Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How much work time spent on social media use in a government department is 'excessive'?

According to The Australia, at least one Australian Government agency is full of 'Bureaucrats twitting at our expense' (sic - the correct term is 'tweeting').

Based on a question which identified that, in a single week of measurement last year, staff at the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR), spent 400 hours using social media, The Australian reported that "Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said millions of dollars were being wasted as public servants whiled away the hours on social media sites."

I thought it worth unpacking this article and this number. Government agencies are struggling to decide whether to allow, and how to manage, social media use by staff - whether on official, professional or a personal basis.

How much social media use is appropriate? Should staff have access to the Department's official social media channels? How does a Department respond to claims that use may be excessive?


Firstly the article didn't identify what was meant by 'social media'. Does it include newspaper websites (such as The Australian) which support comments? Does it exclude government mandated platforms such as GovDex and GovSpace?

Is YouTube 'social media', or a video distribution service? How about Wikipedia, encyclopedia or social media?

This makes it harder to characterise how these 400 hours were spent. I'm happy to accept a broad inclusive view and consider social media as including any website which supports multi-way interaction (public publishing of user comments), even if the user doesn't actually interact in this manner. That includes YouTube and Wikipedia, as well as newspaper websites and many government sites.


Secondly, there are many legitimate reasons that public servants may need to use social media channels. There are many forums, social networks and other social media channels discussing topics related to the Department's portfolio areas (Innovation, Industry, Science and Research).

In fact I'd consider it negligent if any Department was not at least monitoring and preferably participating in discussions appropriate to their portfolio interests - this level of ongoing consultation is vital for good policy formation and service delivery.

Certainly some social media use may be incidental personal use and not interfering with agency business (similar to banking online, taking a personal call or going to the toilet), however a substantial proportion of social media use is likely to be legitimate and important business activity.


Finally, it is important to consider the time spent using social media proportionate to the number of employees. While the article indicated that the 400 hours of social media use per week by DIISR was equivalent to ten full-time tweeters, this claim is highly misleading.

DIISR has about 2,112 employees based on DIISR's 2009-2010 annual report.

Spreading 400 hours of weekly social media use across 2,112 staff, led me to an average of 11 minutes and 20 seconds spent using social media per employee per week.

That's less time than it takes to get a single coffee from a nearby coffee shop and shorter than the average smoke break.

On that basis, in my view, 400 hours per week social media use for a 2,000 person agency, should not be considered excessive.


So how much social media use is appropriate for a government Department?

The right answer, I believe, is 'it depends'.

It depends on the activities of the Department. Some agencies have a pressing need to monitor community sentiment, address enquiries and/or respond to incorrect statements to ensure that the correct information is available to the community, including in popular forums, blogs and other frequently used online channels.

It depends on the situation. During a crisis there might be greater need to engage the public online, such as the recent example in Queensland where the Queensland Police made world class use of Twitter and Facebook.

It depends on staff's individual job responsibilities. Following in the footsteps of the corporate sector, we're seeing more social media advisor and community management roles in the public service. These people are required to monitor, advise and respond via social media. It's their job.

Lastly, it depends on how effectively a Department is using social media.

In my view we're still in very early stages of adoption with few staff trained or experienced in effective official use of social media channels (but learning fast).

The Department of Justice in Victoria requires staff to demonstrate capability using social media (via their internal Yammer service) before being allowed to use social media officially for the Department - like conducting media training before placing a senior executive in front of a journalist. However many other Departments still discourage social media use except amongst specific staff tasked with relevant duties.

I wouldn't be surprised if a mature Department, using social media appropriately as a core communications and engagement tool, could rack up ten times the use of social media that DIISR does today - 4,000 hours per week.

This may sound like a lot, but would still represent less than 2 hours per week per staff member, only five per cent of their time. What else do you spend two hours a week on?


The real question to fall out of the consideration above is what activities does and will the time spent using social media replace?

Will it replace some town hall meetings (planning, travelling and running) with online consultations; some stakeholder phone conversation and emails with stakeholder social network groups; internal staff meetings with intranet forums; or writing media releases with blog posts and tweets?

