I've been reading several interesting articles and listening to some fascinating podcasts over the past few weeks. I thought you may be interested in what is going through my mind lately:
1. A terrific article called "Against Transparency" by Lawrence Lessig published back in 2009 makes a pretty strong case against more transparent and open government. Lawrence Lessig's basic argument is that information that government releases may be detrimental to democracy and our way of life. Information that is ruthlessly opened prematurely by government may actually cause instability and loss of credibility in government. A suggestion back to Mr. Lessig -- encourage government to get its act together and run programs and services in a codified and accountable way, enabling more accurate and timely data to be uncovered rather than reams of Excel spreadsheets and PDF files full of spurious, potentially misleading data.
An argument can be made that citizens will call the government to fix the faulty open data and in some cases that may be true. But unlike open source systems (ever see nuclear power plants run on Linux?), once incomplete, inaccurate open data is out, the genie is out of the bottle and he's very hard to contain. And misinformation tends to stay around on the Internet for a persistently long time.
2. The "Great Reset" by Richard Florida is another thought-provoking piece (and a book). Among one of the arguments that Mr Florida makes is that we all should start renting our homes rather than buying in the post-crash economy. He proposes co-ops of home rentals that make it easy to traverse the continent as needed for work, moving without fear of house prices moving up or down. I have to wonder how that will affect families with young children when they don't actually have a place to live for more than a few years. Not having to worry where you will buy next will spur the economy, he says, with even more disposable income than ever since mortgages simply "go away." Someone's gotta own these places, and Mr Florida supposes those will be corporations or groups of people effectively creating time-shares for regular non-vacation like homes. It's an interesting read, worth your while to crawl the net reading some other opinions on a highly controversial thesis.
3. Finally, this must be the best 10 minutes I've spent with my iPod Touch so far in 2010. The excellent IT Conversations website featured a talk with Clay Shirky at the Gov 2.0 conference. Clay points out the set of differences between the failed LA Times Wikitorial experiment and the highly acclaimed Apps for America project from Sunlight Foundation.
Clue #1: The differences have NOTHING to do with technology. It's all about psychology.
Clue #2: It's about how to launch a project and iterate. Get people to buy in and adapt. And how to communicate after success, instead of telegraphing "what may happen." This makes all the difference.
It's all about loose rather incomplete contracts with users and creating "creative surprises".