Like a Virgin

December 22, 2012

I’ve been a Virgin mobile phone customer for years. Not out of amazing loyalty but for the fact that for my basic usage they provide the service at a reasonable cost and when I’ve considered the alternatives there were no major benefits. What does annoy me is that when I want to use their online service to check on things I inevitably get the message “Oops! You weren’t expecting that? Neither were we.” but after some many times I am now expecting it. It crops up when I try to log in, when I want to look at other pages, but all I’m offered is ringing a call centre to carry out what should have taken a minute of my time and will now take ten!

This I believe is what will become of “digital by default” in many cases. One would expect that given the years I’ve been using the site, Virgin would have sorted out these glitches but currently it’s worse than ever. I presume they’re laying off staff like everyone else and by the time the next round of cuts by central government have really impacted on local government, IT support will be a nominal service with the few remaining techies rattling around the empty town halls. Central government has always been somewhat bloated, so it will take a bit longer to hit home there and really affect Ministers but eventually there will be no-one to fix the web site and when the number is rung, no-one there either…

On that cheerful note – Season’s greetings and best wishes for the New Year…


The Revolution Will be Digitised

December 11, 2012

I’ve just got around to finishing “The Revolution Will be Digitised” by Heather Brooke. Whilst it greatly increases my understanding of Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the author’s own role in making public some of the contents of the Wikileaks, I primarily appreciated the final chapter “A Brave New World” and the “Afterword to the Paperback Edition”, since this is not old news but an ongoing story that is far from complete. If anyone wants to understand why we should not trust governments or big business and those who run them, that final chapter says much of it for me. Whilst Conservatives and neo-cons go on about ending ‘big government’, that is not the issue, but people like them are, who want to conceal the truth and manipulate the world around us to enable them to make big profits. Brooke is not inferring that the revolution will be digitised, just that the new media can play a powerful role in social change when in the right hands.

A book that tells a similar story is Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism“, which will equally make you feel concerned about the megalomaniacs who appear to be involved in society at all levels and places. A broader story than Brooke’s but perhaps the reason why we should be advised by Brooke about making sure that the common people have control of the internet. I don’t agree with her final analysis in comparing before and after the Enlightenment with what is going on, for as she says in the previous chapter the world is not that simple, and the Enlightenment had been brewing for hundreds of years before 1650, as is demonstrated in another excellent read – Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “Reformation“.

Five tails in the sunset

December 9, 2012

A bevy of swans on a Lancashire lake as the sun is setting, all but one diving…



December 1, 2012

As warned, I’ve been building another blog! This time it’s using Posterous and it’s entitled ‘Phlotsam‘. The Great E-mancipator has run since December 2007 and was largely around e-government. It’s had a few visitors and helped distribute some useful information at a time when we were still having dogma thrust down our throats (not that we aren’t anymore).

Phlotsam‘ is intended to pick up some of those wider topics that I have occasionally drifted into such as the environment, managing and experiencing nature reserves, volunteering in a range of non-academic roles, and philosophy (political, ethical and social). I’ll probably link it back to here, so the crossover is likely to get complicated and confusing – but lets see where that road goes…

Local Government Digital Service

November 18, 2012

In September 2012 I wrote about the Local Government Data Service but since then we’ve seen the publication of the central government Government Digital Strategy, and yet again questions have been asked about why local government hasn’t one or doesn’t get a mention. My riposte is that local government was doing this before the GDS, and it was largely set out in the Socitm publication Planing the Flag. Meanwhile Socitm has published a briefing entitled “The new Government Digital Strategy: what should local public services take from it?”

Whilst the Socitm briefing is largely a promotion for its website take-up and channel benchmarking services, all that is required by any local authority is to actively gather feedback from its service users about the different channels on offer and to use this to improve them. If this makes possible a shift to channels that are truly cheaper to deliver by web or telephone all well and good. I am, of course, ignoring the ‘digital by default’ diktat within the central strategy. In national terms this means the sharing of best practice amongst local authorities and a lot of cooperation by suppliers in helping to improve delivery, not just raking in short-term profits. This is where open source and open data come in – if the commercial applications use apps that can be cross-fertilised with others and the data can be similarly exposed (securely) across applications the benefits to both councils and citizens will soon become general.

Whilst the Cabinet Office report admits that “most public services are provided by local organisations such as local councils and the NHS”, instead of ignoring local government and starving it of resources, central government needs to cooperate properly and assist in making these changes real. So whilst I congratulate the GDS on producing its strategy I will observe whether it gets the rest of central government to cooperate, and whether it actually cooperates with those areas where “most public services are provided”. I’d also appreciate it if there were fewer questions about why local government isn’t do the GDS thing, and a greater appreciation of the fact that it was there first, just with much less of a marketing team…