Tag: Tom Watson

Stuff I've seen June 21st through June 23rd

These are my links for June 21st through June 23rd:

Why it's great that Tim Berners-Lee is advising the British Government.

The announcement that Sir Tim Berners-Lee will be advising the UK Government is important not because he invented the world wide web, it’s not even because he’s very clever, and so credible he’s hard to ignore.

It’s simple because he’s really is obsessed with data. I know that seems like statement of the bleedin’ obvious but its worth saying.  This is good news because he really does know what he’s talking about. If you want to appreciate how much he cares, watch this TED.com talk from February 2009:


In it he talks about his concept of Linked Data, which asks for 3 things:

  1. Individual bits of data should also be given web addresses, that’s an address beginning with http for every bit of data within another document: people, places, events, products, genes, chemicals etc etc.
  2. That data appears in some sort of useful protocol.
  3. When we get the information it also contains relationships –  and whenever it expresses a relationship, the thing it relates too also has an address starting with http.

So Tim Berners-Lee cares about much more than the mechanics of how we move to HTML 5 (the new rules for how we will work the www).  He cares about how data can make government more transparent and help knowledge evolve faster.  His role will include (hat tip to Tom Scott):

  1. overseeing the creation of a single online point of access and work with departments to make this part of their routine operations.
  2. helping to select and implement common standards for the release of public data
  3. developing Crown Copyright and ‘Crown Commons’ licenses and extending these to the wider public sector
  4. driving the use of the internet to improve consultation processes.
  5. working with the Government to engage with the leading experts internationally working on public data and standards

He also believes in the power of grassroots movements. That’s Us.  As he puts it in the talk:

I asked people to put their documents on this web thing, and you did!  Thanks.  It’s been a blast.

He understands that the remarkable thing about the internet is we built it.  It flourishes because we choose to share stuff with each other using the rules he created back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

So a world wide web of Linked Data is not something he expects big commerce or big government to take sole responsibility for. He expects us to learn how to do it, just as every time we add something to Facebook we show that we have learnt how to play our part in making the World Wide Web.

You might also want to listen to this interview with Rory Cellan-Jones, about the problems of bureacracy. Emma Mulqueeny thinks his reputation will bring much needed “serious intervention” to a data muddle, while Paul Canning echoes that, hoping that (with the departure of Tom Watson from the Cabinet Office) Sir Tim might be able to act as a data head-banger.

Data, crown copyright, archives, listening to communities and the "empowerment heist".

I’m rootling through my feed reader catching up.

On Thursday Tom Watson announced that Crown Copyright was to be revised so those wanting to data mash with information from the Office of Public Sector Information will now be automatically granted a license. With a rather neat turn of phrase “They say information is power, but only distributed information is truly empowering” he went on to say:

the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) has looked again at the restrictions of Crown Copyright, and now a licence will automatically be granted to anyone wanting to use the information rather than having to apply beforehand.  OPSI has also shown how Government can publish in a ‘web-friendly’ way rather than just as PDFs, and I want to see this approach rolled out across Government.  Today I’m pleased to announce that COI is launching new standards on quality to make Government sites as effective and easy to use as possible.”

The COI site on web site clarity was first mention on the Power of Information Blog and is   http://usability.coi.gov.uk/

The Guardian has been continuing it’s Free Our Data reporting, with Charles Arthur a little underwhelmed by the announcements above:

Umm. It’s not quite the revolution that some of us were hoping for. It doesn’t even yet seem to legitimise the re-use and repurposing by sites such as theyworkforyou.com of the contents of Hansard – which is Crown copyright. That’s the trouble with tectonic shifts, though. Nothing seems to happen for a very long time, and then sometimes it happens all at once.

I don’t agree, (and neither does Tim Davies) the shift won’t be seismic in the sense of some sort of overnight social media sensation.  The last 5 years has seen steady change and the groundwork is still going on at government level.  The COI’s social media guidance document (a pdf – tut) says civil servants should:

Help non-governmental bodies to build new services by structuring information so that they can combine public data with private data.  Avoid replicating what is already being undertaken by non-governmental bodies.

Wednesday saw the launch of a 12 week consultation called Archives for the 21st Century, again data, how we capture and share it will be at the heart of this.  The press information mentions one wonderful example of a data set created from digitising the log books of ships going back to the 17th century.  Hour after hour mariners from Britain, Holland, France and Spain would log the time, their position and the weather.  The CLIWOC project is now a database for Climate Change Study.  Another example they use is Birmingham Stories.

Also on Wednesday Downing Street restored the e-mail the Prime Minister service and Hazel Blears announced that one way for councils to save £600 million a year was by listening to their communities.  This riled Julian Dobson who called it an “empowerment heist”:

‘Involving communities are key to unlocking greater savings – when it comes to finding efficiencies, empowering local people is part of the solution, not part of the problem,’ she said.

There is of course some truth in this – councils that listen to local people and provide services that are valued will achieve more for their money. But the crude equation of ’empowerment’ with savings is dangerous nonsense: there’s no rationale for turning what may be a fortunate by-product in some circumstances into the raison d’etre.  Yesterday’s speech might have been excusable were it not for the ten years of rhetoric that had preceded it.

Ofqual’s new Chief Officers report has been made comment-able and Spaghettitesting listed the Government winners of the Webby’s including a non-governmental site from the transparency movement  GovernmentDocs.org.