In 2008, in the midst of my PhD, I ran a conference called .Astronomy. The idea was to bring together all the other astronomers who were into the web and networks. It might not seem very long ago, but 2008 was before Twitter went mainstream and before everyone’s gran was on Facebook – to use one measure. We had data scientists, robotic telescope people, bloggers and others present (both in person and remotely).
The conference, which I held in my home institution in Cardiff, was a lot of fun and I got to meet a bunch if cool people. I was surprised when a clutch of the attendees came to me afterwards and asked if they could help run the next one.
Together we have gone on to organise three further, awesome events. Following Cardiff (Sep 2008) we had .Astronomy 2 in Leiden (Dec 2009) and 3 in Oxford (Apr 2011). In two weeks I’ll be attending .Astronomy 4 in Heidelberg. It’s being held in the newly built Haus der Astronomie, which is shaped like a spiral galaxy and looks gorgeous!
The event – I hate calling it a conference, as it feels like more than that – keeps improving, and evolving from meeting to meeting. They are all very informal affairs, and quite intense. I’m getting very excited about #dotastro 4, as it is known on Twitter. I’m really grateful to Sarah Kendrew for making the Heidelberg event happen this year. Being the local go-to person is a massive job, and she’s doing it fabulously!
One thing we’ve added this time is a shared, public Wiki for the participants. In just a few days it has already filled up with the crazy and brilliant ideas I’ve come to love and expect from .Astronomy. There are suggestions for a huge range of projects, from an automatic astronomy poetry generator to a service that can use the entire astronomical literature to generate new, unexpected hypotheses. The ideas on the wiki are all about trying to get the most out of the Hack Day, when everyone is free to build/create whatever they like with the others at the event.
.Astronomy is all about the relationships between the people who attend. We keep the event small, try to keep people in close proximity, and aim for an informal few days. I’ve gotten to know some of my favourite astronomers through .Astronomy and I know several working relationships that have emerged because of it. I have high hopes for number 4, and the buzz around it is growing. I think it’s going to be awesome.