PSI Force: Preaching the ‘Public Service Internet’

One of the favourite things I have read for a while is this piece by Adrian Hon about the idea of a ‘public service internet’. Go and read it now — it is well worth it and better than anything I am going to write here ☺

If you didn’t follow the link well shame on you but here are a couple of excerpts that sum it up for me;

The Public Service Internet already exists, in part, in Wikipedia and Mozilla and OpenStreetMap and Archive.org and the Linux community, among many open source efforts and non-profit organisations. No doubt many of us already donate to those organisations. Here’s some news for you: it isn’t enough, not by half.

..and;

Let’s take some responsibility and leave the internet a better place than we found it.

Now I do donate to many of those organisations and a couple of others but he is right — if I want anything to change that probably isn’t enough.

Elsewhere in the piece he writes about being an ‘advocate’. This is something I used to consider myself but I think I have lost my way over time and part of that was due to ‘open fatigue’ I think.

So much of the open data world seems to entirely obsessed with the licence and release issue to the detriment of usable outcomes. I’m not really that interested in the license considerations behind open source, data, access etc — and I would bet money that I am still considerably more interested in that stuff than the majority of people. I am interested in what can be achieved with the data to make life better for people.

Open source increasingly seems to be clogged up with a million vanity projects with two contributors and no discernible USP from a thousand other similar projects. I’m not sure we really need quite as many content management systems for sure.

I’ve been soul searching quite a bit recently about where my head is with regards to a lot of this stuff. At OKFestival in Berlin I felt a little out of step with the convictions of many of the attendees — not all of them as there was certainly an underlying theme about moving towards delivering on the potential of all this ‘openness’ and not just ‘noodling’ around the edges but many of them had a powerful belief in a kind of pure ‘openness’ that I lack these days.

So maybe the ‘public service internet’ is a more useful term for me in my own thinking about my beliefs in this space.

According to Ofcom ‘public service broadcasting’ is defined as;

TV programmes that are broadcast for the public benefit rather than for purely commercial purposes.

It is the ‘public benefit’ over ‘purely commercial’ element that seems to make some sense. The internet has often felt like a space driven by commercial agendas to the detriment of all else in recent years and anything that pushes back against that would seem important. But it gives more flexibility to how this benefit can be achieved I think.

I think as a term it also has the benefit of potentially encompassing a lot of things. Organisations/products/services like Mozilla, Wikipedia, Open Streetmap and Linux were mentioned but it could just as easily cover the work of GDS and a great deal of the stuff covered in the ‘civic tech’ world not to mention the BBC/Channel 4 and their activity in this space with their clear ‘public service’ remits. Basically anything I have ever been interesting in working with or on.

So for the time being at least this is how I am framing my thinking — I support the ‘public service internet’ and if that happens to be achieved in an ‘open’ manner all the better but I’m not going to sweat it. Also I am going to put my support behind efforts with the scale to make an impact and change how people view things.

Like the man said it is time to take some responsibility.