Am I being unfair? Who, after all, is the Open Data Movement? Well it turns out there isn't one really, at least when it comes to "open data" in the sense of "open government data", which along with "open scientific data" is one of the two most common uses of the term.
"Open Data Movement" is a phrase dragged out by media-oriented personalities to cloak a private-sector initiative in the mantle of progressive politics. Along with other cyberculture terms ("hacktivism", "unconferences", "hackathons") the word "movement" suggests a countercultural grass-roots initiative for social change, but there isn't anything of the sort that I can see.
Take Tim O'Reilly, who has thrown the phrase around for some time (see here for an example from a couple of years ago). Like others who use the phrase, he sees no conflict between civic culture and corporate interests, so the Strata conferences and Open Government conferences he has run have been sponsored by major software, hardware, and computer services companies (including, I think, my employer, for whom I do not speak). Strata 2012, for example, is co-hosted by Cloudera, sponsored by EMC and MapR, and many others.
Or take the "Code for America" initiative, which uses language that is explicitly about promoting an alternative vision of how government works ("it's about citizenship and how the internet is fundamentally reshaping the way government can work", It's "a Peace Corp for geeks") and which has many well-intentioned people involved. Yet when it comes to it, there's a lot more here about making uncontroversial data available (including for commercial use) than there is about anything like challenging government on actual accountability or transparency. So it's no surprise that the list of donors includes major corporations like EMC (again), ESRI, Google, O'Reilly Media, and Microsoft.
It's not that there's necessarily anything wrong with Code for America, more that it's not a movement in any political or even cultural sense. Another member of the CfA donor list is the Omidyar Network, set up by the eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, and it reflects his view that private sector corporate profit-making activity and civic activity are not in tension, but complement each other.
As a result, the actual activities of this "movement" end up being to push for government subsidies of private-sector activity. It's "big society" all over again. This is the TED worldview, so it's no surprise that the recent Open Government Partnership wraps itself in noble goals such as fighting "corruption, closed doors, the consolidation of power" (see Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks) and basks in the reflected virtue of TED fellow Walid Al-Saqaf (Open data vital for a new Yemen) when the most likely outcomes are privatisation initiatives of the kind promoted by Francis Maude.
I’m sorry that Harper seems to be borrowing from conservatives below the border–using all the right words publicly, while taking the actions of the exact opposite privately.
The “Open Data Movement” as you describe it, IMHO, isn’t a gathering of determined people in the manner of “Occupy Wall Street”. It’s closer to a community group that uses data in a way to benefit their city/county/state as a whole. Both have their virtues and their utilities.
It sounds like the Harper government is using Open Data as a de facto subsidy, based on your description. In Cook County we are trying to engage the data community and local digital entrepreneurs to use our data. The use of this data can be the grist that helps digital entrepreneurs develop products faster and find new markets faster. We believe there are ways for all to benefit from the products and apps created from our data.
Hopefully the Canadian situation as you describe it changes so that the words “Open Data” actually match up to the spirit of “Open Data”. But to call it a joke for the rest of us in the US and the world? That’s irresponsible.
Thanks for the comment and for the wishes re Canada. Sorry that you dislike the title: I don’t dislike local government data feeds for everyday issues and concerns, but maybe we have to disagree about whether that’s a movement, and how it relates to the use of “transparency” claims.
That’s an interesting critique but the conclusion about not allowing commercial use doesn’t really seem to follow from the arguments above it.
Stopping commercial use of the open data that is available wouldn’t do anything to make governments any more transparent on the issues that matter. And to the extent that corporations might use the data to create services that also hold public services to account, it might actually achieve the opposite of the transparency I presume you support.
And besides, releasing data that every taxpayer has already paid for through their taxes so that people can make profits from it is explicitly one of the goals of the programme so I don’t see it as being “hijacked”.
And besides, I’m sure it isn’t perfect but in the UK open data campaigners have done a lot to prevent government backsliding on things like the proposed Public Data Corporation which would seek to exert more control over key government data sets. Though I agree that this doesn’t amount to nirvana when the same government is also being critical of things like the Freedom of Information Act which is also fundamentally important to transparency.
What Richard said. Just because “Open data” doesn’t necessarily lead to open government and because closed gov’ts try to blur the distinctions it doesn’t mean the movement isn’t of some value. And while corporations aren’t people too there is no reason why they should be denied access to data their own tax contributions help to fund.
Found this blog via the debate @evgenymorozov and @digiphile are having on Twitter.
I feel like you’re attacking a strawman here. I don’t know anyone who thinks Open Data is a radical critique, that it might question the basic rationale for government and its legitimacy. This includes the people who are involved in Open Data.
Open Data is only radical in one sense. In a world of truly open data, the government cannot hide behind the justification that only they know best. It will be a bit harder to justify programs that aren’t working. Citizens will be able to propose change that are qualitatively equal or better than official civic plans.
You’re right, these are modest goals, but they are worth fighting for.
Of course this could all go wrong. There are lots of ways for a government to continue to work in secret, but adopt open data in principle.
P.S> Incidentally, I don’t have a problem with corporations getting “subsidized” data any more than I care about corporations getting “subsidized” courts. They are paying for it too via their corporate taxes. Nothing wrong with that as long as the government data collection is still in the public interest.
From my experience, the pseudonymous blogger of this piece got it exactly backwards. In my world, the commercial sector is raping and pillaging the public treasury, getting exclusive deals on data that not only keeps out other companies, but researchers, public interest groups, and everybody else who make up “the public.” In many cases, the government data is so tightly behind a cash register that even government workers enforcing the law can’t afford to buy copies of the data they produce or the rules they promulgated.
I have no idea who Whimsley is and don’t usually bother to comment on random blogs by armchair quarterbacks, and I have no idea what is going on in Canada, but this one seems so far off the mark it seemed worth a few words. The post is backwards in the analysis, but it is also lacking a bit of reality.
