Monday, September 14, 2009

Do It Better Yourself

The tools are at our fingertips and maybe a tiny bit of the world's frustration is beginning to ebb away as we enter the era of DIBY. Don't complain, have a go yourself. Whether that's music, newspapers, TV or institutional structures. It's "yes, we can" maybe just creeping into the edges of our society (best to do something while we wait for our Obama). Most recently, we've witnessed the storm over Birmingham City Council's website turn swiftly into citizen organising; fast and dirty reorganising of BCC's content.

It's good in many ways. First, and not necessarily foremost, councils and government are starting to realise that stuff just works better if we create it ourselves. Second, it has the potential to save them (/us) a fortune (even if they might need to pay someone a fortune to do it badly the first time round). Thirdly, the more people are involved in a service, the more they will understand it.

We can get out of the era that says one solution will work for thousands, even millions, of people. The version of the BCC website that is built by a few Birmingham hackers might only work well for them, but if that is so at least they have done it cheaply and it's just as easy for the next group to come along and do it themselves. While once we would have said "yes, but it's not my job to build that", we can now collaborate with others to spend a small amount of time building something that works for us. The time and cost of doing so is collapsing to the extent that it's easier to build a new way of finding what you want than to tortuously find it each time you need it. Much less frustrating.

It also gives people a way of proving themselves in a public arena. If the commissioners can stop taking offence when something goes down badly, if the raw material for every data-driven piece of work can be made available in an API, then it gives people a chance to build very valuable tools that can be further developed and replicated. Then the people who built them can be commissioned to do more.

Much smarter.