Saturday, October 31, 2009

And the GovHack winner is...

GovHack wrapped up tonight with drinks at CSIRO's Discovery centre.

Although many of the Govhackers had already departed for their drives and flights back to Sydney, Melbourne and other parts of Australia, around 30 people remained for the award ceremony.

At the awards, Tom Coates spoke about how only 20 years ago Tim Berners-Lee had written the document that laid out the core concept for the internet. He said that today we are seeing a whole new revolution based on the opening up of data and that this enables the community to help governments work - a transformational shift.

After deliberation, the judges gave honourable mentions to the teams
- What The Federal Government Does
- Project TeaLady
- It's Buggered, Mate

The Lonely Planet Award went to Rate My Loo for embodying the spirit of the day.

Second place went to Know where you live.

And the winning mashup was LobbyClue.

Well done to everyone involved!

Below are a few photos from the award ceremony - taken with iPhone so excuse the low resolution.

Tom Coates speaking at the GovHack award ceremony.

John Allsop (the main organiser) speaking at the GovHack award ceremony.

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A couple more great Govhacks

Here's some of the other mashups created at GovHack...

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Govhacking in Canberra

This afternoon I've been able to spend a few hours hanging out with a group of talented web developers, designers and programmers at Canberra Uni.

They've gathered for the Gov 2.0 Taskforce sponsored GovHack event, to develop new mashup applications and services using government data released at and

There's been a great deal of creative work done, from exposing the PowerHouse's data as a service, to an application for rating ACT toilets called Rate-a-Loo to mapping government agencies by function - such as this image of Transport-related agencies, to the creation of a 'lite' Australian version of FixMyStreet, appropriately named It's Buggered, Mate.

So far around 20 mashups have been submitted - based on 24 hours work.

I'll report on the winners later today.

Here's a few photos of the day...

What some of the developers looked like after hacking through the night.

John Allsop speaking to govhackers shortly before the presentation of the mashups created over the last day.

Senator Lundy saying a few words at the GovHack event.

Tom Coates from San Francisco, who was an international guest at the Govhack event. Tom has been involved with around 12 GovHack events around the world.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The growing mobile internet landscape - but where's government?

2009 has been called the year of mobile internet - and with good reason.

The iPhone has become the fastest adopted consumer electronics product in history. Google's Android has become a serious mobile platform and smartphones of every shade have continued to multiple exponentially.

The mobile internet has been growing faster than any digital platform in history, as the below chart from Morgan Stanley as reported in TechCrunch's article, How The iPhone Is Blowing Everyone Else Away (In Charts), demonstrates.

So how is Australia's government getting involved in the mobile revolution?

We have seen the first smartphone games - from the Department of Defense and VicRoads.

We've also seen applications that mashup government data such as FoodWatch NSW using the NSW Food Authority database and the National Toilet Map.

However to my knowledge no state or federal government services have - as yet - been delivered on a native smartphone platform.

I wonder when we'll see the first. I don't expect they are far away.

By the way, while Australian governments haven't developed many applications, efforts are now underway to classify the thousands that already exist, as reported in the ITnews article, Classification board seeks to censor iPhone apps.

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Using forums to engage the community

Dr Crispin Butteriss of Bang the Table gave the presentation below at the IAP2 Conference in Perth October 2009.

It provides an excellent view of how governments can use forums to engage communities, including unveiling what types of feedback you can expect.

Thanks to Matthew Crozier who brought my attention to this over at Ozloop.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Media after empire - what's next for old media?

Mark Scott, the Managing Director of ABC, has written a very interesting piece in Unleashed about the future of 'old media' empires entitled, Media after Empire.

While it's not specifically about Government, I thought it had some very interesting comments about 'empires' which resonate with some of the challenges that the public sector faces in the digital age.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Short takes for public sector management - Shift happens & Did you know?

If you're having difficulty getting across to your management the magnitude of the impact of the internet and changes in society, try showing them one or more of these videos - each is only around eight minutes long.

They provide a snapshot (in figures) of the changes taking place in the world.

In case you experience resistance, mention that Did you know 3.0 was used by New York State's CIO, Dr Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, in her presentation at the recent CEBIT Gov 2.0 conference.

Did you know 4.0 (2009)

Did you know 3.0 (2008)

Did you know 2.0 (2007)

Shift Happens (Did you know 1.0) (2006)

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Finding Australian government on social media

It can be quite hard at times to find out who in Australian government is doing what using social media.

However due to a new service from the Victorian government it is possible to easily see what Victoria's state and local governments are doing online.

