Thursday, August 30, 2012

Australia's first 3rd Generation open data site - from the ACT

The ACT government today announced the soft-launch of their new open data site,  dataACT, through their equally new  Government Information Office blog.

In my view this is now the best government open data site in Australia.

What makes it the best?
  • Data is available in a range of common reusable formats - from JSON and RDF through RSS and XML - as well as CSV and XLS for spreadsheet users.
  • Visualisation tools are built into the site, so data is not only useful to data scientists and programmers, but to the broader public who can chart and map it without having to leave the site.
  • The built-in embed tool allows people to take the data and rapidly include it in their own site without any programming knowledge.
  • Users can reorder the columns and filter the information in the site - again without having to export it first, and
  • discussions are built into every dataset by default.
It follows a 'generational' path for open data I've been talking about for awhile.

Most open data sites start as random collections of whatever data that agencies feel they can release as a 'quick win', to meet a government openness directive. They then progressing through more structured sites with rigour and organisation, but still only data, through to data and visualisation sites which support broader usage by the general community and finally into what I term 'data community sites', which become collaborative efforts with citizens.

In my view dataACT has skipped straight to a 3rd Generation data site at a time when other governments across Australia are struggling with 1st or 2nd Generation sites.

Well done ACT!

Now who will be the first government in Australia to get to a 4th Generation site!

Read on for my view of the generations of open data sites:

1st Generation: Data index

  • Contains or links to 'random' datasets, being those that agencies can release publicly quickly. 
  • Data is released in whatever format the data was held in (PDF, CSV, etc) and is not reformatted to web standards (JSON, RDF, etc).
  • Some datasets are released under custom or restrictive licenses.
  • Limited or no ability to discuss or rate datasets
  • Ability to 'request datasets', but with no response process or common workflow

2nd Generation:  Structured data index

  • Some thought regarding selective datasets, but largely 'random'
  • More standardisation of data formats to be reusable online
  • More standardisation of data licenses to permit consistent reuse
  • Tagging and commenting supported (as in a blog for the site), with limited interaction by site management
  • Workflows introduced for dataset requests, with agencies required to respond as to when they will release, or why they will not release, data
  • Ability to list websites, services and mobile apps created using data

3rd Generation: Standardised data index

  • Standardisation of data formats with at least manual conversion of data between common standard formats 
  • Standardisation of data licenses to permit consistent reuse
  • Tagging and commenting supported, with active interaction by site management
  • Data request workflows largely automated and integrated with FOI processes
  • Ability to filter, sort and visualise data within the site to broaden usage to non-technical citizens
  • Ability to embed data and visualisations from site in other sites
  • Ability to list, rate and comment on websites, services and mobile apps created using data

4th Generation: Data community

  • Strategic co-ordinated release of data by agencies to provide segment-specific data pictures of specific topics or locations
  • Standardisation of data formats with automatic conversion of data between common standard formats
  • Standardised data licenses
  • Tagging, commenting and data rating supported, with active interaction by site management and data holding agencies
  • Data request workflows fully automated and integrated with FOI processes with transparent workflows in the site showing what stage the data release is up to - (data requested, communicated to agency, considered by agency, approved for release, being cleaned/formatted, legal clearances checked, released/refused release)
  • Support for data correction and conversion by the public
  • Support for upload of citizen and private enterprise datasets
  • Ability to filter, sort and visualise data, including mashing up discrete datasets within the site to broaden usage to non-technical citizens
  • Ability to request data visualisations as a data request
  • Supports collaboration between hackers to co-develop websites, services and mobile apps using data
  • Integrates the capability to run hack events - potentially on a more frequent basis (form/enter teams/submit hack proposals/submit hacks/public and internal voting/Winner promotion)

    5th Generation: Integrated data platform

    • A common platform for all national, state and local data, with the capabilities for each jurisdiction to make use of all Generation 4 features.
    • Integrated mapping environment for all levels of government, enabled with all available open data.

      Read full post...

      Wednesday, August 29, 2012

      Register now for the next Canberra Gov 2.0 free lunchtime event - 19 September 2012

      It's time to register for the next (free) Government 2.0 lunchtime event in Canberra - this time featuring Matthew Gordon from OurSay.org and Gina Beschorner from the Department of Human Services.

      Matthew will be talking aboutOurSay’s approach to public engagement in government and business decision making, drawing upon experiences holding forums with government agencies, political candidates, local government, media corporations and industry.

      Gina will be providing a view on how DHS manage their consultation blog - speechbubble and discuss their social media monitoring and activities responding to customers in forums and blogs.

      The event is on at DEEWR's lecture theatre on Marcus Clarke Road on Wednesday 19 September from 12:30 - 1:30pm.

      For more information and to register, go to http://gov2septact.eventbrite.com/

      Read full post...

      Tuesday, August 28, 2012

      Empowering science with Web 2.0

      Science and the scientific process is core to the delivery of modern government, with its focus on evidence-based policy and sound social research.

