Friday, September 30, 2011
While I realise this post is a month late, I thought it would still be worth wishing the web browser 'Happy Birthday' and commenting on the impact that web browser software has had over the last twenty years.
If you go back twenty years (and two months), the internet was primarily a text based knowledge storage and communication medium.
While it was already global - just - the number of users could be counted in the thousands and were primarily researchers and academics at universities, with a few large companies and individuals thrown in.
With the introduction of WorldWideWeb (which became open source code in 1993), the internet was capable of becoming a visual medium, displaying text in stylesheets, images, sounds and even movies (it even built in a spellchecker and a WYSIWYG web page editing tool).
Today, the web is the largest media distribution channel on the planet, used by 2 billion people directly, and indirectly by almost the entire population of the planet. It supports the largest video library in the world (YouTube), the largest and fastest updating encyclopedia (Wikipedia) and the dominant social networks used by well over a billion people to remain connected to each other, despite distance and time.
Much of this is due to the innovations embodied in that first web browser - the browser that literally founded the world wide web.
|Source: The brewing browser brouhaha |
Sydney Morning Herald 29/09/2011
Internet Explorer, from Microsoft retains the single largest market share, a reported 43% share - well down from the 90% plus they claimed back in 2005 (when IE6 dominated).
IE's share is split across four versions of the browser, each with very different capabilities - for July 2011 from net applications this was divided into IE6 (9.22%), IE7 (6.25%), IE8 (29.23%) and IE9 (6.8%).
Similarly, Firefox's share across versions has increased as their development pace has accelerated - for September 2011 from StatCounter this was divided into mainly Firefox 3.6 or lower (9.44%), Firefox 4 (2.10%), Firefox 5 (10.09%) and Firefox 6 (5.73%).
Today's diversity of web browsers is both an opportunity and a challenge for organisations. It provides an ecosystem rich in innovation and increasingly compliant with industry standards, however requires organisations to constantly reassess whether they are still designing for the right standard, or equipping their staff appropriately to access the range of web content they need in their jobs.
On the whole I think it is good to see this competition, although I appreciate the incremental cost of web design it brings - compatibility adds at least 10% of costs to web projects and can add more than 20% if designing for 10 year old web browsers, such as IE6.
The web browser has changed the world, largely for the better. It has opens up global publishing and distribution to billions and generated enormous efficiencies in sharing information (many of which remain to be realised as laws and processes catch up with the changed environment).
And yet, if the web browser was a person, it would not yet (quite) be legally allowed to drink in the USA.
I wonder what the next twenty years will bring.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
The paper provides strong evidence that social media was one of the key causes of these revolutions due to its ability to place a human face on political oppression and had a critical role in mobilising dissidents to organise protests, criticise their governments, and spread ideas about democracy.
The report claims that social media had a central role in shaping political debates, for example,
Our evidence shows that social media was used heavily to conduct political conversations by a key demographic group in the revolution – young, urban, relatively well educated individuals, many of whom were women.
Both before and during the revolutions, these individuals used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to put pressure on their governments. In some cases, they used new technologies in creative ways such as in Tunisia where democracy advocates embarrassed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by streaming video of his wife using a government jet to make expensive shopping trips to Europe.The report also provides evidence that online conversations about liberty, democracy and revolution on Twitter often immediately preceded large protests. This supports the use of social media as a civic organising tool.
Governments that attempted to shut down the internet, or specific social media services, were clearly also of the view that these were key channels for public dissidence outside their direct control, unlike government-run or influenced newspapers, radio stations and television channels.
Finally, the paper demonstrates how social media was used to open up internal discussions to the world, helping spread democratic ideas across borders, providing global support networks for local dissidents and informing the media, which then fuelled awareness, interest, engagement and support for the Arab Spring through media reports.
The paper is an excellent read and quantifies a number of the effects of social media during the Arab Spring, which could be used by political 'dissidents' in other countries to help influence local debate.
Note that like all research, it is a little of a two-edged sword, as the paper could also be used by governments seeking to minimise debate to pre-empt online dissidence by establishing frameworks that can be extended to allow strict control of online discussion.
These frameworks include national firewalls, broad-based and readily expandable online censorship regimes, internet kill switches and approaches that place the control of national internet infrastructure into government-controlled monopolies.
Often justified as beneficial initiatives designed to protect people from international cyberattacks, online fraud or inappropriate online content (which they may also do), these frameworks, if implemented without appropriate legal and privacy checks and balances, can be repurposed to restrict citizen access and quash undesired public debate, exclude certain individuals or organisations from participating online or even identify specific troublemakers for incarceration or worse.
