Last Monday marked the one month anniversary of New York’s Local Law 11, which states that all public data must be published online. Of equal interest, a wiki is being used to create standards for how that data presented.
For the next few months, NYC Open Data is allowing anyone, both city agency officials and the public, to edit the wiki– with all revisions saved under a “history” tab– and to leave comments. At the end of this test period the information will be reviewed by Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) staff, who will release final data standards in September.
A wiki presents a provocative model for government– the idea of a completely transparent, participatory forum for civic lawmaking is enticingly anarchic (see Loren Carpenter’s Pong experiment)
NYC Open Data’s project is an effort towards technological utopia, reaching towards the dream that computers and networks will allow us to exist as free, self-governing bodies. The site links to a video explaining how wikis work via the charming metaphor of a group camping trip in which the enthusiastic campers use a wiki to make a list of what they need to pack. It begs the image of New York City as one big campground in which its citizens cheerfully band together, taking turns defining “Voluntary Consensus Standards Body.” Granted, that which is added or deleted from the wiki by both the public and city agencies is not carved in stone, only privy to the review of DoITT staff, who will make final decisions, the chaperone on said camping trip.
In practice, participation in this project is sparse. Most of the revisions have been made by two users, Rickyrab, a public policy student who aptly describes himself as “a user of wikis” in his profile, and ReinventAlbany, a transparency advocacy group.
Though this project is off to a rather feeble start, it engenders some interesting thought about fantastical possible futures. While the Internet was born partially out of the U.S. government application of browser based platforms for civic use has lagged far behind corporate. Certainly, the lack of incentive via revenue explains why usa.gov reeks of 2003 in both aesthetic and function. But, in a post-Wikileaks state, what if the government could utilize this model? Chances are slim to none but speculation is imperative.