Open Source Context-aware Mobile Technologies, 5-6 July, Oxford

As a sequence to the Open Source Junction: cross-platform mobile apps event in March, OSS-Watch organised another workshop on context-aware mobile technologies where delegates from both academia and industry were invited to present their work, exchange mutual interests and explore possibilities of collaboration.

Mick Lockwood from Arts and Design and I were there to introduce Maxamundo and the initial findings from our internally-funded project that aims to draw up a set of business models and community engagement strategies for location-based pervasive media.

Many interesting projects were presented: Webinos, SuKey, Nature Locator (for citizen scientists), Bristol University’s Mobile Campus Assistant and similarly Mobile Oxford, and an augmented reality browser Wikitude.

In this emerging area where technologies are becoming more and more pervasive and ubiquitous, “open source” appears to be a sensible way forward to make technological information and components more transparent, easier to programme and to assemble, and consequently achieve greater interoperability, accessibility and mobility. But should we take the benefits of open source development methods for granted? Free/Open Source Software is definitely good for society and for innovation – without Free/Open Source Software, there won’t be Maxamundo, which is built on a variety of open source tools and data (i.e. OpenStreetMap). But whether or not open source is the “right” method for Maxamundo, it really depends (and largely on what the project owner wishes to achieve).

Considering the history, evolution and the objectives of the Maxamundo project, I started to wonder whether open source is the way forward to bring Maxamundo’s development costs down and keep the platform sustainable (for example, the effort one has to invest in order to build a developer’s community and respond to wannabe contributors). And, if going ahead open source, when is a good time to do so? Where should one start – by inviting contributions or by changing licences? Given that this project is ongoing and changing, it makes sense to stop from time to time to re-evaluate the goals and re-prioritise different tasks. Open source could be a strategy for a locative media company, but the rule of ‘release early, release often’ probably does not always apply.

The licensing rationale becomes even more complicated when user-generated data are involved – with the Digital Economy Act in place, the company/organisation providing the services to host user-generated content in the UK legislative environment might have to take up certain responsibility in order to ensure the integrity of the data and content uploaded onto the platform. At the moment, Maxamundo provides a working proof-of-concept but not yet fully opens up for users in the wild. Like other social networking sites, Maxamundo also needs to consider the licensing and copyright issues of user-generated data and content.

Some interactive sessions were facilitated to encourage dialogues between workshop participants. I liked the 3-minute joint venture speed-dating game – speak to someone you haven’t met and quickly come up with a venture-capital pitch.

Ross Gardler

I also enjoyed my first geo-cashing trip led by Ross Gardler, despite the rain and cows. Conclusion from this geo-cashing experience – cows are definitely context-sensitive.

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At my arrival, I was asked what I wanted to achieve / gain from attending this workshop. Honestly, I was there completely open-minded without any agenda – just to have fun and learn something. I have learned a great deal and met many cool people doing cool things. All I can say is a big “thank you” to the OSS-Watch team, especially Gabriel Hanganu who put the event together and invited me and Mick to come along.

The workshop had a live blogger documenting the event – click here to see the process and outcomes.

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