I have embedded the document below for easy reading, or it can be downloaded in PDF format here, Opening closed regimes.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
It provides an interesting perspective on which major companies provide which services and collect various types of data.
Take a look over at the Web 2.0 Summit map (the movements view is very cool - click on the service icons above the menu).
Thanks @dasharp for bringing it to my attention.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
It is a fascinating read (particularly from pages 68-80 and 113-185 including the conclusion from pp160), and provides insights into challenges the public sector has experienced in encouraging new approaches to public sector management, innovation, appropriate risk-taking, in modernising systems and processes and in embedding Government 2.0 as business-as-usual.
I commend Derek's paper, Identifying the existence and impact of transformational leadership in the Australian public sector as an excellent and thought-provoking read.
Monday, September 26, 2011
I've been told that the reason the grant was rejected was that, "as the VIC Emergency Services do not yet have a Social Media Policy, they did not 'feel comfortable with' being seen to 'endorse' Emergency Management Social Media projects by providing them with grants."
All three social media projects vying for a grant were rejected.
Reportedly, they are still working to get their heads around the use of social media in emergency management.
I wonder how many other social media initiatives across Australia have been knocked back due to government officials (at any level) not yet having their heads around the area as yet.
BushfireConnect was established in May 2010 and has been run by volunteers with no formal support from government.
They are currently seeking volunteers to help manage the service once the official bushfire season starts on 1 October.
As they said about the grant result,
We could probably spend hours chewing the fat on the why and the how, but this is the landscape we're all working in. In the mean time, the fire season is starting as early as September this year, so we have stuff to do :) Hopefully we can get sufficient traction this season so that we cannot be ignored in the future.To learn more, watch the video below of Maurits van der Vlugt, one of the founders, speaking about Bushfire Connect and emergency management assisted by social media at Ignite Sydney 6.
Below this are Maurits's slides from an earlier conference (which seem to be very similar to those used for Ignite).
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
The concept was announced a few months ago and countries have been rapidly signing up to the commitments required to demonstrate their willingness to take action to improve transparency and accountability in government.
As their website states,
Participating countries in the Open Government Partnership pledge to deliver country action plans that elaborate concrete commitments on open government. In each country, these commitments are developed through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society.
The launch of the Partnership occurred a few days ago, on 20 September in New York. 46 countries signed up (about 24 percent of all countries), including about half of the G20, a number of Asia-Pacific nations and a number of European states.
Here's a list of the launch members:
- Brazil (G20)
- Indonesia (G20)
- Mexico (G20)
- South Africa (G20)
- United Kingdom (G20)
- United States (G20)
- Canada (G20)
- Czech Republic
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Italy (G20)
- Korea (G20)
- Slovak Republic
The US has launched an interesting discussion asking citizens how they think the Federal government can improve government websites.
Run using Ideascale, an online idea management system, the National Dialogue on improving Federal websites is running for two weeks and involves both ideas submission and voting as well as live online discussions(or dialogue-a-thons) on specific website related topics.
I'd love to see this type of initiative organised in Australia, however in the interim it is worth looking at the ideas raised in the US, beginning with the use of Plain language on government websites, Creating content around topics/customers - not agencies, make usability testing and 508 testing (accessibility) required PRIOR to launch, Make Government Website Mobile Accessible and Commit to best practices (using modern web techniques).
If Australian government agencies applied these five top ideas to their own web development (or even applied standards from some of the excellent web links and comments for several of the ideas) we could see a very different level of engagement, potential cut the number of phone calls and ministerials, address hidden issues with incomplete forms and avoid agency embarrassment (when organisations publicly identify government websites that fail basic accessibility or mobile access requirements).
Of course this requires adequately funding and resourcing web teams to carry out these tasks - however this can be offset through mandating external developers to meet government's basic accessibility and content requirements and through using low-cost modern content management frameworks which support significantly greater functionality and require less customisation than the old backroom systems still in place at many agencies.
Even more valuable would be for the Australian government to similarly ask citizens what they thought should be improved about government sites.
I do wonder why Australia appears more fearful or risk-averse to asking citizens these types of questions and building an evidence base on which it can then assess actions. Or maybe it isn't risk-aversion and is simply due to cost (though the service the US uses costs only US$999 per year - and there's even a free version) or due to lack of resources or even interest.
However if the US government, where the political process is on the nose, unemployment is high, the economy is distressed and web budgets are in decline, can ask this question, surely Australia is in a much better position to do so.
