I thought I best write a short post on the announcement given on Wednesday, and pushed by Tom Watson MP - that the government are now going to be proactively supporting Open Source to lower costs in government.
The policy document is fairly basic to read, and fails to go into massive depth regarding what actions are actually going to be taken. However, it is a 'policy' document, rather than an implementation document. All change is a migration (you've got to be someplace else to move towards something) and I expect the migration to take some time. However, there are some good noises coming out of the government - so here's hoping.
One of the things I've been most impressed with, is the aggregation of users comments as a method to gauge reaction to the announcement. Using a netvibes page, the government are collating information from blogs, microblogging sites, and new sites, using the #ukgovoss tag. It's a neat method, and one I hope they continue to leverage in the future.
However, the government have talked about collaboration and more 'open' co-operation before - the 'e-gif' framework. Whilst essentially a good idea, it was also a prescribed way of forcing collaboration. Hopefully this new method will help develop 'dynamic' collaboration. Rather than prescribe a set of centrallised APIs, allow the community (of users/companies/officials) to help use their skills to develop methods over time.
One of the things that the document also touched on, but to a lesser extent as the 'freedom' of data. It recommends the use of ODF as a format for storing government data. As a member of the OpenDocument Fellowship (albeit a very hands-off member) - I fully support the benefits of storing data in an 'open format' and no in a format which require reverse engineering for access - no matter how well the format has been reverse engineered.
Matt Asay recently wrote about the importance of Freedom of Information after the recent debacle regarding the change to Facebook's Terms of Service. The thing that was most shocking about that episode was not the TOS themselves, but the apathy of the majority of users. General End Users won't get pent up and passionate about freedom of data - it's a geeky topic. However, like research into lower emissions, government should protect its citizens from the potential threat of closed data.
At the end of the day, it's a great announcement by the government in terms of increasing transparency in governement. However, the point is moot if the current government continue to approve acts such as the one mentioned only a couple of days ago, preventing citizens taking photos of their army and police force. As Francis Bacon so elaborately put it:
He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.
I don't admonish Tom Watson MP for his efforts regarding this policy document, however, there is a bigger question to be asked regarding recent events. Hopefully I shall be proved wrong, and the independent counter terrorism review shall soon restore the level of freedom that my parents enjoyed.