Government could be the leader and show the way

As a non government employee, though i do work for government systems, you may wonder why i am committed to being here and want to contribute.

To me its really starting to look like government is going to make good use of Web 2.0 to transform the way it can ‘do business with’ its citizens, and most importantly to start to address some of the regulatory issues that Industry could do with some help with. And right at the centre of this is ownership of, and use of, data, or content. As an example I would like to refer back to an event back in mid January that seemed to suggest that there are groups making some real progress. You can find the details at http://www.freeourdata.org.uk/ of one group working under the title of ‘Free our data; make taxpayers’ data available to them’. This is a pretty interesting site and has links to activities in several countries, and helpfully provides a search engine.

Type in DRM, Digital Rights Management, and it finds nothing. Poor old DRM always seems to be left out in the cold, and yet as we move forward there is a pretty strong consensus that content, and as I want to separate this from old fashion machine centric data I will refer to it as content, is key. The generally accepted view is value is created by using, or in this case the whole point is value is created by sharing, but in the world of Web 2.0 I think this means using MashUps. My chain of thought therefore goes something like; I let you use my data probably in forms that will allow you to change it, combine it, and use it in the context of your choosing.

And this is government data? Supposedly, I would have thought, the best authenticated source of statistics etc, (yes I know that some would claim that Web has taught us to mistrust Politicians, but this is national statistical data). And what happens if this content is then recollected and recompiled? Makes the fact that you can’t take an average of averages look like child’s play in comparison to what could happen. Answer, better to say no, and here is where a lot of initiatives to allow wider use of content whether in Government or Industry freeze.

And this is why I can’t understand why DRM isn’t at the fore front of one heck of a lot of these blogs, initiatives, or even high on CIOs lists of priorities for the coming year. May be everyone has a secret plan to change all their content into PDF formats?

However if search Google News, (there are other search engines of course), on DRM then the dominate issue is all around music and copyrights, and this leads to some very heavyweight views on the topic, around the whole concept of the right to share. I have used the music industry as an example before as it’s the place where a number of issues have reached a tipping point first. For a heavy weight anti DRM view still an active post even though it was written in 2003 take a look at the ‘DRM Fallacy’ http://www.timj.co.uk/digiculture/drm-fallacy as an encapsulation of the arguments. However go to the home page of the author and he spells out a wider set of his beliefs in how Digital Culture’ should be ‘free of constraints’.

Free of constraints is an interesting phrase, it can also mean free to use in a misleading manner in the context of Government, or even Industry information. Personally, I would prefer to know that prime sources of content are protected from misuse in terms of being, at best presented out of context, and at worse changed to mislead. So, I for one am hopeful that the increasing interest of Governments in many countries to make use of Web 2.0 as the means to achieve a more ‘interactive’ relationship with their citizens will change the focus from the music and media industry to a wider and more constructive view, and that DRM will move back into play as one of the key enablers of Government 2.0.

Take a look at the site of Anthony Williams, who with Don Tapscott, (Wikinomics auther), has turned their attention onto Government 2.0 as their next topic of interest. http://anthonydwilliams.com/2007/05/08/announcing-government-20/

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Great post. The Wikinomics authors are doing some great work on the topic. The D.C. government seems to be on the cutting edge of this movement as they are trying to open up all of their data to the public. However, this can be very scary to risk-adverse government officials so I think they’ll have to be a few success stories before people jump on the bandwagon.

andy mulholland

There is another interesting challenge in all of this, and thats being able to track back to find how the data was ‘assembled’ and who made what decisions using the data. Today its kind of like forensic auditing of financials after the event, but if you think of a world where constant decision making is occuring round events at a faster and faster rate consuming data rather then procedures then this will become important. At the moment i have only seen IBM moving strongly into this space with a raft of new research and product directions annouced on 8th sept.

John Bersentes

Indeed a challenge for many of my clients has been helping them foster a greater understanding of how best to move to web 2.0 and start adopting social networking sites like this one. You raise some good points and should we see this as an opportunity to go viral with our message delivery options at the risk of controll. I am curious what others think are the risks and rewards that pit mesh vs matrix approaches. It would be refreshing to see more government sites actually engage in a dialouge with users in citizen-centric service delivery model other than just paying my parking tickets online.

Pam Broviak

There is another aspect to government information related to its availability and cost:

Today I went to a presentation held by our county recorder about gaining online access to digital documents from his office. After years of fighting over computers in his office or poring over deed books from the 1800s, I was excited about the prospect of finally being able to stay in our own city and obtain all this information over the Internet. But when we got there we found out that only records going back to 1982 would be placed online and maybe someday records going back to 1965 but no earlier. And this access was far from free with some plans costing up to $250 per month.

I guess I have been spoiled by the country recorders in states like Ohio who have all their documents online and accessible to the public for free.

Governments have an enormous amount of data and information, much of which is not yet digital or even online. Do government agencies have any obligation to the public to place all their information online and if this is online, should it be offered to the public for free?

andy mulholland

There are three possible routes to resolving this question; two involve an internal project and i am guessing funding wont be freely available for this, so the third is probably what will interest you. The text below is from a blog post i made in July this year so apologies to those who may have read it before on the Capgemini CTOblog. Its the second part of the blog describing their plan for future services that i think migh answer your (common) question.