Hosted at Victoria Online, the social media section provides,

a comprehensive list of social media pages for local, state and federal government. This includes RSS feeds, podcasting, photo sharing and various other online communication tools.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's the median age of social network users?

Often it's assumed that teenagers are the main users of social networking tools from Facebook to Twitter.

However the research conducted over the last few years indicates that the real situation is a little different.

Based on the most recent Pew Internet research (of US internet users 18+) the median age of popular social networks are as follows,

  • Twitter median user age 31yrs (stable from May 2008),
  • Facebook median user age 33yrs (up from 26yrs in May 2008),
  • MySpace median user age 26yrs (down from 27yrs in May 2008),
  • LinkedIn median user age 39yrs (down from 40yrs in May 2008).
Looking at Twitter in focus, Comscore reported that while 12-17yr olds only made up 12% of visitors to Twitter's website in June 2009 this was double the percentage reported at the same time last year, and 18-24yr olds increased to 18% of visitors compared to 11% last year.

Neilsen data from February also suggests that Twitter is most popularity among older demographics, with adults ages 35-49 having the largest representation on Twitter in February 2009, comprising nearly 42% of the site’s audience.

Pew Internet's profile of a (US) Twitterer also provides useful information on who is Twittering - and why.

Age Distribution of Twitter users (Comscore - April 2009)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Are Australian public servants prepared to engage online?

At the Gov 2.0 Conference in Canberra last Monday, Minister Tanner said,

“We do want to ensure that we have the capacity for public servants to feel able to engage, and engage in robust discussion online."
His comments were captured in a CEBIT article, Tanner: Gov 2.0 about culture change, not technology - and in the record of the Minister's speech.

Given that there is this level of support, are Australian public servants willing and ready to engage in robust online discussions?

I've seen a lot of individual willingness from public servants to engage online.

There's also a number of projects underway which support this engagement.

On the other side, departments are still deliberating on how to best manage and control online engagement by their staff. Many are still deciding when, how and who they should give permission to engage online, given the potential risks they foresee.

What's been your experience of the progress towards online engagement by public servants?

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Have you entered the Webbys?

The world's top internet award, the Webbys, is now accepting early bird entries for their 2010 awards.

Early bird entries are accepted until 30 October (US time).

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Friday, October 23, 2009

AGIMO launches Web Publishing Guide blog

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) in the Department of Finance has launched its first externally facing blog, the Web Publishing Guide Review Project Blog.

As detailed in its About page, the blog is designed to serve two purposes, consultation and demonstration,

1. The team needs to consult with site visitors to ensure the Guide will meet their needs. This consultation will be done via traditional focus groups and through the use of a project blog. The blog will provide a valuable source of user feedback to inform the redevelopment of the Guide.

2. The Guide provides practical information and examples on a range of different topics relevant to website design and maintenance. The team will use the Guide in order to model practical examples of the guidance contained within the Guide. The blog is an extension of this principle. It will provide an example of both a redevelopment project and a blog, demonstrating the processes and governance of each.
AGIMO have chosen to use a Wordpress blogging platform - which minimises the cost and time required to get such a site up-and-running (as do several similar services such as Blogger and Typepad).

The blog is using a post-publication moderation approach (comments are moderated after appearing in the blog - except for those detected as spam or inappropriate which are pre-moderated), which stimulates active conversation. This also indicates that AGIMO is trusting public servants and other web professionals to engage appropriately, which I expect they will.

I hope that this step into the world of online engagement helps other government agencies feel more comfortable with the medium, get past the apparent 'newness' of blogging and focus on the value they can derive.

This value includes being able to connect with constituents and stakeholders and participate directly in conversations, as well as providing agencies with a direct and authentic voice online, ensuring that their views are heard - rather than reinterpreted, or ignored, by the media.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Register now for the ABS's Web Analytics in Government forum

The ABS's Customer Insights Team, in conjunction with AGIMO, is holding a Web Analytics in Government forum on Tuesday 24 November in Belconnen.

To quote the ABS,

Our aim is that the forum will allow participants to learn from others and share practical knowledge and experience in:
  • pitfalls of implementing web analytics in a government environment;
  • understanding online behaviour and experience of users;
  • developing performance indicators for websites; and
  • knowing which reporting metrics to use and when.
An outline of the programme is available online.