To go a little further, to offset the perceptual risk that citizens may expect government agencies to act on specific improvement requests, the consultation could be shaped as an information gathering exercise, where the outcomes will be made available to various agencies to act or not act as they can within their budgets and resourcing.
Or maybe individual agencies can ask the question as part of their website surveys (if they hold them - as I've done regularly in past positions) and share this information across the APS.
What do you think?
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Rather than posting in my blog today, I am breaking one of the rules of blogging (always pull people back to your own blog) by pointing people to an opinion piece in Mumbrella that I wrote recently after reading a couple of other opinion pieces attacking the basis for allowing anonymous commentary online.
Toughen up - we need online anonymity
Please comment in Mumbrella (anonymously if you prefer) to continue the discussion.
Note that I wasn't paid for my opinion :)
Monday, September 19, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Like most in the digital age (who weren't close enough to hear explosions), I learnt about it by reading news online, and hopped straight on Twitter to find the latest updates.
I was very glad (and surprised) to find that the ACT Government's Emergency Services Department had a twitter account. They had been providing official advice for the last half an hour from @ACT_ESA. I've added it to my list of government twitter accounts (yes I was unaware of it before).
I was not happy to see that while they'd been on Twitter since May, they'd not told anyone about the account and had only tweeted twice previously, saying 'coming soon' on both occasions.
Their Twitter was not listed or referenced on their website or on any official ACT government emergency documentation. It was not listed on act.gov.au, canberraconnect.act.gov.au or referenced in any of the official emergency announcements from the ACT government as a source of current information.
The account only had 156 followers (around 7am this morning) as a result - actually surprisingly high considering!
Tweets were not being coordinated with the information on the ESA website to direct people to the latest (prose) news. It only takes 10 seconds to tweet: "New update on our website at www.esa.act.gov.au #canberra #emergency #act"
On the plus side they have taken a leaf out of the work done by QLD Police Media, by starting to tweet mythbusters and use hashtags, such as: Myth buster - there is no report that the fire close to gas tanks #Mitchell
They are also now responding directly to people spreading incorrect information.
UPDATE 7.34am: @ACT_ESA have increased their following from 156 to 583 followers in the last 30 minutes (while I wrote this post).
UPDATE 7:47am: @ACT_ESA now at 769 followers. Still not mentioned in any official websites.
UPDATE 8:04am: @ACT_ESA now at 859 followers.
UPDATE 8:28am: @ACT_ESA now at 966 followers.
UPDATE 8:57am: @ACT_ESA now at 1,049 followers.
UPDATE 9:44am: @ACT_ESA now at 1,135 followers.
UPDATE 8:32pm: @ACT_ESA now at 1,401 followers
This is serious business. If governments across Australia are serious about supporting citizens in crisis, they need to get serious about social media.
They needs to integrate social media into their emergency planning, build channels online and tell people where to find them when they are needed.
They need to coordinate these channels effectively, managing them as they manage other emergency channels (though maybe not like the SMS channel, where the ABC reported that spelling mistakes in the text message had made some people wrongly believe it was a hoax - UPDATE: Image of the message here and at right).
A public service that no-one knows about is worthless. An emergency service that is not in place and trialled before the emergency is not as useful as one that is pre-prepared.
Governments also need to learn how to use these channels effectively. In this case (EDIT: at 7:00am) the account has not yet used a hashtag (even the standard ones for the ACT, #Canberra and #ACT). It had tweeted 'at' others, but not retweeted others.
It is not as though Twitter is new - it has been around for five years. Isn't that ample time for a government agency to learn the basics of how to use a tool to the benefit of citizens?
More news on the fire is available here.
Please heed messages from the emergency services and police, stay aware of the bus and school closures and don't go sightseeing. The most recent information is being published on ESA's website (though not being retweeted by their account at this time).
On Twitter, @ACT_ESA, ACTPol_Traffic, CanberraTimes and 666Canberra are worth following.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
I've seen (and spoken with colleagues about) a number of austerity measures taken in government agencies around Australia over the last few months.
With various governments across the country looking to cut spending to balance budgets, or at least reduce debt levels, lower 2011-12 budgets require many agencies to look long and hard at what they can trim or where they can do more for less (without affecting services to the public).
I wonder whether digital channels and expertise has been firmly enough established in many agencies to survive any cuts. Will management focus on their established infrastructure, maintaining their legacy IT systems and 'tried and true' communications and service channels at the expense of newer and more cost-effective, but less mature digital, channels?
In other words will we see the "last in, first out" rule apply for social media channels and expertise in many agencies?
