We went to hear an interesting talk by Dutch investigative journalist Brenno de Winter on privacy and related issues this weekend. It is part of a series of privacy related talks and workshops held in our town in this and coming weeks.

To me, as I blogged in 2006 after that year’s Reboot Conference privacy is a gift by the commons to the individual, and not so much an intrinsic individual thing. It allows the individual to be part of the commons, to act in the public sphere. It also means to me that privacy is part of what makes the commons work: withouth a certain expectation of privacy no-one can participate in the commons, resulting in the absence of commons.

privacy in public
Privacy in Public, photo by Susan Sermoneta, CC-BY

That doesn’t mean privacy can do without protection. The commons collapses easily, especially when your information is disconnected from your physical presence, as is usually the case in our digital age. Where the commons collapses, because i.e. the social distance increases, or contexts change or fully drop away, there rules and instruments are needed.

In that light Brenno shared a few notions I wanted to capture and put in this context of the commons:

  • The “If you have nothing to hide, why bother?” argument introduces a false dilemma. It puts the onus on the individual who seeks privacy, and not on whether the other entity complies with existing privacy rules and laws (=a responsible member of the commons). It may also well be what is ok now, will carry dire consequences in the future (e.g. homophobia in Uganda) when the character of the commons changes especially radically.
  • In the Netherlands there are no consequences for disregarding privacy rules around data inside a data-using entity (e.g. staff nosing around in data they have nothing to do with, like doctors looking up medical files from famous patients they are not treating themselves). Others can act as if outside the commons without social scrutiny.
  • Whenever there is a data security breach the data holder is generally portrayed as the victim, and not the people who’s personal data it is, or who are described by the data and who’s expectation of privacy in the commons got damaged. (as well as disregarding the fact that in the EU my personal data at company x is my data.)
  • The Dutch privacy watchdog CBP has 86 staff, compared to 1 million companies and government branches they need to watch. The watch dog has no teeth. The commons is mostly undefended.
  • Privacy has weak anchors in Dutch law. The commons is mostly undefended.
  • Why are there no (routine) impact assesments of measures that erode privacy in the name of security? If erosion of privacy is to be tolerated, the damage it constitutes to the commons needs to be not just balanced but surpassed by the benefits to the commons on other aspects.
  • All of these points are relevant to the question of how to maintain or extend the commons with rules and instruments, so that the gift of privacy can be given. By making sure the ‘infringing’ party is under similar social pressures to behave. By making sure we maintain a realistic balance when privacy needs to be temporarily eroded for the sake of the commons (that is the source of privacy).

    When privacy breaks down also the commons itself breaks down, as privacy is the pathway and the trust base for taking part in the public sphere.

    I want to redefine my working definition of ‘Making’ and ‘Makers’. To me, seeing making as literally making an object by myself, misses the more fundamental shift of what is going on with ‘making’. It’s time to look at ‘Making’ as a communal process, instead of an individual act to create a solitary object.

    My grand-dad made stuff in his shed all the time. For him making was an individual act. He made something. It was also focussed on a singular object, often a simple hack for a task at hand. He made something.

    If you take that as a definition of making, the ‘maker movement‘ is just about having access to cheaper and better machinery, DIY gone digital. Cool machines for milling, laser cutting and 3d printing, that replace or augment a range of hand tools.
    These machines thanks to digitization and open source hardware are on a path of becoming exponentially cheaper as well as better. But cheap tools do not a movement make.

    As with most things digital, the key new thing is the global high speed connectedness that internet and mobile communications give us. It’s not just having the machines, but having them while being part of a global pool of knowledge, and a global network of people.
    That immensely expands the context of making in several dimensions, away from the solitary objects my grand-dad made.

    This global knowledge pool and network adds three dimensions enormously increasing the potential of ‘making’:

  • The first dimension is that of having access to all knowledge about everything you could make with your machines as well as how to make them (including ‘just-hit-print’ designs). This is still centered around the object, but expands your creativity and hacking skills with those of everyone else. This is what is most commonly understood as maker culture.
  • Second it provides insight and knowledge on how making is so much more than just creating an object. Ideation, experimenting and probing various options, creating it, and then utilizing it in the intended context, all become part of Making. For all those aspects our connectedness can provide input. Understanding this dimension is hugely important, both disruptive innovation theory and start-ups testify.
  • Thirdly it widens the range for which we can make something. Bigger awareness of global issues and how they play out in our local community and context, allows us to come up with different things to make, that help address it. [Think hydro/aquaponics projects in derelict US inner cities]
  • When you put all of those together, ‘making’ is the local expression of global knowledge and awareness, that in turn can serve as a trigger for interaction and change locally.

    Viewed this way, making is a communal process. Communal both in its source of knowledge and inspiration, as well as in the context and rationale of where the stuff you made is put to use. Process, as in the full cycle from awareness of issues, ideation, and creation, all the way to application, impact, and sharing the resulting insights again.

    Seeing making as an individual act towards a solitary object obscures the layered richness making in the digital age is an expression of. A maker is not doing DIY, but a maker becomes a bridge or boundary spanner between his own local community and other wider global communities, as well as becomes a community hacker.

