Tim Berners-Lee speaks: what can we do in NZ?

Tim Berners-Lee presented this evening in Wellington to an InternetNZ sponsored event, supported (and thank-you) by the Department of Internal Affairs (the NZ Government CIO), Chorus, Catalyst IT and Google.

Sir Tim made the point that just as the US government reaches beyond their borders, so too can we, and we can lobby offshore, change laws here to show and spread the benchmark.

His key points, as I saw them, and suggestions from me for NZ action.

1: Keep standards open – which means free, unencumbered by licensing requirements and created in a process that anyone can participate in. ISO standards cost money, which means that they are less likely to be adopted. Web standards move much more quickly and spread through the world extraordinarily quickly.
LW Suggestion: Move from ISO to Open standards for everything. Fund the domestic and international ISO organisations so that no standards cost money.

2: Open source software has a similar effect of accelerating development and propagation of a technology. It is free, and the source code available to review and extend. It was a critical feature of the rapid spread of browsers through the world. It made testing and adoption by individuals, corporates and governments very simple.
LW suggestion: Mandate that all software developed using NZ Government finds would be open sourced, so that other projects can build on the original code

3: Open access is allowing free access to scientific peer reviewed articles, currently locked up behind expensive paywalls (and cumbersome systems) with only the largest educational institutions and their communities able to obtain access. Removing the paywall and making these freely available dramatically increases the speed of innovation and knowledge propagation. The paywalls are particularly galling when the research papers were originally funded by Government money.
LW suggestion: NZ could mandate that all government funded research ever conducted here should be made available for free, including source data. Place it in a central database with access through both browser and API.

4: Open Government, covered in open data.

5: The new open web platform is HTML5, which is designed for dynamic experiences rather than static pages. HTML5 replaces components of Flash, for example, which is a locked proprietary system that causes poor browser experiences. Using HTML ensures that the content is “on the web”, and inherently searchable and shareable, whereas closed Apps or Flash is closed. TBL sees a digital divide between those people who can program and devices that can be programme, and those people and devices that cannot. He sees that devices should be able to be programmed, and should be opened as this accelerates innovation. He accepts that locked down systems have advantages such as less viruses.
LW suggestion: Mandate that all phones must be sold unlocked, and that removing DRM and formal shifting is acceptable for personal use.

6: Open Data, an area that TBL speaks about a lot, starting in 2009 with a year of talking about putting data online. This applies not just to governments, but also to private businesses. The UK leapt into this, and NZ has as well. TBL understood that all of our mapping data was available, and while much is the local council data is locked away behind prohibitive pain and dollars.
Releasing data unleashes innovation and increases transparency of and accountability for the Government. The key is to release the data only, filtering only for top secret concerns, and to allow others to use it as they will.
LW suggestion: Mandate that councils all release their mapping data for free, and quickly. It’s currently a market locked up by QV and Terralink, and the costs are prohibitively expensive for other websites. Wellington City Council has released theirs, and watchmystreet.co.nz is the result – wouldn’t it be great to extend this beyond Wellington?

7: Open internet and web. We pay to connect to the internet, and we should all be able to communicate. It should be non discriminating, an allow innovation. Its ok to shape traffic for traffic management, but do so in a fair way, and certainly never to advantage one site over the other. “If Governments get control over the internet then they destroy it”. TBL is strongly against spying, and blocking, accepting that some extreme activity should be monitored, but only with discarding data from non affected people and other strict controls.
LW suggestion: Codify this.

About Lance Wiggs

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