      So it's about time we had an organisation in Australia focused on exploring how the arrival of Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 is affecting science - how it is conducted, reported and used, how citizens engage in it and governments fund it (apparently the Australian Government believes this too - the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education is involved with the launch event).

      'sciencerewired' is being launched by media140 Australia as a new organisation dedicated to exploring the intersection of the internet and science, starting with a one day event in Adelaide on 11 October this year.

      This will involve participatory workshops, case studies and strategies for developing effective digital science communication and citizen science programmes.

      Attendees will learn about the latest insights and strategies in social media, crowd-sourcing methods, community management, remote digital technologies and big data and how they can and are being applied to science communication and citizen science.

      The event's themes will include:
      • Active and passive citizen science strategies and platforms
      • Managing and growing active science communities
      • Remote learning technologies, connecting people across borders
      • Dialling down the jargon, how to talk science to non-scientists
      • Big data and visualising complex concepts
      • The democratisation of science
      • Gamification (theory of gaming and applications to science)
      • Using tablets, iPads and moblie devices in science communication
      • Blogging for science and using video and audio effectively
      Speakers will include representatives from ScienceAlert, The Labshare Institute, theSkyNet, VIVOmiles, Atlas of Living Australia, RiAus, Veritasium and other innovators and digital pioneers in the field of citizen science, science education and communication.

      sciencerewired is hosted in partnership with the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, Royal Institute of Australia, COSMOS Magazine, iiNet, TechNYou and media140 Worldwide.

      Find out more and see the full event programme online

      Read full post...

      Friday, August 24, 2012

      The Rise of the Fifth Estate - a good yarn worth reading

      This morning I read Greg Jerico's book 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate' which chronicles the rise of political blogging and social media reporting in Australia.

      Some of you may remember Greg better as Grog of Grogs Gamut, a blogger and former public servant, known for his detailed analysis of political and sporting matters.

      He was outed by The Australian back in 2010, a matter covered widely by both mainstream media and the blogosphere at the time.

      I had already been reading Greg's keen insights into Australian politics for some time - and he was exposed after attending the Media 140 conference, which I also attended and spoke at.

      Greg's situation was a key test for how the Australian Public Service and our politicians handled public sector bloggers. Despite some time lag, it was handled well, with Greg's right to blog on a personal basis supported within his Department, Prime Minister and Cabinet.

      This based on the APS code of conduct, which allows public servants to participate in politics, provided it doesn't compromise their ability or perception of being non-partisan.

      Many people rallied around to support Greg at the time, including myself. It can be very lonely being a public servant and a blogger - and public sector workplaces do not necessarily understand, yet, how to provide appropriate support during this type of event.

      Greg subsequently left the public service, though he has continued to blog. Subsequently he's worked on television programs and written for ABC's The Drum, while working on his book.

      This gets me to the point of this post, reviewing Greg's newly released 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate'.

      His book is written in Greg's easy to read, yet well-evidenced style (with the odd chart), which makes it an easy and accessible read, yet with a good deal of depth and analysis.

      In it he tells the story of the start of Australia's political blogosphere, analyses its players and looks at the interplay between journalists and politicians, particularly on Twitter.

      His book also chronicles the 'war of bloggers' that mainstream journalism, particularly News Ltd, have waged on the "anonymous armchair amateurs" of the blogging world, including his own experience as well as those of others.

      He also draws some commonsense conclusions, cutting through the hype and mystique that the journalistic profession have used to justify their own specialness and detailing the convoluted mental gymnastics and lack of self-reflection that some mainstream journalists have employed to explain why real journalism can't come from a blog.

      The Rise of the Fifth Estate is really the first book in Australia to chronicle the opening stages in the rising media culture ways, as old media strains to remain relevant and profitable in the face of new modes of journalism.

      Given the cuts at Fairfax and News Ltd lately, this comes at a good time to help explain a little more about why events are unfolding as they are.


      I did, however, ultimately feel a little let down by Greg's 'Fifth Estate'.

      He's told a good yarn, in the best journalistic vernacular, a good current history and analysis of the past and present of the rise of the blogging and Twitter as political and political journalism tools.

      However I was hoping for a few more glimpses into the future, some of his insights as to how the Fourth and Fifth estates might find a workable balance that profits both, with a maximum of mutual understanding and a minimum of ongoing friction.

      In conclusion, I heartily recommend 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate' as a good read and as a great record of the first few years of what is proving to be a period of turbulent change for journalism and political communication.

      However, don't buy it expecting any kind of model of how to build a collaborative journalistic model, involving both professional journalists and citizens, new media and old media, into the future.

      For this we'll have to wait for Greg's next book (that's a hint Greg!)


      You can read the first chapter of 'The Rise of the Fifth Estate' for free at Grogs Gamut.

      For other reviews see:
      There's also an interview with Greg on ABC Radio National, Social media and blogs: the fifth estate?

