Thursday, February 22, 2007

News sites shouldn't be curators of the world's data

One of the tasks I've been tapped to perform more and more in recent months is to provide console to the local government on web operations. Something that's become painfully apparent is the reliance of the public sector on the private media industry to host their electronic information. Not the aesthetics of a site, just the daily and routine data they send out relative to their scope of expertise.

If you're not from here, trust me when I tell you that there's been no organization worse at understanding, using, implementing or managing information technology than the Government of Guam. (It's been a long and arduous road just to get these agencies to scan their documents and then e-mail them to us, so this is a whole new barrel of monkeys we're dealing with.)

Historically over the past decade, my company has hosted various types of data (PDFs, Word documents, HTML-ized Powerpoint slide decks, etc.) in cases where an issue was of critical importance, we could get the info online faster, or our servers would be more reliable in terms of bandwidth, scalability or uptime. (Much in the same way the Starr Report was published on MSNBC.) But it's unconscionable for us to do so for every miniscule law, press release, announcement, retraction, etc. So I guess it's my fault that they never took the initiative and started hosting their own data on their own sites. Ignorance isn't an excuse here...it's lethargy.

But my problem is that I've been facing escalating and costly overage charges from my web host for the hundreds of MB of media we've been forced to archive for those agencies who should very well do for themselves. On another level, I want to be altruistic and foster the growth of other web sites and places to go. My traffic's always been phenomenal, but I want to link to external resources, too. It makes the game better by improving the ecosystem of having more than one destination to get at source information. Much to my chagrin, not every single person that could visit my site does so.

So a lot of my energy lately at meetings and talks has been working towards getting government to be cognizant of the critical importance of taking ownership for your own data. Mainstream media at any level can't be expected to be curators of the world's information - especially when having to pay extra for doing so. We report the news, we don't keep web-accessible archives of everything. Agencies have to be responsible for the integrity of their own stuff...and for making it available. In the event that a court decision, public law or other bit of information changes, it gets all out of synch. We've mastered the craft of working with data - creating it, distributing it, archiving it and sharing it - but that's for our own stuff.

Government's got to get with the program and start putting their own stuff on their own servers, too.

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