    At ThingsCon in Berlin and 3D Camp in Limerick next month, as well as at our own MidSummer Unconference ‘Make Stuff That Matters’ in June, I will take this perspective of ‘Making as communal process’ as starting point.

    We see and think differently with our hands than with our eyes and heads. Whenever we make something tangible it has the potential to change our perspective.

    This became tangible again for me last December when I participated in Wiro Kuiper’s ‘Lego serious play’ workshop. Handling lego stones, seeing something take shape in your hands, involves a different part of your brain while thinking on questions like “what is it that I do for clients?” as depicted in the pic below. (Add your guess as to what it means in the comments 😉 )

    Lego Serious Play Workshop
    What I do for clients, @ lego serious play workshop

    Since that workshop I have been musing about how ‘making something tangible’ could play a role in more of my work situations. Without much progress.

    Tangible statistics, MAKE.opendata.ch

    Recently we acquired a 3D printer at home. Previously I have encountered 3d printing ear hangers from visualized statistics based on open data (shown above), and I discussed that idea with Elmine. She, for a little side project of her, printed the two items below.

    tangible statsElmine’s 3d printed statistics

    They are both printed statistics: the small one is the number of Germans in the Dutch border region, and the bigger one the number of Dutch in the German border region (data source). Each by itself does not mean much to me. But in combination they are very interesting again: they make differences in amount tangible. You can feel the difference when you take the objects in your hands. Tangible infographics as it were.

    Where could I apply that? And also, how to overcome my reluctance to make things tangible like this early / quickly as part of my own exploration (I tend to keep everything in text or in my head)?

    Last week Thursday the one day workshop ‘Hack die Bildung‘ (Hacking Education) took place in Berlin. For a general description read the previous posting. This posting describes the theme I introduced as ‘host’ during the speed geeking rounds: beyond text and books. Explaining it all in the previous posting would have taken too much text 🙂
    I pointed to 2 developments I think are impacting the way we (can) deal with lineair ways of information distribution like text documents and books.
    First of all the amount of available information that comes at us (due to increased connectivity and resulting dynamics), which makes pattern recognition over large bodies of info more important than actual reading all that info. Headline scanning on steroids. Already 4 years ago I described how that has changed my daily info-diet routine
    (filtering, tools, input routine). It means that most of my outside-in information reading has moved beyond books and longer texts (I don’t read books as primary source e.g. but follow the authors), and that only inside-out information consumption still contains a largish text focus. This because filtering information, validating it, etc now all completely falls to me as tasks (not to some editor e.g.), and I have to be very picky when it comes to giving attention to a larger body of text. Even though I still regard my self as a through and through text oriented person, and our home is filled with books.
    The second observation I shared was the notion that lineair texts are by definition very ill-suited to convey complex situations and problem descriptions, while the level of complexity in our societies is increasing (again due to increased connectivity and the resulting dynamics of that). I think it is that limitation what makes literature so great and fun, following all the complex storylines and interactions through the detailed description of the life of the protagonists. We intuit life’s complexity more from that than it is actually spelled out, and we enjoy grasping at what we intuit between the lines. At the same time we now realize it makes for a crappy information carrier for complex situations. What is great and fun for literature, is a bug for other texts.
    Also where book printing was first the start of a new era of abundance, it has now become a place of scarcity as our general level of connectedness has increased so much bringing new demands to the speed, availability and interdependence of information flows.

    If books were invented now, excerpt from Dutch VPRO documentary De Toekomst – Game over & over’ with Steven Johnson, january 2006.
    Hence the increasing availability of tools like Tinderbox that help you first to map out complexity, and then turn portions of it into lineair texts for publishing. (Regular mind mapping tools don’t suffice, as they still only allow you to build hierarchical structures from a single starting node.) Hence the interest in visualization techniques, which often yield new insights.
    Hence the popularity of piling strategies (Gmail, everything in one folder) versus filing
    strategies (Outlook folders). Video, audio are both ways to escape the lineair demands of texts as well. Audio has always been a medium of choice for complex pattern conveyance, which we usually call music. Try writing that down in prose. We’ve also been saying ‘a picture is worth more than a thousand words’ for ages. Cliches like that have a reason for existing. The number of tools that have lowered the threshold for us to create and share both video and audio material is large. See Videoboo or audioboo just for one example. This regardless of problems we have in retreiving/refinding/searching material like that, I am now talking about conveying complex messages.
    Games are another segment where we’ve made great progress in escaping the linearity of texts. Whether it is the gaming environments the military use to train troops in adaptive responses to a complex area of deployment, or whether it is for us to learn the consequences of the laws of nature like with Phun. Things like that convey the subtle interactions and chains of causality much more clearly than my physics book ever could (though I must say the teacher compensated that with experiments)

    This posting is part of ‘Blog Action Day’ on Climate Change.
    We always, I think, ‘cheated’ to grow/progress by adding stuff from ‘outside’ to our societies/economies that we otherwise treated as a closed system: serfdom, conquering, colonization, the new world, slavery, coal and oil, to name a few.
    Now everything is connected, we’re all in the same global complexopolis (I just made that word up), and there’s no ‘outside’ the system anymore to cheat with. (Except for credit-based money creation, which went bust recently as well). So we’re locked into a closed system. All of us, all 6.5 billion and counting.


