Gamergate, journalism and the dark future of politics

The extremely violent hate posse attacking women in conjunction with Gamergate is horrific. Whatever other issues are involved, the fact that women have been threatened and intimidated so graphically and violently that they have been driven from their homes pushes the weak accusations of compromised gaming journalism to the background. However, it shines a spotlight on some troubling trends that we’re going to have to grapple as digital technologies reshape our societies.

Gamergate isn’t just a group of criminally violent griefers intent on making women’s lives miserable as a form of sport. As Kyle Wagner of Deadspin points out, there are also groups using it to engage in “grievance politics”:

In many ways, Gamergate is an almost perfect closed-bottle ecosystem of bad internet tics and shoddy debating tactics. Bringing together the grievances of video game fans, self-appointed specialists in journalism ethics, and dedicated misogynists, it’s captured an especially broad phylum of trolls and built the sort of structure you’d expect to see if, say, you’d asked the old Fires of Heaven message boards to swing a Senate seat. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the future of grievance politics as they will be carried out by people who grew up online.

These groups are very effectively exploiting weaknesses in mainstream journalism. As Wagner says, “Even when not presupposing that all truth lies at a fixed point exactly equidistant between two competing positions, the American press works under the assumption that anyone more respectable than, say, an avowed neo-Nazi is operating in something like good faith.” Journalism is really poor at dealing with bad actors, tending to treat them as if they are acting in good faith and thus giving them a legitimacy that they do not deserve.

As journalists, we’ve got to stop allowing ourselves to be played like chumps, especially when it comes to politics. We all know the game. We’re being spun, but at some point, we have to be brave enough to call bullshit. As the editor of two local newspapers, trust me, I get a lot of pressure from readers to toe their political line. However, it is a fundamental part of our job to help our readers separate spin from reality, not to parrot talking points and definitely not to cave to political bullies.

We’re going to have to up our game quickly. Wagner’s article reminded instantly of Neal Stephenson’s dystopian political thriller, Interface, which he wrote with his uncle, J. Frederick George. I’ll agree with our friend Cory Doctorow, that the book is an “under-appreciated masterpiece”. I read the book in 2008, and the parallels with that year’s presidential election were eerie. The book, written in 1994, looks at the politics in a United States laid low by a housing crisis. An Illinois governor (rather than a Senator) is running for president and his campaign uses data to segment the electorate, something which is common place now that it has led to a technological arms race between campaigns to have the best data crunchers.

In Interface, the bad actor was a terrifying mash-up between Karl Rove (or most likely in 1994, his mentor Lee Atwater) and Hannibal Lechter. You don’t need a political bogey man to see where this leads. Combine ruthless political ambition, the unlimited cash of Citizens United era and a technological arsenal that only Neal Stephenson could dream of, and you can easily chart the terrifying trajectory of politics in the real world.

When I was covering the 2000 US presidential election, there was a couple of rich Texans who set up a shell political group, Republicans for Clean Air, attacking John McCain’s environmental record to support George W. Bush. Texas entrepreneur Sam Wyly headed up the group and had donated thousands to Bush’s campaign. His brother Charles, was a Bush “Pioneer”, a supporter who had helped raise more than $100,000 for the Bush campaign. The issues ads allowed the Wyleys to spend even more to support the Bush campaign. McCain cried foul, called Republicans for Clean Air a “sham group”, and said that the Bush campaign had to have been coordinating with the group, something which then and now would have been illegal. However, the McCain campaign was never able to prove coordination. More than a decade ago, we already saw the kind of campaigning that the Citizens United case would unleash.

Of course, that is low-tech, linear TV’s child play compared to what we are seeing with Gamergate. When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion. The newest import from China will be the 50 Cent Party of paid political commenters. Gaming the system will take on an entirely different meaning.

With unlimited money flowing into politics thanks to Citizens United, a lot of cash could be poured into automating the process. Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late. A cynical electorate will be even more confused and all but the hardest of partisans will simply roll up into a foetal position to shut out the cacophony of spin. Moderates will be further marginalised as the bases retreat to the comfort of their sock puppet spun reality. Heaven help us.

Journalism must support democracy while questioning governments

Yesterday, a series of tweets by Derek Willis, data journalist and a proper journalist-coder with the New York Times, caught my eye. I met Derek when he worked for the Washington Post as a database editor, and a lot of his work for the New York Times has been focused on “political and election-related applications and APIs”. For an example of that work, you should check out the Times’ Congress APIs, which allow you to access data about votes, bills, and biographical information for members of Congress. That’s a long way of saying that he’s deeply committed to enhancing the transparency of the US government.

