Sheffield Digital acquire the Open Tech Calendar! (At least temporarily)

We're very excited to announce that we have, as of Friday the 1st November 2019, entered into an agreement with JMB Technologies (James Baster) to take over the ownership and running of the Open Tech Calendar!

Open Tech Calendar is an open source and open data calendar platform for tech events, which allows anyone to add event information and pull data feeds into their own calendars and displays.

When we set up Sheffield Digital back in 2015, one of the very first things we wanted to do was to bring together all the tech-related events that happen in Sheffield into a single calendar we could publish. The Sheffield Geeks community had already been using the Open Tech Calendar to curate a local meet-up calendar, however it wasn’t very up to date, and when we spoke to them about they suggested we should we pull our data OTC directly and support the effort. So we put OTC at the centre of our event aggregation strategy and built scripts to syndicate its Sheffield feed to our website calendar and into Slack, and other platforms. We also, began encouraging local meetup organisers to use it, and to link their Meetup.com feeds to OTC in order to take advantage of our syndication. This has worked excellently for several years now, and we very much want it to continue, so when James Baster approached us roughly a year ago to ask whether we might be interested in taking the site over as he felt no longer able to give it the attention it deserved, we began to think seriously about doing so. It has taken some time, but those conversations have led us to this point and we are very pleased with they way things have gone – we believe OTC has a tremendous amount of untapped power as a tech event data platform and syndication engine, and we are really keen to explore what it could become, with anyone who is interested helping!

What are our plans for it?

Our immediate objective is to keep it running pretty much as it has been for the last seven years. We don’t have huge resources and are not going to be making a big financial investment into OTC straight away. We are, though, going to provide a good home for it, and commit to maintaining the platform and associated administration and communications.

It’s important to note that we have absolutely no intention to change the site’s commitment to open data and open source, nor do we have any intention to monetise user and event date, although we are interested in looking at ways the site can generate income ethically, in order to fund its operations and future development.

The second important point to make is that although we are a local city-based organisation, we are very consciously running the OTC on behalf of the wider national tech community, and ultimately would like it to be more international than it currently is. (It does have support for international time zones and there are regular users in other countries, especially Germany, but this could certainly be expanded on.).

In essence, our intentions for the platform fall into the following broad stages, from the most pressing to the longer term:

1. Migrate and learn to operate the platform efficiently.

The migration itself will happen slightly more than two weeks after the initial public announcement, in order to provide users with sufficient time to close their accounts and remove their data should they wish to.

Beyond this, we are then looking to stabilise the operations of the site and for them to become ‘business as usual’ for us, and without users noticing much of a difference if any.

We hope this phase to be completed well within the 60 day transition period.

2. Re-establish the sponsorship business model without compromising the OTC’s values.

Our next focus will be to re-establish the site’s business model. In the past, the OTC has been funded by having a site-wide sponsor. This sponsorship has been paused for the last year or so, while the transfer of the service has been negotiated, but we would like to resurrect this and potentially expand it at least to the point where it covers our costs to run the service effectively.

We are very interested in hearing from any organisations who would be interested in joining the site as sponsors, especially those with an ambition to increase inclusion and diversity in the tech industry by working with event and meetup organisers (more on this topic later).

3. Establish an open source development community around the platform.

The Open Tech Calendar is now almost fully open sourced (the exception being some security features which necessarily have to stay closed), and James has worked extremely hard over the summer to get the platform onto the most recent framework versions and migrated onto GitLab.

We want development of the system to be as easy as possible, and for it to be clear where improvements can be made. In order to do this there needs to be a clearly expressed vision of where we see the system going, a good way of discussing this, and a well-defined backlog of immediate improvements.

If you are interested in contributing to this, and helping us shape the future of the Open Tech Calendar, please get in touch either via email or by joining the project at GitLab.