Given the relative productivity of social media over 'old ways' of doing things - maybe politicians and senior managers need to push for MORE social media use in government Departments rather than less.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mobile internet trends - an online game changer

Mary Meeker, managing director for Morgan Stanley's global technology research unit recently gave an excellent presentation on mobile internet trends.

It highlights the incredible growth of tablets and apps, the rise of Android, the new uses that smartphones are being put to (only 32% of time is spent on phone calls) and the relative effectiveness of mobile and internet advertising compared to traditional media (internet matches television and mobile exceeds it).

I've embedded it below - it is a must see.

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Opening up public sector information in Australia - have your say by 1 March

We've seen enormous movement towards the opening up of public access and permission to reuse government information in Australia over the last year, both at state and Commonwealth levels.

However these attempts to improve transparency and increase the capability for information reuse shouldn't be led by government alone. The public, media, commercial and not-for-profit sectors have a significant interest in how, when and which information the government makes available.

That's why I am encouraging people to read and contribute their comments to the Office of the Information Commissioner's consultation on Australia's Government Information Policy.

If you're a support of more open government, or agree with the draft policy, go to the OIC blog and tell the Office via comments that you agree with their approach.

If you don't agree with a point, or don't agree with the entire process, this is your opportunity to tell the Office how they should improve their approach.

Even if you don't understand what they are doing or why it is being done, tell them. It will help the Office consider its future approach to communication and education.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Don't let failure be the enemy of success

Votaire said, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good".

This is often quoted in politics where the acts of creating, selling, passing, implementing and maintaining complex policies can result in challenging decisions between perfect, yet practically impossible and practical but only good outcomes.

I'd like to suggest a similar saying for bureaucrats, "Don't let failure be the enemy of success"

There are many situations in life when people have to choose between trying something difficult, risky or new and staying with the 'tried and true' approach.

This is often portrayed as choosing between risking failure or accepting a lessor level of success. Indeed many people often see their choice as between failure and success - one outcome seen as negative and the other positive.

However failure and success are not opposites, are not opposed to each other and both can be useful steps on a path to better outcomes.

Every success is born from a range of failures, every failure occurs on the back of successes. The two are locked in a continuous dance of possibilities, risks and choices.

When we remember successful inventors, we often overlook the failures on their path to success. When we remember failures, we often downplay the successes that were achieved and often had longer-term implications. We also forget how that failure helped us shape our thinking, abandoned an approach or otherwise consider more variables in order to improve future success.

It is rare to find an individual, organisation or nation that has not had a share of, learnt from and built on both their failures and successes.

So what does this mean in practical terms for public servants and government agencies?

It means take a risk from time to time. Try something new or different - you may produce a new or different outcome.

Even if the new approach fails it may trigger further ideas worth exploring, potential successes your organisation may not have otherwise considered. It can help your staff deal with future (inevitable) failures, test your organisation's systems and otherwise help you tune activities for the better.

At worst you have new information and can justify not trying that approach again, given a particular set of circumstances. This can help you avoid larger, longer, more costly or more devastating failures in the future (fail small and fast as start-up wisdom goes)

Failure is almost always a type of success, even if it is merely used to disprove an approach and help you focus on more productive channels.

So remember, don't let failure be the enemy of success.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The age of microblogging has arrived - in China

Listening to the US's National Public Radio (NPR) last week, I caught a story about how Chinese citizens are now using micro-blogging services (similar to Twitter) to communicate about missing or stolen children and, in some cases to locate them.

According to The Guardian article, Chinese parents turn to microblogging in hunt for missing children, China has over 80 million micro-blog users (though very few Twitter users due to blocking).

By posting messages and pictures of missing children, and by putting photos of child beggars online, there's been at least half a dozen cases where children have been located and reunited with their parents.

In particular a Chinese professor created a microblog called "Street Photos to Rescue Child Beggars" in t.sina.com.cn. The microblog, which was only registered on 25 January this year, has already gained more than 200,000 followers, many being Chinese police officers. Thousands of photos of child beggars have been posted to the micro-blog by Chinese citizens (the criteria is that photos must show the face of the child and the location and time the photo was taken).