    Climate change is just one of the elements in that mix: the result of us cheating the system by digging up coal and oil and adding them to the carbon cycle again. It concerns a number of other greenhouse-causing gases, and it concerns all of our resources, phosphates, metals, carbons, you name it. CO2 is just the current poster child of choice.
    And we’re only half waking up to the fact that we’ve closed each and every loop in the system now. Back to where other species have spent their entire existence, inside their fixed niches in the ecosystem.
    I have no clue how to ‘fix’ it, I assume there is no easy fix nor a quick one. It will need an overhaul of most of our ways of doing things. How I as an individual can contribute to that, I don’t know. I’m more or less in the same spot Peter is in. Rationally I’m on board but the difference engine that is my brain is largely indifferent still, just worried in a diffused kind of way.

    Lighthouse on Hiddensee

    Of course there are things an individual can do, buy local, consume less, avoid flying, use public transport in stead of my car, donate boat paint, go favela chic. But does it really make a difference? Am I better at it than my dead great grandfather? Can you really get to e.g. the 80% CO2 reduction that is required of us Westerners if you stick to a 2 degree average rise in global temperature, while giving other nations a chance of reaching our levels of well being (which is the moral choice to make here)? Which brings us to ‘cap and converge’ (not to be confused with cap and trade), cap CO2, know that all resources are capped as well, and converge to a more or less equal ‘budget’ for all world citizens. Will that be achievable, without yielding to a type of hair shirt green eco-fascism, which my green primary school teacher already warned me about when I was 11 in 1981? I find I lack data, and our societies processes lack the transparency to make an informed judgment.

    Lunch break conversations

    This is not a doom and gloom posting, far from it. It’s just that for now I am merely holding questions, and wondering what ‘working on things that matter’ should mean for me right now. What questions are you holding?
    (pics: random people going about their lifes, and enjoying themselves)

    Last month when I was at the annual Medinge summer meeting, I talked to Patrick Harris about technology use.
    He told me how his 17yr old daughter refers to the whole category of internet-enabled music, video, info or text devices we now use with just one word: “Screens.”
    Somehow this remark has stuck with me. This is not just a teenagers indifferent throw away description of the different hight-tech devices we surround ourselves with. It’s a succinct description of what these devices give us, a window on our information.


    A bunch of screens within 2 meters of me, while writing this

    When I grew up, different info was locked into different devices and to different carriers. Now it really does not make a difference if I watch my Flickr summer holiday pics on my phone, my laptop, my tv, my iPod, my camera, my game console or any other of the internet/cloud connected devices in our household. They’re all screens. Whatever device is closest to grab will do for the moment. The label ‘screens’ shows detachment regarding the device or carrier, as long as it provides access. A very networked age sentiment. Reminds me of an old blog posting from 2005 on teenage technology use.
    At the same time it makes me think about ‘non-screens’, the now emerging category of internet connected things and objects that aren’t screens, but more like application enriched, space and time aware everyday objects. Like your umbrella knowing there won’t be rain today. Like the Nabaztag reading out status messages. Weasly Clocks (wikipedia) like things (though strictly speaking the Weasly Clock maybe counts as a screen).

    Reboot Action Banner

    The closing key-note at Reboot was given by Bruce Sterling. A great and entertaining talk, looking at the next ten years and what it will be like to live through them. Sterling, a futurist (or strategic forecaster, if you’re not allowed to use the word ‘futurist’), and cyberpunk SF writer, painted a great and at the same time very bleak picture. Referring to a lot of things he saw and heard during the conference, he repeatedly poked all of us in the eye with apparent pleasure. The room grew increasingly silent throughout his talk. I loved it, and I still remain very much an optimist (I guess getting through and out of clinical depression did that for me).

    Bruce Sterling

    The next 10 years
    The next decade, Sterling says, will not feel like progress. At the same time it won’t feel like conservatism either. There’s simply nothing much left to conserve, as well as nothing to progress to. So it’s transition, but transition to nowhere. No new (asset) bubble to get the old economic structures going again, ‘lots of bad weather’ (i.e. climate change), and global emergent change. The core feeling for the Reboot-type people for the 20-zero’s and 20-tens is ‘Dark Euforia’. “Everything falls apart, but there are endless opportunities. You just didn’t think you’d dread them so much.

    Sterling distinguished four quadrants that hold scenario’s for the next decade. For me they contain loads of interesting notions about the type of (weak) signals that go with them, which can help to choose your actions, avoid time wasting rear-guard fights, recognize threats to neutralize etc. Basically I can see a whole new set of tags coming into use with which I will collect bookmarks for my writing and thinking.

    1: Crisis Capitalism for Aging Baby-Boomers
    A large demographic that wants to hang on to their material achievements. “They have all the votes but no future.” They won’t get out of the way, but get nothing done either.

    2: B(R)IC
    Brasil, India, China, and if you don’t discount oil, Russia. Emerging economies, but emerging into nowhere. Developing with no direction in particular. Globalizing without purpose, not progressing, not really developing.

    3: Shock of the Old
    Fundamentalists in power, whether they are christian or islamic. They don’t have a policy, have no plan, they can only ruin what is still left standing.

