There was a good crowd at the April Social Media Cafe, particularly so, given that it was the day after the Bank Holiday, and, from speaking to a few people, quite a number of new faces. Taking place at the BBC again, the night was themed around the idea of “Hyperlocal” media – in other words, looking at different web-based projects that are focused on the area in which people live. In an age when not only the city-wide newspaper, but the district or very local paper is close to extinction, more and more people are looking at the web as way to deliver the kind of area-focused service that many of us still have an interest in.
Nigel Barlow, discussing the newly launched “Inside the M60″ project, and Richard Jones, talking about “Saddleworth News”, were in the first session. Over the corridor, I attended a vibrant discussion on “why aren’t there any decent UK-based podcasts” where we talked about why there seem so few podcasts (both tech-based and other niches) from UK sources, other than those attached to existing media.
After the break our guest speaker, appropriately in the week that the General Election was called, was talking about opening up local government data to more scrutiny. I was particularly interested in this, not just because I work in local government, but because back in 2002-3 I was probably the country’s only academic Researcher in e-Government, at Salford University. Back when e-Government was first mooted, it was quickly realised that a large amount of people’s interaction with the state were at a local rather than Whitehall level.
OpenlyLocal has been developed over the last year or so, primarily by Chris Taggart (@countculture) He was surprised when he began on the project that there was not even something as straightforward as a simple list of councils. His aim is to tackle the problem that was clearly there even in 2002 – creating some coherent model for local government information, even the basic stuff, in order that it can then be interrogated. Asked from the audience whether there were any good applications of this data yet, he admitted there weren’t. Taggart has set himself the daunting but admirable task of collating data – both electronically through scraping council websites, and manually where necessary – so that it may be used in the future. I had a real sense of deja vu, as surely this was what the centrally co-ordinated e-Government agenda was aiming for?
Interestingly, Taggart made the point that although his aims had been accountability and transparency, he’d now added efficiency to the list, as used correctly, by government departments, service providers or others this growing data set could lead to better and more efficient services.
It’s the first time for a while that the Social Media Cafe has had a guest speaker, and it provided a nice contrast to the more freeform discussions. As ever, many thanks to the organisers, for an engaging evening, ably hosted by first time compere, Josh, (aka @technicalfault).