Of course the success of the micro-blog medium in China needs to be weighed with continuing government efforts to restrict debate on certain topics - as recently illustrated in this article in The Age, China micro-blogging sites censor 'Egypt'

Must read posts:

News stories:




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Monday, February 14, 2011

Who in QLD government is using Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0 tools?

The Queensland State Archives recently commissioned a whole of Government
Recordkeeping and Web 2.0 online survey to investigate how Queensland's public
authorities were using Web 2.0 and social media2 tools to conduct government business.

The survey also asked public authorities about the policies and procedures they had in place to guide the business use of Web 2.0 tools by public sector staff.

While the survey focused on exploring how records of Web 2.0 activity were kept, it provides some useful insights into the extent of Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 activity across the Queensland government.

There were 135 responses from 193 authorities invited to participate.

The full survey is available in PDF from http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/downloads/recordkeeping_web_survey_report.pdf (this link now works!)

Here are some highlights, paraphrased from the survey:
  • Over half the responding Queensland public authorities are currently using, or intend to use, Web 2.0 tools for business purposes.
    • All State government departments (13) responded, with 10 indicating they are currently or would soon be using Web 2.0 tools (76%) 
    • Forty-seven local government agencies responded, with 23, slightly less than half (49%) indicating they were currently or would soon use Web 2.0 tools for business purposes.
  • The most common uses by public authorities of Web 2.0 tools are to provide information, promote, or receive feedback on services or products. Community consultation is also commonly undertaken using Web 2.0 tools.
  • Public authorities are using Web 2.0 tools on externally hosted websites, on government websites and on government intranets.
  • Web 2.0 tools are used by and in diverse areas within public authorities, including communications, marketing, corporate services, IT, community engagement and customer services functions.
  • Pertaining specifically to record-keeping, while most responding Queensland public authorities had recordkeeping policies in place, they had not yet developed and implemented recordkeeping policies which specifically address Web 2.0 records.
So what tools or services were State government agencies using?

RSS feeds - which I wouldn't consider a Web 2.0 technology, ranked the highest, with 70% of state agencies already using the technology.

Facebook and Twitter were the most common services used,  with 60% of state agencies currently using these services, followed by YouTube at 50% current use.

Blogs and wikis were also quite popular, with 40% of state agencies already using these tools.

Agencies didn't indicate any current use of crowdsourcing, however 40% of agencies indicated they intended to use crowdsourcing tools in the next twelve months.

Mash-ups received a small mention, alongside other Web 2.0 tools.



Why did local government use Web 2.0?

It's interesting to see the diversity of uses for Web 2.0 services and technologies - for promotion, information, feedback, consultation, information release, professional networking, organisational learning and so on (see graph below).

It's clear that Web 2.0 services and tools have enormous horizontal utility in organisations which, in my view, supports the case for social media not being the sole preserve or under the control of government communications units.


Web 2.0 policy

Finally, there's still an enormous gap in the area of policy and procedure for Web 2.0 use.

Over 40% of Queensland public sector authorities who responded to the survey did not yet have guidance in place to support, educate and guide staff in the use of Web 2.0.

In many other cases guidance was specific to a particular medium (such as Twitter) and did not adequately cross all the different forms of social media and Web 2.0 channels.

I believe this remains an area of significant concern for government agencies. It makes it more difficult to identify, flag and address inappropriate use of digital channels, or to educate and support staff on how to use these channels effectively and appropriately for their own benefit as well as the organisation's.


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Learning from the social media policy mistakes of the Commonwealth Bank

Last week the Commonwealth Bank received a panning for its new social media policy.

Going beyond guidance for staff in their use of social media, the policy made it a requirements that Commonwealth Bank staff tell their managers about any negative comments about the bank they see online. The policy also required that staff do everything in their power to have these negative comments removed from the internet, under risk of disciplinary action or even dismissal.

You can read the CBA policy online, courtesy of the Business Spectator. Pay particular attention to Point 4 "Material posted by others" and point 6 "Breach".