4. Transfer the OTC to an independent Data Trust, owned and operated on behalf of the tech community.

We see ourselves as stewards of the Open Tech Calendar, taking over ownership in order to keep it going and, hopefully, place it on a new and sustainable footing, but we don’t really want to own it as an asset. We are a not for profit organisation that works to support the tech community and industry in Sheffield, but the OTC is much bigger than that and we feel that it should be owned be the tech community more generally.

In order to do this we would like to explore transferring ownership to an independent Data Trust, which can provide a different kind of ownership and governance model for the site, and use any profits it makes to re-invest in the community in line with the values of the site.

Initially this would be within the UK, but ultimately across the rest of the world as well, if possible.

If you would like to explore the creation of such a Trust, have any experience in setting up data trusts, or are interested in becoming a trustee, please do get in touch.

Vision

The above outlines our general plan and approach, but we have also been guided by an idea of, and vision for, the potential of the Open Tech Calendar in the future.

Firstly, it is an excellent data aggregator and syndicator of event data, which is what we have primarily used it for. That said, we think there are several areas in which it could be improved, both in terms of functionality (for instance having finer control over how sponsor messages are contained in feeds), and usability (for instance providing even more automated assistance to event organisers entering their data).

This is still what we see the site’s primary function being: an excellent way of collecting event data, and a source for other systems to provide that data in their own interfaces. This means that it doesn’t compete directly with other major event platforms such as Eventbrite and Meetup.com – it performs a different job, but should  integrate with those sites, and others.

Secondly, the website does nonetheless also need to work as a good user destination, and improvements could be made here as well, for instance with regard to the visual appearance and how event lists can be filtered and categorised.

Thirdly, the Open Tech Calendar does need to develop a workable business model in order to earn enough income to support it, and help it develop further. Traditionally, that income has come from site-wide sponsorship, and that may well be the primary business model in the future as well. However there may be value in expanding the offer to sponsors, either by geography or topic, and for looking at additional income streams provided they are in line with the site’s values around openness and data ownership.

Fourthly, as a tech cluster organisation, we and our community have gained a lot of value from the OTC, and we think other tech cluster organisations should be doing the same. As members of the U.K. Tech Clusters Group, we’d like other members to take up use of the OTC and we’ll be introducing it to them and explaining how they can get the most from it. Our vision is that OTC becomes a ubiquitous tool for tech cluster organisations and communities everywhere. If you’re a member of such a community, please get in touch and help us grow this kind of adoption.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we think there is an opportunity for the Open Tech Calendar to become the centre of a community of tech event organisers, who can meet and support each other and share best practices. Our initial thoughts on this are for the OTC to host articles on running tech events, written by the organisers, and for there to be a forum of some kind where organisers can talk and share their thoughts.

This idea is partly driven by the current lack of such a community at national scale (as far as we’re aware anyway); by our own experience of how valuable it is for organisers to meet each other and compare notes when we have run our own “Meta-Meetups”; and by the observation that tech meetups are changing – more and more events are looking to increase the diversity of people they attract by considering their needs and offering more than just the traditional ‘beer and pizza’. We think the OTC can contribute to this change by encouraging more conversation around designing events that are more accessible and that appeal to a broader audience, and allowing event organisers to support each other in making such changes.

 

These have been our thoughts so far. There is much work to do, and we are committed to doing it even if, like the time it has taken to get to this point, it takes longer than we first anticipate. Since we started, our approach has always been to be more relentless than speedy!

We do also know that the vision described above is our vision, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of everyone who uses OTC. And so we very much want to hear people’s opinions on everything we’ve said above – does this sound sensible? Do you agree with it? Or do you hate it, for whatever reason? Please get in touch with us via email, the Sheffield Digital Slack or Twitter.

Relentless or not, we know we won’t be able to accomplish very much without a community of people who share our ambitions and are willing to contribute.

And finally, we’d like to say a huge thank to James for trusting us to take over the running of the Open Tech Calendar. It has been his baby for the last 7 years, and he’s invested countless hours of his time and ingenuity into making it such an excellent platform.

We hope we live up to the faith he’s placed in us.

 

You can also read the official announcement on the Open Tech Calendar Blog.

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