FooCamp Takeaway - humans are behind the machine

GoldenGate BridgeFooCamp was a ton of fun - nothing beats spending a weekend in beautiful weather (outside at a conference? it can happen) talking with lots of smart, interesting, and funny people about a complete range of issues (humanitarian aid in Africa, to tracking your vehicle mileage in GoogleEarth).

The primary take-away I gained insight on was how much human is behind the machine/network for a great solution. There is a lot of research and effort spent designing better algorithms, faster processors, and automation. While we may be able to achieve better results and understanding through mass computation and filtering, it's the human ability to pattern match and understand complex, arbitrary concepts that make for the best tool.

So the question remains, where is the boundary between the human-machine operation? How much effort do you let the machine perform, and how best can you allow human-bias to influence the results at a sufficiently high level that the entire thing scales. Are users tagging sites enough, or should their be a concierge type service that users can submit questions and get semi-realtime responses or aggregated similar historical responses (similar to an *answers site)?

Searches that are filtered by our social networks provides a very good solution. I've specified by preferences by the friends I've chosen. However, this is a very passive solution and doesn't account for the fact that I may like Bob and his taste in music, but I wouldn't trust his recommendation with food. It seems like there is some solution between tagging, IRC/IM, forums, and traditional search.

Speaking of search

Another very exciting thing was pimping the new OpenSearch-Geo. It's interesting how few developers who are usually "in the know", know that OpenSearch is a very much alive, and easy to implement, standard that can greatly enhance their service.

I think we'll soon seen a number of popular sites get OpenSearch capabilities and also some better browser support.

Now that the weekend is over, I get to enjoy a relaxing vacation for a week in Hawaii before heading off to the UK for more conferencing.


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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.