      The Canberra book launch is on 30 August at Paperchain in Manuka. For other launches (currently underway), see Greg's publisher, Scribe.

      CAVEAT: Note that I helped Greg with some curation of the list of political blogs and supported Greg with some contacts and ideas. As a result I am named a couple of times in the book.

      Read full post...

      Wednesday, August 22, 2012

      Good model social media guidance from the Communications Council of Australia

      The Communications Council of Australia last week released a 'Social Media Code of Conduct' (PDF).

      The news was also covered in Mumbrella, who cover detail I won't cover here.


      It is quite a sound document and written in plainer English, making it a great model for government agencies seeking to provide social media guidance to staff.


      It is really guidance, rather than a 'Code' (which the Council explicitly states), and represents what they believe are the base level requirements in social media guidance for employees and for the use of social media by brands.

      The guidance is also beta, developed by volunteers and subject to ongoing revision and improvement - which is probably just as well given they don't take into account the recent ruling of the Advertising Standards Board.

      However it's a good starting point and well worth keeping on your radar.



      Read full post...

      Tuesday, August 21, 2012

      How has the world changed for the class of 2012?

      When things change over time and we live through the changes, we often don't notice their scale or impact on our behaviour or thinking.

      It's like growing up - you don't wake up each day thinking 'wow! I'm a millimetre taller' - but your uncles and aunts notice the difference as they see you less frequently.

      So too do we sometimes forget the massive technological changes occurring around the world, simply because we're living through them.

      However, IBM has created an infographic to help us recognise the extent of these changes, called the Class of 2012 (which I learnt about from GovLoop).

      Take a look here.

      The world has changed. Have you?

      Read full post...

      Monday, August 20, 2012

      Reinforcing the thin digital line

      One of the benefits of my current role is getting to travel around Australia and meet many of the public servants working in the Government 2.0 and open government areas.

      There's some fantastic people doing great work, often hidden in the most unlikely places.

      It has also made me aware of how few people there are in government with significant experience in this area, who have designed, launched and managed more than a few social media initiatives, or who have worked in the online sector for many years.

      Across all levels of government in Australia I could name less than 40 people working in agencies or councils who have more than three years practical experience with Government 2.0 and online channels, and who are also sharing their expertise beyond their immediate teams.

      I worry what would happen if even half of these people left government suddenly. The impact on the capabilities of agencies and the cost, in years and mistakes, in rebuilding expertise.

      I call them the 'thin digital line'.  They are the group that stands between government in Australia and the next agency social media disaster.

      Many of the people I know in this group are mentally tired. They've worked for years, often in digitally hostile environments, to build business cases and run pilots to demonstrate the value of online channels.

      Few have reached senior public service positions, due to their focus and 'troublemaking', often combined with a love of the practical hands-on thrill of seeing their actions result in positive outcomes.

      Fortunately there's now a larger pool of people coming up through the ranks who are excited about getting into the digital arena. These people may have a few years professional experience with social media, but are more likely to be digital natives than some of us who have been involved in the online space for more than ten years.

      They've internalised digital channels, but their knowledge of how to apply them in government agencies is still developing. They have skills and ideas, but sometimes lack confidence or experience.

      If governments in Australia are to continue to embed Government 2.0 in business as usual activities, there needs to be a transfer of knowledge, experience and confidence from the 'thin digital line' and the group now following them.

      I engaged in this kind of work last week, spending a day with a Commonwealth agency, meeting with with different teams to provide my experience and knowledge of the digital arena.

      The people I spoke with were motivated, enthusiastic and empowered by their agency, with the permission to innovate in the digital space. However they still wanted independent confirmation to verify their good ideas, suggest refinements, risks, broader opportunities and build their confidence.

      The day seemed to go very well and I have high hopes that the agency will be able to capitalise and continue to build its talent pool in this area. They'll be doing some awesome things over the next few years.

      If you've plenty of digital experience under your belt, I encourage you to do likewise.

      Find an agency or team who recognises the importance of online, but wants a sounding board or independent verification of their ideas.

      Help them, give them confidence in their own knowledge and abilities, provide that 'expert opinion' that allows them to justify their good strategy to a policy area or senior manager - or gently steers them past strategies that are high risk.

      Reinforce our 'thin digital line'. Help it to become a large embedded community of digitally capable and confident public servants, who can meet government online needs cost-effectively and quickly, then those who have done it before must share our experience.

      The benefit to you will be that you've helped others to soar, potentially higher than you ever could.

      Read full post...

      Friday, August 17, 2012

      Adapting to being adaptable

      We're starting to see government agencies come to terms with modern digital technologies, with more and more people in agency seeking to use them in their activities.

      Agencies are beginning to operationalise social media and, while still working through the process, open licenses and data as well.

      Some in digital related-roles in government are starting to feel their hard slog is nearly over, that they've won over management and can begin to focus on planning and doing rather than justifying, defending and educating.

