Sunday, February 28, 2010

How governments can use gameplay to educate and upskill a community

I'm a big fan for the use of gameplay to encourage people to explore concepts, test ideas, build skills and model behaviours while generating awareness - however it is a tool that I have not seen exploited anywhere near to the extent it could be in government or most commercial organisations in Australia (and yes I have some ideas....)

The World Bank is about to launch a very interesting online game, Urgent Evoke, that encourages people to 'make a different', solving real social problems around the world - in a simulated form.

To quote the game's blog:

This is not a simulation. You are about to tackle real problems.

Food security. Energy. Water security. Disaster relief. Poverty. Pandemic. Education. Global conflict. Human rights

Welcome to the Evoke Network. Welcome to your crash course in changing the world.

To understand how this game works and the value it provides, see the Episode 1 video below.

EVOKE trailer (a new online game) from Alchemy on Vimeo.


The game launches on 3 March (but is open for preregistration now) and will offer a series of challenges - the first involving an imminent famine in Japan. Missions and quests will be available to help solve these challenges and if it is like previous alternative reality online games of this type, players will be required to research, explore real (and fake) websites, video and other material, following trails of clues to find a solution.

People who complete all of the 10 challenges in 10 weeks will be able to claim the honour: Certified World Bank Institute Social Innovator – Class of 2010.

Top players will earn online mentorships with experienced social innovators and business leaders from around the world, and scholarships to share their vision for the future at the EVOKE Summit in Washington DC.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Victoria launches App my State competition with $100,000 in prizes

The Gov 2.0 genie is well and truly out of its bottle in Victoria, with the Victorian Government recently advocating that the majority of Victorian public sector information be released for reuse under Creative Commons licensing.

Their latest initiative is the App my State competition, which builds on the (currently running) Apps4NSW competition and last year's Gov 2.0 Taskforce Mash-up Australia competition.

Victoria's competition is a little different from the others in that it doesn't require entrants to use Victorian public sector data (although around 100 datasets have been released for use) - entrants can use national and other publicly available data, produce applications without using this data that are useful to Victorians or even simply submit ideas, which broadens the competition beyond programmers (a very good thing I believe).

Also, unlike Apps4NSW, all the entrants are published online - a very good thing and in keeping with the entire approach to government transparency.

The one limitation I'm a little disappointed about is that everyone submitting an entry must be Victorian - which limits the scope of sourcing innovative ideas from around Australia and even around the world. I don't believe past Victorians can enter either - which leaves me out.

Regardless of this, it is great to see the Victorians getting behind innovation and I wish them all the best in this competition. Maybe it will become an annual event...

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ASIO advertising jobs on Facebook - is your department using social media in recruitment?

I was checking my Department's week-old Drinking Nightmare Facebook Page from home the other day and noticed that besides it up popped an ad for ASIO, inviting me to learn more about being a Survelliance Officer.


This was the first time I'd seen ASIO advertising on Facebook - or for that matter any Australian government job ads on the site (though it's entirely possible there are many I have not seen).

It did give me a positive feeling that Australian government agencies are beginning to grasp some of the opportunities in tapping into social media communities for recruitment purposes.

Social media is a growing area for human resources professionals to use in recruiting and re-recruiting staff, as Michael Specht, possibly Australia's leading advocate in the area, would agree.

If you are interested in using social media in recruitment, but don't know much about it yet, this is a useful (free) eBook to start with: User’s Guide to Talent Recruitment through Social Media (PDF)

Recruitment 2.0 anyone?

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If you are a communications professional who chooses not to use social media, will you have a job in ten years?

I'm beginning to see more and more organisations and their various advertising and PR agencies look seriously at social media as a core communications channel for their campaigns and other customer, client and citizen engagement activities.

This is beginning to make me wonder how communications professionals who know little or nothing about social media will continue to be able to give good communications advice to their employers into the future.

If you don't use social media, how can you critically assess its comparative worth as a communications tool? How can you help your employer avoid and rebound from embarrassing social media mistakes?

Of course there's an argument that you needn't be hands-on with a medium to know a good strategy from a bad one, however this doesn't stand up. Today's communications professionals have grown up consuming traditional mass media from an early age - radio, television and print. While they mightn't be hands-on as in running a TV channel, radio station or newspaper, they have 20+ years experience, starting from early childhood, of normalising their use of these mediums.