    4: Reboot in Power
    Basically the Reboot participants, feeling their ‘Dark Euforia’ over endless opportunities in a world that’s coming apart. They come in different varieties. At the top-end is ‘Gothic High-Tech’. You’re brilliant, on top of the world, but death is just around the corner, caused by something secret and horrible. Steve Jobs (made the iPod, but needs a liver), Nicolas Sarkozy (brilliant, but no ideology, offering no alternative), Barack Obama (Massive grassroots fund raising routine, but a Chicago machine politician, ‘not Vaclav Havel’), are positioning themselves in the narrative rather than building infrastructure. Cheerleaders, not leaders.

    At the low-end is ‘Favela Chic’. It’s when you ‘lost everything, but you’re wired to the gills and big on Facebook’. Everything we Reboot-geeks believe is basically Favela Chic. We have Favela-slogans, says Sterling: ‘Action is cheaper than control’, ‘So fix it’, ‘Always in Beta’, ‘Just fucking do it’. Favelas are emergent structures. Stuffed animals are the European Favelas, repurposed buildings like Kedelhallen, the old-new. Urban interventions, re-using the left-over husks of the unsustainable is our frontier, because it’s under the radar, and you actually can get a lot done there.

    Bruce Sterling then offered some practical advice, on how to not be ‘hair shirt green’ (because it just changes the polarity of 20th century consumerism, and does not constitute a really different way of life), but to be ‘bright green geeks’.

    The Great-grandfather Principle
    The first piece of advice was to stop acting dead, even though it’s temptingly gothic. Saving water, saving energy, reducing your CO2-footprint, recycling, my dead great-grandfather is much better at it than me. You have plenty of time to save water (“water is indestructable“) when you’re dead. Billions of years of it. So start doing things that matter, that your dead great-grandfather cannot do. Saving and economizing that way is also not social, as you’re basically starving someone else by reducing the volume and intensity of your transactions.

    Listening to Bruce Sterling Bruce Sterling Closing Keynote
    People listening to Bruce Sterlings closing talk

    Objects as Frozen Social Relationships
    In stead reassess the way you deal with and relate to objects. See objects as frozen social relationships, as print-outs of those relationships. See objects in terms of volumes of time and space. With such a (design) approach you will make entirely different choices when it comes to objects.

    The objects that should be most important to you, ‘the monarchs among your objects’, are the ones you use most, intensively, and are closest to you. Clothing, your bed, a chair, personal care stuff etc. Don’t go ‘cheap’ on those as they are the things you spend most time with. “Buy real things, that you actually use. All everyday objects should be the best.”

    For all the rest of your objects, sort them into 4 buckets (‘making lists is a very lifehacking-like thing to do’):

    1: Beautiful things
    2: Things with emotional meaning
    Things only belong in bucket 1 or 2 if you are actually eager to tell people about them, show it to them. Do these objects have a narrative that you want to share?
    3: Tools
    Tools are very important, so make sure you have the best tools, high-tech. Don’t make do with stuff that is broken. Also don’t put tools in this bucket that you only pretend to be experimenting with. “You’re only experimenting if you are publishing the results“, which is a very significant point I think.
    4: Every thing else.

    If it’s not in bucket 1 to 3, get rid of it. Before getting rid of it though, virtualize it by taking pictures or scanning it, and scanning the barcode. So you can later refer to it or retrieve a similar item if needed.

    The Right Closing
    I thoroughly enjoyed this talk, specifically at the end of Reboot. Someone remarked it would have been more effective if it had been the first keynote of the conference, as then ‘we would have had two days to prove Sterling wrong’ or something to that effect. I disagree. This was a very useful and valuable talk, both in terms of content and form. Sterling was an active participant during the preceding conference days, and it made his talk more effective. It told him which eyes to poke in. Below is the video of Bruce Sterlings closing key-note.

    Reboot Action Banner
    At Reboot11 there clearly was a lot of interest in transparent government, on different levels. Apart from the political stream, with the Swedish Pirate Party, there were several sessions taking on transparent government on both the policy and the operational level. For me opening up government data, and making government more transparent is important because it allows people to both base their choices and decisions on more relevant information, as well as act more confidently in shaping their own lives.
    Nadia El-Imam brought a number of people to Reboot that would not have been there otherwise. To bring them in touch with the Reboot-crowd, but also with each other. To talk about technology and digital policies for the European Union, and come up with tangible input. She organised several ‘Wikicrats’ sessions. It started out with the participants giving their own perspectives (slides), and then several working sessions took place.
    Wikicrats discussing
    Wikicrats at work
    Open Data
    As I am working on opening up government data in the Netherlands, I did a session on Open Data at Reboot. Starting with a short introduction of the work James Burke and I did for the Dutch ministry for the interior, I invited other participants in the audience to add their own work and examples, so different European efforts get more connected. People from Denmark, Canada, US and UK explained some of their work on open government data. One of the examples put forward, Folkets Ting (which follows the political activities of Danish MP’s) also was demo’d in a seperate session by Michael Friis (slides). Also Christian Lanng, of the Danish IT and telecom agency of the ministry for technology, science and innovation, invited us all to take part in a session the next day to help shape the new Danish IT policy that is being written.

