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Archive for March 22nd, 2010

The “Building Britain’s Digital Future” Announcement

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 22 March 2010

I have just caught the end of Gordon Brown’s live video stream (hosted on the number10.gov.uk Web site). I have also been following the Twitter discussions centred around the #bbcdf #bbdf tag (a topic which has trended on Twitter this morning).

There has been a certain amount of cynicism in my Twitter feed, with developers being sceptical about Gordon Brown’s knowledge of Linked Data (if it’s difficult for experience Web developers to get, why are politicians talking about it) and others asking “Who will pay for the announcements which have been made?”.

I’m sure that Gordon Brown doesn’t know much about Linked Data – but he does have advisers who do. And I’m pleased that Professor Nigel Shadbolt from the University of Southampton (who, together with Dame Wendy Hall, gave the opening plenary talk about Linked Data at the Online Information 2009 conference) has been advising the government on the benefits of openness, open data and Linked Data. The question of how such developments will be paid for is a more relevant one – perhaps further cuts could be made in the UK’s Trident programme?  More realistically I’m sure civil servants will be giving details of the associated costs and the Tories will be questioning how it will be funded. So I don’t intend to get bogged down in the details of the costs; rather I want to pick up on some of the key points which were made.  And I’ll use some of the tweets from @hadleybeeman as a summary of the various announcements.

The comments that “PM making a plan to secure recovery, growth, jobs, success in the global marketplace” and “PM committing to bring public borrowing down fairly and without damaging public services” are just electioneering and content-free. The comment thatPM says we can’t rely on an open market to look after all Britons; instead we need an open partnership of business, economics & gov” is more political and reflects a Blairite mixed economy vision. It seems that thePM is after open, interactive public services. Be prepared to cancel current projects (which?) to save £billions. Create 1/4 mill jobs“.  Hmm – cancelling IT projects (and Web sites). As Hadley commented, the devil is in the detail -which projects are to be cancelled?  And also won’t cancelling current projects result in job losses rather than job creation? Perhaps this is creative accountancy: 1/4 million jobs created for new projects (but 1/2 million jobs lost for those working on existing projects?).

Moving away from political speculation (and a degree of cynicism) the comment thatPM says that underpinning next generation of Britain is next generation of web: semantic web” is interesting and is the announcement that the “PM committing to access to every home, digital services transforming the way each citizen interacts with gov” (an announcement that has already been published in today’s Guardian). meanwhile researchers at the University of Southampton will probably be opening bottles of champagne at the news that the “PM announcing £30m to create Insitute of Web Science. Best of world scientists, headed by Prof Nigel Shadbolt & Sir Tim Berners Lee“.

I was particularly pleased with the announcements which demonstrated a commitment to greater openness. We heard thatPM announces commitment to greater transparency of workings of Whitehall. data.gov.uk, 1 Apr: Ordnance Survey data will be openand thePM announcing that in autumn ALL non-personal government data will be released. “New Domesday book”, overseen by National Archives”. In additionPM says we will release all @directgov content for reuse“.

The announcements were all about new initiative and policy decisions, though.  We heard thatPM: we will close 500 more gov websites. New requirement that each will be interactive with citizens“. The apparent demise of central government Web sites as publishing mechanism seems to  have been announced:  “PM: “My Gov” marks the end of the one-size fits all, man from the ministry knows best view of public services” and an announcement which will probably frighten civil servants:PM: “My gov” will be gov on demand. Civil svnts will no longer be editors. Citizens will be in control, determining lvl of engagement“.

My final comment is that Gordon Brown seems to have embraced a Web 2.0 vision:  “PM: Opening more policy to e-petitions, scrutiny & consultation. Podcasts, twitter, flickr, youtube, new No10 iphone app (free)“.

I have tried to provide a quick summary of this morning’s announcements, based on Hadley Beeman’s valuable live tweets.

So it seems that the Government will be shutting down many of its brochure-ware Web sites and replacing them with more interactive services which will incorporate use of various Web 2.0 approaches  and technologies (such as Twitter).   The Government will also be opening up access to its (non-personal)  data and will be providing access using Linked Data approaches.

I think this is a very radical series of announcements which, on the face of it, fit in with my views on the benefits of Web 2.0 in the public sector and the benefits of openness and open data.

What do you think?

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