SILICON REPUBLIC -- Brian Skelly had a look inside Mobhaile, the public information initiative being cooked up by the Local Government Computer Services Board, but didn't discover anything worth explaining about the toolsets required by people who are to contribute to the content inside this important programme. His Silicon Republic interview did not examine by-product created by the seven county councils running the pilot sites. Let's have a look at notes I took from Mobhaile's roll-out at the ICT Expo when Minister Mary Hanafin launched the e-citizen service.
Ray Rochford, the project manager who is testing the functionality of the system, talks about Mobhaile as a "range of e-citizen services." But can a wide range of citizens see the results? The demonstations seem to end at Web browser chock-full of plug-ins, not in syndicated content channels available to people familiar with reading e-mail. I hope the SMS services, using Vodafone's services, work across O2 and Meteor. The content uploading appears to rely only on Microsoft technology, a mash-up of Active-X and Sharepoint.
These are information gateways that could burp at the starting line. If LBCSB intends that community groups sustain this venture, those at the parish level need to be accommodated with their 30k connections and easy to maneuver templates.
What's wrong with rolling out an Irish-wide blogging system? The model has been tested since 1999 by several Irish bloggers. The back-ends are simple modifications of Perl, PHP, and scripted environments. There's no need to replicate document libraries or to deal with anything more complex than a MySQL database. The rabid uptake of this model across the world proves anecdotally and systematically how well-oiled and carefully grown micropublishing systems build effective communities.
In the blogging world, affinity groups connect effortlessly. If the government provided the superstructure in the form of web hosting, occasional training, and cross-channel marketing, the results would work themselves.
It is no easy task extracting information from civil servants for public consumption. That's why there's an Information Commissioner who acts as warden and protector of the government's bits. It's far easier to constrain the publication channels by imposing a monoculture solution that ensures "very careful control on who has access to the publishing system so that no undesirable content appears." Skelly says that means "individuals have to sign a data usage policy before they are given the go-ahead to develop their site." He doesn't mention the mere signing of a "certified good writer" statement does not make one a site author. Other content controls figure into all enterprise content management systems, including embargo restrictions, single-key deletions, global search-and-replace and comment blocking.
As an Irish property owner, I'm looking forward to the day when Mobhaile displays council GIS data. There are challenges ahead, starting with the question of how disparate GIS data converts for centralised storage. Geographic Markup Language (GML), an XML-based encoding standard for geographic information. I hope that doesn't translate into downloading another bloated plug-in to view the data.
Count me among the very interested as the August 2004 Mobhaile roll-outs enter the pubilc domain.
Brian Skelly -- "The Friday Interview: Ray Rochford, LGCSB"
Dick O'Brien -- "E-government goes mobile with SMS tool"
Matthew Clark -- "Hanafin publishes upbeat e-gov report "