This level of immersion, together with theoretical and practical experience, goes a long way to help long-time communications professionals make good decisions and critically assess communications options.

However if these communications professionals aren't using social media they aren't developing the same level of familiarity with new communications channels.

Where will this leave them in ten years time, when we have university educated communications professionals who have been using social media for up to fifteen years seeking more senior roles?

Some of today's experienced communicators will move far enough up the chain so that they can rely on their subordinates to exercise this judgement. Others will leave communications altogether for other pursuits. However most will potentially find themselves unable to function effectively as communications professionals - and may face more limited career options.

If you're a communications professional aged 40-50 and expect to be working when you're 50-60, it is probably worth considering whether you should step out of your media comfort zone and start building expertise in social media - by getting hands on.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Using Twitter to correct and shape government news stories

The White House has begun using Twitter as a tool to correct journalistic mistakes and understand the reaction of journalists to news stories, as reported in the article, W.H. messaging in 140 characters.

Over the past few months, particularly during and following the change in Federal Liberal leadership, I've been finding some of the commentary published on Twitter by Australian journalist very useful in providing insight into how they plan to spin stories.

This tempo is likely to increase this year with the various elections that will be taking place.

Given there's now over 500 Australian journalists and news commentators using Twitter (according to the Earley Edition), I wonder how soon we'll see politicians and government departments using Twitter to release or correct news stories.

Then again, given some of the tweets from certain politicians, viewable over in TweetMP, maybe they are doing it already.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Judging the quality of a Gov 2.0 / social media event

In the last week four separate Gov 2.0/social media conferences have crossed my desk. All claimed to provide a line-up of star speakers with important insights into these topics.

Clearly all events vary in quality, but when looking at relatively new areas, like social media and Government 2.0 how do you select those that will give you value for money. Teach you useful material and provide practical examples?

Here's how I judge them....

First I look at the topic covered throughout the event.

If there is emphasis on areas like 'Email marketing', 'Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)' or similar non-social media/Gov 2.0 topics it is likely that the organisers don't understand these topics or are pushing a different agenda.

Next I check the social media support

If the brochure doesn't specify whether there will be wi-fi available, if there's a Twitter tag, liveblog or a social media group for participants to discuss topics before, during and after the event, check with the organisers. If they don't understand what you mean, they probably don't have the knowledge to consistently select good speakers.

Finally I look at the speaker list.

I look for speakers who either practice Gov 2.0/social media in their day-to-day role, or who are active participants in social media - with their own blog, twitter account, profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn or other services or participate in forums. I also check for indicators that they regularly use these channels in effective ways, via looking at the frequency they publish, how long they've been publishing for and how interesting their comments are.

If a Google search doesn't turn up their name with a link to any social media site it is quite possible they don't 'do' social media - they simply talk about it. You wouldn't take your car to a mechanic with clean nails, don't expect to learn much about Gov 2.0 or social media from someone who doesn't practice what they preach.

I also look for speakers from social media companies themselves - but carefully. It pays to check that they are going to give practical examples and suggestions rather than simply advertise their service. This can be hard to judge from briefs in event brochures.

I am very cautious about speakers from management consultants, web developers and advertising agencies. All of these organisations have begun to step into social media and Gov 2.0 spaces, however from the evidence I've seen to-date, most approach it from the perspective of their other work ('creative messages', 'quality control processes' or 'building cool tools'). In my experience not that many of them really know what they are doing in social media and very few understand Gov 2.0 (though some are very very good).

So when you receive your next invite to a Gov 2.0 or social media event, take a good long look at whether the event organisers and the speakers walk the talk.

If they do you'll probably learn something valuable during the event - and you might even see me in the room :)

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Any questions for me at the National Public Sector Communications Officers' Forum next week?

I am speaking next Tuesday at the National Public Sector Communications Officers' Forum, giving a Gov 2.0 case study about yourHealth and discussing citizen engagement on behalf of my employer.

If anyone attending the Forum has any questions they'd particularly like me to answer about these topics, please let me know in the comments below and I will try to address them during my presentation.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

What does the White Pages ruling mean for Australian government data?

There is a trend towards greater openness in the licensing of Australian government data. Queensland's government a few years ago put in place a framework (GILF) for Creative Commons licensing and Victoria's government recently committing to using Creative Commons as its default copyright licensing system.