The tweets that caught my eye were about engaging people in their democracy and not simply feeding their anger about government.


Coverage that calls on people to hate the ‘system’ while also exhorting them to take action to save it makes no sense. A recent poll in the US shows that a negative ‘pox on both their houses’ view of both political parties has taken hold. Republican pollster Bill McInturff was quoted by NPR as saying:

These events have deeply unsettled people and diminished the public confidence required of a great nation.

NPR links to the full results of the poll.

US voters have long needed more political choices, but I share Derek’s concerns about coverage that only drives people to disengage with the democratic process. Corrosively cynical coverage that leaves people feeling powerless will just lead to a sense of civic nihilism. Journalism has to question governments, but it also needs to engage people in creating the change they want.

Unbalanced coverage in the US balanced budget debate

I almost never, ever write about politics. I steer well clear of it. However, I’m going to risk it because I’m not sleeping well right now because it looks like my country, the once United States of America, is about to drive itself off a cliff.

When I say the coverage of the almost entirely self-inflicted US debt crisis is unbalanced, I don’t mean lacking objectivity or prejudiced, I mean insane. Balanced coverage would quote Tea Party darling Michele Bachman saying that there isn’t anything to worry about and Tea Party darling Jim Demint saying this is “manufactured crisis” on one side and then queuing up economist after economist, the ratings agencies, major financial companies, Fed chief Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and just about every other credible economic and business voice on the other side. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote in referring to 20 Tea Party Republicans as the Default Caucus:

So far, the Default Caucus is disregarding the advice of the Wall Street Journal editorial boardwarnings from Standard & Poor’s, the record of Ronald Reagan and even the permission of Grover Norquist, the conservative loyalty enforcer who said that ending the Bush-era tax cuts would not violate lawmakers’ anti-tax pledges.

Not to quote too liberally from Milbank’s column, but this is the problem:

Pew Research Center poll last week found that 53 percent of Republicans, and 65 percent of Tea Party faithful, believe that the Aug. 2 default deadline can be ignored without major problems.

A responsible press would be driving home the point to all who cared to listen that this will have consequences. Dire ones. It’s not just another government shutdown like 1994. No, even if a default doesn’t happen immediately because the US can’t meet its obligations, the ratings agencies will downgrade the US debt rating almost immediately. That may be abstract to most Americans, but it will have real and immediate consequences. Doing nothing is not an option, and it may already be too late to convince the ratings agencies that the US government isn’t broken.

I couldn’t agree more with US National Public Radio’s On the Media, when they criticised the US media for covering the political drama while almost entirely missing the point. They interviewed Rick Newman of US News and World Republic, not exactly a liberal publication, who said:

the Republicans are digging in their heels and saying no tax increases. And President Obama has basically said he will accept something that is about 75 percent spending cuts and 25 percent tax increases. That is a moderate position, based on the whole range of recommendations we’ve seen, but the media is struggling with how to re – relate to that. So they have to say Obama, on one hand, and these Republicans, on the other hand. And that’s where I think people get pretty confused.

As an American journalist, I was trained in objectivity. It is not a violation of objectivity to accurately portray what is at stake here. With a downgrade, borrowing costs will be higher. Overnight, the cost of serving the US debt will rise because it will be more expensive our basket-case government to borrow money. Recovery? Buh bye! Some economists estimate that for every 50 basis points (half a point of interest) rise in borrowing costs, you can kiss 600,000 US jobs goodbye. (A post by Ezra Klein at the Washington which will be quickly dismissed by conservatives as from a liberal rag.) Interest rates will rise making borrowing for average Americans higher. Americans, who like me, want to buy a house, will find it harder to finance. The already fragile housing market will take another knock. These are on the mild end of predictions. It goes rapidly downhill from there.

A few years ago, I chaired a panel about journalism and the financial crisis. A good friend, Kate Mackenzie from the FT, expressed some justified frustration when time and again the audience asked why journalists didn’t warn them of the coming debt-fuelled financial crisis. The general press mostly missed it apart from a few. However, Kate was right in pointing out that the business press had been covering this for at least two to three years before the crisis hit. I remember reading a Bloomberg magazine cover story titled Toxic Debt, all about CDOs and how they hid ridiculously risky assets including sub-prime mortgages. I read that in the summer of 2007, and I came home telling Suw that this could be 1929 all over again. It nearly was, and now, this crisis is entirely created by childish leaders who want it all and won’t compromise. As for the anti-compromise brigade, I hold Huffington Post liberals almost almost as responsible as the Tea Partiers. Both have made compromise a dirty word in Washington. Compromise is a sign of maturity. You never get everything you want. Most of us learned that on the playground as children.