These parts of the policy particularly raised the ire of the Financial Services Union (FSU), one of the bank's largest staff unions, and led to a media storm throughout last week.
"The FSU believes the policy is so broad that it goes beyond conduct which the bank could legitimately claim involved damage to its reputation or interest and/or was such as to give rise to a concern about an employee's implied contractual obligation of good faith and loyalty," the union says.

Reference: SmartCompany - Commonwealth Bank social media policy raises questions over control of employee actions online

Now I applaud the Commonwealth on taking a step all organisations should, having a clear policy and guidance for staff to help them understand how to 'not stuff up' when using social media, how to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent the media portray a staff member's views as reflecting official bank policy.

I also applaud the bank's efforts to listen to social media and address customer issues expressed online. Realistically organisations should respond to customer comments in social media channels in a similar manner to which they'd respond to customer comments in person, by phone, email, fax or other channels. It is even better if they employ monitoring tools to proactively identify and address comments that aren't made specifically to the organisation.

However it is both impractical and highly inappropriate for organisations to ask their staff to monitor and police the actions of their friends or total strangers under penalty of disciplinary action - whether in online social media channels, or offline (at pubs and BBQs).

I'm not sure what steps the Commonwealth Bank took to formally or informally consult staff when developing their social media policy.

I'm not sure whether the Commonwealth Bank referenced best practice examples of social media policies from other organisations, such as the Online Database of Social Media Governance.

I am also not sure whether the Commonwealth bank is mature enough as an organisation to treat its staff as adults, to trust the people they employ and to effectively encourage them to be the Commonwealth's biggest advocates and supporters online.

However I am sure that when an organisation attempts to place unworkable and inappropriate staff policies in place they will fail. Internally and publicly.

Organisations that introduce inappropriate staff policies will reduce their public reputation, reduce their attractiveness to top people and set staff relations back years.


When I attended the Garner Symposium late last year (to speak on a panel with Andrea Dimaio and Ann Steward), I also went to a session on Banks and Social Media to see how they were doing in coming to terms with new mediums for communication and engagement.

The impression I walked away with was that Australian banks, in general, were several years behind the Australian Public Service in their acceptance, adoption and support for social media use by staff.

Sure they used social media tactices for advertising campaigns, however these were at arms length. Social media was not seen as a set of tools that could support and re-energise internal cultures, underpin collaboration and innovation or transform 19th century institutions into 21st century financial powerhouses. In many cases the attitude was "block and penalise" rather than "train and manage".


I hope that, given their relative maturity, government agencies will learn from the mistakes of the CBA in this case and avoid endorsing social media policies that are unworkable, onerous or inappropriate.

Given the experience of the Commonwealth Department of Finance and Deregulation, the Victorian Government, the Victorian Department of Health, the South Australian Government and, also last week, the Queensland Government , I think the public sector is currently in safe hands.


Stung by the public and staff backlash, the Commonwealth Bank has rapidly agreed to work with the FSU to make its policy workable. I'm sure we'll hear more as this progresses.


Articles
A non-exhaustive list of articles discussing the Commonwealth Bank's social media policy

FSU posts
Posts by the Financial Services Union about the CBA social media policy

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Where do good ideas come from? (hint - increased connectedness)

This is a thought-provoking video that looks at where good ideas - innovation - comes from.

It raises an interesting point about the correlation between connections and innovation. That the more we interact and connect with others, the more likely it is that we can combine our partial ideas, our hunches, the greatest the prospect of a breakthrough idea.

That's a powerful argument for improving the connections between public servants, between government employees and citizens and for facilitating better connections between citizens - through the use of digital technologies.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

When government crowdsourcing doesn't work (careful you may laugh)

Here's an excellent example of where crowdsourcing doesn't work.

The City of Austin decided to crowdsource a new name for its Solid Waste Services Department.

It received plenty of ideas and votes, however few were meaningful or useful - though a number are quite funny.

However don't take this as a lesson that crowdsourcing doesn't work.

Use Austin's experience as an example that crowdsourcing, as a strategy, must be applied in a considered and appropriate manner. Where possible the goals should be specific, meaningful and valuable to the community.

(thanks for the link James!)