Some steps have taken place at a federal level, with both the ABS and Geosciences (see their footer) moving in the same direction.

However the recent court case where Telstra sued the publishers of Local Directories over the republishing of Yellow and White pages information - and lost - marks a further step in the process.

In the case, Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd [2010] FCA 44 (8 February 2010), the judge found that Yellow and White Pages listings were not covered under copyright law as they were not original and that (requoting from the news.com.au article Telstra loses copyright case over Yellow Pages and White Pages,

"None of the people said to be authors of the Works exercised 'independent intellectual effort' or 'sufficient effort of a literary nature' in creating the (directories)."

"Further, if necessary, the creation of the Works did not involve some 'creative spark' or the exercise of the requisite 'skill and judgment'."
This case follows a related decision in the IceTV case in 2007, where Channel Nine claimed that its TV Guide was a literary work and IceTV could not create a copy of it through independent effort.

So what does this mean for similar forms of government information released under Crown Copyright such as transport timetables, budget accounts, lists of elected officials, statements of interests and other lists and statistics which did not require 'creative spark', 'independent intellectual effort' or 'sufficient effort of a literary nature'?

I am not a lawyer and don't trawl all the legal cases reported online on a regular basis, however to my knowledge no Australian state or federal government department has recently gone to court against individuals or corporations replicating and reusing statistical data of these types. So there is no actual ruling I am aware of to test whether this government data remains legally protectable under Crown Copyright.

In at lease one case, involving NSW RailCorp in early 2009, cease and desist letters were sent by RailCorp's lawyers (to three iPhone application developers). This didn't end up in court as the resulting publicity brought the situation to the attention of the then NSW Premier who ordered RailCorp to negotiate arrangements to share timetable data with less stringent copyright provisions.

I believe that a reasonable supposition at this time is that where publicly released government data does not meet the required tests in the copyright case, it would be difficult to prove why it should be protected under Crown Copyright.

This would make copyright over lists of names and figures very hard to justify.

I do appreciate that government departments have concerns over information being used in inaccurate or misleading ways, or that people may rely on out-of-date information through third party sources (a particular concern for transport networks). However Crown Copyright may not be the most appropriate tool to mitigate these risks anymore.

Maybe we need to look at other approaches, such as making it easier for third parties to use data in the way intended - such as providing data feeds at consistent URLs for reuse (which means third-party applications will be as accurate as the government figures), ensuring that data labels are human readable and clear (to reduce misinterpretations) and including date stamps in data so it is clear when it is current from and to.

In cases where data is used inappropriately, government still has recourse through Creative Commons type licensing and other aspects of Australia's legal system to restrain this usage while supporting appropriate use.

Further comments and legal views by lawyers and interested parties are heartily welcome!

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Safe and effective social media use by government agencies

There's been a very active and engaging discussion in the Gov 2.0 Australia group regarding safe and effective social media use by government agencies.

I thought it was a topic worth discussing in this blog.

One of the challenges government agencies face is whether or not to get involved with the discussions already occurring about their programs, activities and actions.

Whether departments like it or not, we do come under public scrutiny in forums, blogs and social networks regarding our decisions and conduct. There are very active discussions on how to correctly engage with agencies and interpret particular departmental policies and guidelines (The Child Support Agency forum at the Family Law WEB Guide is one example).

One result of all of this discussion is that misunderstandings occur. Helpful people offer suggestions and interpretations that are inaccurate. This can grow into misinformation and can spread quickly across social media channels - where it remains publicly findable for years.

This information can even become more findable in search engines than the relevant information in our own agency websites. This can easily lead to people making decisions which later affect them in negative ways.

Traditionally government's approach has been to communicate repeatedly that people need to call us or seek out our official documents and web pages on topics to get the correct information.

However this doesn't reflect human behaviour. Many studies have indicated that people trust information from their peers more highly than information from institutions or corporations.

In my view when organisations chose to not engage in legitimate social media discussions they could be causing damage. Damage to individuals who rely on inaccurate advice from online sources and damage to their own reputations due to misinformation.

I believe that the best way to combat this is to counter misinformation at its source - in this case within the same social media channels. Note that this doesn't mean responding to EVERY comment in EVERY online network (which isn't feasible for any organisation), but it does mean responding to well-trafficked legitimate online channels where the impact is most significant.

