Today the Wikipedia site is down for 24 hours in an effort to draw attention to two US Bills which several organisations suggest might limit the open nature of the internet. I won’t go into the details here but the Wikipedia site has a useful summary of their arguments against the Bills here. Only time will tell how this debate and the Bills themselves progress. The open nature of the internet brings us diversity and the ability to collaborate brings people across the world together in ways which have never before been conceived or realised. This brings me neatly onto the Big Society theme introduced by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The general themes emerging in the Big Society are that various services needed for a society are put out to tender not just to private companies but to government organisations and charitable bodies. Discussion of the themes is being played out in the House of Lords where the Health and Social Care Bill is being discussed – the flagship of the Big Society. Essentially organisations with different core values can compete with each other to provide these services to society. Sceptics have suggested that this is just a means of reducing costs in a time of austerity. However the general theme here is that of competition, which has proved useful in fuelling economies and ecostructures alike.
However rather than limiting this to the UK, I thought a more interesting slant on things would be to introduce a global concept based on the Web 2.0 culture. The population of a nation would have significant needs that need to be met by services. In many cases these are physical real-world services. Water, gas and electricity need to be delivered, roads built and maintained, streets policed and so on. For every one of these physical services that is provided though there is a corresponding information infrastructure. Information is a key feature of society in the 21st Century. People accessing services benefit from understanding the choices at their disposal, sharing their views with others, finding solutions to problems as a community. In this way Web 2.0 (see Appendix) offers a possible solution. A global community can provide the solutions needed by one or many nations. The model can be based on competition as in the case of funding awarded to communities for successful solutions to problems. Even here though there is a multilayered structure with many communities finding solutions for no such incentive. This was the premise of the UNIX operating system which has proved so successful in its various manifestations (e.g Linux).
While much of the Web 2.0 discussion is technical the underlying premise is that there are certain rules for the computers that are connecting people together. Ultimately though it is the connection of the people that matter. So it is entirely possible with the correct conceptualisation and implementation that people from every continent can effectively contribute towards the services provided to people in the UK. These same solutions can be translated for use in other nations. In health terms, the Open MRS database is a very good example of how a population’s healthcare can benefit from this approach. Can these concepts be employed in a Big Society 2.0? Only time will tell.
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