I don’t give a hoot if something is a movement, but I’m not sure that making lists of who gets to use data and who doesn’t get to use public data makes any sense (many nonprofits are intensely commercial and many commercial operations seem to avoid the evilness of many of the beltway bandits). As far as Code for America’s program and their sponsors, or Tim O’Reilly and his talks, I’ve observed all of those at first hand and it is pretty clear the pseudonymous blogger doesn’t have a clue what either group does or what they think.
P.S. I’ve watched many tens of millions of people access and use government data that wasn’t available before from my servers. Maybe not a movement, but definitely a really big crowd.
Richard, DrBrake and Neil: thanks for the constructive comments.
My concern over corporate use comes partly from the UK “Big Society” initiative, which wraps a government downsizing initiative in a populist “civic engagement” flag.
I agree that “In a world of truly open data, the government cannot hide behind the justification that only they know best” but the post was prompted by the fact that the Canadian government has pursued an “open data” policy and yet the last five years have been terrible ones for accountability and transparency in this country. A technological “open data” agenda does not indicate a political “open data” agenda.
Carl: You seem to think I am hiding my identity: no such thing. My name (Tom Slee) is on the About page and my photo is to the left. As to “who Whimsley is”: I don’t know how to even start answering that. What do you want, a list of credentials? Oddly enough, I also don’t feel “random” to myself, although I admit to being obscure. Is that a problem?
I am surprised that you first admit that you “have no idea what is going on in Canada”, which is what prompted the post (see the first line) and which makes up the first half of the post, and then go on to proclaim me clueless? Events here may be something you can dismiss, but not all of us can afford to do so.
Tom, I just didn’t see the point of pissing over such a broad set of topics. Seemed like a whole bunch of vitriol, a whole lot of snark, not a lot of clue on the topics I knew about firsthand, which were in the second half of your post. I don’t know about Canada, didn’t say it wasn’t important, you seem big on discovering hidden motives.
“Firing Health Canada scientists who speak publicly on drug safety issues”
The article linked states the scientists were fired in 2004. Harper was the leader of the opposition at that time.
Carl: Just for the record, I’m not trying to say that all open data efforts are worthless. Your own efforts in that area have my admiration.
d: Thanks for the correction. I’ll mark up the post.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Gov 2.0 is among the biggest hustles of Big IT and Silicon Valley out there, and it needs a thorough thrashing, and thank you for doing that.
They purport to give you all this “useful” data and transparency, but the people hustling it the most, such as the White House Office of Science and Technology and their gov 2.0 consultant pals, would conveniently leave their own salaries off the list of “transparent salaries” of White House government employees.
It’s a bonanza of contracts for consultants and IT firms, and all about promoting open source software as supposedly “free,” but of course the meter is always endlessly running with the balloon payments of the programmers themselves.
Whitehouse.gov, done in that lovely open source Drupal, in fact is one of the least truly interactive sites with little information. Nothing to vote on but pre-fabricated issues occasionally, not forums of course, heaven forfend.
Go to Recovery.gov and some of the sites that purport to give transprency on IT projects, and you will not find even the basics — are they using open source (with that aforementioned endless running meter) or proprietary code (and then are they doing competitive bidding?)
There are now so many sites purporting to tell you all the money thrown at your congressmen that they almost cancel each other out. They aren’t consistent, they don’t collaborate, and you often have to dig and dig to find the lobbying funds. And PS, lobbying is legal and they get to take campaign money, so all the hype about “transparency” is a little overheated. It’s as if they think some magic alchemic action occurs from transparency, when in anything, it can induce learned helplessness. So you got exposure. And then?
Open data is a job corps for geeks so they can show up at all the windows where they are handing out stimulus funds and bailouts and cry the magic words “gov 2.0”. There is no critical review of these projects of any substance. Indeed, their proponents insist everywhere on “peer review” as if they are scientific projects in academia. It’s absurd, because they aren’t science; they are commerce or worse, merely ideological Trojan horses.
Gov 2.0 never got to be examined by Congress; there were no hearings on it; in New York State and other individual states it was put in by revolutionary fiat and never reviewed in hearings; the budgets for these programs are seldom revealed.
What I think you’ll find actually is that all of this “movement” really comes from Tim O’Reilly as you mention (see my piece on this here http://bit.ly/aX5KX0); also his Washington PR man Alex Howard (@digiphile), and a few of those “thought influencers” with massive online networks and connections to the big SV firms who have a certain ideology for a “better world” that is never democratically debated because they simply mute or delete it. The IT corporate-funded Sunlight Foundation is at the forefront of this lobbying “movement” here.
I know of consultants in the UK who have said unabashedly that they could influence the entire country’s policy on X or Y in certain Internet-related fields because they just have to get the ear of a certain minister and it will be put through in topdown manner. And self-same consultants complain that in the States, there are so many competing lobbies they can’t compete. Well, actually no. There’s Sunlight, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, and that’s about it.
The absolute worst thing about gov 2.0/open data/ open blah blah are precisely the thin-skinned types you see showing up here. It’s a cult; you can’t criticize it normally the way you can normally criticize Wal-mart or Enron or BP. They whine whenever anyone criticizes them; they call themselves the “goverati” and imagine they are superior; they run massive love-ins between government and corporations such as the 500-strong conference they had in Washington, DC last week, but they do not accept open debate. If you try to ask questions, as I do, people like Alex Howard block you on Twitter.
Your notion of perpetuating the Creative Commons “license” on all this, however, is feeding the problem. No one requires a CC license to claim copyright. And that’s not the issue.
Code for America is particularly insidious — I’ve endlessly debated this. They come into a city, run from some national secretive network related to O’Reilly or others, they then “take over” by demanding transparency in IT budgets and offering themselves as a “cheaper” solution than some old expensive Microsoft for Windows seat licenses for Windows NT or something. They play up the idea that they will make all these useful “apps” and not “recreate the wheel” because they’re all on a big happy network.