Many agencies, particularly service delivery agencies, inform and advise the public every day by phone, email or postal mail, providing one-on-one information to support citizen decisions.

I have come across views that while this is fine, placing the same information in public channels (such as via social media) would create extra legal risks. If an agency representative provides incorrect information over the phone the error (and risk) is limited to that person, whereas if incorrect information is provided in a public forum it affects many people.

I don't agree that it is necessarily true that the legal risk is less via phone conversations (or similar one-to-one channels).

Firstly if information is provided over the phone it can still be shared publicly. People discuss phone calls and letters, sharing the information they have been given. Sometimes they even record and publish them online.

Secondly where a phone call is to an agent such as an accountant, lawyer or social worker the advice they pass on to their clients can affect many people. The risk is not limited simply to the person at the other end of the phone.

Also government already publishes information publicly. It does so in its website, in publications, through presentations and through advertising.

Simply providing accurate information in response to questions in social media channels, or in response to misinformation can go a long way towards helping customers achieve the best outcomes for them.

It also helps others who find the information through searches. They will find the correct information alongside the misinformation and have a better chance of making the best decision.

So where is the real distinction

Someone suggested in the Gov 2.0 Australia discussion that it was between information and advice. It was suggested that much of the risk occurred when people mistook information for advice specific to their circumstances. Several general examples were given where information provided by phone or face-to-face was misinterpreted as advice, acted on and resulted in legal action.

This type of misunderstanding can clearly occur through any channel and doesn't, in my view, mean we should treat social media as a special case. In fact social media may provide some advantages over phone or face-to-face conversations, as in a public forum your disclaimer can be clearly seen alongside the information. In a conversation the other person may misunderstand and there's potentially no record for the courtroom.

However this risk does highlight the need to be very clear in how we are communicating via different channels and clearly differentiate between advice and information.

I believe this can be covered in social media by providing clear disclaimers in messages outlining who is speaking, what is being posted and the terms of the interaction.

I've provided some examples below of what I mean. Please not that the example text below is illustrative only and is not approved by any Australian government department or agency. Please have appropriate disclaimers for any online engagement you undertake approved through your own agency. Please ensure all online engagement is pre-approved by your agency.

  • Identify your agency affiliation clearly (and if possible establish an official account to post through): "Hi, I am XXXX from the Dept of XXXX, posting on behalf of the Department."
  • Make it clear that you are posting information, not advice: "In response to the comments in this thread/XXXX's comments about XXXXXX, here is some information that might be useful."
  • Link to available official information (where it addresses the topic) rather than repeating it in the forum (in case the information changes over time): "Information on this topic can be found in our website at WEBADDRESS."
  • Make the nature of your comments clear: "This is general information only, if you wish specific advice on your circumstances, please call us on XXXX XXX XXX or email XXX@agency.gov.au."
  • Make the limits of your engagement clear in a standard disclaimer: "The Dept of XXXX monitors this forum and may respond from time to time to provide information to support customer decisions. We do not provide personal advice through this forum for privacy reasons. If you require advice on your specific circumstances, please call us on XXXX XXX XXX or email XXX@agency.gov.au."

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Digital outlook for 2010

The Society for Digital Agencies (SODA) has released its Digital Outlook for 2010.

This is a great read and provides insight into the thinking and activity around the digital space from a global perspective.

Note that they are having an event in Sydney this Friday (Media 2010, Introducing the next media decade), which I am hoping will be extensively tweeted and liveblogged.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gov 2.0 Canberra lunch with Edmonton's CIO

This year I've started holding events to help bring together Gov 2.0 practitioners and interested parties to encourage discussion and information sharing.

After a successful Gov 2.0 dinner in January, the next event is a lunch at Parliament House with Edmonton's CIO, Chris Moore.

Chris is well-known internationally for the work he's done to open up the city of Edmonton's data and introduce social media within the city's government.

He's in Canberra for a day and was interested in meeting the local Gov 2.0 community.

So if you're a local, or in town that day, consider coming along.

Places are strictly limited.

Event details are here
.

(EDIT: This event filled up incredibly fast - I've been able to liberate a single extra spot and begin a waiting list in case of dropouts close to the date)

Events

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Minister Tanner says "The government wants to blog"

Minister Tanner has been making statements in conference speeches about having public servants use social media to engage the community for at least a year now.

Yesterday he took this a step further and wrote an article, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled The government wants to blog.