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Open Government drinks with Delib co-founder Chris Quigley tonight in Canberra

Chris Quigley of Delib is in Australia at the moment, on a trip around capital cities talking about Open Government from a UK and US perspective.

Today and tomorrow he's in Canberra meeting with various people around the traps (and speaking at the Gov 2.0 lunch).

Tonight, to welcome Chris, we're having informal drinks at the Wig and Pen from 5.30pm.

If you're in town and available, drop by - just look for the Gov 2.0 table at the back.

Who is Chris Quigley?
Chris's experience crosses viral marketing, social media and e-democracy. He has an ongoing interest in how people, business and government interact, and how the internet (especially social media) are changing relationships.

He has been working in the Open Government space for almost ten years across both the UK and the US. He was involved in some of the earliest crowd-sourcing projects in the US, under the former President George Bush.

Chris's company, Delib, was asked by the current US government to build an ideas-sharing website to "crowdsource thoughts" about how to design a portal that would monitor the US's $787bn (£510bn) stimulus plan. The result was recovery.gov.

Chris was also involved in the design of the UK government's 'Your Freedom' website, designed to allow UK citizens to discuss laws they wanted to see changed or removed. The site received 11,546 ideas, 72,836 comments and 190,175 ratings.

Alongside his Open Government work, Chris is also a co-founder of The Viral Ad Network, a specialist automated syndication platform for branded content and of Rubber Republic, a specialist viral ad agency (which also has a strong interest in socks).

Learn more about Chris in The Guardian's article, "The man opening up government".

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Good read: Nicholas Gruen on Gov 2.0 in Australia and cultural change

Alex Howard over at GovFresh has a great article and video interview with Nicholas Gruen regarding Gov 2.0 in Australia and some of the challenges of the required cultural change.

Read it over at Nicholas Gruen on Gov 2.0 in Australia and cultural change.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Ten reasons why blogs are more useful than email newsletters

Sometimes it surprises me how much some organisations like using email newsletters over other tools like blogs.

They spend weeks or even months crafting news items, bundle them together into a single email and then send them out to a subscriber list - sometimes without even using a system to measure the response rate or manage the bounces, making it impossible to prove a return on their investment.

I've long been a fan of blogs over email newsletters, here's some of the reasons why:
  1. You only have to publish one story in a blog at a time
    Email newsletters tend to be an collection of stories all published at once. With a blog, each post is a new 'story' so you can focus on one at a time rather than having to work on three, five, eight or ten different stories all at once.

  2. You can publish blog posts at your own pace
    Often with email newsletters there's a 'need' to publish regularly - every week, month or quarter. That often means uncovering some kind of 'new' content on a topic, even if there's no new information.
    With a blog you can spread out your posts over time, giving the impression of more regular updates and building your audience's engagement habits without necessarily writing any more content.
    In other words, four blog posts posted over four weeks is more effective than posting a newsletter once a month with four stories.

  3. Blogs boosts your search ratings
    It is very valuable to have results high in search engines and blogs, unlike email newsletters, get listed. In fact as blog information changes regularly (as often as you post), this means that search engines often rate blogs higher than static websites which rarely change. That's an enormous boost to peoples' ability to find and make use of your information.

  4. Blog posts can be available forever
    Sure you can keep an online archive of your email newsletters, however a blog is much easier to search and reference for people who wish to read back in time as well as forward.

  5. An email newsletter is a soliloquay, a blog is a dialogue
    Email newsletters are almost always one-way outwards communications tools. Blogs, on the other hand, are multi-way. Sure you can have a blog without comments - just like an email newsletter - however you can also support active public discussions. That provides more flexibility and options for how, why and when you communicate and allows blogs to support a wide range of inbound and two-way engagement strategies.

  6. You can leverage your blog's reach through syndication and social media
    With blogs you can provide an RSS feed that can be used by blog aggregators, news sites and other feed reading mechanisms to greatly amplify your reach. You can also leverage social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to increase your footprint even further.
    On the other hand email newsletters are largely bound by the limits of their subscriber lists. They may be re-emailed by a few recipients, however cannot tap into broader syndication or social media channels to amplify their reach.