But local people don’t really get to chose what is useful to them. And the project end up costing as much or more, and worse, they instill an ethics-free hackers culture along the way of their “reform” that does not have due process, voting, and recognition of minority view points. This is why I call it technocommunism. “Progressive” has come to be a term I simply can’t put in anything but scare quotes anymore.
The first step in reining in this monster is to insist on parliamentary hearings — and multiple hearings, with access by multiple stakeholders, not just coders who complain that parliamentarians or congressmen aren’t technologists so are “stupid”. They’re lawyers or businessmen, and more to the point, they’re *elected* unlike the unaccountable coders.
The second step is to make them publish their budgets and their lobbying funds. Open is as open does.
The third step is to force them to abandon their opensource diktat. There should be *choice* and the real costs of each kind of program should be reviewed.
The fourth step is to create some kind of transparency czar or ombudsman or bipartisan commmission selected demonstratively from outside the whole IT lobbying circuit to examine the effectiveness of these programs.
USAID and DRL and all of these agencies like 90-day impact statements? Let them apply them to *this topic too*. They don’t.
And finally, there needs to be an authentic public debate about what it is we’re trying to get from opening. Rather than spouting hypotheticals with catchy fake user stories about health or environment, let’s get actual use cases of when this data was actually used to achieve something.
Look at all the topics for the workshops at “Transparency Camp 2012” in Washington last week which brought together 500 government officials, IT corporation executives and coders.
It’s all about itself.
To correct the record that Catherine Fitzpatrick has distorted on her blog, as per usual: my participation on the Canadian open government panel was unpaid, voluntary and non-binding. The invitation did not come after meeting any MP nor did it involve travel to Canada; I met over telepresence.
Readers can judge the merits of the rest of her comments on their own.
There you go again.
It isn’t that anyone needs to “correct the record,” big guy. The record needed to be CREATED and BY YOU.
Here’s what I said on my blog:
“Did Alex Howard get a consulting fee, or just travel expenses to go sit on the panel in Canada? A gig which he got after schmoozing with a minister on another trip.”
I don’t see anything to correct here.
I asked a question, because nothing on this blog or your tweets was at all clear on these issues and the question had to be asked regarding conflict of interest. They were answered only if you clicked through to a previous blog, and not in full.
I mentioned not an MP, Alex, but a *minister*. You said you met the Canadian Minister Clement here:
The dates aren’t clear. First you mention the panel by telepresence. Then you say “last month” you met Clements. Which came first?
You can’t expect everyone on Twitter or reading Whimsley on this to click through and find your “eight recommendations” and your disclaimer immediately. You could have said this on Twitter. You didn’t tell us whether you were a paid consultant for this gig or not there. I *asked a question* about whether you were paid, as any decent blogger or journalist would do! I didn’t claim you were paid, I asked a question. And you could answer it not with this cunning manipulation, as you are doing — I saw what you did there! — but merely by saying “I did note my nonpaid status in my original blog”.
You yourself described how you met the Canadian officials and then later got the invitation. Here’s what you wrote:
“When I was in Brazil last month for the Open Government Partnership conference, I did attend a dinner at the Canadian embassy that included Clement and the Canadian delegation, along with Eaves. While I was there, I talked with Canada’s deputy CIO about how I personally used social media and derived value from it, along with how I had observed large institutions accumulate and retrieve knowledge internally using collaboration software. I also talked with attendees about hockey, Brazil, dinner itself, and Eaves’ experience being a father of a newborn baby. I do not know if open government or open data were the subject of subsequent conversation with the Clement, ambassador or their staff: I left after dessert.”
So you’re going to say this meeting had nothing to do with the invitation to sit on the panel?! Or that if it came *after* that it wasn’t part of a conflict of interest even if you merely talked about “your personal use”? But you yourself wrote about it and talked about broader applications in institutions!
Ultimately, the question of whether you of your “unpaid” and “non-binding” status is moot. You are a paid operative of the O’Reilly company. Your job is to serve as an evangelist for this worldview and this business interest. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t pretend it’s something other than it is.
If you met with telepresence, God bless you, you saved energy. I’m an even bigger believer in this than you are, as a denizen of Second Life. But that wasn’t clear until reading the previous blog, and again, a question about whether there were travel expenses paid IS NORMAL and EXPECTED by journalists.
Do you consider yourself a journalist?
I see you’ve ducked every other pertinent issue I’ve raised here, and above all, the question of how much democracy and transparency ever goes into installing these lovely “open data” plans in the first place. Answer: little or none.
@Catherine: I did not “duck” every other pertinent issue you raised. As you have pointed out, I am not your elected representative. I am not accountable to you nor must I answer every wild accusation you make nor refute every unfounded assertion you conjure up.
I will respond further here, however, on some specific points for the benefit of other readers who may read this blog.
A) Tony Clement is a Member of Parliament (Parry Sound-Muskoka) and President of the Treasury Board of Canada. If describing him as a “minister” in my post was incorrect, I regret the error. He is the relevant government official accountable for open government policy in the Canadian national government.
C) I did not get a “gig” after “schmoozing” with him, as you claim. (Thus, the correction). I was invited to sit on this panel in early 2012. I accepted and joined a meeting on 2/28 via telepresence. I met Clement and his staff for the first time in Brazil in April.
D) I do believe that the subsequent invitation to the embassy — along with other members of civil society on the Canadian delegation — was related to my membership on the panel. The courtesy was extended to others who traveled to Brazil as well.
E) Unfortunately, I see little point in arguing with you with respect to my status, my company, the purpose of my work or the various assertions that you’ve made on your blog or comment here.
Your blog posts, tweets and comment have an established pattern: accuse people engaged in open government, open data or open source technology of being “technocommunists.” When someone objects to your wild accusations, ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories, you deride them are “thin skinned geeks,” as above. In Second Life, your behavior has been chronicled extensively:
If someone highlights this record of behavior, you find it “creepy.”
F) As a result, my conclusion has long been that you will believe what you wish to and will say what you want to, notwithstanding any other contention or evidence provided.
