Monday, November 17, 2008

Disintermediating government online

Governments are being disintermediated online by citizen networks and private companies.

This reflects the self-organising and distributional capabilities of the web and raises some serious questions regarding what governments should focus on online.

The Bureau of Meteorology collects data from hundreds of weather stations across Australia. It is a Federal government bureau.

Weather Underground also collects data from weather stations across Australia - and around the world - but these are owned by citizens. It is privately operated.

Hansard captures the business of government, making transcripts of proceedings from the houses of parliament available to Australians online. It is a Federal government agency.

OpenAustralia also makes Hansard transcripts available, together with statistics on how often politicians speak, the ability to subscribe to get updates when your favourite member speak and more. It is a not-for-profit citizen operated website (and does all of this despite having to cope with government changes).

Google rivals (and is used by many more people than) for searching online information about government.

These examples reflect a growing trend on the internet - for citizen-led or private sector initiatives to equal, or surpass, the services offered by government online.

Some of the online services providing alternatives to government information are even able to be profitable, while the government service is simply a cost on consumers.

So why should government provide these services online at all?

Would we be better off simply providing the data and letting innovative citizens and companies repackage it for the public?

Could the government turn some online data into revenue? For example, allowing research companies to repackage ABS data into unique online analysis tools (while providing ongoing access to a free basic level.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear to me - government will be disintermediated online if it does not lift its game or make the choice to become a 'data warehouse' rather than a 'retail outlet'.

This topic has also been raised by the Gartner group, releasing a press release stating, Gartner Says Citizen Social Networks Will Complement, and May Replace, Some Government Functions.

Your thoughts
Should government continue to invest in online services where not-for-profit or corporate solutions exist?
Or should government focus on the areas where competition does not exist?


  1. In the Netherlands we've set up an initiative called Open Government ( Its goal is for government to focus on making information resources publicly available in an open format so others (civilians) can build useful sites and services with it. I think that's in line with what you're saying in this blogpost, right? ;-)


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