Power of Information: Sir Humphrey and the Interweb

Well, one half-hearted cheer for the 'power of information' which should be retitled the 'power of plagiarism'. That is, most of the useful work in the report, was done by others, OpenStreetMap,Open Knowledge Foundation, WSFII et al. somewhat previously and only patchily credited.

Mysociety, in general, has a bit of a problem with this (having been victim of drive-by some time ago, for a fairly minor development, datamap) and the Cabinet Office is (by definition) not capable of the slightest originality. OK, rant over. Here's what's 'good':

  • Transparent licencing and 'free' data from dot gov, on the grounds that it will stimulate innovation, we've already paid anyway and the endogenous (Brown doesn't know what it means, but it's a useful word) return is greater than monies spent 'freeing' it.
  • This ground has been heavily covered by those mentioned above (for example), a goodly time before this report. As for progress, looking at the PAF (Post Code File something that interests me), it's still expensive, presumably to pay Adam Crozier £1 million for creating a loss making monopoly. Hey, maybe he should become a banker!
  • Appreciation that there's at least a couple of points in the architectural layer cake where access is needed, actually maybe someone from EDS told them that?

Here's what's bad:

  • The whole implicit cognitive framework. Let's see. Sir Humphrey rushes (well, I'm imagining, walks) into Sir Humphrey's office:
  • 'The people are doing something with the interweb!'
    'Isn't that good, means they're not writing to the Daily Mail and vandalising stuff?'
    'But they're communicating and doing things'
    'That's bad we'd better help these poor misguided souls by inserting ourselves into their narrative and being 'helpful''
    'Yes that's it, we'll be 'helpful', soon they'll be as confused as they usually are'
    'Meanwhile we need to surf the interweb to pick up the jargon'
    'I already know a fair bit actually, mashup, blog, web 2.0 social networking'
    'Don't show off, remember you're two grades below me with no carpet in your office! I'm waiting for a K too.'
    - out of earshot 'Blog, blog BLOG!'

    Leaving anything alone and having a civil service that consists of a 486 and clerk (pace Digby Jones) doesn't really occur to them. They must interfere, condescend and complicate, they must. It's what they do.

    More seriously, there's a huge ethical problem and a huge downside for us. A thought experiment, a public-choice fueled, target driven tax inspector, semi-anonymous in a 'public' forum. The result (for we proles, anyroad...) is bound to be pretty bad.

    Also, many of these folks are already totally unproductive, we don't need them to surf at 'work', even though their 'work' is not work as we know it, besides transformational isn't even a word.

    A competition that show us exactly the 'passive' applications that suit the Sir Humphries (incidentally, the collective noun is a complacency of Sir Humphries, isn't that great or what?). We have, hold your breath, an allotment manager (yeah, Will, manage the ten year waiting lists) and a loofinder (I'm dying to pee, where's my laptop, oh too late, you -really- didn't want to know that did you?). Because we're dealing with the status quo, we're rewarding unimaginative slacktivism, gaze at data, like the TV but with xml tags.

    • Instead of the loo thing we can allocate money to -create- new loos, drinking fountains and what-used-to-be, public amenities

    • For example, instead of the allotment thing, we -could- have spaces and inventory for interstitial urban agriculture, an 'official' outgrowth of guerilla gardening.

    • For example, instead of gazing at the treasury budget information, we could have a national rehearsal for particpatory budgeting, as if that would happen.Incidentally, that page seems to 404, why am I not surprised?

    You see active vs passive? The problem (for them) is that the civil-service command economy thing begins to roll away. The current 'value-add' for national and local civil service is waste, scarcity-creation, complexity-creation and obstruction. Also, BBC Have Your Say, Prime Minister's petitions and They Work for You etc. are gaudy distractions, to paraphrase Emma Goldman, if they changed anything, they wouldn't exist.

    In my own backyard, so to speak, I'm about to propose APIs to Tower Hamlet Homes, with a view to actually modifying behaviour (with regard to energy and spend) rather than gazing at it. I don't think that will happen either, but it should, it should.

    • Not a word about open source in there, something that gov could use to reduce the huge costs of their failed computer systems rather than (or better, as well as) blathering about this. But then they're married to Microsoft aren't they, poor darlings..

    • Obession with backstage, the product of another large, government-funded, inefficient institution. As a matter of fact, no-one much uses it, except the denizens of Hoxton and Shoreditch

    • Self congratulatory tone, they used a 'blog' and a 'wiki' to 'participate and the report is 'beta'. Wake up guys, people who live in the world have been using things like this for five or ten years (in the case of wikis, anyway). They are 'reporting back' rather than 'reporting' to gov, how (pause) -young-

    So one and a half cheers for this, and, meanwhile, let's get on with it. We are masters of our own affairs, and, in fact, we always were.