Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘News Hub’ Category

Gov 3.0 Has Entered The Building

by April 8th, 2010

By Michael Riedyk

…Web 3.0, built on the foundations of the Semantic Web, is not much of a replacement of Web 2.0, but, rather, an important addition. According to Wikipedia, the Semantic Web is “an evolving development of the World Wide Web in which the meaning (semantics) of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to “understand” and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content.”

….the development of the World Wide Web has four stages or quadrants plotted along two axes – Increasing Social Connectivity and Increasing Knowledge Connections and Reasoning.

The four stages are briefly described as the following:

  1. The Web (Web 1.0) – “Connects Information” – has minimal social connectivity and knowledge connections and reasoning, and uses such technology as file servers, search engines and person-to-person file sharing.
  2. The Social Web (Web 2.0) – “Connects People” – still has minimal knowledge connections and reasoning but increasing social connectivity, and consists of blogs, social networking, mash-ups and the like.
  3. The Semantic Web (Web 3.0) – “Connects Knowledge” – has some social connectivity but increasing knowledge connections and reasoning, and relies on artificial intelligence, thesauri and taxonomies, and bots.
  4. The Ubiquitous Web (Web 4.0) – “Connects Intelligence” – will have increasing knowledge connections and reasoning as well as incoming social connectivity, and will rely on new technologies like automatic intellectual property, semantic wikis and smart markets.

While Web 2.0 is all about people engaging in social networks, Web 3.0 is the actually same but for machines or software applications (apps). Lets call Web 3.0 the “Facebook for Apps”.

The problem with HTML is that it works great for people, but not so good for apps that want to collaborate on information. Therefore, the  World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the Resource Description Framework (RDF), an XML standard that defines relations between data (sources), relations and its semantics (what it is).

For example, when you publish something about “New York”, we all know that it is about a city. But apps don’t know that, so they couldn’t use that information. RDF provides a format that adds metadata and explains, in this case, that “New York” is a city. Other apps that look for information on New York can now use all information related to that RDF file.

With the semantics web, the web transforms from a bunch of unstructured web pages and separate databases into ONE BIG DATABASE!

The impact of the semantic web is massive. Applications can search, filter and aggregate information for us, rather than spending hours behind Google to collect manually. Apps could even give you personalized advice based on your profile, location and real-time data that is available on the web somewhere.

Back to the New York example: if I was to click on the word “New York” in this text, I would instantly get a flightplan (based on my schedule), the best attractions to go to (based on the fact that I have a family of four), a list of hotels that fit my current budget and personal preferences, friends who will be around and suggestions for people to meet. Thus, an unlimited amount of information and databases that match my personal profile and interests, without spending hours behind Google.

When will this happen? It is actually happening now already. More and more databases are published online or accessible via API’s. We only need to wait until more organizations make their data available in RDF. Once that happens, the web starts transforming into one database and we can start building intelligent apps on top of that.

What does this all has to do with Government or Gov 3.0? Well, following the Web 3.0 definition,

Gov 3.0 kicks-off when Governments start publishing Open Data using the semantic web standards (RDF).

The recent Open Government directive in the US and in the UK expect governments to publish their databases online. Open Data will be the next big trend in Government all over the world. The Open Gov West event in Seattle I attended last week was an important milestone: what started as a small event for a few people grew into a big event with almost 200 attendees from all over the US. The main question was a call for standards.

I have an important message for everyone who attended and those who are currently working on Open Data projects:

Publish all of that Open Data in RDF format. Chances are, this time governments and Gov 3.0 will be the driving force behind Web 3.0!

And we are a step closer to the Ubiquitous Web.

A SLAPP In The Face Of Free Expression In Quebec

by April 7th, 2010

By Daniel Romano

A SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It is an insidious new instrument that has been rearing its head across North America. Used by governments at all levels, it attempts to squelch public outrage under the threat of defamatory lawsuits.

On March 26, 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a broadly-worded blanket interlocutory injunction which had been issued against several Internet bloggers who had been involved in posting comments on an Internet forum, The interlocutory injunction, which had been issued on July 9, 2009 by Justice Danielle Richer of the Quebec Superior Court, had sought to altogether prohibit the Internet bloggers from somehow defaming the Government of Rawdon, its mayor, or director general in any way under threat of contempt of court proceedings.

This appeal drew the participation of Quebec newspapers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as interveners.
In quashing the interlocutory injunction issued by Justice Richer, the Quebec Court of Appeal noted that the blog, which had been established in 2005, contained some 240 webpages of various comments and that, at most, some 22 comments may have constituted commentary that may be highly objectionable and possibly defamatory, and that Judge Richer had failed by attempting to somehow prohibit any and all defamation at large by the bloggers as against the municipal government and its officials (which is tantamount to censorship).

The Quebec Court of Appeal declined to decide the issue of whether a municipal government can sue in Quebec for alleged defamation (despite an absolute prohibition in other Canadian provinces), despite the insistence of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that the issue ought to be addressed pursuant to new anti-SLAPP legislation in Quebec and not left to fester until a trial date sometime in the future.

On Nov. 1, 2009, Quebec witnessed municipal elections across the province, and Rawdon witnessed a change in government as well. The new political party had run, in part, on a platform which sought to shed light on the Rawdon government-funded defamation case.

When the interlocutory injunction had been issued by Justice Danielle Richer in July 2009, the mayor of Rawdon at the time, publicly stated in local media interviews that the case had cost Rawdon taxpayers $150,000, and she acknowledged a direct financial contribution of the Union des Municipalités du Québec to this Rawdon test case.

