Science Online London 09: Thoughts, not Transcript

First off, I’d like to thank the many people who re-tweeted my blog posts throughout Science Online London this past Saturday. With your help, Saturday was my best day ever for visits to the site. I hope people enjoyed my posts, and perhaps stayed long enough to find out what I blog about when I’m not at conferences (those I’m most proud of include a day I spent at a primary school last year, and a co-authored post with Frank Gibson on attribution versus citation).

The Royal Institute
The Royal Institute

Those solo09 posts I wrote on Saturday were intended mainly as notes, as a transcript of what went on. It helps me concentrate to take notes, and due to my fabulous parents talking me into taking typing classes in high school, I am able to (mostly) keep up with presentations! But I wasn’t the only one blogging, and many people since Saturday have been writing up and posting their thoughts: Martin Fenner has been keeping track of what seem to be all blog posts about solo09, so please visit his post to find out what everyone thought of the day.

My blog posts on the day were a record of the day’s presentations, from my point of view. Today’s post is more personal – it was my first time at a Science Online conference, and this is a record of my impressions.

The day started very early for me, though I was not alone in this. I was on a 6am train, and managed to find my way to the Royal Institue (my first visit) before 8:30am. Luckily, they had already laid out the name badges of people whose first name began with “A”, and I grabbed my badge and went to see how many people were around. After geeking out way too much when I met Cameron Neylon for the first time in the physical world (when discussing online avatars with him I tried a bad pun referencing the recent Guild music video about avatars which fell a bit flat), I went for a wander around the building. In one of the libraries I found this book, which amused me:

A book in one of the libraries at the Royal Institute. Memoirs of Libraries, in a library!F
A book in one of the libraries at the Royal Institute. Memoirs of Libraries, in a library!

Then I wandered upstairs and had a look at the Faraday Theatre, with its surprisingly uncomfortable seating but beautiful fittings and fantastic ambience. Just a tip though – watch out for the Ambulatory Displays up there on the first floor. The British Library had a table set up in a prime position opposite the Faraday Theatre, and at that table I met some BL people as well as Stewart Wills, an Editor for Science. I had never spoken with a Science editor before, and I had a really enjoyable conversation with him and the BL people about wildflowers and ontologies for 20 minutes or so, until it was time for the conference to start.

I won’t go heavily into the presentations, as I have already covered them. Suffice to say I thought they were all very interesting, often entertaining, and definitely educational. While I would have loved to have much more time for open discussion at the end of each presentation, that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. I had my first experience with Second Life, and watching the odd behaviors of the avatars in it was almost hypnotic. One seemed to be playing the spoons or typing on an invisible keyboard or something. Many others seemed to be hanging off an invisible wire in their back, and others flounced, tilted alarmingly, or even looked attentive.

I will choose a favorite presentation though: I loved the theatrics and the content of John Gilbey. He presented a number of speculations about the far future, and said that we could all vote for our favorite by emailing him in the next week. Then, he’ll do his best to write about it in the context of the University of Rural England and get it into print 🙂 Fun! You can email him at gilbey@bcs.org.uk.

I had a number of good conversations with Sara Fletcher of Diamond Light Source about power cables, last year’s Science Online, and meeting people in the real world who you’ve gotten to know only through the (unreal?) world of the Internet. We were the ones sitting near the annoying ringing iPhone during the metrics/statistics talk by Richard Grant and others. No, it was NOT our phone, and yes, we tried to find it to turn it off but were unsuccessful.

It was great seeing bloggers made flesh: Petra Boynton, Jack of Kent, Cameron Neylon and Peter Murray-Rust were just a few of the people I either listened to or spoke with for the first time. Peter, Phil Lord and I had a great conversation about ontologies OWL ontologies – well, about semantics.

I left London that evening, this time on a full train of tired people wanting to get home that was in stark contrast to the quiet, empty train and the beautiful sunrise that began the day. I had a great experience and my thanks goes out to all the organizers and people who helped make Science Online London work. I am now more interested in Google Wave, still want a single unifying identifier for me and my online personas (one identifier per persona, or one per person?)  and am more aware of the legal implications of blogging. I feel like I’ve increased not just my knowledge of all things science and online, but also the size of my online science community, which is a community that has enriched my research environment and work life more in the past year than I ever thought possible. The Life Scientists, Science 2.0, Twitter and my good friend Google Reader keep me in touch with all of the other blogs of science of friends and colleagues, and I’m following many more after Science Online. I am a better scientist and researcher because of my connections to this community – Thank you all!

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