I had a great time at geekup Sheffield last night. The format had changed from a bunch of presentations (mostly by techies about technical issues) to a much more freeform conversation. This was extremely succesful and looked a lot like what I’ve been trying to do with my Pub2.0 thing. So well done Geekup! In order to seed some interesting conversations, the geekup organiser (Jag) asked a few people to ‘host’ some conversation topics. Jag asked me to try and start up a conversation about the Digital Britain Interim report recently published by Lord Carter. I was only too happy to oblige. So I spent a considerable part of the evening talking to a couple of people (namely Chris and John) about what was right and wrong with the report and its proposals. I was keen to try and steer the conversation away from widely discussed topics of infrastructure (whether it should be the government’s role to fund our new high bandwidth to the home network, or should it be left to the telcos?) and content (are the proposals in DB for the setup of a ‘copyright police’ simply propping up an outdated business model). Instead I wanted to discuss one area that Lord Carter’s report doesn’t seem to cover at all - digital services. I wanted to know if there are any digital services that are big enough that only a government could deliver them, but are not so important that we shouldn’t trust a government to provide them. The obvious candidate is digital identity services, but that kind of falls into the ‘too important to be trusted to government’ category. Also, as an evangelist for openID (and other distributed service mechanisms), I couldn’t, hand on heart, suggest that the identity management for an entire nation be provided by a central service (government run or not). This lead to the statement perhaps government should instead concentrate on setting data interchange standards and service provider certification. The obvious application would be to enable the easy transfer of personal health records from one provider to another, not in some invisible way where any backstreet quack (or pharmaceutical company exec) who has got themselves an NHS login can access my records, but instead in a way where I could be in control of who has access to my records. Better even, I can also receive notifications when my records are accessed. Chris mentioned that he didn’t think that current FOI legislation allows someone to ask an organisation WHY they have their personal data, which may become a pertinant question when you see that BigPharma Inc. have recently accessed your GP records. Of course, this idea is probably past its best as the Nth billion pound of fund is poured into the big centralised NHS health-care record system, but the principle could be applied to many other areas of personal information: credit records, employment/tax history, benefits, pensions, criminal records/driving convictions. Not only did we think that setting standards is what government is better suited to than providing services (certainly in IT), but it could also allow for innovation and consumer choice to enter the information systems market and allow the public to be able to control their own data. Of course after this very interesting and inciteful discussion we then went on to talk about how the record industry is trying to prop up an outdated business model and how all the best songs are written by poor starving artists anyway… I’m now looking forward to GeekUp Sheffield next month!