    Shaping Danish IT Policy
    On Reboot day 2, a few dozen people found themselves in an overfilled changing room of Kedelhallen, discussing how the Danish government should shape their IT policy, and how they should engage with us and others in both shaping and implementing that policy. As David Weinberger noted, the Danish civil servants had to wade through a lot of frustration and disbelief before we could get into real discussion, and they took it on the chin gracefully. More on that in a separate posting. The results of the session, transcription of post-its, in English as well as the continuing discussion in Danish can be found at Digitaliser.dk, the Danish IT and Telecom Agency open platform for discussing all things digital.
    Danish Digital Policy Discussion Danish Digital Policy Discussion
    Christian Lanng (Danish gov) explaining the aim of the session (l), Standing room only at the Danish IT policy session (r)
    Change Camps in Canada
    Mark Kuznicki is a driving force behind the ChangeCamps in Canada, about re-imagining citizenship and government in the age of participation, about which he gave a good session at Reboot. Had a great lunch conversation with him, amongst other things about the Vancouver ChangeCamp, our mutual contact/friend and Vancouverite Jon Husband, and the City of Vancouver embracing Open Data as well as open standards and open source, last May.
    Mark Kuznicki on Communities
    Mark Kuznicki talking about ChangeCamps
    Shaping EU policy on Public Service Information
    David Osimo, who organized a workshop at the European Commission in Brussels this spring on user-driven innovation of public services (pageflakes overview), was an active participant in the Open Government Data dialogue this Reboot. He has also launched a platform to collectively bring our own perspective to the EU’s take on e-government. Next November a new ministerial declaration on e-government will be published during the Malmo EU e-gov conference. If you want to contribute to co-creating an open declaration on public services in the age of social media, please add your ideas, suggestions and comments there.
    All in all transparent government and open government data were a big part of the conversations I had with lots of people during Reboot 11. Having my own Open Data session at the start of day 1 of the conference was a good conversation trigger for me, but certainly Open Data / Transparent gov was on a lot of people’s mind at Reboot. A very good thing.

    In the past months together with James Burke I worked for the Ministry for the Interior on open public service information (PSI), or open government data. In this posting I describe and link to the results, as well as reflect on the path forward. (See previous postings here and here, and the project’s earlier roots here)

    Results we set out to create
    We set out to do, and did, 4 things.
    1) Get an overview of already available public government data and the people involved
    2) Create two examples of how government data can be reused, and be made even more reusable
    3) Write a guide on what you need to take into account when opening up your data
    4) Propose a scenario for the way forward

    Open up your data, it’s the law
    First it is important to realize that opening up PSI/Government Data is not merely a gesture of good will by branches of government. By law all information and data relating to policies is public, unless there are urgent and severe reasons to not make it public (legal, privacy, national security come to mind). So ‘public, unless’ is the law, as per the European Directive on PSI, which has been implemented in the corresponding Dutch law, Wet Openbaarheid Bestuur (WOB), as described in this English translation. Open data helps in increasing the transparancy of government, as well as enables new and innovative applications that would not otherwise be possible (thus increasing the value created by collecting the data in the first place)
    In practice this does not yet translate widely into pro-actively making information and data available in open standards (also law since April 2008) that mean they can actually be easily used by citizens and private organizations. There are exceptions of course, but in general you have to ask first and hope you get your answer in a usable format.

    Open Up on Every Level Says Cabinet Office
    Open up your data and information at every level you can

    Strengthening the network of exceptions to change culture
    The people that are currently creating the exceptions (i.e. are pro-actively enabling open government data) are at this moment still largely isolated. Bringing them together, enabling the sharing of experiences is the way forward we proposed. So that the exceptions become more visible, and thus ‘normal’, so that the civil servants involved are better equipped with arguments and examples to move forward within their own environment, and so that it can be shown they are meeting a real demand of citizens. In our interviews service to citizens turned out to be a core value that can be leveraged towards a pro-actively open government when it comes to information and data.

    So strenghtening the network and creating the conditions for forming a community of practice around those interested in opening up government data (civil servants, citizens, organizations alike) is an important aspect of bringing practice in line with the law, and making sure it becomes integrated in the cultural fabric of our government organisations.
    As steps towards that we are using the results of our project to both crowd source our efforts, as well as use them as catalysts for network and community building.

    Morning Panel Listening
    Strengthening international ties: presenting our project at EUPS20 at the EU in Brussels, and Open Knowledge Foundation Communia Workshop in London

    Putting the results ‘out there’
    All the results of our project have landed in a Workspace in the Overheid20 webplatform. This platform can be used by both civil servants and others to explore the possibilities of social media / web.20, while staying within the guidelines that are in place for designing and securing government websites. It allows for group forming, both public and closed, and where other people can be invited into.
    We also published most of our results in other places, to make it easier to crowdsource further development, and make results easier to link to.

    The data sources we identified are now part of the wiki Open Data Overheid where Lex Slaghuis and others were already independently bringing together sources and information.

    The two examples of reusing government data we created each have their own website, which includes an explanation of both the work as well as the reasoning behind it.

    The guide we wrote for civil servants involved with open government is based on the interviews we had during the project, and is now open for review and feedback at Vrije Data (free data). The first round of feedback will be written into the guide on June 20th, but more feedback and additions are welcome after that date as well. The guide adresses the definition of open and reusable data, goes into technological, organizational and legal aspects, as well as explaining the importance of open data.