(this is slightly rhetorical as I'm already seeing this in action in a few places)
I hope agencies will use any budget tightening as an opportunity to look long and hard at their operational effectiveness and select the channels which deliver the most 'bang for the buck' and long-term sustainability and viability.
Of course even if this means cutting non-digital channels in preference to digital, there is still a loss of expertise and corporate knowledge - though potentially a more sustainable one into the future.
Do you see signs that budget pressures are impacting on your agency's online capability? (feel free to respond anonymously & keep the relevant public service code of conduct in mind)
Monday, September 12, 2011
I've been watching, and participating, in some of the discussions around whether government agencies and entire governments should centralise or decentralise their web presence.
For some reason a number, such as the UK government, South Australia and the ACT, have decided that centralising all their websites into a single portal is the right approach, although I've seen little in way of clear benefits to citizens or government.
At the same time some agencies still follow a route of rolling out a new website for every initiative, program and event, leaving some agencies with hundreds of websites to manage.
Totalling the number of websites can be deceptive. With a single content management system at the back-end, single set of servers and bandwidth and nothing more than different design templates it is possible to release many websites with little additional cost impact. In this situation, whether the content is in one site or many, it requires almost the same effort to create and maintain.
I believe that the argument over one or many websites really misses the entire point of the exercise - to serve the public.
If we stop thinking about centralise/decentralise and begin thinking audience, how would we build and maintain the web presence, not web site(s), for a government or agency?
I've been thinking about this recently with a view to the capabilities that web 2.0 brings.
Rather than building websites around agencies, portfolios, topics or governments, why not simply provide a my.gov.au framework which can be customised to every individual citizen's needs and demographics?
Agencies could publish information in 'fragments' or 'parts' with appropriate metadata. This would allow my.gov.au to selective and display the content, services, social channels and news from government appropriate to an individual.
With this approach the entire equation is flipped. No longer are agencies or governments solely deciding what they want citizens to see. Instead citizens are presented with what they need, based on their age, gender, location, work status, interests, past behaviour and other characteristics.
Individual agencies would not need to each collect information about individuals to provide a custom online experience. They simply become content providers, with the central my.gov.au portal storing any personal information and pulling the right content (as tagged by agencies) without sharing the information with other agencies.
This approach could expand beyond a single government, integrating local planning alerts, state government services and other relevant content in a single seamless interface.
This would remove the need for citizens to go to multiple 'single sites' for different government levels. As the user is in control of my.gov.au there's no need for agencies at different levels to have their systems working together for content or sign-on - the my.gov.au framework would simply pull content and services into the common personalised interface for each person.
The system could also expand beyond government - integrating your banking and medical records and more into the same view. This would become a real killer application. See your bank and salary information as you figure out how much you need to pay government over the year ahead. Of course, none of the services viewed through the personalised page would 'talk' to each other, only to my.gov.au, preserving privacy and security.
The my.gov.au service wouldn't even have to be built and managed by governments - competing services could be developed commercially and compete - through enhancements and features - for the 'business' of citizens, all drawing on the same set of government content and data feeds.
So perhaps it is time for government to stop talking about 'one website to rule them all' and instead consider what we could achieve if we let our content out of its departmental and government 'wrappers'.
We could enable a true personalised my.gov.au service for every citizen, customised to their specific needs and wants, growing with them through various life events over a number of years.
And we could still aggregate the same content into our corporate sites, or a single portal if we chose, at no extra cost!
Saturday, September 10, 2011
I've been pinged by Pia Waugh to liveblog today's GovCamp AU event.
What is a GovCamp? The official definition is: GovCamp is an event in the spirit of BarCamp for governments and other public institutions to share social and technology solutions to turn them into Government 2.0.
Note this won't be a full view on the day, as there are three rooms. I'll be presenting a couple of times as well. However I'll link to other posts as I can (and include the hashtag in my liveblog to provide a separate perspective).
The event is also being filmed, so there will be a record available online shortly afterward.
It can also be directly followed on Twitter at #govcampau
For other GovCamps around the world visit govcamp.org
Friday, September 09, 2011
I am presenting from 3.20pm today, and my presentation is now available on slideshare, viewable as below.
I've taken some time off this morning to put together some extra slides for my presentation, so are not yet in the room, however have a liveblog running to capture the tweeters who are...
My presentation is at 3.20pm today and will be on slideshare shortly afterwards.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
I'll be liveblogging parts of the AMI Marketing and Communications Conference today and tomorrow.
You can also follow the conference at the hashtag #amigov2011
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
See below for the liveblog, or follow the event on Twitter under the tag #wpanc.