There are only around 50 places available at the forum, so if you're interested in attending register now.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Learning from the online missteps of the private sector

Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang recently wrote about some of the latest social media 'reversals' experienced by companies, and has previously published a chronology of,

companies that were blind-sided by the internet, they didn’t understand the impacts of the power shift to the participants, or how fast information would spread, or were just plain ignorant.
There's no public sector organisations listed - however it's not much of a stretch to believe that many government departments are vulnerable to public damage in similar ways.

Note that in most cases the damage is caused by a lack of effective engagement, not from engaging - which some could conclude leads to a situation where not engaging online is significantly more risky than engaging.

A comment on Jeremiah's blog by Kersten Kloss sums it up for me (just replace 'company' with 'department':
Companies can no longer afford to avoid the social web as a communications medium. They need to become involved in it, to engage in the online world and mingle with their clients and peers. If you truly believe you are the best at what you do then you have nothing to fear by opening up to the social web. Allow yourself to be more transparent. Lead the rest by sharing yourself and offering assistance to others, even if that free assistance gives away some of your proprietary secrets.

If you can’t then you need to look deep inside your organization and fix a far more challenging issue, your stagnancy as an organization.
I often wonder how often non-engagement risk is considered in government programs alongside engagement risks.

Or how often a clever, inventive and funny response is considered as a way to soften and mitigate an already existing situation. For example, EA's reply to the 'Jesus shot' bug reported and widely discussed online in a Tiger Wood's golf game - in the video below.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UK thoughts on adopting WCAG 2.0 for government websites

Jack Pickard has written an excellent post regarding How should the UK public sector adopt WCAG 2.0? which touches on many of the themes required for adoption in Australia.

If you were thinking about shifting your Australian government site to a WCAG 2.0 level of accessibility, this is welcome contribution to the discussion.

Sometimes I wonder if across government we have enough conversations on these types of topics - and my conversation I mean free and open exchanges of views and information in shared spaces, rather than formal responses to defined criteria (with no correspondence entered into).

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Gov 2.0 conference - Liveblog

I'm liveblogging at least the morning session of CEBIT's Gov 2.0 conference in Canberra.

Please add your comments and questions and I'll seek to pass them on to the speakers and blog the responses.

For those of you on Twitter, the hashtag to follow is #gov2.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Creating a social media policy for your department - here's over 100 examples to draw on

Social Media Governance recently released a list of 106 social media policies that can be drawn on, including nearly thirty from government (including the APSC's Circular 2008/8: Interim protocols for online media participation).

A lot of Australians now use social media - including staff in your Department, your customers and clients and many of your stakeholders.

The latest statistics, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, suggest that there are 8 million Australians using Facebook and over 1.5 million using Twitter.

A report from Neilsen also indicated that social networking in Australia has doubled in usage over the last year, with Australians having spent 1.6 million hours on these services in June 2009 (from 800,000 in June 2008). Taking June as an average, this means Australians are likely to spend almost 20 million hours using social networks in 2009.

I believe it is important that Government Departments place social media policies in place to make acceptable usage clear to staff.

It's no longer practical or reasonable for Departments to simply ban access to these services - as it's no longer practical or reasonable to ban phone calls.

Is your policy in place yet?

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How would management of your website change if anyone could comment on or redesign it outside your control?

How would it change the management of your website if anyone could make an unmoderated public comment about any page at any time - totally outside your control?

How would your Minister and senior management respond if people could freely critique your content, pointing out any errors or misleading statements or airing their complaints (and compliments) publicly?

Or what if someone could redesign your website from the outside to make it better suit their needs, or to make a personal or political point - and then share this design with others?

This isn't just idle speculation - it's happening today.

Google recently launched its Sidewiki service which allows anyone at any time to make any comment on any website - visible to anyone else using Sidewiki.

This means that the public can hold a discussion on any page in any Australian government website completely outside your control.

Does that sound scary? It should if you're not aware of or able to participate in these conversations as needed.

Below is an example of Sidewiki in action - viewing comments in blogs related to the Whitehouse website.

At the same time, tools now exist that allow outsiders to redesign your website from the outside. For example the free Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox allows people to rearrange your content, or even translate the words into a different style (one recent popular script translates websites into 'pirate' speak) that becomes visible in their web browser. They can then share these rewrite scripts with others using the same tool.

Greasemonkey isn't the only tool that does this - and people are already writing scripts, such as this one to reconfigure parts of the National Archives website to display Australian government sites in a different manner.

This approach has been used to 'fix' the design of some websites which the community found hard to use - in several cases the website owner has even voluntarily made website changes based on these community suggestions.

It can also be used as a protest, adding, modifying or remove content from a website (as viewed in a user's web browser).