With this balanced budget debt debacle, we can see this one coming. We can do something about it. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.

As a journalist, I’m paid to pay attention, and I’ve been paying attention from the start. This is serious. The clock is ticking on the US. There wasn’t any time to waste a month ago, and the political posturing has to stop. The Republicans are now accusing Barack Obama of playing politics and looking to his re-election. As if they aren’t. As if the half of the Republican Party queuing up to take his job isn’t looking to 2012. Don’t be silly.

The US is about to face a debt downgrade and possibly a default. It could take us back to the stomach-churning autumn of 2008 when the global economy hung in the balance. This is serious, and it needs some maturity and some compromise. I’d really like to come home, but I won’t be able to move back to the US if the Tea Party wrecks the economy. Man up both Republicans and Democrats. Too much is at stake to pander to those who won’t accept reality. My fellow Americans, get on that phone now. Call your Senator. Call your member of Congress. Your future, our future is at stake.

The media, the internet and the 2010 British election

Last night, I went to a panel discussion at the Frontline Club here in London looking at the role that the internet and social media might play in the upcoming general election. I wrote a summary of the discussion on the Guardian politics blog. As I said there, the discussion was Twitter heavy, but as Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes of Order-order.com said, Twitter is sexy right now.

The panel was good. Staines made some excellent points including how the Conservatives were focused on Facebook rather than Twitter for campaigning. Facebook has more reach and was “less inside the politics and media bubble“, Staines said.

Alberto Nardelli of British political Twitter tracker, Tweetminster, said that the election would be decided by candidates and campaigns not things like Twitter. No one on the panel thought the internet or the parties’ social networking strategies would decide the British election. Alberto said that Twitter’s impact would be more indirect. People are sharing news stories using Twitter, which is causing stories to “trickle up” the news agenda.

Chris Condron, head of digital strategy at the Press Association, made an excellent point that so many discussions of social media focus on its impact on journalism and not its impact on people. Facebook and Twitter allow people to organise around issues, which is another form of civic participation. As I said on my blog post at the Guardian, I would have liked for the panel to explore where this organisation around issues might have an impact in marginal constituencies.

Like so many of these discussions, I thought the questions were binary and missed opportunities to explore the nuance of several issues. The moderator, Sky News political correspondent Niall Paterson implied in his questions that if social media didn’t decide the election that it had no relevance. It was an all or nothing argument that I’ve heard before. Change is rarely that absolute. In the US, the role of the internet has been developing in politics for the past decade. Few people remember that John McCain was the first candidate to raise $1m online, not in 2008 but in 2000.

Paterson portrays himself as a social media sceptic, and I can appreciate that. I can appreciate taking a contrarian position for the sake of debate. However, some of his points last night came off as being ill-informed. The panel was good in correcting him, but he often strayed from moderating the discussion to filibustering.

His portrayal of the Obama campaign was simplistic. Alberto said at the Frontline Club that Obama had a campaign of top down and bottom up, grass-roots campaigning, and as British political analyst Anthony Painter pointed out, Obama’s campaign was a highly integrated mix of traditional campaigning, internet campaigning and mobile. (Little coverage focused on Obama’s innovative mobile phone efforts. Most people don’t see the US as a particularly innovative place in terms of mobile, but it was one of the more sophisticated uses of mobile phones in political campaigning I’m aware of.) I love how Anthony puts it, Obama’s operation was “an insurgent campaign that was utterly professional”.

Paterson also implied that Twitter would tie journalists to desks. The only thing tying journalists to desks are outdated working methods. I’ve been using mobile data for more than a decade to stay in the field close to stories. During the 2008 election in the US, my Nokia multimedia phone was my main newsgathering tool. It allowed me to aggregate the best stories via Twitter and use Twitpic to upload pictures from my 4000 mile roadtrip and from the celebrations outside the White House on election night. As I said on Twitter during the discussion:

moderator makes assumption that social media chains journalists to desk. Ever use a mobile phone? It’s mobile!

Sigh. Sometimes I feel like a broken record. Technology should be liberating for journalists, and more journalists should be exploring the opportunities provided by mobile phones and services like Twitpic, Qik, Bambuser and AudioBoo.