If I decided to point to numerous Congressional oversight hearings on e-government, federal IT and open government, like: http://gov20.govfresh.com/open-government-scrutinized-before-the-house-oversight-committee/ — akin to what you demand — or the recent bipartisan passage of the DATA Act – sponsored by Republicans – would it matter? Based upon the evidence, I suspect not.
G) You have variously called me a “PR person,” lobbyist or one of an unspecified group of “Gov 2.0 prissies.” What can you say to someone that insists that you belong to a cult? Or that I have little to no editorial integrity? In some countries, your accusations would be libelous.
Anyone reading this is welcome to look at the body of my work online, going back to 2006 when I joined TechTarget, long before I joined O’Reilly Media, and judge for themselves the quality of my journalism and the integrity with which I’ve handled myself, both online and off.
If you’re not my elected representative, how can you install “open government by revolutionary fiat without a single Congressional hearing BEFORE the programs go into effect?!
I haven’t made any “wild accusations”. I’ve asked you if you were paid as a consultant to be on a panel, since you are a paid evangelist for O’Reilly. That’s a legitimate question and I’m not the only one asking it. And I asked how you came to get this gig with the Canadians. And that’s ok to do! That’s what normal people expect free media to do in a free society without pretending there are “wild accusations” made or “unfounded assertions”.
A) BTW, I am a graduate of the University of Toronto, and I even own co-own a small property in Canada! I follow Canada more closely than most Americans which is — not at all. But I don’t follow it in depth on every issue, and I thought that if you described Clement as a minister he was, given his role. But whether he is a minister or MP is irrelevant! The point is you did in fact schmooze with him. Journalists get to schmooze. So do paid evangelists. But then you declare it a conflict of interest instead of writing recommendations like that.
C) So now you’re establishing on the record for the first time the sequence of first getting the invitation to sit on the panel and THEN meeting Clement for the first time (he wasn’t on the telepresenced panel, I guess). So you got a trip to Brazil. Who paid for the trip?
The blog with the eight recommendations on govfresh.com came out May 2, that is, two months after the 2/28 teleconference and some weeks after the meeting in person with Clement in Brazil. And you’re going to tell us that meeting and that invitation to the panel had nothing to do with your recommendations?
Your recommendations, BTW, are the usual jargon-laden, code-worded recommendations that insure lots of IT consulting with the meter running at every turn.
Your analog strategy is put 3rd, and as a sidebar and not the BEGINNING of the process as it should be. You know, people. And their elected representatives. Why can’t they come first instead of you?
What is the public interest and who decides?
Meaningful engagement? You mean like the “Life of Julia” film strip by Obama on whitehouse.gov?
Why would the number of applications used mean that greater accountability is achieved?! Engineers want to go for the civic stack because they want to grab all the civic data that cities hold and use it to aggrandize and enrich themselves. Is there an app showing where every public toilet is in NYC? No. Is there an ap for free condoms or an app for entertainment? Yes. Did anyone get to have a say in this beside a cabal of coders and their insider pals at city hall? No.
E) Alex, do you really expect to be taken as a serious person when the best you can do to answer my legitimate questions is to post a link to the Anonymous/4chan Encyclopedia Dramatica hate page, related to my Second Life avatar?!
This scurrilous thing claims that I kidnapped my children in Russia in order to fatten them up and …eat them. It purports to put up my private home address in order to incite people to harass me at home. It falsely claims that I lost my job in 9/11, when I didn’t, I lost one contract. It claims falsely that I “spend most of my time on online games” when I have always been more than full-time employed at various real jobs all my life. I don’t currently work as an editor at RFE/RL, and it isn’t run by the CIA (it was removed from CIA control in the 1970s and I worked there in 2002-2004). Yes, creepy, for sure, when people use this and other Google witch-hunting techniques to harass me for my views.
Are you proud of yourself for posting that outrageous drivel, Alex? It really is at your level, and lets us know the hideous culture of ethics-free hackers in all its true ugliness. #Fail
My critique of open source as technocommunism is absolutely on target. And if you don’t want to hear it from me, hear this term used by Joi Ito, who jokingly calls himself a “venture communist”; hear it referred to as “digital Maoism” by Jaron Lanier; hear Kevin Kelly call it “digital communism” in Wired; here AJ Keen call it communism as well. It’s just that you don’t want to hear it from somebody who isn’t one of your cool kids, that’s all.
As for hearings, the one you cite, which I’m very familiar with came in the year *2011*. That is some five or more years after all this gov 2.0 was ALREADY installed and infiltrated everywhere!!!
And is Darrell Issa (R-CA), House Oversight Chairman and Republican though he may be, quite the right person to be calling to account Silicon Valley businesses in California? Could we take one of your gov 2.0 thingies and see which Big IT companies fund his campaigns?
Why is this hearing so late in the day, and why aren’t there dozens of such hearings in all kinds of committees? And why wasn’t there in Canada, the subject of this post, I mean FIRST before a single taxpayer dollar is spent on it.
As for the bipartisan passage of the DATA Act, how can that be some offset merely because it’s “by Republicans” when you know full well that “progressives” and the Google lobby joined by some libertarian Republicans sunk SOPA and PIPA?!
G) Since you came to work in O’Reilly, you cannot really say that you are a journalist in any legitimate sense of the world. You’re an evangelist. And indeed, O’Reilly is a tech cult. If you can find a country where libel laws work your way, I’m happy to see you in court. But maybe we need another suit to be reviewed in New York State on your linkage to a libelous site about me without outrageous falsehoods that indeed are easily proven false on the public record, and which are detrimental to my livelihood. Good thing I’m not the litigious type!
First, an apology. I think I’ve done more to answer your questions than simply ‘post that link’ — but given what you’ve told me about the content of that page, you’ve been the victim of unfair and untrue misrepresentation online that you can’t remove.
Believe me when I say that I know that feeling.
I’m not proud of directing attention there and, while I have personally experienced some of the behavior described therein, if I could delete the link from my comment above, I would.
