Future Pub 11 (#FuturePub)
Earlier this week, I attended my first FuturePub event. Hosted by John Hammersley of Overleaf, it was a heady combination of pizza, drinks, lightning talks and lively networking. (Annoyingly, I had to run for my back-of-beyond train before I turned into a pumpkin, but I suspect that all of these activities were still ongoing as I sat on my train and started this write-up).
For anyone not familiar with the format, there were 7 short presentations on a range of digitally innovative projects and start-ups interspersed with questions from the audience and punctuated by energetic tweeting. This week’s acts included:
· Clustermarket (aka ‘the Airbnb for scientists’), which enables rental for science equipment and encourages collaboration across its users.
· We – data2paper were next, with PI Neil Jefferies from Bodleian Digital Librariesspeaking to a real-time data paper submission video (oh the time we’re going to save researchers when our app is integrated into submission workflows).
· ian mulvany of Sage was next, presenting a lean innovation framework which, for Sage, has resulted in a data skills summer school but which could provide a swift and powerful tool for a number of teams. Sage conducted a succession of small-scale experiments, formed hypotheses, and then went and talked to people and found low-cost solutions to their problems. ian also gave a shout-out for a product management day he’s planning to run with Euan Adie on the 29 November.
· Seth Green then explained how CODE Ocean was formed as a response to the replication crisis. It’s a cloud-based computational reproducibility platform that pro provides researchers and developers an easy way to share, discover and run code published in academic journals and conferences.
· Iliyana Kuzmova told us about ARPHA: a Next Generation Publishing Platform, with an xml workflow, integrated authoring tool, and a suite of publishing services including semantic tagging and other enhancements.
· Podaris, introduced to us by Nathan Koren, is a collaborative urban infrastructure planning platform inspired by the fact that it has become increasingly difficult to implement urban infrastructure projects due to their complexity and the need to consult with all stakeholders. Current tools don’t speak to each other, there are gaps in understanding and siloes between various stakeholders. Design and engineering happens, then is sent downstream and never engaged with again. Podaris synchs the data. Interestingly, although planning consultants are spending 10-20 hours per week on this, otherwise uptake is slow. It has succeeded in solving a number of technical problems but the cultural ones remain a challenge.
· Finally, Katy Alexander told us about Nomadict – an app that supports anyone with access difficulties to be able to get around more comfortably and efficiently. ‘Access’ is broadly defined – it could be mobility, dietary or sensory. This product is at a very early stage in its development but you can see its potential for improving our ability to make good decisions when we’re out and about (or when we’re trying to gather the resources to get out and about in the first place).
All the speakers were engaging and cogent – keeping enviably to the 5-7 minute brief. And the audience was also great – lively in the room and keeping an excellent record of proceedings. Do catch up with the hashtag #futurepub if you get the chance, for more information and contact details on all of these products. For myself – apart from our own data2paper – I was intrigued by the range of topics. Many of them seemed very different from each other when I was in the room (oceans, urban planning, access to lifts), but looking over my notes and reflecting, it feels as though they have a lot in common. They’re all about using digital technologies to make lives easier, to make things more possible than before, whether it’s a train trip, an integrated article, a new motorway or a scientific project. Not an earth-shatteringly brilliant conclusion, but I think it does shed some light on why the event itself lifted your spirits. Of course people need to make a living, and some of these people at least will want to make some money from their innovations, but ultimately these products and presentations were triggered by the recognition that there was a problem and the drive to do something about it.
To sum up, then, this was an excellent event. It was swift, informative, fun and well-catered. At the start John Hammersley asked how many people present had attended the first FuturePub, and then how many had managed all of them and a fair number of people had done so. This can sometimes lead to a cliquey feel to things, but as a newbie I didn’t feel at all disadvantaged. It was terrible weather outside, but a creative, convivial atmosphere within. Roll on FuturePub 12!