Journalists! Go check out the projects from Rewired State

I had Rewired State in my calendar for months because it was happening in the Guardian’s new offices, but a rather full schedule in 2009 and over-subscription of the event itself prevented me from making it. What was Rewired State?

Government isn’t very good at computers.
They spend millions to produce mediocre websites, hide away really useful public information and generally get it wrong. Which is a shame.

Calling all people who make things. We’re going to show them how it’s done.

My good friend and former colleague at the BBC, Chris Vallance, came to the tail end of the event, and he was said that the projects sparked a lot of ideas, many of the ideas that would make great journalism.

Voxpomp was one that caught my eye immediately. The idea is simple: “Statements made by MPs during Parliamentary debate cross-referenced with news stories of the time.” You can search by subject and member of parliament in a very simple interface. There is another project that allows people to log when and where they have been stopped under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This is code in progress, but it’s definitely an interesting idea. Foafcorp is an SVG visualisation that shows links between companies and their directors using UK Companies House Data. Here is an explanation from the developer.

The full list of projects are now available online.

That’s the good. However, how many of you had heard about the event? I wish that the organisers had done better outreach or publicity before the event. It was an obvious success because organisers told me that they had 300 applications and only space enough for 100 people so they had to ration the invites. However, the media and technology journalists at the Guardian didn’t even know about this event, even though it was happening in our building. Charles Arthur, or editor of Technology Guardian and driving force behind the Guardian’s Free Our Data campaign, hadn’t heard about it. The only reason that I knew about it is because I work closely with our development teams who were involved with it. I only received a very brief press release (frankly a one page email) from organisers on the Friday before the event. If Guardian journalists didn’t know about it, how many other journalists had heard about it until after the fact? 

I popped my head right near the end because I was meeting Chris. Suw and I saw a number of familiar faces from the Open Rights Group, MySociety and government and technology circles we know.

I know that this is a hackday and the purpose was to create new applications with public data and wasn’t necessarily concerned with making a big splash in traditional media, and I’m definitely not trying to imply that you needed journalists there to validate the project. But I think this was an important event, and I’m concerned that apart from a the participants and their followers on Twitter and a few folks who happened to find out about it,that very few people outside of those circles knew about it. I’m not even finding many blog posts about it.

Guys, you did something really good. It’s OK to let a few more people know about it. I know that organising an event takes a lot of work, and publicity might be the last thing on your to-do list. But there were some great projects that a much wider audience could easily understand. Underselling your work will make it difficult to convince the government that open data with better formats is an imporant agenda item with so many other pressing issues at the moment.