Second, you write that “the people” and “their elected representatives” should “come first instead of me.” I was asked for feedback on Canada’s open government plan by Canada’s and I gave it. Later, I published my notes. Perhaps that Canadian government could have followed a different course in how it gathered feedback on this plan. This panel was the mechanism by which they chose to collect what they describe as expert feedback.
If you aren’t familiar with the past year or so of Canada’s history in this area, they held a public consultation on their national plan, as each participant in the Open Government Partnership had to do to join. I was not the “first,” only, or last voice making any open recommendations. I was one of many people.
The quality of the overall public consultation with the Canadian people, however, has been criticized by some members of Canada’s civil society. The context of this blog post, after all, is that the current administration in Canada’s record on open government is mixed. That is, as you know, also the case in many other countries, including its neighbors to the south.
Since it appears that you are unfamiliar with his face — true of most Americans, I imagine — you may not realize that it was MP Tony Clement leading the discussion during the February telepresence conference. (He’s pictured in the image at the top of the post you’ve linked twice.) If talking with him over telepresence constitutes “meeting him,” then we did “meet” in two months ago, as opposed to an in-person meeting embassy in Brazil.
Third, my decision to travel south to Brazil was not tied to the Canadian government or any recommendations. This conference had some 1200 representatives from 70 countries, which constituted a great opportunity for me to meet members of civil society and government officials who had traveled from abroad.
I went to Brasilia to cover the event for O’Reilly Media, in partnership with America Speaks and the Open Government Partnership. In that context reported on Day 1 of the conference, moderated the opening panel of the second day of the conference, interviewed civil society and government leaders on the livestream and then liveblogged the meeting of civil society organizations. Archives of all of that work can be found here: http://opengovpartnership.org and on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr and Radar.
Since you’ve pointedly asked, I paid for my flights to and from Brazil up front and then submitted expenses to O’Reilly Media for reimbursement.
Fourth, with respect to Rep. Darrell Issa and “Gov 2.0 thingies,” the Republican Congressman from California’s 49th District, anyone with an Internet connection can see the campaign contributions he’s received in one click, below:
3) OpenSecrets, which supplies the data to Open Congress:
As the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Issa is entrusted with working with his fellow Congressmen to hold the executive branch accountable. Whether he is the “right person” to do that work is up for debate; what’s less so is that it’s generally the role of the head of that Committee in our system of government.
Finally, the only time I have ever “installed” a government, much less by “revolutionary fiat,” is while playing Sid Meier’s “Civilization” computer game. (After playing for a while, I found that attaining democracy was both the greatest generation of knowledge and productivity and yet the most fragile system to maintain. Given that today is World Press Freedom day, maybe that’s worth pointing out.)
You once wrote that “a few years ago or whenever it was that he started out on Twitter, with the handle “digiphile,” he seemed like this nice guy who was kinda curious and kinda enthusiastic about technology and basically an interesting geek.”
That would be me, back in March 2007. 5 years later, I still like to think of myself that way. All things considered, I can’t help but wish that you did too, instead of making these comments on Tom’s blog.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that I can change your feelings towards my current employer, which predated my work there, nor my association with it. We’ll have to agree to disagree regarding O’Reilly being a cult. http://www.quora.com/Leadership/Does-Tim-OReilly-run-a-cult
To be honest, I have found over the past two years or so since I joined O’Reilly Media that I have two hundred or so brilliant, talented and humane co-workers, not cultists. They write and edit books, publish and distribute them, organize and run conferences, create and edit video or software, or help run the business, among many other amazing things. I’m proud to collaborate with the editorial team at the O’Reilly Radar and to have contributed my work to many other reputable publications.
I do, however, regret any part I’ve played in generating this amount of negativity in this forum. To do so was not my intention.
I’m glad you’ve conceded that your link to Anonymous/4chan’s Encyclopedia Dramatica is out of line. But you did this before — reading it, and then inciting the idea from your perch of high visibility that “the whole community” says I’m a “troll” and that I “alienate everyone” with my criticism. But that’s not true. I may alienate a handful of e-thugs in Anonymous about whom I’ve written critically because they constantly harass people and DDOS sites, all the way pretending they “help” Iranian dissidents. I may have annoyed a small number of open source cultniks in Second Life who cannot take criticism of their cult. I may have gotten this or that arrogant “thought leader” pushing copyleftism and the gift economy on Google+. So what? That’s not “the community”, you don’t speak for “the community”, and hey, what is the “community” and why do any of us have to be in it and do what it says?!
My blogging in doing this for seven years is legitimate, needed, and acceptable. That’s what you’re not hearing. “Negativity” is ok — it’s free debate where people get to criticize and find facts. The objective is not to “bring round” someone who disagrees with you and to “reach consensus”. The object is to uphold pluralism and that very transparency that you claim you uphold. But when you block and mute and delete, it’s impossible even to establish facts and opinions. The only way I got you to recognize that what you were doing with invoking this site — which you did before to say “all of the community” was against me was because Tom Slee happens to be critical of technology as well and doesn’t mute and delete and filter his web comments to prevent criticism. That’s all. Do you realize how rare that is?
I stand by my claims that the people and their elected representatives should come first instead of you, a group of evangelizers for a certain tech perspective. Indeed they should. And indeed they did not. Governments in the case of the US, UK, Canada and others didn’t first have fact-finding and parliamentary hearings and studies of the entire gov 2.0 notion — they just started putting it into place, handing out consultantships, and then asking for feedback as criticism mounted. You know that and I know that. That’s because the technicians in Washington and everywhere else were able to use their existing perch in institutions to start suggesting ideas and ordering up projects and services even under existing IT budgets, acting as if it were just “modernization”. If anyone objected, why, they were just suffering from Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). This played itself out in local and city communities as well as “Code for America” showed up and just did its thing with little civilian oversight under the guise of “technology” for which all excuses must be made.