      Managers are beginning to resolve governance and risk questions and observe more acceptance of the use of digital channels by Ministers and their peers, making them feel more secure.

      However there's a broader change taking place that public services and governments should not ignore.

      Embedding Gov 2.0 thinking and technologies into an agency isn't simply a modification in how government engages, a reprioritisation of channels or an evolution of existing processes and procedures.

      This change isn't like implementing a new structure or system - or introducing a new tool for staff, such as a fax machine or computer.

      Governments and agencies don't just have to adapt to the internet and Gov 2.0.

      They need to adapt to be more adaptable.


      The web is only twenty years old, Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 less than ten. In both cases we've seen an enormous flowering of ideas, rapid innovation and experimentation - with hundred-year-old industries already under threat.

      This is but the opening gasp of what looks to be a continually changing and evolving digital landscape, a landscape which has already begun reshaped our physical world and calling into question many beliefs and traditions around how people behave, how organisations should operate and how governments should govern.

      Public servants and politicians not only need to learn how to embed social media into their workplaces and activities, but how to design, manage and operate organisations and governments in fast changing environments and communities.

      The change is as profound as moving entire nations from solid land and placing them on the sea, where unpredictable currents and storms continually challenge how structures are build and people organised.

      We're entering an era where virtual states may be more relevant to people than physical ones, where the expertise government needs resides not only within their own staff, but outside the walls of their organisation, where programs succeed or fail based on whether communities wish them to - where governments are no longer the controller of states, but the servants of communities.

      This era has only just begun, with self-organising groups only beginning to flex their muscles - often in uncoordinated baby-like ways. However as time passed and people learn how to better organise and design better platforms for doing so, we are likely to see radically different organisations appear and challenge incumbents for dominance at both micro and macro levels.

      For governments to remain relevant they will need to learn to be adaptable, not simply to adapt to each new development, otherwise they will share the experience of the French in the opening days of World War II - with their plans, experience and processes for holding off Germany at the Maginot line were defeated by Germany going around the wall, failing to play by the rules of earlier engagements.

      Governments seeking to control their citizens, or to set boundaries even for their staff, are already finding that many are going around the walls of process, governance and technology they have erected to define the boundaries of acceptable conduct or behaviour.

      People are building, organising, sharing in spaces that agencies don't even recognise, let alone understand or engage in. Governance is lagging further and further behind practice and people are not waiting to let decision-makers catch up.

      So how do governments learn to be adaptable, to be agile, to be inclusive, flexible and inclusive without giving up too much ground on areas such as privacy, security and governance?

      This is an evolving body of work. However there are principles and similarity that adaptable organisations often share:

      • Hire adaptable and resilient people
      • Trust and empower your staff
      • Foster community and collaboration
      • Provide guidance rather than rules
      • Respect and reward innovation and achievement
      • Be transparent. Develop everything - policies, programs, systems, research, documents - to be accessible and shareable
      • Never stop listening and learning
      Organisations - even governments - who fail to adapt to being adaptable will keep falling further behind. At some point they may become irrelevant, unnecessary, or be forced to change from outside influences.

      So while considering how you may use social media or Gov 2.0 tools and techniques today in an activity, think about the bigger picture. Are you and your organisation learning how to become more adaptable?

      Read full post...

      Thursday, August 16, 2012

      The right way to release a mobile app - Human Services' new student app

      I'm pleased to say that with all the apps now being developed by Australian governments, the Department of Human Services' new 'Express Plus Students' App, has managed to address almost all the criticisms I've had previously regarding government mobile apps.

      What were these criticisms? And which did the Department fail to address? Read on...

      Have a clear purpose

      The first criticism I have about government mobile Apps is that sometimes they seem to be created without much thought about whether they actually are needed at all.

      It is important to resist any urges to create a mobile App simply because you want to make one (as a shiny toy, for experience or credibility), or a senior manager wants to look good to their peers or Minister.

      There are aspects of government business which, frankly, the community just isn't interested about. Apps, particularly in government, need a reason - a good reason - to exist, as well as an audience interested and ready to download and use them.

      Don't create an App when you need a mobile site

      One of the most costly mistakes governments (or anyone else) can make is in developing a mobile App when a mobile site would have met your needs and be more cost-effective.

      If you're mainly providing a wrapper around website content and functionality, or providing textual information with a few images and buttons, it is usually faster and cheaper to build a mobile site than a mobile App.

      This is because, well, building websites is simply cheaper, and while a mobile App needs to be recoded for every operating system and screen size, a mobile site will work across all internet-capable mobile devices without the coding overheads.

      It is far easier to update as mobile site to suit emerging devices - by creating device specific style sheets, which are automatically applied when someone using a particular device visits.


      This saves the money that would otherwise be spent in developing versions of your App for different devices and keeping them all up-to-date.


