Connection – the real value for Content and Community
“Only connect. That was the whole of her sermon” E. M. Forster– Howards End
Martin Stewart-Weeks has made some interesting observations about the Task Force’s potential role in connecting three broad conversations involving Government. Connecting is a great way to think about the Internet age and I was reminded today of the timeless theme of EM Forster’s novel, Howards End – Only connect. A novel about the challenges of operating relationships across social class, it also seems to me to explore the heart of what individuals want from their government and each other – relationship through connection.
When I think about what is driving this development, it is largely a change in how people and things can be connected.
In the first wave of the Internet, people were able to connect to content that they had previously been unaware of, or unable to access. This was liberating. The technology was simple, lightweight and over time more user friendly and consequently the network effect took hold rapidly.
After a while, people started asking questions about what might be possible – “what if you could do…?”. Before we knew it we were using browsers to do all kinds of things from banking to sharing photos.
That was when we started to see some really big changes that involved a move from merely accessing content to the empowerment of people through the relationship between content, community and commerce. In my view it is the evolving of these three factors that defines what we have come to know as Web 2.0 – or the second iteration of the Web.
I call this out because the addition of community, or social graphs for individuals, and commerce, or the capability of transacting, is fundamental I think to the potential of Govt 2.0 – or the next iteration of government. In other words it’s not just about the content, or the data, or the information or digital bits wherever they may be stored. Importantly and most urgently it’s about people – individuals and groups – and how they access and apply the insight they find in content and data and information to their lives and the lives of others.
Ensuring that we drive for greater visibility and access to useful public sector information is an important step in building an improved dynamic between government and citizen. How citizens and communities of interest can benefit from and augment information and how governments can participate in those efforts more collaboratively needs to be given serious thought.
Let’s keep in mind, however, the actual value of information rests entirely in what it may mean when applied to or by an individual or group. Often this realisable value (insight) remains obscure to those third parties holding the keys to the raw data – and yet in making decisions about the release of information the economic question of value is highly relevant as there is almost always a cost to releasing information. How to get the right balance in this right of access, benefit and cost equation is a question in which the general community needs to be involved.