  7. Blog post approvals don't have to tie you in knots
    The classic reason email newsletters are late is that they are waiting on lots of approvers - often different people for each news item. This complex process can mean that even if nine of your news stories are approved, you're left waiting three weeks for approval on the tenth before you can email. By then the email is a month late and your audience has lost interest and trust in your ability to deliver to deadline. With blogs, if you have nine posts approved and one still in approvals that gives you nine posts you can publish over the next three weeks while waiting for the tenth. That means you can maintain regular activity and keep your customers informed and engaged without any loss of reputation.

  8. People can subscribe to your blog
    Just like with email newsletters, with the right blog tools people are able to subscribe to your blog for updates by email or by RSS. This is more of an equaliser than an advantage, however it does mean that blogs, with their other advantages, aren't at a disadvantage in this area.

  9. A blog isn't restricted to being a blog
    Email newsletters are good at being email newsletters, providing synopses and links to news stories, but aren't usually able to provide other functionality. A blog isn't necessarily only a blog, it's a highly interactive website. You can use a blog to also deliver static information, multimedia presentations, social media tools, web services and anything else you'd provide on a 'normal' website.

  10. Your blog can be an email newsletter too!
    With the right blog tool, or with a small amount of work, you're able to bundle up your blog posts for the last week or month and send them out as an email newsletter as well. This basically allows you to have the best of both worlds - the targeted alerts of an email newsletter backed up by the flexibility, search ranking and longevity of a blog.

Now I'm not saying that email newsletters don't have their place. They are very effective at 'push' communications. When you're confronted by a newsletter every month in your inbox you're quite likely to read it.

However why limit yourself to just that email newsletter when you could build a blog and use an email newsletter as one of your push tools?

The blog gives you the advantages of multi-way communication, greater leverage and amplification, more flexibility in when and how you publish content and the content becomes much easier to find.

Build a blog and use your newsletter to drive traffic to it. That way you'll get the best of both worlds, targeting and flexibility.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How will states adapt to true telecommuters?

Today telecommuting often refers to people who work from home, logging into computer networks to prepare documents and exchange information remotely.

However across the world we're starting to see examples of much broader and more intense forms of telecommuting.

Warfare
Take for example the RQ-1 Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle that has been used since 1995 by the US Air Force. First used for reconnaissance and armed only with a high resolution camera, the Predator is now routinely equipped with missiles and used to attack ground targets. Predator operators may be hundreds, or even thousands, of mile away and operate their UAVs through video screens like modern computer games.

Similar unmanned devices are being developed for land and sea-based conflict, allowing operators to work normal shifts from bases close to their homes (or even from their homes), while these devices are employed in combat theatres around the world.

Emergencies
Unmanned vehicles are also being adopted in the emergency management field, with controlled robotic devices used to explore hazardous environments ahead of human teams. These devices have been used to map the Chernobyl disaster and recently the CyberQuad was introduced into Australia to support the fire brigade in mapping and fighting large blazes.

Space exploration
Many people will be aware of the Mars Rovers, two robots sent to explore parts of the red planet, seeking signs of surface water and life while expanding our store of knowledge. These robots, similar to those used in emergencies, have been used as a low-cost means of exploring a hazardous and remote environment.

Health
There are pilot programs in a number of countries exploring the potential for doctors, particularly specialists, to remotely diagnose and treat patients. In a world with too few doctors and many remote regions, the ability to have a specialist diagnose patients from a distance is an enormous cost and time saving tool, providing improved health outcomes.

Even more so, the potential for videoconferencing during surgeries, where experienced surgeons can view and collaborate with an on-the-spot colleague during a procedure - or even conduct surgery remotely, employing robotics.

Adult industry
While an area that some might find less delicate, the adult industry has a long history of innovating and employing new technologies. Much of the early innovation on the world wide web had its roots in adult pursuits. Similarly adult operators are exploring the opportunities for remote controlled devices. In fact the field even has a name, coined in 1975, 'Teledildonics' - for computer or remote operator-controlled devices for sexual pleasure.

