Brown's Broken Britain: can web developers save the day?

Oh dear, does Gordon Brown think he invented the semantic web? I suppose it’s only logical given that Al Gore invented the Internet right?
Written by Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor

Oh dear, does Gordon Brown think he invented the semantic web? I suppose it’s only logical given that Al Gore invented the Internet right?

I don’t follow politics with any more interest than I follow international origami, so it’s only in retrospect that I noticed the PM’s ‘Building Britain’s Digital Future’ speech which highlighted the, “Creation of the next generation of the web - what is called the semantic web, or the web of linked data.”

Um, thanks for that heads-up Mr Brown. What else do we need to know?

“This next generation web is a simple concept, but I believe it has the potential to be just as revolutionary - just as disruptive to existing business and organisational models - as the web was itself, moving us from a web of managing documents and files to a web of managing data and information - and thus opening up the possibility of by-passing current digital bottlenecks and getting direct answers to direct requests for data and information,” said Brown.

Oh OK sorry, he has to explain it in that way in case Mrs Miggins in Doncaster is listening in on her wireless and wondering which box she should tick in the upcoming general election to best ensure that her pension covers tins of Whiskers for Tiddles and packets of Trill for Archie the budgie.

So let’s be serious and try to uncover what the PM is trying to push and is there anything of substance in it for software engineers and web developers to take heed of?

Well, the government’s IT gurus (praise be upon them) want us to regard the so-called ‘open data’ that proffers forth from Whitehall’s corridors of power and web 2.0 it up (in a semantically enriched fashion of course) into something that is of additional value to the general (sorry, I meant to say ‘Great British’) public.

So is there any backing here? Is there anything solid to get your teeth into if you are a developer? The answer is in fact yes.

TSO (The Stationery Office), the provider of information management to the public sector, last week announced the launch of OpenUp, a £50,000 development fund aimed at encouraging us Brits to come up with ideas of how open data can be put to better use for their communities.

NB: before you ask, yes there is a direct “I CAN DEVELOP” link for developers to select right on the home page I have linked to in the paragraph above.

This fund launch by TSO follows the recent launch of Data.gov.uk by the Government. Individuals or teams of developers are encouraged to enter the competition by submitting an idea to use public data to deliver value to communities locally, regionally, nationally or even internationally. As well as securing the fund itself to see their idea developed, the winner will also be awarded a personal prize of £1,000.

If you had any doubt over the worth of this project, the OpenUp judging panel will include Charles Arthur, The Guardian’s technology editor and Lucian J. Hudson, partner and managing director of Cornerstone Global Associates, and the UK government's first director of e-Communications.

Mr Hudson does not appear to be 'openly' on Twitter, but you can find him on LinkedIn.

When asked to go on the record for this announcement, Richard Dell, CEO of TSO said, “We’re simply asking for the most creative and useful ideas to be submitted from across the UK and we’ll develop the tools and processes to ensure that one becomes a reality and meets its objectives – by delivering greater value for the community.”

So semantic web development appropriately ticked in Gordon Brown’s checklist of ‘stuff I need to say I think is jolly good to try and win another term’ then. Or should we instead just say hooray? A public sector backed initiative to help cultivate the wider use of open data in web 2.0 technologies, what’s not to like about that?

Hey, I’m sitting on the fence and joining the international origami appreciation society – so don’t ask me.

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