Given that the Australian Government has not yet responded to the Gov 2.0 Taskforce report, this article signals to me that there is a strong appetite for appropriate online engagement by the Australian Public Service (APS) and that forward movement is occurring behind the scenes.

Speaking with colleagues this year there is a growing groundswell of interest in using online channels to engage, however there still appears to me to be a low level of awareness across the APS of some of the enabling measures already in place, such as the APSC Circular on Protocols for online media participation.

I hope those public servants who are aware of this Circular, the Gov 2.0 Taskforce Final Report, Minister Tanner's speeches and articles and other sources are making all this information known across their agencies.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Picking a citizen ideas platform

If you've ever been required to collect ideas from the public - or wanted to - have you considered the use of a 'ideas market' or similar system for collecting. allowing comments on, prioritising and reporting back on the use of ideas.

Dell and Starbucks both use these systems extensively to seek public ideas to improve their businesses and develop new products, and ideas platforms have been rolled out within US government departments (for staff ideas), such as by, as well as used publicly by the US President's office and in Australia by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce.

There are a number of these services out there, and Dustin Haisler and Margarita Quihuis have written a post at GovFresh titled, How to pick a citizen idea platform which provides a useful overview on how to pick the platform that works for you.

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Sharing your photo library

Has your organisation ever considered sharing your photo library with other government organisations? With the costs of conducting new photo shoots, why not share your images with other organisations who might use them - and encourage them to share their images with you.

Some agencies may even wish the public to reuse their images.

Some departments councils and museums are already doing this via services such as the the National Library of Australia's Picture Australia site.

If your department has a library service, keeps a register of particular images of historic or national significance, or simply wishes to promote the reuse of specific images, this might be a way to encourage takeup.

Frankly it could be even more beneficial to have a cross-government photo and even video sharing library internally. With appropriate consents and licensing it would allow government to save significant funds by supporting reuse of images and snippets of visual media across departments and levels of government.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

BarCamp Canberra 2010 - LiveBlog

I will be liveblogging as much as possible of BarCamp Canberra 2010, however note that I am also speaking and the other two rooms may not have wifi - so I will post my notes later.

This year BarCamp is standing room only, with around 90 attendees at the start of the day, and more likely to come - and go - through the day.

If you want to drop in yourself, we're at the Computer Science Building at the Australian National University in Canberra, or for the geeks, at GPS: 35° 16' 34" S 149° 7' 14" E.

Sessions are 20 minutes long with 10 minute changeovers between talks, with 5 minute lightening talks at the end of the day in the main room.

Audio is being recorded and many presentations will be put on SlideShare. Plus there is a video livestream in the main room at: www.livestream.com/barcampcanberra

A coffee van is outside, there's water, power and wifi inside, and lunch is on the way, so let's start....

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Drop in at BarCamp Canberra - in person or online

BarCamp Canberra 2010 is on today, a free 'unconference' (meaning it is community organised and anyone can speak) focusing on internet and design related topics from technology through social media and edemocracy to culture (including Government 2.0).

If you're around the city today, why not drop in for a few sessions at the Computer Science building at the ANU.

More details are at the RSVP site.

Though be warned, we've had a huge level of interest this year and several rooms may be standing room only.

In case you wish to follow the event online, the hashtag for Twitter will be #bcc2010 and there will be numerous attendees liveblogging the event including, hopefully, myself.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Victoria launches VisualPlace pilot - demonstrating the value of sharing geospatial data

I was alerted to the release of VisualPlace at the start of this week, and have spent the last few days playing with the site to get a feel for its potential.


From the site, VisualPlace's purpose is to,
...show the value of an interactive GIS-enabled service for the visualisation of location-based government information.
The site will test the appetite for online Graphical Information Systems (GIS) showing government data and both demonstrate what is possible and seek user feedback on what the public would like to see in such tools.

VisualPlace takes a wide variety of already publicly available data from sources such as the ABS and Vic Health and merges it into a layer-based view over a map of Victoria.

This makes the site highly versatile, you can search for services, transport links and health or educational information as well as check out population and economic data from across the state. These can be mapped as heat maps, 'vertical extrusions' or 'shaded icons' across local government areas or the entire state.

VisualPlace is also inviting people to submit ideas for additional data sets to model and is asking government agencies to make their data available to make the experience richer and more useful.

