With its new taskforce, the government has got straight back on the web 2.0 horse after taking a nasty fall last year with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner's blogging trial. But how long will it stay on this time?
All in all the ministers (or their staff) wrote 10 posts in their past blogging foray, which had about as much character as soggy cornflakes.
All in all the ministers (or their staff) wrote 10 posts in their past blogging foray, which had about as much character as soggy cornflakes. Despite the cornflakiness, however, they received around 1500 responses (mostly chastising Conroy for the filtering scheme). Yet they still left the normal submissions channel open, which is where they likely got most of the fodder for their paper anyway.
It seemed to me it was a token attempt that didn't even amount to Tanner and Conroy sticking their little toe into the pool of web 2.0. There was no real collaboration and little sense of community.
If the new taskforce announced yesterday didn't have high fliers such as government chief information officer Ann Steward and Google engineering director Alan Noble as members, I'd say it would be a big waste of time and money.
Yet with them and many other illustrious names on board they might stand a chance, but only if the taskforce doesn't recommend putting web 2.0 on the surface of the government like a band-aid. It needs to be integrated into a government that has been altered from within to match the tenets of web 2.0 — openness and collaboration.
As a journalist, I obviously love the idea of the government becoming more transparent. I've mentioned that the government is already more open than the private sector but there's still a lot of scope for dodgy dealings behind doors.
Yet just setting up a Twitter account won't make the government transparent. Nor will creating ingenious applications to display information in new ways. It's more about getting data out of the walled garden. Unless it's out, there's not a lot of use for web 2.0 applications that use it.
Just setting up a Twitter account won't make the government transparent.
Of course, once we have a wealth of data flow, there would be scope for applications to delve into that information and tell the public when the government has done something cool/scandalous/suicidal/Utegate that we should know about. But until it's been decided that some information should be aired, I just can't see this whole transparency thing being driven by web 2.0.
Consider the RailCorp iPhone application saga. There we had publicly available information and someone who used their time to make an application to make it easily usable by rail commuters. It seems this is exactly the sort of thing the taskforce would intend for some of its $2.4 million in funding. But what happened? RailCorp complained about the application designer using its information.
Now let's look at community collaboration. I think it's a great idea. Get the community to, in a way, self-govern. But how does the government think it's going to take it all in if people start publishing their opinion or offering their help willy-nilly via the tubes? You'd need to have an army of people sifting through people's doggerel to get the few pearls of wisdom that are bound to be there.
So if everyone starts using web 2.0 to get their message to the government, I can see one of two things happening:
- It works. Lobbying dies a slow death because the government knows what its voters really want. Strong online communities of like-minded people become forces to be reckoned with.
- The government gets drowned in sheer wealth of information and clings to the old model to maintain its sanity.
Naturally there would be ways to stop the second outcome happening, but it'll need a lot of thought, which is what the taskforce is for.
I wouldn't be surprised if the taskforce spent little time looking at the technologies, devoting more of its efforts to looking at how the government works internally. Because the way it is, the web 2.0 transplant won't stick, in my opinion.