    Examples of reuse
    We created two examples of reusing gov data. One is the ‘school finder‘ that allows searching more intuitively for schools based on your zip code. The other is a ‘smog alarm‘ that shows you smog predictions in your area, as well as sends alerts via Twitter to you if predicted values pass a threshold you indicated. We also made sure that the two examples output data in ways that make it more reusable, using microformats, giving data unique URLs that can be referred to and feeding sensor data into Pachube, the international source for worldwide open sensor data for instance.

    Vervuilingsalarm.nl Schoolvinder.nl
    Smog Alarm and School Finder screenshots.

    Activities to enable the network
    Several activities are under way that serve as catalysts to bring the network together. Last Saturday saw ‘Hack the Government‘ (a follow up of last year’s GovCamp we organized) where civil servants and coders spent a day discussing issues around open data, as well as create on the spot several applications reusing government data. Two government ministries are providing funding to realize good ideas around reusing government data. The Ministry for the Interior is organizing a competition ‘Dat zou handig zijn!‘ (‘That would be great to have’), which is similar to the UK initiative Show us a Better Way. The Ministry for Education is also making money available for ideas around the specific reuse of the mass of educational data they are making available already.

    At the end of this month a BarCamp is taking place around the (strict) web styling guidelines in place for government websites and how social media /web 2.0 functionality can be used and implemented in accordance with these guidelines (or how the guidelines should change). Meanwhile discussion is going on in lots of places, that we are aware of. In different ministries, but also provincial governments, as well as in community websites like Ambtenaar 2.0 (‘civil servants 2.0’). Hopefully the Ministry for the Interior can continue to play a role in stimulating the network around Open Data, both with activities as well as brokering contacts and incentives. Also we’ll keep trying to learn from initiatives abroad, as well as share our experiences (especially since the culture of our public sphere is very different from the one in e.g. the UK) in moving forward with open PSI and data. To that extent I also proposed a session at the Reboot conference, to bring together European experiences in this field.

    Hackers Discussing Their Ideas
    Coders last Saturday discussing applications for government data

    Our friend Robert Paterson has written a great series on the different aspects of working as an independent professional. (He calls them freelancers, but I don’t use the word as in my Dutch context it seems to also carry the meaning of ‘couldn’t get a proper job’ or ‘scraping by on little income’. Hence I describe myself as an independent professional. I don’t want a ‘proper job’, as I am already doing more meaningful work, and I am not scraping by.)
    Robert has been posting in parallel with a number of workshops organized by him and other members of the Queen Street Commons, which is a coworking space in the center of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, Canada. (Elmine and I visited there last summer)
    Drinks at Rob and Robin's Queen Street Commons
    Drinks at Robert’s home on PEI last summer (left), and the Queenstreet Commons in Charlottetown (right)
    Workshops like those are important for several reasons. First of all because more and more people are working as independent professionals. Second, because it seems that what makes traditional organizations work is now making them fail in a more complex environment and a world that is now much more clearly the closed resource system it already always was, rendering the eternal-growth-paradigm of our economy and monetary system simply impossible.
    As to the first point, the number of independent professionals in the Netherlands started to rise sharply in 2000. This was the moment where people here were sufficiently connected via internet (>75% of companies in 2000, now ~100%) and mobile communications (>67% of people in 2000, now 115%, i.e. 19M subscriptions on 16M5 people), to be able to loosen yourself from incumbent structures and still stay in touch with the people and resources needed to do your tasks. (See this earlier posting on workplace) As a result over half of all registered businesses in the Netherlands are now in fact independent professionals (434.710 out of 797.840 in January 2008, equaling 5% of the work force.). Of those independent professionals 60% routinely work together with other independents on projects, and another 25% want to do so. The number of independent professionals has risen even more in the last three months as larger companies are getting hit by the recession.
    In his series Robert talks about a lot of points that also came up in conversations when I was deciding to leave my job and go independent. Robert’s postings are:
    Living the Freelancers Life, Is this for you?
    Security and Peace – Why these cannot exist in a job.
    Leaving your job – Marketing – It’s all about relationships.
    Freedom – coworking – sleeping at night.
    How to grow, but not grow your headaches.
    Managing your life and your clients.
    Working at home.
    Control and adventure.
    My Home Office Marko and Elmine working together
    My home office (left), and two independents, Elmine and Marko, working together (right)
    Go read them all. In one or two follow-up postings I will discuss some of those aspects mentioned by Robert in relation to my own decision to go independent in the fall of 2007, and how I’ve been working since.
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    Dearest TinkebellTinkebell is the nome de plume of Katinka Simonse – van Bruggen, a Dutch artist (or discussion designer as she calls herself). In her work she is deliberately confronting the audience with inconsistencies in their morals and behaviour.