If Canada was more democratic about this and held an earlier public consultation on their national plan, great, but I wonder if that was attended only by insiders, and never really got the full democratic awareness and buy-in that it needed. And certainly Tom Slee’s reaction is indicative of how intellectuals in Canada outside the core geek club were likely not engaged. You yourself concede that the quality has been criticized by some in Canada’s civil society. Indeed!
And that’s because tech, while pretending to be “about itself” and expanding itself always under cover of being merely “about itself” is actually highly political. Some Canadians like Tom Slee will find it “a joke” because they can rightly point to problems in the Harper government of secrecy on matters that seem to cry out for more publicity. But Harper is there, after all, by democratic choice — leftists and liberals and others with single interests just didn’t win. And so Harper supporter may may be perfectly happy with their level of openness and find this all a trojan horse, literally. And the reason Harper’s government can provide a seemingly “open government” program on non-essentials is that he can look like he’s liberal that way and satisfy some constituencies — certainly IT consultants who get paid to install these programs.
It’s no proof of geopolitical ignorance that I don’t happen to recognize MP Tony Clement’s face. But I’m puzzled why you think my “linking twice” represents some other ignorance or misreading. I made the point that when you called him a minister, I called him a minister and said you’d had a dinner with him. It wasn’t clear from your post as to the sequencing of when the panel was, and when the dinner was, especially as the blog post with the recommendations came AFTER the panel and AFTER the dinner. That’s the point. It’s not about not seeing the perfectly obvious fact of him in a video clip on your site. And yes, I think of meeting via interactive telepresence as “meeting”.
I didn’t say your decision to travel to Brazil was tied to the Canadian government, so again you’re distracting to non-points. I said you met him WHILE on your trip to Brazil, and because the sequencing wasn’t clear, I asked a question. I also rightly asked the question: did you get a consulting gig out of this? Because your participation in the panel could have been free, but the trip to Brazil wasn’t, and then later you wrote these lovely recommendations for Canada on your blog. Your blogging is part of your regular job with O’Reilly. But was there more? That’s why I ask. And it’s ok to ask. You go on and on about the conference in Brazil and it’s 1200 representatives from “civil society” (which usually means “the geek squad” at these things), but the point isn’t to somehow call into question your going to this conference as part of your mission and professional duties, the point is to say that you met and schmoozed with the minister there — and that’s what such opportunities are indeed for. Given that your boss commands huge fees for his speaking engagements, it’s reasonable to ask — what more do you get out of it?
And let’s focus on this very function you describe: “I went to Brasilia to cover the event for O’Reilly Media”.
Alex, when you write things like that, it lets us know you perceive yourself as a journalist. You may be a trained journalist; you may have served as a journalist in media in the past. but working for O’Reilly Media is *not journalism*. It’s *evangelism*. It’s doing *PR work for a tech company*. There’s nothing wrong with that; indeed, many journalists have had to move to corporate media relations work because of how the Internet has killed their jobs in mainstream media (thanks!). But let’s not pretend that O’Reilly Media is anything but a corporation, and anything but a corporation with an ideology that it is trying to propagate. It is not merely covering news. It is not part of an open debate. It is rather part of a crusade.
And THAT is the problem. That’s what you can’t even see, you are so much immersed in it. It isn’t the innocent, bland, neutral or “necessary” thing you imagine it to be and that your peers imagine it to be. Quite the contrary. It’s heavily politicized. It has very certain political if not theological positions. It aggressively pushes those positions as if they are gospel.
But they’re not. The very notion that open source software is “best” and “has” to be installed, fueling budgets for zillions of IT consultants, isn’t a given and has to be challenged every time one of these projects comes up. I’ve worked directly in companies where I’ve seen such projects go over budget and over schedule by tens of thousands and by months and years. I’ve seen some very giant companies in the tech field buy into the Drupal cult and spend obscene amounts of money trying to adopt their websites to it. And we can see our culty whitehouse.gov as a perfect example of the push media the tech cult ultimately favours for itself. No interaction. No vote. Nothing but a 1990s-style feedback template I could have installed myself on my tripod.com website. Technology isn’t demonstrable progress. It’s merely about some groups coming into power using the shield and sword of technology to hide their own privacy and slice away at others’ privacy. That’s all.
You cite opengovpartnerships.org with all its connections to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc and all its “civil society and government leaders on livestream and liveblog” as openness, transparency, and even democracy. But the appearance of this self-justifying statement on the front page lets us know that questions may have been asked about which NGOs with which agendas got to be in this thing:
Without knowing anything of the inside or even outside story here, I see trouble:
“On August 30th, 2011, Mr. Cláudio Abramo replied to that email, reporting that he would not be able to attend the meeting. On the same date, he sent a letter to the Head of the CGU suggesting positions to be adopted by the Brazilian Government within the initiative and requesting the inclusion of Transparência Brasil as a member of OGP´s Steering Committee. CGU, however, could not deliver such request. OGP´s Steering Committee is formed by governments from nine countries and by nine civil society organizations that were already chosen and invited by the time CGU was also invited to the first meeting in Washington (USA), in January, 2011. The work of most of these organizations has international reach and Inesc was the only Brazilian entity to attend the event.”
Well, who are these guys? Why do nine governments get to decide what civil society is? Why do nine civil society organizations get to decide what civil society was? Why couldn’t you include something called “Transparency Brazil” in the steering committee, indeed?
The problem is that often it’s the same crew that comes to all these things flogging all their perspectives without ANY critics. They pre-cook things long before they roll out their shows. If critics come in to those lovely places online with their livestream, trust me, they will be muted, banned, deleted. The geeks make sure they build platforms that keep themselves in power.
Yeah, I have an Internet connection, and yeah, I’ve long since looked up Darrell Issa and others in relationship to SOPA. And I’ve been told by some evangelists that Issa isn’t really representative of Silicon Valley because his district isn’t in it exactly, but that’s silly, because Silicon Valley spreads out far beyond Mountain View or the locations of certain big companies and even exists outside of California and the country. That’s of course O’Reilly’s very mission.