There's also organisations which externally redesign websites. In the US the Sunlight Foundation periodically redesigns a US Federal Government website to demonstrate how it could be done to work better. It would be simple for someone to do the same here in Australia.

In other words, while internally we control how we design and develop our websites - just as we carefully craft our media releases to say things the way we want - we can not control what people do with them once they leave our 'controlled' space.

Just as the media can pick and choose what material to use from our media release, the public has the ability to pick and choose what material they see in our website - and can comment on it outside our control.

People responsible for planning, developing and operating government websites need to be thinking about how these types of tools impact on how your official website is viewed externally.

So over to you for comments,
  • What will you do if an organised group redesigns your website from the outside (either in a friendly or a malicious way)?
  • How will you respond to comments that are visibly attached to your website?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Overcoming public sector hurdles to Gov 2.0

Having now spent around three years listening to colleagues across federal, state and local government, I hear remarkable consistent themes raised as barriers to successful Gov 2.0 implementations.

The number one theme I have heard raised is the lack of Gov 2.0 commitment and experience across senior public service management. This reflects similar views in the private sector – people are generally most comfortable with the technologies they grew up with and senior management in both public and private sectors is commonly still of the 'TV generation'.

This barrier seems to be lowering as senior management gains personal experience with internet technologies and begin to see the benefits. It's a long road, but it appears to me that we're on the way.

The second set of barriers I hear about related to Gov 2.0 is more concerning to me. It relates to the governance framework and policies inside which public servants have to operate.

Like the private sector it appears government systems are struggling in some areas to keep up with the rate of change in the community and in technology. If our systems can't support Gov 2.0 initiatives then it is unlikely that our senior management will.

Some of the examples I've been given - together with some of my approaches to address them are below,

  • Procurement policies
    Government procurement processes designed for acquiring the best value software and hardware products don't always translate as well to the sourcing of online systems.

    Many online vendors do not have presences in Australia and would not be aware of, or simply not bother responding to, Australian tender processes. This risks potentially excluding the best value products from consideration, leaving Departments to choose from local integrators with their own products or reselling an otherwise cheap solution.


    To address this, Departments need to consider ways to make it easier for online services to participate in procurement processes, via panels, industry reviews and other approaches that identify a set of potential providers who can be appropriately considered within a tender process – within the government's guidelines of course.

  • Credit card use online
    Some Departments restrict the use of credit cards online - a common payment avenue for many online services. This could lead online teams into grey areas of the system, using work-arounds such as paying a third party a premium for using their credit card to pay the service online or by providing credit card details by phone – which are then directly inputted into the online form by the service provider. These workarounds can be onerous for monthly subscriptions.

    These workarounds may increase the financial risk that the regulations are seeking to mitigate – and may also add extra costs to the public purse.


    My recommendation would be to encourage Departments to allow online credit card use under appropriate circumstances – either to a delegated amount per transaction, or via an approved list of suppliers (reviewed annually). This would help minimise the risk of online transactions while not encouraging inappropriate actions.

  • Reg 10
    Secondly, formal regulations such as FMA Regulation 10 (PDF) - known as Reg 10 - can add significant red tape to the use of both free and paid online services.

    Reg 10 approval is formally required for any service for which a contract or agreement is formed and the service cost or potential contingent liability stretches into future financial years - even if the chance of a liability arising is remote.

    This means that the use of a service such as a free online mapping product requires Reg 10 approval in case someone in a future financial year sues the Department due to use of the product.

    Getting Reg 10 approval generally adds extra steps to the process of delivering Gov 2.0 outcomes – and for a full community engagement site may require five or more Reg 10 approvals (one per 3rd party tool used).

    While it is not generally prohibitive to get Reg 10s approved, they commonly require signing by people outside the sections involved with online initiatives, which can slow things down – or even block them where senior management doesn't understand the risks.

    Also, a new Reg 10 may be required for each separate use of an online service. This could add further administrative burdens and create situations in Departments where some uses of a service are approved but identical uses in other areas are not, based on the views of specific managers.


    There may be ways to streamline Reg 10 approvals for frequently used online services by maintaining a central Departmental record which is simply amended with any additional risks regarding additional uses of online services. Where there are no additional risks for a new use, the Reg 10 would require limited scrutiny as the Department had already accepted the risks.

  • Access to and use of social media
    Many Departments technically prohibit access to social media in the workplace on the basis of it being a misuse of Commonwealth resources (though personal phone calls are not similarly restricted through PABX systems).