Entertainment
Virtual worlds and Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMPOGs) have been around now for a number of years (since 1974 in fact), some as games, some as social entertainment experiences and some as business tools. These worlds are growing in immersiveness and flexibility, providing more and more opportunities to conduct mass meetings remotely, demonstrate designs and working (virtual) prototypes and educate students.

Looking forward
With all these forms of 'telecommuting' developments there's three trends I think are important to note.
  • We are increasingly able to control physical devices and perform complex actions at great differences.
  • Our virtual environments are improving to the extent whereby almost-physical interaction is becoming possible, and
  • we are entering a time where an increasing number of people will be able to conduct their business remotely from other states or nations, significantly complicating how taxes are assessed and laws are interpreted and enforced.
With increasing broadband speeds, such as via Australia's National Broadband Network, it will become possible for a range of telecommuting scenarios such as the following three examples.

  • Remote mining exploration and analysisA geologist sitting in their Brisbane office will be able to take control of a contracted robot in the Northern Territory, remotely guide it to an exploration site and conduct a surface analysis and even a seismic survey to assess the mineral potential of the area.

    The information and analysis could be immediately visible to their employer, a Perth-based mining company. The site could be mapped digitally and then have geologists from around the world explore the area virtually - literally 'walking' their avatars over the landscape and discussing specific areas in real-time.
  • Global industrial design
    Equally an industrial design team operating out of Newcastle as a semi-autonomous unit of a Swedish furniture manufacturer could develop new designs for bookcases and chairs and trial them via virtual worlds with other designers and potential customers around the world.

    When a final design is approved it could be automatically loaded into the systems of an offshore manufacturer and produced, either in a fully automatic or manual factory, then shipped to customers around the world.

    As a side project, the designs could also be made available for virtual sale into a range of virtual worlds and games, like the Sims - providing a secondary income.
  • Remote entertainment experiences
    A resident in a nursing home in Wagga Wagga could remain an active gardener through participation in a robotised market garden in the Adelaide Hills. Every day they could go online and check how their plot was developing, using robotic devices to plant seeds, pull weeds and water. When their vegetables were grown they could be harvested and sent to market collectively, with the profits going to offset the costs of the market garden.

    Through virtual technology the resident could walk around, or even fly over the garden with complete mobility. Integrated sensors could simulate the smells and even the feeling of digging in the soil, keeping the resident both entertained and productive, raising their self-esteem and enjoyment of life.

    Residents from nursing homes around the country and overseas could work together, sharing their experience with plants and making collective decisions on how to manage the garden. (The original Telegarden was operational from 1995-2004 as a university experiment)

In all of these situations the data would pass through a variety of Australian states and through international jurisdictions. The individuals performing the actual work do not necessarily own the work, it could be a collaborative effort by individuals across different nations.

We're seeing the inklings of this process now with the increasing digitalisation of products. No jurisdictional restrictions on written, audio, visual or digital interactive material can be effectively and universally enforced when they can be transmitted almost instantaneously across the internet to virtually any country in the world.

The creators of these digital works may also be located anywhere in the world. Collaborators may each live in a different jurisdiction and be subject to different laws and regulation. Whose jurisdiction takes primacy for taxation purposes for a truly virtual organisation? What happens when a digital product is illegal in some jurisdictions and legal in others?

It is even hard to enforce regulation or taxation over physical products, unless governments wish to inspect every single mail item - adding enormous time and cost burdens to an economy.

Identifying which jurisdiction's guidelines apply can already be difficult - is it in the jurisdiction that the work originates, where the servers storing the information live, where the organisation is registered or where the goods and services are sold (at least for physical products, who taxes and regulates virtual items)? What if jurisdictions don't agree?

As teleconferencing becomes more prevalent and more global in nation, governments will increasingly have to reconsider their state-based laws, regulations and taxes to contend with hyper-mobile individuals, workers who can deliver a service using remote assistance anywhere in the world, from driving a delivery vehicle to performing operations, without leaving their own home or neighbourhood.

Perhaps governments should already be taking great strides towards normalising their regulatory approaches,to reduce inefficiencies and ensure that their laws and taxes will remain enforceable as telecommuting rises.

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