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Last Wednesday saw the long awaited return of the ever fantastic Oxford Geek Night.

Thanks to all involved, and all who came, and especially the keynote and microslot speakers for making it an awesome night!

The first speaker was a woman called Leila Johnston who gave an interesting talk called “Making things fast”, I suggest you go have a look at the video.

In a nutshell the longer a project goes on the less likely it is to be completed. We should all stop worrying so much about getting things perfect before letting a project see the light of day. There was also the observation that enthusiasm for a project is a finite resource and is spent very quickly.

So anyway, last weekend I bashed together an idea I’ve been pondering since my flight back from Vegas, and prompted by Leila’s talk I’m pushing the first buggy version out into the world at large before I get distracted with something new and shiny.

So, without further ceremony I’d like to introduce “I’m going to miss…

What?

I’m going to miss…” is something I cooked up on a transatlantic flight as partially something I’d like to have exist, and partially an excuse to build OAuth support into a platform I’m hacking together.

The basic concept for the first version is, essentially, Single-serving friends reunited (although I obviously can’t call it that). It is an attempt to capture those interesting conversations and chance encounters we have in-between A and B. I’ve got some quite cool ideas for the next iterations as well, which may or may not happen.

It won’t change the world, but it was a quick build (I like them) so have a play! I’ll be interested to see if this is something that’s going to fly…

Right. What’s next?

Back in July I gave a talk at Oxford Geek Nights about the Digital Britain report entitled “#DigitalBritain fail” in which I discussed the Digital Britain report and some of it’s many shortcomings.

One of the potential courses of action I suggested that people could take was to essentially smile,  say “that’s nice dear” and continue innovating. To take the typically open source approach adopted by the guys at Open Streetmap (among others) and recreate proprietary datasets in the public domain.

I was therefore delighted when I came across the guys at Ernest Marples, who were attempting to provide a free version of the Postcode to location database.

As a bit of background; in the UK the state (via Royal mail holdings for which the state is the sole shareholder) has a monopoly on all postcode to location lookups. This monopoly is protected by crown copyright and a royal charter, which basically means that even though the dataset was produced using taxpayer’s money it is owned by the crown (in the case of crown copyright), and the charter means that nobody else is permitted to provide the same service.

This means that in order to do anything with postcodes you need to pay a licence fee to the post office, pricing the small players out of the game or limiting them to use a service provider such as Yahoo (which has it’s own terms of usage). A similar situation exists for geolocation in general, but in this instance you have to pay the Ordnance Survey.

This situation is archaic and was a hot topic at Barcamp Transparency. Data which are produced by taxpayer money should be freely available to all, and I had hoped that the dissolution of crown copyright would have been one of the first thing that the Digital Britain report recommended.

Yesterday, Ernest Marples announced in their blog that they were shutting down their service in the face of a legal challenge from Royal Mail, who pretty much accused them of stealing their database. Although the Ernest Marples guys were a little cagey about where they got their data (with hindsight this was probably a mistake) they did explicitly state that it was not using the Royal Mail database in any way.

Under the terms of the charter however, they are simply not permitted to provide this service and compete with Royal mail, and this is the basis of the legal challenge.

I am saddened to see this promising project go, and especially sorry to see that they don’t have the funds to get their day in court. A court case of this nature could provide a useful forum to hold a long overdue debate as to the relevance of the charter and crown copyright in general in the twenty-first century.

Crown copyright is a problem (as well as being morally dubious), and a monopoly is always bad (especially when state enforced). It is sad to see promising UK innovation stifled by entrenched interests, but it seems to be a reoccuring theme in modern Britain. As we have just seen it puts severe limits on just how far a project can go in opening up and recreating data sets, and this worries me.

I wish the project and it’s organisers all the best for the future.

Top image “postbox_20may2009_0830” by Patrick H. Lauke

Oxford bloggers is a new site spawned from a conversation at last week’s highly successful Oxford Tuttle which seeks to aggregate blogs from those based in and around Oxford.

This is pretty cool, and will help further bring together the thriving (but until recently somewhat underground) Oxford technology and innovation scene, currently centred around Oxford Geek Nights and the Oxford Tuttle.

Things are really starting to come together in Oxford, with some really interesting projects and companies being started. Hopefully dispelling the myth that you need to be in the valley to do anything fun.

Anyway, welcome Oxford bloggers!

Logo from the Oxford Bloggers website