    A lot of her projects deal with our attitude with animals.
    At one point she bought 60 one-day old male chicklets, of which 31 million are routinely destroyed each year in the Netherlands by gassing or shredding within hours of their birth (only female chickens are raised). She then gave visitors of an exhibition the option of adopting a chicklet, adding that all the chicklets not adopted at the event would be killed by her at the venue in the same way they would have been had she not bought them. Only 9 got adopted by the public. In the end the organizers of the exhibition stepped in and adopted the remaining animals, dumping them at the police station afterwards, and the police got involved for her ‘intention to abuse animals’.
    Other projects explored the way people see pets and toys, buying dead animals from taxidermists and preparing them as well worn stuffed toys. The most discussed project is probably how she killed her old and dying cat herself (in stead of having the vet put her down) and use the skin to turn it into a handbag. This caused some public uproar, upon which she pointed out we have no qualms using leather for bags.

    Her confrontational projects result in large amounts of hate mail being addressed at her. She collected all her hate mail from 2004-2008 and with her colleague Coralie Vogelaar researched what information about the hate mailers was publicly available through simple searches on the internet. Starting with the e-mail addresses they searched out Facebook profiles, blog URLs, photos etc. To find out if those people are “as scary as their e-mails, or just like” any of us. From all that material a book has been created, released this week, which shows the piece of hate mail and then a picture and other info about the mailer. Eighty percent of her hate mail originated in the US, and most of the more vicious hate mail came from younger people and was being sent late at night (sender’s time). At the same time there are plenty ‘soccer moms’ out there who show a hateful side in their e-mails.

    I ordered the resulting book today. I find it intriguing to see the hate mail connected to the every day lives of their authors. A type of context collapse that the senders probably thought wouldn’t happen. The tensions between privacy and publicness are also worth exploring,as they are shown to be more paradox than opposites.
    The book’s existence also raises questions about authorship, copyright etc. Those discussions are part of the book as well, in the form of essays by other authors.

    Dearest Tinkebell Dearest Tinkebell
    Some hate mailers and their photos
    (pictures are taken from a news paper article from Dutch newspaper article NRCnext on May 19th.)
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    Us Now, made by Ivo Gormley and others is now available on-line in full.
    From the site:
    In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?
    New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.

    Us Now from Banyak Films on Vimeo.

    Go watch, then share with those around you likely to influence (local) government.

    Reboot has been announced and will take place June 25th and 26th in Copenhagen, at the usual venue Kedelhallen. The theme is action. While the financial world is crumbling around us and the economy is in turmoil, the time is ripe to act.
    Reboot 11: Action
    Needless to say, Elmine and I will be there. We’ll spend the entire week and weekend in Copenhagen.
    The Reboot team has done a great thing this year. They have booked the venue for 5 full days. This means apart from the conference you can use the venue on the other three days as a platform for your own event. An opportunity you and I should make use of if possible.
    See you at Reboot

    In a well filled Vereeniging in Nijmegen, Kishore Mahbubani gave a good speech on his perspective on the rise of Asia and the response the West in his eyes should formulate to that. It turned out I had picked up quite a bit already from fragments on tv, and flicking through his book last weekend, as several sections of his talk were verbatim renderings of earlier things I saw. It is, I know, unavoidable when you are asked to share the same story on several occasions and in several locations. Internet and the casual transparancy that comes with camera and blog equipped audiences do that. It just became a lot more apparant because they also showed excerpts of the excellent VPRO documentary before Mahbubani went on stage. It was good to be there though.
    Kishore Mahbubani
    The basic argument is that the rise of Asia is unstoppable, already on demographics alone, but that it does not constitute a threat as Asia is emulating several worthwile aspects of the Western world. Those seven (of course seven…) are:
    Free market economy
    Science and technology
    Culture of peace (with the EU as an example, but leaving out the debacle of the Balkan wars I’d say)
    Rule of law
    Education (the start of it all of course)
    In short Mahbubani says Asia is succesful because they are adopting the things that are important to the West as well. The rise of Asia is now approaching the Islamic world from the east, which he said was surprising as he sees the modernization of the orient and Northern Africa as a more logical European task and influence.
    The response he would like to see Europe make consists of four parts:
    1) share power in bodies like the UN, IMF, Worldbank etc.
    2) create a lasting strategic alliance with Asia (between EU and ASEAN primarily) and stick to it (unlike the last Asian economic crisis when Europe ‘walked away’)
    3) create a long term vision towards the Islamic World (which he said should be a no-brainer given the mutual influence we had on each other over the centuries, with the Islamic world conserving Greek and Roman culture and knowledge through the European dark ages)
    4) work towards a solution of the Palestine-Isreali conflict (now that both the Arab world and the Israelian PM seem to have grown tired of it all)
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    This posting is part of a series of postings on how our understanding and interpretation of cultural categories is shifting due to our use of the two infrastructures internet and mobile communication.
    This posting is about Workplace

