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TransferSummit: my take on freedom, open innovation and the open society

Eternal vigilance and the open society
View more presentations from James Governor

Yesterday I gave the plenary keynote at TransferSummit 2011 – an event aimed at decision-makers considering open business as a strategic imperative. The event had great sessions on open source license choices, case studies, real data behind the choice to adopt open source, a few sessions about how to develop mobile apps without lock in… you get the picture.

Its a great event, at a gorgeous location – Keble College in Oxford. Funnily enough a lot of students heading to Oxford avoid Keble because its made of brick – yes its only been there since the 1870s… no history there to speak of…. but to me it was just like visiting Hogwarts- certainly I expected to see Albus Dumbledore to come striding into the dining hall – I had to make do with Simon Phipps ;-)

The quality of attendees was striking, and I hopefully kicked things off with a bit of energy, passion, and even a little insight.

Preparing for the talk was kind of odd, because while I had planned to push for greater vigilance about our platform choices- to mitigate what I call the Permission-based Web, where a web service can be shut down, so shutting down your voice, and your data, where a third party can decide what content you publish… completely arbitrarily.

Anyhow what changed my presentation between abstract and delivery? Events, dear reader, events. The Arab Spring. The London riots. Everything, as they say, changed.

Last week at Dreamforce Marc Benioff pointed out that folks in Tahrir square had written Facebook on the wall. While some commentators such as Malcolm Gladwell doubt the role of social media in social change it seems rather obvious to me. Not causual, but influential.

I came to realise that you can say what you like about Facebook, privacy and so on, but if the man or woman on the street in a Middle Eastern country over-turning their government is looking to Facebook for inspiration then yes its a critical institution for the 21st century Open Society.

So I started with Karl Popper, and this amazing essay by George Soros about Capitalism as a threat to the Open Society, and ended up asking people to support their local libraries. Covered a lot of ground. Anyway – here’s the deck.

We have to keep asking questions, question orthodoxy, refuse to countenance one voice thinking if we’re to maintain an open society in which we can flourish, in which our kids can flourish, in which real innovation can flourish. Everything is connected.

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