You can watch the entire discussion from the Frontline Club here, and here is Anthony Painter’s excellent presentation on the state of internet campaigning in the US and the UK:

@DW Global Media Forum: Blogging, citizen journalism and politics

Deutsche Welle BOBs 2008 winners
Deutsche Welle Best of the Blogs 2008 winners

Bloggers were well represented at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum, in part because it was the first time that they awarded their BOBs – Best of the Blogs – to the winning bloggers in person. The forum was a stark reminder of internet theorist Clay Shirky’s observation that technology that is often used to pass time in the West can be an essential tool for expression and democracy in repressive countries. Blogging has become a powerful means of expression, reporting and organisation in countries around the world.

Blogging and citizen journalism

During a panel on blogging and citizen journalism, Israel Yoroba Guebo from the Ivory Coast said that in his country, “We hope that our journalists don’t end up in prison.” There is only one television channel and opposition political parties have no way to communicate their positions. He used to work for a newspaper, but he wanted an outlet to tell about the everyday life of people in his country.

Ivory Coast was divided by conflict in 2002 as rebels held part of the country. The political conflict didn’t just divide the country but also its people. He wrote on his blog Le Blog de Yoro about life in all parts of the country and tried to show that people shared the same way of life in an effort to bring about reconciliation.

He was asked whether blogging could have prevented the conflict. He said:

“In Ivory Coast, we didn’t see a way to prevent crisis, but if we had the blog, maybe we could have prevented some of the massacres.”

Another person asked him who was the target audience of the blog. Was it Africans, many of whom don’t have access to the internet, or was it audiences in Europe and the US?

He said that it was important to let people in other countries know what was happening in the Ivory Coast, but maybe his blog would also encourage others to take up bloggin. “The more bloggers that we have, the greater opportunity we have to talk freely,” he said.

The problem is that blogging there is difficult and expensive. They don’t have broadband and have to go to internet cafes to post. However, he said:

“You can at least give the world the possibility to express themselves. Something that would never be accepted on the television.”

Iranians do not have to be encouraged to blog. It is often said that Persian is the fourth most common language for blogs. Four years ago, women in Iran gathered outside of parliament to protest a law that prevented women from becoming president, but it was one of many laws unfair to women. The women decided to protest every day of the year against one of these laws, said Nazli Farokhi.

“We realised that 365 days was not enough,” she said, so they started the blog 4equality. It gives a chance for women who support the campaign to write about their experiences. She was asked about the security of the bloggers. Police have arrested 50 of their members, and four remain in prison.

During the BOBs award ceremony, she played the group’s anthem which describes the discrimination that women in Iran face and the hope that one day women and men can be equal there.

Threats to bloggers

A climate of fear due to threats of violence, intimidation or arrest face bloggers in repressive countries. Bloggers from China and Cuba were not allowed to travel to accept their awards, but instead had to record video messages for the BOBs ceremony.

Cuban Yoani Sanchez’s Generación Y won the award for best blog 2008. Appearing via video message, she said that having a blog in Cuba “can drive one to madness”: There are no internet connections in people’s homes, and bloggers are forced to go internet cafes or hotels that cater to tourists. The cost of using the internet for one hour is equal to a third of the average Cuban’s salary.

Zeng Jinyan won the Reporters without Borders best blog award. She’s the wife of imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia, and she began blogging after being put under house arrest. She writes about life under constant surveillance by the Chinese authorities. She couldn’t travel to accept the reward, but was able to get a video to the BOB organisers. In the video message, she said:

“Blogging has brought new hope to my life.”

Ahmad Abdalla won the award for best blog in Arabic. When he started writing the blog, he said that he was only writing “about small things” and didn’t think that anyone would care about it. But, he added:

“But these small things are affecting my generation, these small things that we’re missing.”

Blogging in Russia

Eugene Gorny said that two or three years ago, he wouldn’t have predicted that he would be interested in the link between politics and blogs in Russia, but now people who were not previously interested are getting involved in the political discussion.

Most popular media channels or national newspapers in Russia are controlled by the government. They have no chance to report about opposition political leaders, protests or anything that the government doesn’t want known or discussed.

Andrei Illarionov, the former chief economic advisor to Vladimir Putin, says of Russia, “People enjoy a tangible level of personal freedoms, but political rights are almost absent, civil liberties are severely restricted and there are significant limits on personal security.”

The regime is afraid of any political activity of the citizens, and brutally oppresses them, Gorny said.

Russians first started blogging seven or eight years ago, but it was mostly for fun and for the self-expression of the internet elite. As the Russian government has seized control of the media, blogs have become an important alternative to the state media for people to discuss issues that are important to them.