In March 2010, auditors appointed by the newly elected government of the municipality of Rawdon, revealed not only that the previous administration had run up legal bills of $541,675.25 (as of Dec. 31, 2009) but that legal work on the Rawdon test case had begun long before the proceedings were filed ex parte and on an urgent basis in early February 2008 in Quebec Superior Court (District of Joliette). The legal bills of $541,675.25 (as of Dec. 31, 2009) are more than the entire amounts claimed by Rawdon and the ex-mayor and ex-director general in their lawsuits!

CAGE has since noted that following the initiation of the Rawdon test case, another case was fashioned in the image of the Rawdon test case model. In December 2008, a majority of the municipal council of Beauceville authorized funding to sue a local media outlet for alleged defamation of the municipal government and its mayor. The text of the Beauceville Resolution actually states that it seeks to have the law firm that represented Rawdon in case number 705-17-002451-084 “do for Beauceville what they did for Rawdon.”

The case funding was suspended by a subsequent vote of the Beauceville municipal council in early 2009, and the government defamation action was later discontinued altogether.

There are over 1,100 municipalities in the province of Quebec. Allowing any one of them to sue for alleged defamation of the municipal government with taxpayer dollars, would give a wide open door for oppression of political opponents in no uncertain terms. One need only be reminded of the infamous Padlock Law in Quebec, which was originally designed to address communist propaganda, but later became a powerful tool for the more generalized oppression of political opponents and minorities in Quebec.

The state of the law in Quebec is now such that any municipal councillors who could carry a majority vote to authorize municipal funding for eager and willing law firms to file lawsuits on their behalf, would be able to intimidate critics, or minorities, or threaten to exhaust them all financially by forcing them to defend against such lawsuits.

Rawdon is a town of a modest 10,000 residents: how could it run up legal bills in the amount of $541,675.25 (as of Dec. 31, 2009)? That is just over $54 for every man, woman and child living in Rawdon. The theory of a test case is convincing, particularly so given an acknowledged financial contribution of the Union des Municipalités du Québec.

Quebecers should pay close attention to this case, especially any citizens who post critical comments about municipal governments on the Internet. If the Rawdon government defamation case does not meet the definition of a SLAPP, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, what does? One would hope that Quebec courts would be able to see it the way the average citizen of Quebec sees it, and balance the playing field for persons having to defend this kind of lawsuit pursuant to the new anti-SLAPP legislation.

Daniel Romano is a Montreal lawyer and founder of CAGE (Citizens Against Government Encroachment)

Citizen Activism: Not So Fast

by April 5th, 2010

By Jerry Large

You can improve the world and have a good time, too.

West Seattle writer Paul Rogat Loeb has spent decades exploring and writing about community involvement and citizen activism.

Among the things he’s learned is that change can take a long time and those who laugh along the way last the distance.

We talked about the updated version of his book, “Soul of a Citizen,” which first came out in 1999.

It’s full of stories of people who saw a problem and got busy doing something about it.

Loeb said the book is about being hopeful, “giving people permission to enjoy life as they are being active.”

“When I see somebody like Desmond Tutu who’s been up against so many issues, not just apartheid but going to work in Rwanda and Haiti and taking on the Iraq war and speaking out on climate change. He’s involved in every issue you could imagine and yet if you see his presence it’s the most delightful presence imaginable,” Loeb said. “He’s having a really good time and he’s laughing and joking.”

Loeb transformed two of his own worries into fuel for updating the book.

He saw people who had been engaged in the 2008 presidential campaign losing heart because the issues that animated them weren’t being resolved quickly or in ways that matched their expectations.

“Most of the time when you win you are not winning everything,” he said. “You have to keep pushing for the long haul.”

He opens the book with the story of Rosa Parks. Everyone knows about the seamstress who sat on a bus and challenged segregation.

But people think the change was quick. It took a dozen years. And it involved lots of people and preparation.

The other issue that he wanted to address is climate change, which didn’t seem quite as urgent when he was working on the first edition.

When confronting such big challenges, he said, people shouldn’t be so intimidated that they fail to act.

Taking steps that are now available would make a big difference, Loeb said.

“I have solar panels on my house in rainy West Seattle, and basically my electrical usage is balanced out by what they do,” he said.

The book leans toward liberal activists and causes, but Loeb does include some conservatives. He profiles Rich Cizik, who helped organize the evangelical Climate Initiative, for instance.

And he devotes a chapter to a partnership between the Christian Coalition and the liberal MoveOn to preserve equal access to the Internet when some telecom companies were lobbying to create tiers of service.

I asked where citizen involvement was missing locally. He said hardly anyone knows much about the Port of Seattle.

The Port involves huge amounts of money and lots of jobs and affects the environment, but media and citizen groups haven’t been paying much attention to it.

The League of Women Voters of Greater Seattle is holding a forum on the Port on May 6 (

I know that because Loeb and I spoke at a league event last week, along with Nancy Amidei, who directs the Civic Engagement Project.

That event was called Making Democracy Work, and some of the people there have been active in community life for quite a few years. Amidei says she’s a democracy addict, and I suspect that is true for many of the people who attended the event.

When I called Loeb to talk about his book, the first thing he mentioned was the tone of the gathering.

“It was a serious political event addressing serious issues … and they were laughing. They were having a great time.”

A light spirit is a good way to have staying power when you’re dealing with heavy issues.

Government Keeps Troubled-Doctors List A Secret

by April 2nd, 2010

By John Ryan

Over the past 20 years, health-care providers in Washington state have paid out more than $1 billion in malpractice lawsuits. That’s according to a federal database that helps hospitals avoid hiring incompetent caregivers. It’s a lot harder for members of the public to dig into the backgrounds of doctors and nurses.

Rest of story here.