And as I’ve discovered from ample research, you don’t have to find a smoking gun of funding directly from Google or Twitter or the Sunlight Foundation near various politicians to be able to say “ah hah, that’s why they’re doing gov 2.0”. It could be a simpler matter of some congressmen having a staffer who pushes it ideologically; it could be somebody’s grandson who pushes it ideologically. That’s how cults work, Alex.
You don’t believe your company is like a cult, and you get furious any time anyone questions it. But it’s cult-like functions of aggressive propagandizing of a belief system and a set of assumptions; its need to spread itself to help reinforce its own beliefs; its refusal to brook normal criticism that any other industry would take; its persistent, deeply indignant posture of claiming that critics “just doesn’t have the facts” or “aren’t informed” — these are all cult features.
Your 200 brilliant and talented co-workers may not feel like cultists to you, but that’s merely because you share their beliefs. Just because O’Reilly is “reputable” — lots and lots of geeks buy the tech books for coding and such and lots and lots of people come to the meetings and conferences — doesn’t mean that it isn’t what it is: a sectarian set of beliefs not brooking dissent.
Let’s come back to the basics. Tom Slee looked at the *content* of what was being produced by all this haze of tech wizardry and found it sorely wanting because basic acts of good governnance weren’t being achieved by it. It was smoke and mirrors.
I look at the NYC aps and I find a lot of toys for boys — an ap to tell you where the entertainment is in the city; an ap to help you determine if you are too drunk to drive and find a designated driver; an ap to find free condoms. Then various aps-for-appearance’s sake like finding recycling centers, even though most buildings collect recycling, or find wonky facts about water or restaurant grades that most people don’t study because so many new and popular places say “grade pending” anyway.
But no aps to show museums and their hours. No aps to show where all the good public bathrooms are. So that lets me know that once again, these projects are untethered from reality, except the reality of a handful of usually male coders. They are untethered from real practical need, because for coders, a session on “compelling visual representation of data” means *compelling to them* without even asking “why this data, and not that other data?”
The conclusion of these types of debates is often to say, “technology is only a tool, and it takes groups in society to use it.” Or the open source cultist’s “patch or GTFO,” which means, “Either accept our set of beliefs and contribute, or shut up and get out.”
If someone says Twitter is skewed to the left politically for US debates, their bland answer is to say, well the GOP was late on getting it and the Tea Party is starting to mobilize on Twitter seriously only now, very late. Or even to say there are more conservatives on Twitter numerically than liberals — although they fail to note that there are more liberals with more followers *recommended by the company Twitter to populate your list when you join* — because the devs always let in their friends in the beta, which shapes the features, and always put their friends in the recommended lists, which shapes the number of followers, and let a lot of early adapters use scripts to boost their follower numbers into the tens of thousands before banning the scripts. Now the rest of us mortals, even as early adapters, have ceilings of 2000 that are impossible to boost because as soon as we get attention in real discussions, we get mobbed by griefers, spammers, and SEO gurus who follow and unfollow us, dampening our scores in algorithms.
But I don’t say technology is only a tool. I know that technologists bake their ideologies into it, and shrink-wrap it with evangelists with a full-blown set of ideological beliefs. And that’s why something like Tom Slee’s blog or my blog happen. Not everybody believes in the ideology.
A reminder to everyone who stumbles upon this thread:
What Catherine Fitzpatrick asserts online without evidence does not have the force of facts or evidence behind it, from her accusations or depictions of me or my employer to the process by which technologies are procured or policies are adopted.
For instance, there is no policy at any level of government in the United States that states open source “must be used.” There was a memo from former CIO Vivek Kundra that it must be considered:
http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/09/open-source-government-it-goscon.html — for more on the history of this area, including the Department of Defense’s various policies, read: http://opensource.com/government/12/5/history-open-source-government?sc_cid=70160000000IDmjAAG
It is a fact, as Fitpatrick proudly acknowledges, that NPR’s Andy Carvin, ASU journalism professor Dan Gillmor, Google’s Natalie Villalobos and professor Howard Rheingold have blocked her on social networks, for reasons that they would need to explain independently but that may be self evident from her comments in this forum.
While it is tangential to this topic of post, I feel I need to set the record straight, with respect to my own status as a someone who does “PR” for a “cult” — her opinion is just that: an opinion.
For a sense of how other sources view me or my work, I’ll simply note that Harvard, Stanford, Columbia Journalism School and the Poynter Institute have all, within the past year alone, variously given credence, credibility and validation for the quality and context of my work on open government, in the form of forums, panels, lectures or classes.
It was in that context that I moderated a panel that included the Secretary of State of Tunisia and deputy PM of Georgia last month, amongst others. And it is within that context that I will continue to produce editorial work and analysis for O’Reilly and other publications.
Great post. Just wanted to drop in from the UK to note that Francis Maude’s Dad was Angus Maude – part of a small group of moderate socialists and proto-libertarians who wrote “The Black Papers”, a critique of “progressive” education in 1971 that was the starting point in the de-professionalisation of education as “common sense” and elitism triumphed over the progressive cause.
“All kinds of education are not, as the egalitarians pretend, of equal worth or importance, nor can anything but harm come of claiming equal status for all kinds of educational institution.” – Angus Maude, 1971.
Your literalist and evasive answers always help tell the story. I didn’t say there was some official policy only to use open source. (How could there be; that would imply that some dialogue or debate or decision-making process would have happened with some kind of normal government procedure, some involvement of oversight and Congress — and that’s precisely what didn’t happen!)
What I did was *chronicle* the de-facto bias to open source that is so widespread as to constitute a diktat. There is heavy, heavy browbeating by the insider geeks everywhere to insist on open source, and since they decide the contracts, that’s how it happens. People find it hard to stand up to tekkies and this is why there is timidity around these cases.
I remember being absolutely appalled at a “thought leader” who advocated completely scuttling a bid for health care software if it left any choice between open and proprietary software. He was so determined to force open source code on everyone that he was for removing the bid and the funding for US health care data systems rather than give up his religious belief.
