Saturday, 23 February. This was my second Barcamp event. Last year was held all on one-day at City University of Hong Kong. Barcamp is a open-space inspired event where someone with an idea and the desire to talk about it makes a pitch to people who want to listen. The ‘law of two feet’ applies; if it isn’t interesting people can get up and leave for someone else presenting their idea. In practice, people write up very short descriptions of their idea and they are assigned a place to present. People can wander in and out as they like.

I got there on time at 9:45am for a 10:00 am start. This is the first time I’ve seen the 3D barcode registration work with iPhones. There weren’t too many people in the big open plaza at HKPolyU Design School with rows of chairs, a very large digital display screen and sound system. People were rather reluctant to sit in the chairs; I think because it had the ominous ‘lecture-look’ that might be difficult to get out away from easily. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them in circles. By 11:00am people had filled out some half-size sheets of paper with topics and stuck them up on a brick wall. There was some consolidation as people with similar topics joined forces. Last year I seem to remember that each topic was given 30 minutes and it seemed too short. This year 1 hour seemed better but maybe too long for just one speaker.

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

My first topic was ‘Fashion & Technology’. I like clothes I suppose about as much as anyone. I’m interested in why I choose the clothes I wear. HK is somewhat of a fashion centre but it suffers from creative anxiety. HK used to be a centre for making clothes and now is a place for organizing the making of clothes in China and then shipping them around the world. I wondered what these people would talk about it. The speaker was trying to get some sense of what people thought ‘fashion & technology’ should be about. People introduced themselves and why they choose to come to this topic. Most people were not working in the fashion field but were interested in wearable technology. I was somewhat amused when someone presented the new idea of using technology to make ‘custom-made’ clothes. I’m old fashioned and I still use a couple of HK tailors for suits, shirts and casual trousers from time to time. These tailors seem to keep track with big bound volumes where they write down my measurements and what I’ve ordered over the past 24 years. It’s nice when they ask me if I still wear the grey plaid jacket I had made in 1996. I think maybe technology and fashion could be used for custom made clothes but I’m not sure it will ever be as personal and good as an in-person tailor.

My second topic was from a grumpy old guy on ‘Lessons from Web 1.0 | That are still true today’. He wasn’t that old but he had been part of that first wave of web-developers in the 1990’s. He now works at one of the large banks in HK on trading algorithms. He made some useful observations that in the Web 1.0 days many plugins and be-spoke browser-sensing approaches were used to improve the web experience. These didn’t work well because most users do not keep their browser up to the latest version with all the appropriate plugins and writing code specific for Netscape, IE and Mosaic very quickly fell-down because it was impossible to test all the possible iterations of OS, hardware and browsers. Guess what? There are now 3 main browsers, IE, Chrome and Firefox and many other smaller ones used widely in specific countries and industries. Many times developers build applications assuming everyone is using the most recent version of Chrome on a high-end personal computer. The application fails and the user walks away. The lesson learned? Do not assume that everyone is a geeky computer person who enjoys hanging out with the PC. Most people do not want to have that much knowledge about the PC. They believe, correctly I will add, the PC should just work without a lot of fuss and bother. He recommended making applications work first with Lynx, a text based browser and then with other browsers. Assume someone in Kenya on a dial-up link is going to use the application. That person in Kenya could be generating 10 cents of revenue and if there are enough of them that could be what makes the application a success. There is an assumption among developers that applications are refreshed and being updated every few years. This is seldom true. Rather than being refreshed applications simply die from lack of use. Useful applications last for a long time and get changed incrementally with the danger that old code is still lurking around and being used as the core for more supposedly advanced applications. In the end, this may cause quite a few problems in the next wave of Web 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 world.

The last topic was Open Data in Hong Kong. The HK government has had the Data.One initiative since 2011 to make datasets available to the public for no cost. First, a developer presented his open source application using the HK Observatory (HKO) data. He hadn’t used the datasets available from Data.One for two reasons. First, he didn’t know the HKO dataset was available and second when he did find out about the dataset it was only a simple RSS text file and was not useful. Instead, he simply captured (scraped) the data from the websites maintained by the HKO. Next, someone talked about the Data.One initiative, the background and what was now happening. The gist of it seems to be that the government wants to make datasets available but not much effort if being made to coordinate what, why, how and who. Departmental Administrative Officers (AO) makes the datasets available based on their personal networks. The AO is an important person in the HK government structure but he/she is frequently very over-worked and normally has limited technical IT skills or knowledge. These AO’s have networks inside the government and they use for all sorts of activities. There is nothing wrong with this approach but the Data.One datasets are rather hit and miss. The last person talked about the context of Open Data initiatives in the EU and elsewhere. She said that the most active Open Data initiatives were in Berlin, London and New York. The big question is how to have more knowledge about the datasets and more use of them for application development. After these talks a Google+ group, Open Data Hong Kong, was setup. Hopefully, this may become a platform to promote these Data.One datasets.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Proudfit, another leading evangelist of the group, who also attended BarCamp, documented one of the open data discussion back then, in which he also describes briefly the status quo of the open data in […]

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