      Mobile sites (should if built well) allow you to update the content easily, quickly and cheaply without potentially requiring development time and a user download. Though note that with clever App design this can also be achieved through having a mobile App that presents content drawn from a website or even a text file online.

      The worst case - and I have seen it in practice - is when content is hard coded into an app, then there's a need to update it urgently. Frankly it's not easy to push an App through the iStore in less than two weeks, and this is after development. Apps are bad news for urgent updates.

      Where your content is mostly words, mobile download speeds aren't generally an issue. It is when you get to video content and sophisticated functionality, or where your users are likely to operate beyond cost-effective 3G or wi-fi range (such as boat owners, remote communities and foreign travellers) that you may wish to consider a mobile App approach actively.

      Design to standards including accessibility

      When designing apps it seems that many basic usability and accessibility features can get forgotten, with many apps designed to operate in non-standard and non-intuitive ways. There are standards for a reason and standards-based apps will stand a better chance of feeling easy for regular app users to adopt (just like most Windows and Mac programs follow standards).

      This means using the design paradigms for iOS, and Google's design principles for Android.

      It also means tapping into the accessibility features built into iOS, and Android.

      Use inbuilt controls

      Using the inbuilt features and controls in mobile operating systems is also important. For example rather than building a map feature, use the one provided on the device.

      I have seen Apps where the developer has built all kinds of nifty features that already existed in the operating system. This is sloppy, expensive and rarely results in a better experience.

      Built in a reporting system

      While you can find out how many App downloads have occurred from most App stores, tracking actual use of mobile Apps requires a reporting system hooked into the code itself.

      This is fairly easy to do today, with Google Analytics supporting App reporting, and a number of custom reporting packages available from other organisations that are simply embedded in your App's code.

      Having this reporting information is about more than accountability to the Minister, it is about understanding where, when, how and why people are using your mobile App, and helps you build an understanding of your audience so you can keep improving the App - and build new ones - that are even better.

      Too many government apps are released without a reporting system, and it's very hard to reverse-engineer one in after release. People who previously downloaded an App can get mighty sensitive about the information you are suddenly collecting plus you miss the initial burst of activity that helps you identify issues and strengths.

      Have an official agency account at App stores

      This is one of my biggest frustrations, as seeing an official government App listed in an App store as having been created by 'Silly Mobile App Company' instantly reduces the credibility, trust and the ability to actually find the App by searching on the agency's name.

      Also when an agency is making several Apps, often each is with a different Mobile App developer due to tender processes or skills. They then get listed under the name of the developer in the App store, which then cannot list your Apps together in a single place ('see other apps from this organisation'), reducing your agency's ability to cross-promote.

      Plus, what happens if you make an App with a company, then have a falling out? It can be tricky, even impossible, to get the App out of the developer's account and move it to a new account on App stores.

      It seems a no-brainer to me that agencies should register accounts on the main App stores before they start creating mobile Apps. This allows them to register their Apps under their own name, rather than that of developers and to use their reputation to build interest and trust.

      Link to your Apps

      Due to the wonders of modern technology it is possible to link from your media release and website to your App, as well as to link from your Apps to your other Apps.

      Something that agencies still don't appear to do well is to link their mobile Apps together, with an in-App method of downloading other Apps from the same agency, or even government.

      Also media releases still lack basic details such as screenshots of Apps or links to them in the App stores. I know it might come as a surprise to some people, but journalists understand how to use hyperlinks, as does the community - and both groups love pictures as much, if not more, than they love words.

      Most media releases are read online, not on fax machines - so links can allow someone to get straight to the mobile App without messing around with a search in an App store.

      With many releases now read on mobile devices, it makes sense to allow people to click to download the App straight away. It is inconsiderate to force someone to search when they can click.


      And that final point is my only criticism of Human Services' 'Express Plus Students' App.

      Go to their media release, which has been widely tweeted, and there is no link to the App in the iStore. Hopefully this is an oversight they will fix. It should not take long!

      Note that I can't tell if Human Services' App has a reporting system built in either, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt!


      So how has Human Services' App been received by its audience?

      This is a great 'good news' story already - with a number of five-star reviews. Check them out yourself at the App iStore (and note that there's more reviews to read if you can click through to iTunes).

      Read full post...

      Wednesday, August 15, 2012

      When the dam breaks...

      It is amazing to watch how quickly things can change once a key leadership change - of mind or person - occurs in a government department.

      In the last four weeks Australia has gone from having no digital diplomats, lagging the world, to having four (@AusAmbUSA, @AusHCIndia@AusAmbJP and @DubesAustralia) - hopefully with many more to come (selected strategically) as we still lag behind nations like the US in leveraging these tools.

      This is being reported to me as happening in other agencies as well - sometimes as almost a collective awakening to the benefits of engaging online.

      Of course this isn't necessarily all good. There needs to be care taken to understand different online channels and use the right tools for purpose.