New Web 2.0 services; Data Portability

Making Data Portability suck less; Not the phrase I would have used to headline my web site but for GNIP, (apparently pronounced guh-nip), that’s what they choose to describe their mission. http://www.gnipcentral.com/ GNIP is a start-up that obeys the increasingly popular start up technology model of providing a horizontal service across the width of the web to gather/access everything, then selling a service of providing the ability to take a focus out of this breadth to fulfil the particular specific narrow and deep request of a particular user, or enterprise.

What seems to be noticeable is that the founders of all of these start-ups have been heavily involved in a previous Web 2.0 start-up and it’s their experience in Web 2.0 that allows them to spot the needs ahead of most people. In this case it’s Eric Marcoullier of MyBlogLog fame. http://www.mybloglog.com/ , but what I find noticeable about all of these start-ups is that they all make the explosion in size into an asset that can be made usable. Given all the fear stories about the web becoming unusable because it will clog with too much content that’s pretty important!

Back to GNIP which is currently only offering one service, albeit a core one to the issue, but is promising within 90 days – from 1st July 2008 – a further range of increasingly valuable services. The current service aggregates all the updates from a wide range of participating sites such as Flickr, Digg, Del.icio.us, etc, you merely ask GNIP for the latest updates on the chosen topic instead of having to visit each site individually. Pretty good for someone like me trying to stay in touch with everything! But this is just the public free end of what is actually an ambitious play to become a paid feed to enterprise ‘apps’ that require inputs from all over the web in different formats about the latest information, and changes.

The founders claim a number of less obvious benefits too, such as decreasing web traffic by their consolidation of queries, ( I am not so sure about this as surely their updating mechanisms consume bandwidth, but guess at the level of an enterprise it might reduce pressure on the Internet Gateway), but what about standardisation of metadata to even out the differences from site to site, user to user? That sounds very useful as even our internal Capgemini use of tagging in our Web 2.0 based knowledge management system has its troubles here. The promise is spelt out with the beginnings of a range of similar services that deal with various forms of data translations that end up with a single user, or app, selectable feed.

GNIP expects to be paid for the use these higher value services which are accesses through its APIs, so as with all these second generation Web 2.0 start-ups the monetisation model is there from the beginning. Certainly in the case of data portability and the increasing interest on the topic http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/wheres_our_real_world_data_portability.php as the World opens up and interchanges more and more content this seems like a strong commercial proposition. Other planned services cover similar consolidation and translation plays such identity discovery and consolidation across various web sites, etc.

Last final thought? Actually its several; firstly GNIP and others are proving that there are real commercial models for web 2.0 beyond everything being funded by advertising; secondly the hype on everything becoming Software as a Service, SaaS, might now start to show more realism in the consuming of these types of ‘services’ which are used in a very different manner to conventional Enterprise Software, and thirdly Microsoft using the term Software and Services, S&S, http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa905319.aspx is starting to make more sense in the context of these types of ‘services’ if you think what you might want to ‘buy’ for your own use from them, or other software vendors, that is fed by these sorts of services.

andy mulholland

apologies – need to add something else for John’s question re Mesh and Matrix. Indeed a complex subject and again a common question! So I have tried to come uo with a relatively simple starting point to think through the benefits of either approach.

If the goal is to find out what the options are, what i term ‘interaction’, then the answer is to be able to use a ‘Mesh’ approach to benefit from the availability of sources and people connected together through what i term ‘the network of everything’. This carefully avoids the obsticles that are present in joining together ‘procedures’ and managing ‘data access and integrity’, what i term the ‘transaction’, which is where the point to point benefits of a Matrix are not limitations but advantages.

Mostly people will want to have intereactions whilst machines have transactions, so the path is normally use the Mesh to interact to find out what i need to do and how then use the existing Matrix of procedures and applications to actually make the necessary transaction.

I am not sure if i should say this as it feels like advertising, but i did write with Nick Earle of Cisco a book called ‘Mesh Collaboration’ that was published earlier this year about this topic if it interests you.



So much of this (GovLoop) is focused on what we can personally learn, knowledge we can get that helps us…I was hoping part of it would be focused on how can we communicate with “2.0 typical users” better..what they need from us (government)to make our communications with them more useful and meaningful.

I work in a city government and am always trying to figure out better ways to give folks enough information to decide if we are being good stewards of their funds and if we are successful at being a “good business” – and giving them an easy way to tell us what they think.

We do a pretty good job with those who read print media, watch television, and use mail but haven’t connected as well with those who live in sound bites and G2R after reading for 15 seconds…and do it inexpensively. LOL at that idea, right?

Any thoughts?

An example of an effort on a very small scale (and we don’t know if it is going to be successful at all) is our “Oh SNAP!” project. We give a new “sound bite” each week of good or bad examples of performance. It can push to their cell phone or computer if they choose to subscribe. See what we mean here: http://www.cityofvancouver.us\performance

What else are people doing that might reach the “sound bite – connected generation?” Is this anything that might work?

andy mulholland

Common challenge – people who you would hope, and want, to be staying up to date are too busy to do so.

I believe there is only one serious possibility and thats to provide the right information at the time when it is contextually of value. That means linked through either search or process so that you ‘push’ what they need at the right time, and in the ‘push’ you add more information that you want them to have. Sort of a better version and attempt of the old Microsoft ‘clippy’ or ‘hints’.

Does this help? best andy


I think you are right about context and value – but I would also add that it neds to be very brief and possibly “entertaining”, too.

We use a tool that lets citizens select what types of info they want “pushed” by email. It seems moderately popular, but still not quite the right answer.