The site is built using Microsoft Silverlight - which may limit its reach due to Silverlight's low penetration rates. In fact it is possible that many large corporate and government offices do not yet include Silverlight as part of their standard desktop environment and it doesn't always work correctly across all major web browsers.

My only other concern is with the range of options available compared to the ease of use of the interface. There's simply so many selections - data to view, filters, visualisation techniques - that an average user may become confused or may simply not realise what is possible.

If the interface can be simplified I believe more people will find the application useful. For example by having three buttons for the different visualisation approaches that show pictures of what they do and can be easily clicked between rather than having them hidden in dropdowns without explanation of the end result.


Overall this is a very important experiment for government and hopefully will be widely promoted in order to gather as much intelligence as possible.

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Victorian government commits to Creative Commons licensing for up to 85% of public sector information

It's going to be a Victorian Government day today in my blog, with the state launching a number of Gov 2.0 based initiatives, from their 'Apps my State' competition to VisualPlace (see my post Friday afternoon).

Significantly, Victoria's government has made a commitment this week to use Creative Commons as the default copyright licensing system for public sector information.

There's a good post about the decision over at the Creative Commons Australia website, Victorian Government commits to CC licensing.

Even more interesting reading, however is the actual statement by the Victorian government, which was in response to the Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data.

This provides some of the reasons for the move - and outlines the challenges the government believes they will face in implementing it.

One of the foremost benefits outlined was economic, with the Victorian Government expecting increased commercial activity. This reflects finding from other countries as well as within Australia where, for example, the ACIL Tasman report (PDF) found that another $0.5 billion could have been added to national GDP and consumption in 2006-07 if constraints on the reuse of spatial data were removed.

A second benefit was supporting scientific research. By allowing researchers to access primary data across disciplines, the government is helping them accelerate discoveries and insights.

The third major benefit outlined was government transparency - which is a pre-requisite for making governments more accountable to the people they serve.

The Victorian Government reckoned that up to 85% of public sector information could be licensed for re-use, and acknowledged that the Victorian public service has a large job ahead of it, with some fundamental changes in culture and processes required to change the default position from 'no reuse' to 'reuse permitted'.

The cultural aspect was highlighted very clearly, with the statement that,

These reforms will require much more than a change to process and procedures to be successful. It will require a fundamental shift in the attitude and thinking of Victoria’s public servants.
Given that we have a more than a hundred year tradition of data protection this, in my view, is the biggest shift required to implement the Victorian Government's agenda and will take time and some pain to overcome.

It will be extremely interesting to watch what types of 'first mover advantage' is granted to Victoria if it makes a swift and clean transition to open licensing of public sector data - although we may not get the opportunity as some other states have been moving in a similar direction, at varying speeds. To be fair, Queensland was the first Australian state to mandate Creative Commons licenses and has done significant work in the area. However there wasn't a clear mandate from the Government and implementation has not, as yet, been widespread.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Victoria launching $100,000 'Apps my state' competition to create open data applications

Following the lead of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's MashupAustralia and NSW's Apps4nsw competition (which runs until 24 March), Victoria's Minister for Information and Communications Technology, John Lenders, has announced the 'Apps my state' competition.

In his media release, Minister Lenders said that,

"App My State is a competition to encourage software developers and members of the public to create web or mobile applications using Victorian Government data.

"We’re looking for the cream of Victoria’s innovative and hi-tech communities to come up with new and helpful ways to use this information – an added incentive for local talent to develop their ideas for fellow Victorians.

"Applications will be judged for their innovation, design and development, usefulness, accessibility and general excellence."
Victoria already has range of data available that would be usable in the competition, hopefully with more to come.
The competition will launch in late February at the Victorian Premier's website.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

South Australian Premier vows to repeal internet censorship over election comments

As a follow-up from my post yesterday,South Australia bans anonymous election comments online, South Australia Premier Mike Rann has twittered that the South Australian government has decided to repeal the January 6 amendment to the state's Electoral Act which made it illegal to publish anonymous comments online during an election campaign.

Reported in a post in Ars Technica, Internet uprising overturns Australian censorship law (which is an excellent read), South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson sent a statement yesterday to AdelaideNow, where many citizens were protesting the new law, stating that,

"From the feedback we've received through AdelaideNow, the blogging generation believes that the law supported by all MPs and all political parties is unduly restrictive. I have listened. I will immediately after the election move to repeal the law retrospectively... It may be humiliating for me, but that's politics in a democracy and I'll take my lumps."
Note that I assume this statement is based on the assumption that the present South Australian government is re-elected. If another party wins power, the law may stand.