      It also doesn't necessarily reflect a culture shift. I'm still seeing governments, every day, using 2.0 technologies in 1.0 ways and attempting to insert barriers to limit 'conversational risk' that, conversely, frustrate people and increase risk (they go talk about you somewhere else).

      If you're a communications professional, or a proponent of social media, it is a very good time to ensure that your skills are up-to-date and your social media policy and plans ready - in draft form - to go to executive when they ask.

      As I've blogged before, Ignorance (of social media) is risk and it pays to ensure you have enough knowledge to make good recommendations, avoiding the known pitfalls through good planning.

      For Communications professionals who refuse to consider the use of online channels, your effective career is shortening fast, as is the effectiveness of policy and program managers - however there's still time to expand your skills to all the new 'tools of the trade'.


      Read full post...

      Friday, August 10, 2012

      Science, Technology & Wellbeing - plus community engagement by government

      There's an interesting event coming up in Canberra for Science Week, a discussion around Science, Technology & Wellbeing that seeks to build engagement between government, scientists and the community around the topic of "How can we improve our lives? And how might science and technology help?"

      To be held as a free event on 18 August at Canberra's Southern Cross Yacht Club, the aims are to build:
      a clearer picture of what wellbeing means to people and current issues of concern, to experiment with thinking about science and technology in new ways, and to help develop DIISRTE's new framework for community engagement about science and technology, STEP (Science & Technology Engagement Pathways; http://www.innovation.gov.au/step).
      The event is being run by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and should be a very interesting glimpse into how agencies are seeking to develop new frameworks for community engagement, building off increasing public participation engendered by the growth of the internet.

      For more information and to book, visit http://wellbeingtechnologyforum.eventbrite.com.au/?ebtv=C

      Read full post...

      Thursday, August 09, 2012

      What the Facebook ruling from the Advertising Standards Board (that comments are ads) means for agencies

      There's been a lot of commentary this week in the media around the decision by the Australian Advertising Board (ASB) to rule that the comments of fans published on an brand's Facebook page are actually advertisements and must comply with industry self-regulation and consumer protection laws.

      In face the ruling states that Facebook, and other social media tools, are advertising platforms - which may come as a surprise to long-term users of these services.

      The ASB ruling is available as a PDF here. It involved Smirnoff Vodka and stated that content (comments and photos specifically) appearing on the company’s brand Facebook page constituted advertising, regardless of whether the company or members of the public posted it.

      That's right - the ASB ruling states that all user comments in social media may be advertising.

      The basis for this ruling was a recent legal decision:
      The view that brands are responsible for consumer created content on their social media  pages has been supported by a recent decision of an Australian Federal Court (Australian  Competition and Consumer Commission v Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd (No 2) [2011] FCA 74)1  that a health company was responsible for Facebook and Twitter comments by fans on its  account in defiance of a court order that the company not make misleading claims about its  allergy treatments  The Federal Court concluded that Allergy Pathway was responsible for third-party comments where it knew of them and made a  decision not to remove them from its Facebook page 
      Therefore as Smirnoff had the technical capability to moderate user comments on its Facebook page, it had an obligation to do so. If it did not moderate user comments which made untrue claims about the company or its brands (as well as sexist, racist or otherwise unlawful statements) it was guilty of false advertising.

      The apparent consequence of the ruling, for organisations who participate in the ASB's self-regulation scheme, is that they are now required to moderate all comments by individuals on their brand and corporate Facebook pages, other social networks, blogs, wikis, forums and social media channels in which they have the technical ability to do so.

      This requirement may even potentially extend to platforms outside their direct control but where they can identify and request untrue (or otherwise uncompliant) comments about their company or brand to be removed - such as on Facebook pages or forums moderated by people outside the organisation (such as members of the public).

      Some facts

      The Australian Advertising Board is the directing group over the Advertising Standards Bureau body appointed to oversee the self-regulation of advertising in Australia by the members of the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA).

      It is a body independent of government and independent of advertisers. It is not underpinned by any government legislation or policy and it is a voluntary organisation which participating associations, corporations, advertising agencies and other bodies agree to abide by.

      Decisions by the Board are neither legally binding nor, necessarily, reflective of government policy.

      Where a participating advertiser does not abide by an ASB ruling (which is apparently very rare), the ASB can "liaise with industry and media bodies such as FreeTV, and the Outdoor Media Association which will either negotiate with the advertiser directly for the removal of the advertisement or in specific cases, take action to remove the advertisement."

      The ASB may also refer advertisers to an appropriate government body and recommend a course of action.

      However the ASB and its secretariat - the Advertising Standards Bureau - has no direct enforcement power, nor any ability to force other parties (such as industry bodies or government agencies) to take action.

      Putting the ruling in perspective

      This ruling needs to be considered seriously by ASB participants - corporations and advertising agencies in particular.

      They need to have a long hard look at whether they can afford to maintain social media channels with the risk that anyone in the community who comments in a channels they can technically control - including, potentially, their competitors - can cause them a world of pain by posting untrue things about them.