    While a few authorised staff may be allowed access to social media tools (such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube) to monitor and, in a few cases respond, to online comments about the Department - or to manage the Department's own online accounts - most staff are not allowed to see the Department's online presence.

    This can leave staff blind when a customer or stakeholder calls to discuss a Department's social media presence. It can also cut them off from various government and professional social media communities and prevent them from asking their peers for work-related help in a cost-effective and productivity-enhancing manner.

    Finally it prevents the Department from developing widespread internal skills in the use of social media and may discourage potential employees, who expect to be able to tap into online professional knowledge to remain current and employable in their professions.


    I'd suggest that Departments consider shifting their response from technically prohibiting access to social media to providing clear guidance to their staff on appropriate use of social media and using existing management and technical monitoring systems to audit adherence. This would enable staff to 'get on with their jobs', while leaving inappropriate behaviour detectable and actionable in the same way Departments manage telephone communications.

  • Government Campaign Advertising Guidelines
    People from several Departments have told me that under the interpretation of the Government Campaign Advertising Guidelines ( used by their Departments they are not able to use social media techniques in campaigns.

    This is related to 'control of message' – which is interpreted by their Departments as meaning that messages cannot be collaboratively developed with community involvement or redistributed by the community through online friend-sharing systems (which place these messages outside of government control). One of the main risks outlined to me was that government messages may reach people they were not targeted to – and offend them unnecessarily.

    This interpretation reflects the newness and speed of online systems. For example, if the government distributes messages in print brochures there are no safeguards to prevent the brochures being passed on to friends. This also applies to TV and radio material – which is often redistributed by the community through services such as youTube. For example, the famous ten-pin bowling Grim Reaper ad about AIDS from NSW was released in 1987, but is still viewable on youTube 22 years later – even though YouTube didn't exist until 15 years after the ad screened.


    In this case I recommend Departments speak directly to the Campaign Advertising team at Finance for clarification and some examples of how government campaigns can stay within the Campaign Advertising Guidelines but still make use of social media tools. They can potentially look at how other Departments are using social media tools for examples of how to manage risks around messages and stay within the Guidelines

Are there any other barriers or hurdles to Gov 2.0 initiatives that you've encountered?

Share them - even anonymously. You never know, someone else may have a solution!

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Heathcote community vote on stimulus spending now open

NSW MP Paul Macleay has opened voting on projects to receive a portion of the economic stimulus package allocated to his electorate, Heathcote.

To view how this example of community budgetting works, visit Paul's site at

Note that you must live within the electorate to participate.

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MashupAustralia Hack session in Sydney

Google will be hosting a hack session in support of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's MashupAustralia competition in Sydney on 14 October.

In case you're unaware, MashupAustralia is a competition being run by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce based on Federal and state government datasets released via

There are cash prizes on offer for developers who 'mash' the government data into online applications.

The full details for the event are as follows:
(From: Google Developer Events, Sydney)

MashupAustralia Hacking Session
Wednesday, Oct. 14th
Level 5, Dreamtime, 48 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmount (Google Sydney office)
To support local developers working on entries for the MashupAustralia contest (, we're holding a hacking session in the Google office. We'll start with a brief introduction to mashups and tips for making them, do some brainstorming and idea sharing, and then get to hardcore hacking. We'll also have dinner and drinks to give us energy.
Register Here:
(Note: space is limited, so if we get alot of RSVPs, we may need to
say no to some of them. We'll let you know).

Anyone else - particularly within government - organising similar events around the country?

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Adapt the service not the user

I've been rereading the ABC article about the two girls who got caught in a drain and used their mobile phone to update their Facebook status, rather than call Triple 0.

A representative of the Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) in Adelaide said that,

If they were able to access Facebook from their mobile phones, they could have called triple-0, so the point being they could have called us directly and we could have got there quicker than relying on someone being online and replying to them and eventually having to call us via triple-0 anyway.
Professor of Media and Communications at the Queensland University of Technology, Terry Flew, says public education campaigns are facing an ongoing struggle to compete with social media.

I think that the main point has been missed.

The internet and digital devices are changing cultural and personal behaviours. In some respects they are even changing our physical behaviour and may be changing our brain chemistry.

I don't believe that it is the role of Public Authorities to try to turn the clock back by 'competing' with social media - reinforcing messages such as if you're in trouble call triple-0 - just to preserve the 'way the system has always worked'.

In usability terms this is similar to releasing a human-unfriendly system, then producing a huge user manual and communications campaign to attempt to train people to work the way the system works (except in this case the system remains the same and it is people who have changed).