Australian online pundits are labelling this a victory for democracy over censorship and I expect to see the example of South Australian's decision used by opponents to the Australian federal government's planned mandatory internet filter.

I've included the key tweets from Premier Rann's validated twitter account below...

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Google to end support for Internet Explorer 6 during 2010

Google has announced that it will progressively end support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 during 2010 - beginning with Google Docs and Sites in March. Youtube, another Google company, is also phasing out support.

Announced in the Google Enterprise blog post last week, Modern browsers for modern applications, Google Apps Senior Product Manager, Rajen Sheth, said that the web had evolved in the last ten years from simple text pages to rich interactive applications and that very old web browsers cannot run these new features effectively.

This approach isn't limited to Google. A number of companies have already dropped support for Internet Explorer 6.0 in their online applications and more, including Facebook and Digg, plan to drop it in the near future.

Microsoft (up to CEO level) have also advocated dropping the IE6 web browser for their latest version, Internet Explorer 8.


EDIT at 8:10AM 3/2/09:
Nick Hodge, a Microsoft staff member, has commented on this post that Microsoft is also progressively dropping IE6 support, saying that Microsoft has,
dropped support for IE6 in Sharepoint 2010 and the forthcoming web versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote 2010; plus live@edu and other web properties. 
END EDIT

However, to support its customers, as there are a number of major corporations still tied to the ageing browser, Microsoft recently extended support for IE6 until April 2014, when all support for Windows XP ends.

Given the recent severe security issues reported with IE6 and the increasing proportion of the internet unavailable to those using the 2001 vintage web browser, I hope to see the remaining organisations migrating away from the browser in the near future.

It is estimated that only 20% of web users - predominantly workers in large organisations - still use IE6, however up to 50% of Chinese internet users are still on the web browser.

Reportedly Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser has been losing market share at least 2004, when it reached 90% of the market. According to Wikipedia's Usage share of web browsers article, it is now estimated (through tracking subsets of internet users) that only about 60% of internet users are on one of the Internet Explorer variants, with Firefox 3.5 having overtaken IE8 as the most popular browser by version.

Some commentators expect to see Microsoft's share of the web browser market fall below 50% by mid-2011.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

South Australia bans anonymous election comments online

I've been alerted by CloCkWeRX in a comment in my post, Australian Labor Party launches social media website, that the South Australian government has passed a law banning anonymous online comments about the South Australian election.

According to the article South Australian Government gags internet debate in News.com.au,

The new law, which came into force on January 6, requires anyone making an online comment about next month's state election to publish their real name and postcode.
Intended to force media outlets to police the publication of online comments in their sites in order to prevent anonymous comments or comments involving fake names, this revision to the South Australian Electoral Act potentially could be interpreted broadly across any websites hosting public comments.

This could mean the provision would apply across blogs, forums, social networks, Twitter and other online services that support public comments.

If this is the case, and the ACT is enforced across South Australian hosted sites containing public comments, this may encourage organisations to move their website hosting away from South Australia to other Australian states or overseas. It is also unclear whether or how the South Australian government would enforce the Act across other jurisdictions hosting social media websites containing public comments about the South Australian election.

It is also unclear how the law applies to online opinions posted by those aged under 18 years old, who might still have an interest or school assignment involving state politics. There could be privacy issues in having a state government government force minors to publicly publish their real full name and postcode when commenting on electoral issues during election periods.

Privacy and security issues may also apply for people in witness protection programs, who would avoid using their real name and postcode on online comments to avoid detection by criminals.

Whilst not a lawyer, it appears to me that this amendment will be very difficult to enforce - a view shared by the South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, who is responsible for overseeing state laws.

Mr Atkinson is known for his opposition to a national 'R' rating for computer games, despite the average age of Australian gamers being over 30 and 'R' rated movies being legal in Australia. He was also involved in a recent South Australian law which prohibits the display of promotional material for 'R' rated movies in areas children may enter. My understanding is that this ban is despite whether the promotional material itself portrays 'R' rated images.