There is also a blog for the day at http://walkleypanc2011.posterous.com/ written and edited by a team made up of the Walkley Foundation's Kylie Johnson and Flynn Murphy, along with University of Canberra communication students, led by Grace Keyworth and Mel Evans.
To my knowledge both the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) (whose document appears to be inaccessible online at the moment) and the Local Government Association of South Australia have released social media guidance, with SA's A Social Media Issues Paper for SA Councils - Incorporating a Model Social Media Policy released last week.
Monday, September 05, 2011
The concept of humans as purely biological beings ended long ago, potentially 3,000 years ago, with the first documented prosthetic limb on an Egyptian Mummy.
However the widespread use of mechanical or electronic devices to aid or control certain human physiological processes didn't become commonplace until the last century, when progress in devices such as eye-glasses and contact lenses, prosthetic limbs and even artificial organs really took off.
In 1979 the CDC reported (PDF) that 51% of US adults wore corrective glasses. I could not find any more recent statistics, either for the US or Australia, however I doubt the figure has declined.
Add to this those using prosthetic limbs and orthotics (devices which apply external forces to the body for the purpose of support and alignment, reducing pain or enhancing mobility), hearing aids, dialysis, artificial organs and so on, and I estimate that a majority of the population of developed western countries are cyborgs, of one type or another.
We've long been doing this with mechanical devices - cars, bulletproof vests, jetpacks, binoculars and more. In the future this enhancement might be more firmly integrated into human physiology - glasses and contact lenses containing heads-up displays and power-assisted prosthetic limbs are already in use in prototype forms.
We've also been busy enhancing our mental and conversational powers, as Amber also discusses. Most adults in Australia carry an external memory and communication device with them most of the time - a mobile phone - that allows them to instantly connect and communicate with people around the world, store information and receive alerts when required or research in a global library for facts or views that they no longer store in 'meat' memory.
In this arena we've begun to see devices for direct control of external devices via mechanical telepathy - with products already in the market.
Thus far cyborgs have generally used devices to attempt to match the biological human norm, to see, hear, move and live as closely as possible to unenhanced humans.
However we are increasingly heading towards a world that will see more widespread use of devices to enhance our capabilities. Moving from breast implants to heads-up displays, nightvision, hearing amplifiers and devices that otherwise increase our versatility, physical strength, speed, precision or stamina. An early example is Aimee Mullins, a double leg amputee who has turned her legs into art and can change her height, speed and capabilities through her selection of prosthetic limbs (see the video below).
Another example is 'Eyeborg', Rob Spence, who lost an eye and replaced it with a wifi camera. Rob has now made a short documentary, in conjunction with the new game 'Deus Ex: Human Revolution' (which features a cyborg hero) asking the question of where human augmentation may lead (video below).
At some point, as highlighted in Rob's video, we may even begin to face the ethical question of people choosing to be enhanced to increase their capabilities. This could involve medical interventions, even limb replacement.
So where does this impact on government and the process of governing?
Government policies, legislation and enforcement mechanisms have been designed for people who fit a particular range of capabilities and characteristics.
If cybernetic enhancements expand an individual's capabilities outside of this range, some laws may struggle to address the needs or issues this may bring.
We've seen the same challenges as other technologies were introduced. Some technologies had no impact on our legal framework, others have forced us to rethink entire policies.
Human augmentation technology is likely to be similar. For example, someone with camera eyes - who can record everything they see - might inadvertently record inappropriate material, or film in restricted venues. Someone with a brain enhanced with a direct wi-fi connection to the internet may use that collective knowledge in closed examinations or any type of competitive challenge or job where access to knowledge provides advantage. Someone with enhanced leg or arm strength may have an advantage in any type of competitive or commercial activity involving bodily strength, speed or stamina.
As a society we will have to debate issues such as,
- should augmented humans be allowed to compete for the same jobs, sports or competitions as unaugmented humans?
- should we create new approaches, policies or laws to govern individuals who can run faster, jump higher, grip harder or think faster than 'normal' humans?
- at what level of augmentation would any changes kick in. With an artificial retina (with a heads-up display), with power-assisted limbs, with a direct neural interface to the internet?
However with the growing number and acceptance of cyborgs and the rate at which technology is advancing, we may not have that much time to reflect.
Note: Excluding the use of an external memory enhancement and communication tool, I don't yet qualify as a cyborg.
I'll be missing the Gov 2.0 conference that CeBIT is holding for the third time this October (25-26 October) due to my honeymoon. However I do recommend to others that they consider attending.
In my view this is the most mature Gov 2.0 conference in Australia and has managed to step beyond the '101' nature of most similar conferences.
For details visit www.gov2.com.au