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Friday 23 March 2007

Matthew Taylor is an ignoramus

Clicking through some backlinks I came across a post by Matthew Taylor about the conference where George Osborne spoke about the wonders of Open Source (and subsequent lovely savings).

Matthew Taylor has his own Wikipedia entry. Pictured right, you've possibly seen him on Newsnight. He was Tony Blair's policy guru. Now he runs the Royal Society of Architects. He's an important ignoramus.

The whole post is here, following is the especially ignorant bit.
Why is it that the web which has been so transformative in so many parts of our lives has done so little to strengthen democracy and civic society?
For some this is inherent in the technology. Generating content and browsing the internet is the individualistic act of one person sitting at one computer. Why would we expect it to be suited to the collective tasks of deliberation and community action? But in fact while there has been an explosion of sites like MySpace which allow people to celebrate their individuality, there have also been innovations like the 'wiki' and complex virtual worlds which only work because people collaborate on a shared system and outcome.
For others the fault lies in the political system which has simply failed to understand or respond to potential of the web. From this perspective things like the Downing Street website and e-petitions or David Cameron’s weblog are superficial and tokenistic; politics must be willing to go through the kind of re-engineering that has been experienced by the entertainment or travel industries.
I am dismayed by the passive aggressive tone of most political blogs, and wonder why the web seems so much better as a tool to mobilise protest rather than action. But I suspect the answer lies not in wishing people were different but in innovation which can tap into people’s latent desire to shape their own collective futures. While Web 1.0 may have simply reinforced 'us and them' political discourse, Web 2.0 offers huge scope for new forms of ‘us and us’ engagement. The wiki has huge potential as a policy deliberation tool but we need good applications (the RSA is working to develop one for our Fellows).
So, on Thursday, as well as discussing where we are now, I hope we give time to think about how the next wave of web innovation could help us work together to make our world a better place.
This post is completely ignorant of recent web history and positively star struck (like Shadow Chancellor Osborne) by 'Web 2.0'.

Taylor misunderstands that Web 2.0 is utterly new. It isn't. Everything which constitutes it has existed for some time, the key difference is BROADBAND.

Sites just like MySpace and YouTube have existed for years. In the former case the web is BUILT on collaboration and communities which do exactly what MySpace does. That's how it started FFS!
The thing which really got my goat was his claim that all the web has been good for previously is protest — This completely ignores the liberation which the internet has provided for many minorities, for diasporas, for political organising, to change the world.

  • There are innumerate small communities who either wouldn't exist or in a much less organised way just because the Internet exists.
  • There are huge communities of interest which have built up over the past nearly two decades which have subsequently changed the world.
A very good example is the landmines campaign, which largely evolved because of the Internet.

In 1991, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was a group of three people wanting to do something about anti-personnel devices. Six years later, it is network of 1,000 organizations which has managed to sell more than 120 countries on a worldwide ban.
Credit for the formidable task goes in large part to Jody Williams [right], coordinator for ICBL, which shared with her the Nobel peace prize. But credit also goes to cyberspace, where Williams and her staff did most of their coalition building.
Rising some mornings as early as 3:30, Williams spent much of the last year e-mailing pleas and dispatches from her Vermont farmhouse, trying to convince yet another country to join her campaign.
I remember this period very well.

The use which the Internet could be put to was like lightbulbs going off throughout the world amongst minority interests.
I used it - for example - to help build, alongside thousands of like-minded others, enormous community interest and participation in Australia in reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and to help with Indigenous self-organisation.

You could trace this 90s Internet organising activity directly to events like the 2000 Bridge Walks, which literally drew millions onto the streets.

This activity solidified cross-communities solidarity, changed the political agenda and changed government rhetoric and action. Somehow these enormous political developments, all over the world, passed the likes of Matthew Taylor by.
This statement: "so transformative in so many parts of our lives", gave it away for me. In the context he's meaning, this suggests his 'engagement' with the Web is all about Travel sites and Tesco? Maybe that explains the sweeping ignorance of "has done so little to strengthen democracy and civic society"?

So what, really, is the key difference right now causing Very Important People like Taylor to spout off?

I think it's mass-media coverage, generating buzz, which eventually reaches the likes of Taylor (and similar policy-setters), largely via consultants who have an interest in maintaining this as buzz.

This lands on fertile ground because - as you can read above - they love 'new!' and they love 'wave of innovation': honey, this has been going on for years.

They also live in a disconnected bubble.
As with Osborne: get a grip.

That the likes of Taylor have finally woken up is quite nice but, given the evident ignorance about the web, I'd suggest lots of pottering around and basic learning before launching into any patronising pronouncements based on yet more ignorance.

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