    Candle factory, 1919 (from Dutch National Archive)
    Workplace Is All About Access
    In order to be able to complete your tasks effectively and efficiently you need to be in a place that provides easy access to everything you need for those tasks. That means access to the raw materials, the means of production, the finances, the knowledge, the information, the colleagues, the clients, and any other relevant stakeholder or object to your business. In the pre-industrial era this meant that your place of work and your place to live would often be the same, that other people plying the same trade would be located in each others vicinity, as would others in your ‘chain’ of production. And it would mean that as an artisan you would be located in a city, as population centers have creating access to virtually anything as a primary role.
    In the industrial era, with its large immobile means of production, people needed to live right next to the factories. Only there could they perform their tasks. Urbanisation, and ‘workers neighbourhoods’ right next to factories inclined steeply in step with each smoke stack that was build.
    The 'cheap' part
    Factory metaphor projected on the office: document conveyor belts
    When our economy shifted to services more, and office ‘white collar’ jobs became more widespread, our behaviour didn’t change much. We built our offices just as we built our factories. Large buildings with machines replaced by large amounts of paperwork. Work processes were similarly arranged as in the factory, with typewriting rooms and long hallways of offices. And when computers (late 80’s) internet (late 90’s) and cell phones (mid 90’s) became commonplace in the workplace at first we carried on as before. But slowly more and more people are realizing that the fundamental rationale behind our work place organisation, access to all we need for our tasks, is being eroded.

    Access in a Networked World
    Internet and mobile communications are infrastructures with qualities that increase the accessibility of people and any digitally available artefact.
    First anyone connected to these infrastructures has access to any digital artefact (albeit documents, pictures, video, music, data sets, maps, voice packets) that is shared anywhere else on that infrastructure. Anything that is shared is shared as a perfect copy, undistinguishable from its original. This removes any scarcity of important pieces of information, as Wikipedia has written as its mission on its banner. As librarians, music companies, teachers, book publishers, and archivists, have found out, it also removes the need for many middle men that see themselves as gate keepers around that scarcity, forcing them to reinvent themselves whether they like it or not. In short I don’t need to be in the same place as the dossiers, documents or other digital artefacts are stored that I need to do my work.
    Second internet and mobile communications do not require a geographically fixed end point. Unlike with landline phone, railways, postal mail and other infrastructure, on the internet and mobile communication networks you are the end point. We are our own address. I don’t need to know where you are to reach you. You don’t need to be in a defined spot for me to have access to you. You don’t need to be in the next cubicle down for me to have acces to you. I don’t need to know where you are at all for you to be my colleague.
    Afternoon office
    A suitable workplace
    So if work place is about access, and as a white collar worker I can access any relevant document or any other person from anywhere, or as an artisan I can have access to customers from anywhere, then my work place can be basically any place. With ubiquitous access any place is as suited as any to stay in touch, sync and flow with my environment. With Wifi and coffee you’re all set. And it is showing in how we are organizing our work, impacting us well beyond the technology alone. Some examples:

    Units of Business, Wirearchy
    When access to the things you need to be effective at your work is ubiquitous, it becomes a lot easier to self-organize or to form ad-hoc groups around more complicated or complex tasks. It cuts down on the need of large overhead and hierarchical structures. I am a one man business, and work in different project teams for different clients. Those project teams have other members that are one man business as well.
    None of us have managerial overhead, except for what is needed for the tasks at hand.
    In fact the number of one man businesses is rising steadily. In the Netherlands they currently account for 50% of all businesses registered, and the expectation is that it will be 60% in 2 years time. The rapid growth in the number of these businesses started in 2000, right when both mobile communications (65% of all those above 17yrs old that year) and internet (75% of all businesses that year, 50% of all households) reached high penetration in the Netherlands. That year was the tipping point for access it seems. These independent people collaborate heavily: 60% of them regularly work with other independents, and another 25% want to do so.

    In these collaborative settings hierarchy is replaced by networked structures such as wirearchies. We take on roles and tasks. I may be the project ‘leader’ in one project, and the ‘subordinate’ in another, but it’s always a role not a function, nor something permanently ‘attached’ to me. Because none of us is gatekeeper to the means of production or the needed resources, none of us can claim to be the ‘owner’ of the work, employing the others. In these teams there is mutual interdependence because only as a group could we have taken on the project. It shows in the places we choose as work settings; it is negotiated usually each time to fit what suits all participants best in relation to other obligations that impact their flexibility and mobility that day.

    Work-Life Balance

    Work-Life balance, in itself a recent term, used to be defined extremely simple. When you were at work, you were working. When you were not at work, you were doing the other things that made up your life.
    A conference for my wife’s birthday. Work-Life balance?
    Having a fixed location for your work, and other fixed locations for your other activities, there are very clear boundaries between them by the act of moving from one location to another. But with internet and mobile communications that boundary is blurring and disappearing. Reading work e-mail at home, booking your summer holiday over the office internet connection, different activities are now seeping and creeping into others.
    Being used to link contexts to locations (because location meant access) since basically forever, we are learning to adapt to find a new way of balancing all our activities now that location as a determining factor is disappearing (because access is ubiquitous).
    When you have access to almost everything from almost any place, your own priorities and the needs of those important to you are the only guidelines to strike a balance between your activities. I could read business e-mail during dinner with my wife, as could she. I could do some shopping in a meeting with a client, as could she. We couldn’t before, now we can, so we need to learn to decide to do something or not more often than we were used to. Those decisions are informed by the truely scarce things, such as face to face time with somebody, which requires you to really be in the here and now, or the things that still are actually bound to a certain location.
    Internet and mobile communications create access where there was none, making forms of organisation possible that weren’t before, and decoupling the context you need for a task from fixed geographic locations. Because of it we are reshaping our work place, and our work place is shifting.
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