      I'm not sure if governments participate directly in the self-regulation scheme, however it would be bad form for agencies to ignore direct rulings against their advertising by the ASB.

      Is it 'right'?

      This is my opinion, but the ASB's position doesn't stand up to scrutiny in a technical, practical or fair sense.

      It is based on 20th Century thinking whereby organisations control the channels, and therefore the conversations, with audiences.

      In reality this control has slipped almost totally out of the hands of organisations due to the internet and particularly due to social media. Organisations can (and should) control their direct statements, however they can't control the statements of other entities and individuals, beyond having some influence and oversight based on Australia's legal framework around defamation, slander and copyright.

      Redefining individual comments as 'advertising' is highly problematic and is a disservice to the already weak freedom of speech provisions in Australia.

      If I say on my blog that the Honda Jazz is the best car ever made, it is reasonable to assume that this is my opinion, not an advertisement. If I made the same statement on Honda's company Facebook page this remains my opinion - I am simply directing it at the people who made the car, in tribute to them.

      Of course there is an exception if Honda has given me money, privileges, or a Honda Jazz - in which case my comments are advertising and need to be treated as such. (Note that Honda has not given me anything and I've never driven a Honda Jazz, nor wanted to)

      Of course this is just about a car - a product. How about if I say on a government Facebook page that, for example, "I think the Fair Work Act is the best workplace relations bill in the world". Would this have to be moderated and removed as, despite it being a potentially heartfelt personal opinion, it is considered advertising (aka - has no facts to back it up)?

      Isn't 'opinion' by definition a personal view which may, or may not, be supported by facts?

      Apparently not. It's advertising. Hmmm...


      Let's take practicality. On a Facebook page with 15,000 fans, 1% being active any week, that's 150 posts to moderate. Assuming it takes 3 minutes on average to assess each, it will take 450 minutes, or 7.5 hours, solid work to moderate all content.

      That's possible with a single part-time, trained, moderation officer.

      Now let's consider the Tourism Australia Facebook page. It has 3,375,675 fans. If 1% are active in any week, that's over 37,500 posts to moderate. Based on 3 minutes per post, it takes 112,500 minutes, 1,875 hours, or 250 person-days (based on a 7.5 hr work day) to moderate. Each week.

      On that basis, Tourism Australia would require at least 50 people (plus extras to cover for leave) to moderate the page to get rid of user 'advertisement' comments which are not evidentially statements of fact, such as these real comments on the page right now:
      • "A very blessed country. It has almost all the best things in life. I love Australia"
      • "Australia the land of grace and tranquility"
      • "Best country in the world"
      • "better hurry to this Whitsunday resort before it too is closed like so many of the others"

      What have others said?

      Generally industry bodies have come out cautiously and indicated that companies need to digest the ruling and consider its implications.

      Those experienced in social media have been less cautious and mostly said the idea won't work (though a minority have said it just reinforces what brands already had to do).

      Here's a few articles on the topic as a reference:

      Read full post...

      Monday, August 06, 2012

      Is the Australian Government really slow to update staff to modern web browsers?

      One of the concerns I faced when working in government, and that I know many other people faced as well, was the currency of the web browser(s) available for use by staff.

      Some agencies still used Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, a ten year old browser that isn't supported by many major websites and online services and that even Microsoft admits is insecure and out-of-date. It is now used by only 0.8% of Australian web users.

      Statcounter research - Web browsers used in April 2012
      |in Australia and Oceania
      Others prohibit access to Firefox or Chrome - which, according to some reports, together now hold a larger share of web browsing by Australians than Internet Explorer, and are also considered by many to be more standards compliant.

      In fact Chrome v21 (at 21.1%) is reportedly the most used web browser by version in Australia, followed by Internet Explorer 9 (19.6%) and Firefox 11 (16%).

      Why is the selection of browser so important?

      There's a few reasons that spring to my mind.

      Because the browser selected can limit the ability of staff at agencies to use the internet productively. To source information, monitor conversations online, use modern web services and even access advanced intranet features.

      Because it costs more to develop for older, standards non-compliant web browsers - with Internet Explorer 6 compliance often adding 20% to the cost and development time of web sites and intranets.

      Because it constrains testing of websites. While some web teams have special dispensation to access every browser for test purposes, in other agencies staff are forced to rely on their personal devices, or simply can't test for modern browsers.

      Because there is an imperative on government to not use software more than two versions old - a particular issue for agencies still using Internet Explorer 6 when the current version is 9.


      I can understand agencies who are 'trapped in the past'. There's often more important priorities for IT and management - critical systems that need to be managed, budget and resourcing concerns. However if you could improve the productivity and happiness of all your staff with a simple software upgrade which also improves your security, well...

      There's also sometimes technical issues. While web browsers are free, upgrading an entire department isn't. There are dependencies - particularly with SAP, which stubbornly only supported Internet Explorer 6 until recent versions. It costs money to upgrade SAP and to manage this and a browser upgrade across thousands of computers, including any communication and training support required. Agencies, with other priorities, may put off this work as long as they can.

