Introduction to the power of open data

Where Does My Money Go?As some of you may know I’ve been working with the Where Does My Money Go? team over the last month or so, helping with the communications side of things.

Where Does My Money Go? (WDMMG) is run by the Open Knowledge Foundation, a “not-for-profit organization promoting open knowledge: that’s any kind of information – sonnets to statistics, genes to geodata – that can be freely used, reused, and redistributed.”

WDMMG gathers, analyses and visualises UK government spending data with the aim of making that information more usable and useful – for tax payers, journalists, businesses, researchers, policy makers, politicians and more. The aim is to make government spending as transparent as possible to hold the government to account but also to enable more informed decision making in the long run.

It’s a fascinating project and is part of a wider open data trend and movement that has been gathering pace over the last few years.

One of the main protagonists in this area is father of the web Tim Berners-Lee, who is famed for getting the 2009 TED conference audience to shout “Raw Data Now!”.

So as a way of introducing the concept of open data and it’s potential power, this five minute video by Tim at this year’s TED conference is worth viewing:

UPDATE 5/08/2010: Apparently TBL’s shout of “Raw Data Now!” was based on a meme that started with this Open Knowledge Foundation blog post, and which Tim cites here.

UK government must improve its use of technology

So concludes the RSA’s Technology in a Cold Climate Report, stating that, “Central government must dramatically improve its use of technology if it is to cut the public sector deficit”.

Given the forthcoming general election and the re-examination of budgets that will happen as a matter of course – who ever wins – the report suggests ways that technology might help the continuing delivery of services across the UK with less money in the pot.

Examples of how government can do this are given as:

* delivering more public services online to reduce costs and environmental impact
* learning from low-cost websites built by both third sector organisations and private companies
* using well-designed platforms to harness the knowledge and experience of large populations to democratically improve service provision.

The report is critical of procurement processes and also of the implementation of technology and innovative ideas:

“The UK considers itself an advanced-knowledge economy, but although it has some excellent innovation policies and mechanisms, it does not seem to have implemented these well, leading to lower levels of R&D investment and a poor record of exploiting knowledge to full advantage.
We suggest that the UK’s position is critically assessed, and that innovation policies are more proactively evaluated throughout their lifetime.”

In addition, the report calls on ministers to ensure that “everyone across the UK will benefit from the next generation of high-speed broadband as a platform for future growth and innovation”.

For anyone interested in economics, public policy, technology and innovation this is worth reading.

Click here to read the report in full.

This week’s recommended reads

It’s a bit late on a Friday, but these will still be fresh come Monday, here are a few things worth perusing if you have a moment:

Social Media

New media & the Air Force, page 6
New media & the Air Force, page 6
For those considering social media and Twitter policies for their staff and company, take a look at the vast collection of example guidelines collated by Laurel Papworth, an Australian online communities consultant. Of particular note, is that of the US Air Force (left).

How companies are benefiting from Web 2.0: McKinsey Global Survey Results
“The heaviest users of Web 2.0 applications are also enjoying benefits such as increased knowledge sharing and more effective marketing. These benefits often have a measurable effect on the business.”

Meta-ROI and social media engagement for brands – I want to believe, by Anthony Mayfield
A review and thoughts on Charlene Li’s post for the Altimeter Group regarding the group’s study of how engaged major brands were with social media and the link between how deeply an organisation engages with its customers in social media and its performance.

If advertising is a firework, social media is a bonfire by John V Wiltshire (via We Are Social)

Journalism

Where five US magazines are finding revenue, Advertising Age.
This article includes some nice pie charts so that you can compare and contrast the role of different revenue streams. For some digital advertising is playing a large part, for others it’s events.

As readers flee, papers ask those left to pay more, Paid Content
Analysis of the relationship between print circulation figures and price since 2001.

Economics
A liberal defence of money, by William Davies, The Liberal
An analysis of some of the new economic models being currently discussed, in particular the notion of free. Also see William’s review of Chris Anderson’s book Free in Prospect.

Response to: Not all information wants to be free – By Jack Shafer

The idea that people won’t pay for content online has become such a part of the Web orthodoxy that New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller risked getting lynched earlier this month for merely musing about paid models for the online editions of his paper. Not helping Keller’s cogitation was a contemporaneous “secret memo” from Steve Brill and a Time article by Walter Isaacson, both which advocated variations on the micropayment model. Neither advances the topic much beyond what most Web entrepreneurs understood long ago…
via Not all information wants to be free. – By Jack Shafer – Slate Magazine.

A good review of what works and doesn’t work with paid-for content and some of the problems that the publishing world is currently facing. Whilst the article doesn’t cover all the possible attributes of successful paid-for content services, Shafer does provide a fairly comprehensive summary that covers most aspects, as follows:

Not all successful paid sites are alike, but they all share at least one of these attributes:
1) They are so amazing as to be irreplaceable
2) They are beautifully designed and executed and extremely easy to use
3) They are stupendously authoritative

Sites that immediately spring to mind that fulfil some of these attributes are:
Flickr, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and McKinsey, together with a plethora of B2B titles.

However, in the article Shafer wonders why people use iTunes and similar services “when they could easily download the band’s entire discography via Bittorrent for free”, and speculates whether it is because it is an outside-browser-experience. Whilst this may be a factor, there might be simpler answer which could be added as a sub clause to number 2) in the list above, namely:

2a) Sites that take the effort out of doing something that can be done for free (legally or not) but is time consuming or requires a small amount of additional technical knowledge.

In the case of iTunes, it also shouldn’t be forgotten the incredible power of marketing to support the service, the integration of iTunes into their hardware products and the brand alligence that Apple customers exude – an additional consideration to any business considering introducing a paid-for service.

UPDATE, 23/02/2009 >> Two pieces in today’s Media Guardian this topic and how it relates to newspapers:
Jeff Jarvis, News sites should quit moaning about payment and just gopher it
Jemima Kiss, The writing on the paywall