The way we know that open source software is a cult is that the proponents constantly prevaricate about its very imposition and its very hegemony and always pretend it’s a “choice”.
Do you REALLY think that a memo from Vivek that it must be “considered” is just some little prod and not a mandate?!
If you really want to see what the White House geek squad is really all about, look at the discussion on the site We the People, founded by departing CTO, Aneesh Chopras:
Here’s what the interviewer Nancy Scola had to say:
When I asked Jim Gilliam, the co-founder of NationBuilder, former Brave New Films organizer and all-around Internet-powered-people-power enthusiast, about We the People, he described it to me as a way for President Barack Obama to use “the will of the American people as a cudgel in the fight against Congress.”
We the people, indeed.
And that sums it up — the tekkies who get into the White House and other agencies see themselves as an executive-branch revolutionary avant-garde whose job is — in the inimitable words of Beth Noveck, who served as deputy director at the White house science and technology office, to “blow up Congress”.
They hate representative democracy; they hate people they see as backward and non-technical or who don’t share their views — they want to do away with them and just run things without interference.
I’m happy to post whenever thin-skinned geek “thought leaders” block me because then their restrictive ideas and practices can be documented, and then they speak for themselves. Dan Gillmor, for example, is for imposing politically-correct speech on all journalists. You have to say “gambling” and not “gaming”; you have to say “estate tax” and not “death tax” and so on. It’s highly creepy. I objected to this; he blocked me. The much-vaunted Andy Carvin wanted to censor a discussion by black people on Twitter about domestic violence — he didn’t like a hash tag that provoked discussion that was good as well as bad. Again, creepy. He blocked me not because I wasn’t “civil” or because I called him names or used obscenities, he blocked me because I questioned his advocacy of censorship of hashtags just because they didn’t seem PC enough for him, when he was promoting MENA press freedom. And so on, I won’t take up the space on it. In other words, real issues, with real consequences for our democracy — and then these Orwellian “thought leaders” and their awful suppression of speech.
We still haven’t seen you really grapple with the reality of your role, Alex, which is not journalism but PR work. PR work is legitimate. But you seem to be unable to admit that what you do *is* PR work, and not some authentic independent and critical expression. And when you so aggressively refuse to do that, you can’t concede that you’re merely one view among many that should compete in a marketplace of ideas. It feels natural to you so you don’t question it. Others do.
I don’t see why name-dropping wins an argument. It doesn’t matter if there are hundreds of people who give “credence” and “validation” to the tech cult. It is a cult. It is not beyond criticism. And it’s scary to see the defensive justifications keep piling up.
I didn’t write that “hundreds of people” give “credence” and “validation” to a “tech cult.” I wrote that institutions like Harvard and Stanford have recognized me and my work. National Journal and the Atlantic would not publish PR. Their editors published journalism that I submitted to their editors. For that matter, all of my posts the O’Reilly Radar have been edited and reviewed by a trained journalist.
The reason I’m unable to “admit” that what I do is PR, in other words and to your evident consternation, is that it’s simply not true.
For the record, I also will not admit that I can run the 40 yard dash in 4.1 seconds, have flown a plane, wrote a New York Times bestselling book or successfully invented a cure for malaria — although I will> admit that I wouldn’t mind if any of that were the case.
What’s “scary,” to me, isn’t so much this continuing stream of hyberbolic public accusations you continue to levy against me, my employer or “tekkies” but rather that you really do seem to believe it all of them, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.
If, for instance, open source is the “hegemony” you describe, why does Microsoft run 89.02% of the world’s PC’s? If using open source was the “diktat,” one would think Linux would be on everything. The OS for the iPad, one of the most popular electronic devices in history, is similarly not open source.
If “geeks everyone” who make buying decisions (aka, procurement) always chose open source over the past 2 decades, it’s safe to say that the government IT landscape would look rather different in 2012.
Again, I’ll refer readers to this history of open source in government:
If you want to levy reasonable criticisms of government programs, policies and journalism about them, you might at least get basic facts right. (For instance, you quoted Nick Judd, not Nancy Scola.)
The objects of your scorn no doubt continually “prevaricate” because what you say about them or their organizations is untrue, not because they’re caught up and befuddled by some mysterious cult that you must reveal, like some network of 21st century illuminati.
For the record, I do not “hate representative democracy” nor non-technical people, nor has it been my observation that former White House CTO Aneesh Chopra or dCTO Beth Noveck do.
I tend to cite Winston Churchill on the subject: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
My professors and mentors taught me to believe that there is that of good in everyone. Despite your attacks upon my integrity, I commit to look for that good in you and to forgive your insults. I imagine it’s hard to live under the weight of so much anger.
Diminishing returns is well past. I will delete any further comments related to the above exchange.
Just for the record, no way on God’s earth were the Black Papers produced by “moderate socialists” (Kingsley Amis? John Sparrow? Rhodes Boyson?). “Proto-libertarians” is closer, as long as you’re using “libertarian” in the “Libertarian Alliance” sense – as distinct from the radical-left sense in which the word was generally used in the UK at the time. History here: http://conservativehistory2.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/black-papers-and-debate-about-standards.html
I thought I was alone in thinking that it was selling, oops, giving away of one of the last public goods. Just found your posts and couldn’t agree more. Being inside the “open” movement has made me question the motives of it’s proponents. My decision to go back to honest work, seems better all the time.
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Hi. I’m part of a community organization called Open Democracy Manitoba. We build non-partisan websites focused on provincial and civic politics in Manitoba and Winnipeg. So far we have built ManitobaElection.ca and WinnipegElection.ca.
The mission of these sites: “We strive to educate voters, empowering them to understand the roles, issues, and visions of our representatives in order have a more accountable and respectful democracy.”
We are not a private-sector initiative. Actually we’re just a group of four friends. 🙂 We do, however, consider ourselves to be part of the open data and open government movements. We’ve released our own open data as well as published the the source code for both election sites. We are planning to build other sites we hope will increase transparency and accountability in government.
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