      All this aside - how are Australian Government agencies actually doing in terms of how modern their web browsers are. Are the majority still stuck on Internet Explorer 6 or a similar old and insecure web browser?

      As part of my FOI request on social media in March, I asked agencies which web browsers they used, as it impacts on which social media tools they can use.

      The exact question was:
      Which web browsers are currently mandated and/or supported for use by your agency's staff when using agency supplied IT equipment as specified below?
      (Please tick applicable web browsers or supply by email a copy of the documentation on your Standard Operating Environment detailing this information)

      While some agencies may regard this as confidential, please note the web browser type and version can, in most cases, be detected by any website visited by your staff.

      Aside from two agencies who told me that this was "commercial-in-confidence" information they would not release, most agencies were very willing to provide this information.

      I've aggregated the results in the chart below based on the 65 legitimate survey responses I received (the easiest information to analyse). Other (non-survey) responses haven't been included due to the analyse time required.
      Web browsers officially mandated by Australian Government agencies
      for use by their staff - sample from 65 agencies.

      Looking at this response, many agencies supported multiple web browsers - generally Internet Explorer and one other.

      Few remained on Internet Explorer 6 or 7, and most sat one version behind the most recent released web browsers - such as on Internet Explorer 8.

      I did make one error. I forgot to include Blackberry's browser as an option for mobile phones. This is used as standard across all Blackberry mobile devices, so can be considered a standard.

      So overall, how did Australia Government agencies do?

      Very well in my view - and better than I had anticipated.

      While a few agencies (including some very large ones) still lag back on Internet Explorer 6 or 7, most are using acceptably modern web browsers, even providing a choice in many cases - which helps compensate for some of the minor niggles in some browser versions.

      Note
      You can now view (and analyse) survey responses from my social media FOI as well at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/sr.aspx?sm=mE_2bvebDvXLOHHKrCnKP79IaCNkFpWjDocQJAN5aEvCQ_3d)

      Read full post...

      Friday, August 03, 2012

      Apps and hacks for social good (info-philanthropy)

      It is nice to begin to see volunteering in more than simply physical ways beginning to be valued and rewarded in Australia.
      Apps Aid (image from the Pro Bono Australia article,
      'App Aid - Developers Unite with Charities For Greater Good')

      I've just learnt about App Aid, a 48 hour event being held in Australia in September this year, from Pro Bono Australia).

      Ten teams of seven (4 app developers and 3 charity representatives) will compete to create apps that make a positive difference to the community. $30,000 in charitable funds is up for grabs as prizes.

      The event is being organised and sponsored by the Vodafone Foundation, the charitable wing of Vodafone Australia (who have quite a bit of experience with social media).

      Like the Random Hacks of Kindness held last year in Melbourne as part of a global series of events, App Aid represents a new style of involvement in social issues.

      Unfortunately, this type of 'giving back' isn't well recognised or supported in Australia as yet.

      While the US has a number of foundations committed to 'information philanthropy' and 'hacking for good', Australia has a big legislative gap in this space.

      I've looked in detail into setting up charitable foundations for information philanthropy and it's very hard to do here (Kudos to Open Australia who did indeed set up a foundation for their activities).

      In fact the only recommendation by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce that was not taken up by the then Australian Government was about Info-Philanthropy. It was deferred, and subsequently has been ignored by other government reviews.

      The lack of interest in this area has even been portrayed in the media as opposition to this type of philanthropy (Federal Government opposes info-philanthrophy) - though I suspect it would be more accurate to say that info-philanthropy hasn't reached a sufficient awareness threshold for governments to consider acting.

      In the absence of support by government, I hope we do see more info-philanthropy from the private sector in Australia.

      We don't just need to feed the hungry and house the homeless but to use technology to do these things and support other charitable and philanthropic activities in an increasingly efficient and effective manner.

      Technology, coupled with information, has transformed how industries and governments operate. Ignoring the potential impact on the philanthropic and charitable sector is not only unwise, it is potentially extremely costly.

      Read full post...

      Thursday, August 02, 2012

      In Perth this September? Come to RightClick!

      If you're based in WA, or in Perth on 5th September this year, consider attending the Western Australia Institute of Public Administration's fourth annual RightClick conference, focusing on "Technology but not for its own sake".
      I'll be providing a keynote on 'shiny new things' and why people are attracted to them and there's a great line-up of other speakers on topics including:
      • Service in the age of the digital citizen
      • Information Systems Audit Report
      • Database design for longevity
      • Harnessing technology to enhance the citizen experience
      • Big Data: harnessing big data to acheive unpredented insights for service
        improvement and policy development
      More detail is available at the IPAA's WA website at www.wa.ipaa.org.au/events/2012/rightclick_2012.aspx


      Read full post...