Often it is cheaper and more effective to turn this approach on its head. Re-engineer the system to work the way that people think.

Successful companies have learnt this. They change their products over time to suit emerging social and cultural norms. It's a Marketing-based approach, where the organisation figures out what people want and provides it, rather than a Communications-based approach, where you build products the way the organisation wants then try to convince people to accept them.

The lesson I draw from this emergency situation is that the public service are still grappling with the questions of whether and how to adapt their systems to suit their audiences.

For the girls down the drain it may have been faster for them to call Triple-0, however this wasn't the behaviour they are used to. It was not 'normal' in fact they've probably never done it before.

So why not adapt our emergency services instead?

Have a presence on social networks that people can use to contact them in emergencies.

Create smartphone apps that people can install and use to send the information the emergency services need to act.

Set up Twitter accounts that can be used to call for help.

Even simply point '911' to '000' so either number reaches our emergency services - most Australians hear '911' far more often in movies and on TV than they ever hear 'Triple-0'. The original rationale of '000' being less likely to be dialed in error due to being more difficult to call on dial phones has disappeared anyway with keypads.

Some of these avenues may be 'less efficient' for the system. They may increase the time required for emergency services to response.

However they will ensure that the emergency services CAN respond.

It may even increase the number of people who legitimately contact emergency services - those who wouldn't call Triple-0, but will put a note on Facebook that, for example, they are feeling suicidal.

Certainly checks and balances will need to be in place to prevent fraudulent use, but we managed to do it with a telephone number - surely we're smart enough to do this in other mediums.

The issue of adapting services versus adapting users isn't unique to emergency services, it affects every interaction between government and public.

Every time the government forces people to use the channel it prefers - be it telephone, paper, in-person (or even online) - it is attempting to adapt the user to suit its own processes and needs.

This can reduce citizen engagement, satisfaction and completion rates, resulting in poorer outcomes for individuals.

Instead the government should seek to understand how people prefer to engage and seek ways to adapt its services to suit peoples' needs. AGIMO's report, Australians' use and satisfaction with e-government services—2008, provides some ideas.

Sure there are many cases where it may be legally impossible to accept channels like the net for transactions with government. However there are many services where we can adapt - it just takes a little creative thinking. We may even save the public money or provide a faster service and we will not be 'competing' with social networks, we'll be leveraging them for public benefit.

Let's seek to change our public sector philosophies and adapt government policies and services wherever possible, rather than attempt to adapt our users to suit 'how we prefer to do things'.

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NSW launches Transport Data Exchange (TDX) Program as part of Apps4NSW

The NSW government has launched the Transport Data Exchange (TDX) Program to provide access to NSW transport routes, timetables and stop/station/wharf information for download and reuse in third party applications.

It's been provided as part of the data available for the Apps4NSW competition. launched by the NSW Premier at NSWSphere.

Unlike similar initiatives in the US and UK, which have generally employed Creative Commons licenses, the NSW Transport Authority has released the data contingent to users signing on to a specific data licensing agreement (PDF), providing the government with significantly more control over how the data may be used and who by.

As an initial step it is great to see the NSW government attempting to free up public data, although the current license agreement may restrict some usage.

For example, the license requires that there be someone eligible and willing to legally sign such an agreement. This could cause developers to think twice before signing on. It could also limit participation by young programmers and school students if their parents and schools are concerned over entering into this formal binding legal agreement with the NSW government.

The license also requires that licensees show their application to the Transport Authority at least 30 days before the application goes live. This reduces the ability for licensees to develop emergency applications at short notice to address specific events - such as fires, floods or other disasters (even dust storms).

There's also a requirement to update applications when the Department updates data, which could also present issues to those mashing up data for fun or experience. It seems to be aimed at companies who choose to mashup the data.

The comments I've seen published on Twitter include:

matthewlandauer: Not impressed with the NSW transport data license especially section 6: Release to the public. #gov2au

NickHodge: @trib @chieftech @matthewlandauer someone is scared about transparency in NSW public transport, me thinks :-(

malcolmt: Sad. Epic Fail by NSW gov with public transport timetable data license. This word Open, it does not mean what you think it means.

dasfreak: First NSW Gov open data effort starting with transport data. License on the whole OK. Reporting section bit onerous

Overall this is a step forward for government openness, and in many respects a large step - particularly from NSW Transport's position in March, where it was actively pursuing developers with threats of legal action.

However it is only one step along a very long road.

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