“Taxpayers don’t want Web 2.0!”

So runs the rather foolish quote from the Taxpayers’ Alliance in a story from the Daily Express expressing outrage at a job ad for a Director of Digital Engagement.

The Government should have better things to spend money on than a pointless deputy Twittercrat. The public sector as a whole should be tightening its belt during times of economic hardship, and this job would be a scandalous waste even during good economic times.

Taxpayers don’t want more Web2.0. They want an end to wasteful spending.

Neither the TPA nor the Conservative Party can see the point, instead frothing at the mouth and making the dim conflation that Web 2.0 is the same as Twitter. But both need to realise failing to understand something is not a reason to condemn it out of hand. If you too are not clear on Web 2.0 – try Wikipedia. It really refers to cumulative changes that have happened slowly on the internet over the last five years or so. Many web users may not be aware that things have changed. But almost everything you do on the internet these days includes Web 2.0 technology. If you’ve bought books from Amazon, watched something on Youtube, written a blog post or used web-based email you’ll almost certainly have used the technology.

Web 2.0 is vital to the future of meaningful use of the internet, and it’s important that Government plays ball. Government and local government both process a huge amount of data and have poor records in making that available for other people to use – one of the key things that Web 2.0 is about. Like it or not, communication on the internet is a big part of life for many people now, in business and in personal lives, and it behooves government to catch up and use the internet in the best way possible.

Here are two examples of Web 2.0 demands from tax payers. The first is My Society’s “Free our Bills” campaign – intended to get Parliament to reform how they make information about the lawmaking process available so that the layperson can better understand what’s proposed. Not a waste of anyone’s money, surely?

The second is from taxpayer David Cameron. His part has a policy of “Google Government” as reported in his speech to the Local Government Association earlier this year. They want councils to make available details of all their transactions, so that opposition councillors and members of the public can scrutinise their accounts and make suggestions on savings. But that too can be made much easier and more meaningful with the application of Web 2.0 technology. Clearly that wasn’t in Francis Maude’s mind when he was condemning it.

If the person appointed in the job ad can get both of those things done, there is real possibility of value for money engagement with real people. And that’s worth at least some of the salary this person will be paid.

On the whole, it’s been a stupid few days for the Taxpayers’ Alliance – see also yesterday’s shock revelation of Portsmouth Council’s employees’ 11 seconds per day on Facebook.

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4 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Sep '09 - 5:51pm

    “Web 2.0 is vital to the future of meaningful use of the internet”? I think that’s a stretch. Some of it is fancy-looking toys, some is small incremental improvements to something that was already working, but the vast bulk of it is stuff that we’ve been doing since the 1990s that some marketdroid decided to rebrand. AJAX is ten years old this year.

    Both of those are good, solid examples of traditional fluff-free web engineering, which can be summed up as “give us the data you have, in any reasonable format, and we’ll take care of the rest”. Both well worth doing, both can be done at virtually no cost (although I’m sure the government will manage to spend a lot of money on getting them done, in its usual inefficient style), and both are inhibited only by crufty old decision-preventing bureaucracy.

    (Costing: the ‘free our bills’ proposal can be accomplished merely by changing the way that an office-worth of clerks, plus the MPs and their staffs, write these documents; there would be some transition costs for rewriting forms and policies, which could even be paid for in reduced productivity rather than cash; the proposal to publish transaction records is even easier, because most of the councils are already using commercial accounting software that can dump out the data in more or less standard formats, and all they need to do is shove it on a website somewhere)

  • I agree with Andrew. Some trivial uses of JavaScript can significantly enhance the web experience, but what really improves public debate and provides value for money is giving people easy access to information in open formats.

    This is the strategy adopted by lots of MySociety projects, and they’re all the better for it. Not least with the increasing use of hand-held devices for web browsing, which are significantly lower-powered than desktop PCs – and the desire to reuse computers which are “too old” for the latest version of Windows.

    Simple, accessible websites which can be browsed using free software on low-powered machines are more important than all the bling in the world.

  • Bring back Web 1.0! And do we really need all this wasted money on “email”, whatever that is?

3 Trackbacks

  • By Taxpayers’ Alliance: a case of Web 2.0 hypocrisy? on Fri 4th September 2009 at 8:21 am.

    [...] pointed out yesterday the Taxpayers’ Alliance opposition to the public sector using Web 2.o technologies: Taxpayers don’t want more Web2.0. They want an end to wasteful [...]

  • [...] The Taxpayers Alliance made some disparaging (and almost definitely unjustified) remarks yesterday about a government vacancy for a Deputy Director of Digital Communication1. In response, Alex Foster on Lib Dem Voice had this to say: [...]

  • By Jo Swinson calls Tories’ bluff on engaging the public online on Thu 8th October 2009 at 12:46 pm.

    [...] Speaking at the Conservative Conference this week, William Hague announced his plans for a ‘Public Reading Stage’ for proposed legislation. The idea is that this would enable the public to become involved in the process of making laws by using an online system to make comments and spot potential problems. And it’s all a part of the Tory “Google Government” idea that I’ve covered for the Voice in a review of Cameron’s speech to the LGA earlier this year, and in the debate over whether Web 2.0 represents value for money for taxpayers. [...]

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