Quoting the AdelaideNow article, Outrage as Rann Government, Opposition unite to gag internet election debate,
In a press conference today, Mr Atkinson said the law was "all about honesty''.

He conceded it would be difficult to police but the most "egregious and outrageous'' breaches of the new laws would be identified.
As none of the news articles actually quote the relevant section of the South Australian Electoral Act, you can find it at the Electoral Act page in the South Australian Legislation. Refer to Section 116.

 I apologise for not published the relevant section of the Act here in my blog, I am currently unclear on whether this would be considered a breach of copyright.

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Australian Labor Party launches social media website

In a first for a major political party in Australia, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has embedded blogging, tweeting and video in the heart of its website, relaunching www.alp.org.au as a Politics 2.0 website.

Termed 'Labor Connect' the redeveloped site aims to foster active policy debates, stating that,

We know we won’t always agree about issues and it would be pretty boring if we did. Labor Connect will not always be endorsed policy and its aim is to create debate and discussion about progressive policy development in the Party.
The ALP calls its relaunched site a 'beta' and says there are many additional social media features yet to release. Their comment moderation process is very simple, with four basic guidelines:
  • Stick to the topic
  • Be respectful
  • Be honest
  • No Junk Mail
Nielsen recently reported that 9.9 million Australians were active on social media sites and that they used social media for longer than any other nation they studies, with the average Australian spending 6 hours and 52 minutes per month on social media sites.

Besides the site's value in an election year, perhaps it is also an example of what the government is looking for from the public service in departmental engagement.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

UK launches data.gov.uk (and how Australia could top it)

Just in case you missed this the other week, on 21 January the UK launched the data.gov.uk website with 2,500 government datasets available for access and reuse by the public.

This leapfrogged the US's data.gov, which now has around 1,000 datasets available.

The UK site also extends the government open data space in several other directions, with a wiki and forum supporting discussion and collaboration between people reusing datasets in the site and a Ideas tool for submitting ideas on what data should be released and how it should be combined to provide new and useful insights.

The site also includes a gallery of applications developed to make use of government data, making it a central place to locate these applications.

I believe this is the new world leader for open data websites from government - though I look forward to the day when Australia tops it (in data.gov.au).

How could we top it with data.gov.au?

Here's some ideas:

  • Build in a data analysis and visualisation module that allows people without technical expertise to combine, model and view datasets, no matter their origin (like IBM's Manyeyes).
  • Then allow people to embed these visualisations into their own sites.
  • Support community submission of data that can then be shared and used by government alongside government datasets to improve insights and understanding - including allowing the appropriate Creative Commons copyright to be embedded into these datasets as part of the submission process.
  • Comments on datasets - allow every set of data to support a discussion to allow people to ask questions to clarify what the dataset contains and discuss how it could be presented in a more usable way.
  • Allow tagging of datasets and applications - so that over time there's a bottom-up folksonomy that people can use to find related data or search on, rather than relying on government metadata (which may not match the community's mental models).
  • Support data correction through the site - if someone detects an error in a dataset there should be a clear path to notify the submitter of the data and have it corrected.
  • Vote on applications, allowing the community to provide feedback on how useful and valuable they found them. The voting mechanism should be able to be embedded with applications in other sites, rather than rely on people returning to data.gov.au to vote.
  • GEOmapping engine, to map locations such that they can be placed on maps, rather than having to have people build their own tools to transform the data.
  • Collaborative data modelling projects - where the community is invited to work together to model data, assisting the government and community.
  • Data competitions with cash prizes. Similar to the NetFlicks Prize, provide the tools for government agencies - and even commercial entities - to create competitions to solve tricky data problems through crowdsourcing.
  • Create user profiles and including information on how many applications / data visualisations and other activities they have undertaken in relation to the data site. People respond to competitive challenge and recognition - like in the Australian National Library's Manyhands project.
  • Create webinars and run physical events to raise awareness of the site and to show Australians (developers, corporates, not-for-profits, interested parties) how easy it is to reuse government data.
  • Hold annual awards for the best applications, including peoples' choice awards based on user votes and awards for schools and students to encourage an interest in and innovative uses of data.
If you have other ideas on how Data.gov.au could be better than the UK and US efforts, please add them in the comments below.

To finish up - here's a good presentation from Sir Tim Berners Lee (who has led the work on data.gov.uk) on why we need to make government data available in raw reusable form, to the public.

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