A 2009 report by Russian search engine Yandex found 7.4m blogs in Russian, of which about 1m are active. There are 1m posts in the Russian language every day. Russian bloggers are journalists, opposition politicians or “anyone who has a story or an opinion to share”, he said. Journalists blogging are able to write about issues more freely than in the traditional media. But it doesn’t matter whether a blogger is a journalist or not, Gorny said. Rather, bloggers were judged by their peers about their ability to write about significant topics.

Many blogs have a huge readership and reach in Russia. Free magazine F5 reviews the hottest topics in the Russian blogosphere, coming mostly from popular blogging service LiveJournal. The magazine boasts a circulation of 100,000.

Bloggers write reports on what they see, publish documents such as Amnesty International reports, commentary on current events, coverage of protests and quotes and links to other posts.

Their favourite topics are writing about:

  1. The “iIllegitimate, corrupted, aggressive and unjust regime”.
  2. The constant search for internal and external enemies.
  3. Human rights violation in Russia, Chechyna, Ingushetia,
  4. Police mayhem, extreme violence and the “outrageous breach of all limits”.
  5. Strategies of resistance.

The last has become important as the authorities criminalise new forms of resistance. Russian authorities have clamped down on flash mobs and, earlier this year, they even arrested members of a silent protest for using foul language. The protestors had tape over their mouths. As more protesters are jailed, blogs from prison are part of a growing trend in Russia.

Blogs are a significant and growing part of the media in Russian, and Gorny predicted that if the political situation gets worse, then that the role of blogs will only increase.

Blogs and democracy in the West

Of course, even in the West, blogs can still be used for democratic purposes. US transparency through technology group, the Sunlight Foundation, won the 2008 Best Blog in English for their Party Time blog. The blog aims to collect information on the lobbyists, corporations and other donors who pay for parties for US politicians.

Nancy Watzman said that anonymous sources, some even in the lobbying groups themselves, offer the group tickets to the parties. The tickets come from sources they trust. They post the information on the Party Time blog, helping to shed light on one of the poorly reported aspects of the game of money, access and influence in US politics. During the political conventions in 2008 ahead of the presidential elections, they went to many of the parties, taking videos and posting them to the blog.

They would like to take the project further and are looking for partners, including the Huffington Post.

Markus Beckedahl started blogging at Netzpolitik to discuss issues of digital rights, copyright and censorship on the internet, pulling together stories in German and from around the world on the subject. He does a lot of thinking about how to change politics. He said:

“Politicians do bills about internet and they don’t really know what they are talking about.”

About 70,000 people in Germany use Twitter, and Markus has found that it’s a good way to quickly oganise and mobilise people. Netzpolitik has its own YouTube channel and video podcasting channel, and this has led to reports in traditional media about their efforts and issues.

He discussed some of their political campaigns. In 2005, the German government began discussing whether to switch from Microsoft’s Windows XP to Linux. The software giant threw a party to lobby the government to stick with Windows, Beckedahl said. Netzpolitik crashed the party in penguin costumes, the penguin being the mascot of Linux. Some of the penguins even managed to send pictures from the party via MMS.

In recent months, Deutsche Bahn, the German rail giant, has been in a “spy scandal with their workers”, Beckedahl said. Someone sent him internal DB documents, which he posted on the internet. Their lawyers sent him a cease-and-desist letter. He posted the letter on the site, asking for advice. Soon, the letter and documents were spread across the internet, making it difficult for DB to get them removed.

Their most recent campaign is against a proposed law aimed at child pornography. Instead of seeking to shut down the sites, the German government is looking to use filtering software, but internet activists fear that government filtering efforts could be used by other industries such as the music industry against file-sharing sites or by the Hessen government to filter gambling sites. Activists would rather the government seek limited action to shut down sites operating outside of the law.

The German government has an online petition system. A successful petition has to get 50,000 signatures. Using Twitter and hundreds of blogs, Netzpolitik managed to get the necessary signatures in record time, getting 110,000 in all.

Final Thoughts on the Global Media Forum

I thought one of the best quotes of the forum came from Laura Pintos, who writes at the blog 233grados.com. (233 degrees being the temperature at which paper ignites.) She was asked during the BOBs awards ceremony what she saw as the future of journalism. She answered:

“It is the wrong question. it is the present. We are living in a digital moment. It is our present.”

It was nice to see that point of view represented at the conference, even if it probably represented a minority view amongst the speakers and attendees. While a lot of people are wringing their hands over what the future of journalism is, there are people Pintos and many of the bloggers and podcasters at the conference who aren’t worrying about the future of journalism and rather simply creating it.

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.