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I didn't bother to respond to your first piece, since it was, as you admit yourself, a rant. This piece, however, is full of insight and food for thought. I was completely with you through section 4, but at that point, I began to feel you were arguing with your own straw man. In particular, I found myself and my words shoehorned into categories of your devising, whether or not they fit. Because as it turns out, I have no problem supporting *both* the notion of open data for transparency and open data for utility, of promoting "government as a platform" as a way of increasing private sector provision of services without letting go of the notion that, as Lincoln said, government is a way of doing things together that we can't do as well alone. In telling the government as platform story, I've used the example of the iPhone app store. There's no question that Apple is singular in its goals of managing and creating a desired user experience, yet it also unleashed the creativity of third parties. That's what I'm looking for in government - not the shabby abdication of responsibility of Cameron's "Big Society." In fact, I am about as far from a libertarian pro-private-sector advocate as you can imagine. But neither am I the liberal that the libertarian commenters on my G+ postings seem to believe I am. I'm instead trying to suggest that platform thinking, as learned from technology, can show us a third way - neither slavish adherence to a failed philosophy of the market's wisdom when left to itself, nor to a failed philosophy of unlimited government intervention, but to a design in which we think about outcomes, and design the interfaces between government and society to promote them. That being said, there's no question that some of the things I've written can be as misinterpreted by advocates who think they are embracing my ideas as by critics like yourself who reject them. But that's the way of the world. In that regard, let me take up your three concluding assertions: 1. "there is simply too much incoherence, too much in the way of conflicting interests and non-overlapping goals, for the "Open Data Movement" to be a movement." I have some significant experience with technology movements, and both "open source" and "web 2.0" were also not "movements" by your definition, but in the light of distance, they appear to have been. Each was as rife with contradiction, conflict, misinterpretation, and co-optation as open government. In particular, the notion of "Web 2.0" was hijacked by those who thought the term referred to lightweight-startups with advertising business models, and it was only after the better part of a decade that my original intent - to recognize the shift in power and influence from software to data as the core of innovation in computer applications. These technology movements certainly aren't social movements on the scale of the civil rights movement, the women's movement, but they are precisely "movements" because they are a migration of people and ideas, only loosely connected, in a common direction, that when it runs its course, will leave the world in a profoundly different place, or else, if it fails, will still be marked as one of those times when the world turned over in its sleep. 2. "It's doing nothing for transparency and accountability in government." This assertion is simply wrong, and your argument for it, based on the notion that a co-optation or counter-attack by those who oppose transparency might succeed, is harmful. Your argument smacks of the notion that only movements that are ideologically pure can make change. I would argue instead that the most successful movements have many stakeholders with different goals. Your assertion is also refuted by the fact that the utilitarian wing and the transparency wing work together, support each other, and are learning from each other. Overall, while I think you are asking good questions, and making a good distinction between the transparency wing of open government and the utilitarian wing, I am troubled by your strenuous attempt to render everything as "either-or." That polarization is at the heart of so much that is wrong with politics today. I have always been an "inclusionist" - all of my "movement" stories are about how to make common cause between people who didn't realize they belong together. I am less fond of movements that work very hard to drive out those who don't fit the boundaries of their a-priori logic. The world is a messy place, and movements that change the world are also messy. 3. "It's co-opting the language of progressive change in pursuit of a small-government-focused subsidy for industry." I think you misunderstand the notion of government as platform quite profoundly if you believe that there's any subsidy involved. Take any great "government as platform" story - GPS, say. The government built that for its own use, and still has that use. The Gov as Platform element is that a policy change opened that for civilian use. No extra cost to government, lots of extra benefit to society. Or more recently: When the city of Portland approached Google and other search engines with the notion that if they published their transit schedules in a standardized format (GTFS), would they use it, there was no subsidy by government. Instead, smart thinking by government led to a great deal of public utility at practically no expense. Or consider now the great experiments in open data for healthcare. The notion isn't that government shouldn't provide healthcare, and should get out of the way of the private sector, as you twist my words to argue, but instead, that we should open up government data to build services that will save taxpayers money. (And in fact, the same people who are doing that are also those who would prefer a national healthcare system, but are trying to make the patchwork of public and private systems work better.) Will some companies find ways to take advantage of open data and get a "subsidy"? Absolutely. But companies are doing that in the absence of open data. There is no logical connection between the two. Overall, the notion that you can't be "progressive" or concerned about the public good if you want to think differently about how government provides its services wrongs those of us who are doing both of those things.
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Dec 4, 2010