Dec 17, 2009
I originally wrote up my view of the #uksnow story back in February.
I’ve used it a lot since then to illustrate a few points:
- How easy it is to drive an application from Twitter
- That if an idea is a good one, it will take off; useful features will survive, weak will disappear
- Within 12 hours you can create a national-scale ‘service’ with no funding or planning
- If you have the basics of structured data (in this case, time, place and condition), and they’re freely available, then someone will do something useful with them
- It was all a happy collaboration coming about as a result of three people who’d never met each other all doing something to build on previous actions (well, in the case of Ben Marsh, doing rather a lot!)
- And today, it spontaneously resurrected itself when the snow came – with no centralised marketing campaign, no one blowing a whistle to stay “go, start reporting like this…”. Just people remembering it and finding it interesting enough to do again.
Ben went on to do lots of other projects along similar themes – and has done a great job today keeping the snow map (mostly) running under the sudden unexpected flood of interest.
I went back to pondering the art of public information and service design, and the role that government should (or should not) take. And to creating a celebrity motorbike.
But I missed one little bit from the story – or at least played it down.
That happy little team of collaborators (never met, never spoken) weren’t all entirely happy about how it went. One, let’s call him Mr B – the first to use the #uksnow tag – was a little grumpy at the time. “Stop using my tag to report snow levels,” he said back then. “I made it for people to talk about snow news – don’t go imposing your standards on it.” Without access to the original tweets and posts I have to paraphrase, but I think it’s a pretty fair synopsis.
When I (gently) tweeted back then that while you can create a hashtag, you can’t own it, he responded by blocking me. Nice behaviour.
But then #uksnow got all huge and popular, and Ben got more and more press, deservedly, and now we find out that it’s made the Top Ten trending topics of 2009. Number EIGHT. Globally. Wow. That’s some story to have a part in.
So comes this tweet today:
@benmarsh “Application based on original hashtag #uksnow devised by @[Mr B]” then I’ll grant Intellectual property assign [sic]
Repeated several times today – directed at Ben and at @datastore who ran the Guardian story.
I’m pretty sure Ben’s not responded. It’s hard to see how he could. Is that a serious question? IP in a hashtag? That the originator wasn’t keen about having formatting applied to back in February in any case?
Mr B obviously wants to be a part of the story – and he is a part of the story, and could have played this very well – if acting in a collaborative spirit. Recognising that this sort of stuff ONLY happens through free reuse, a willingness to take what others have done and move things onwards, and most of all that it’s the inherent quality of the idea itself that makes it fly – not what it’s called, or whatever particular feature any one person thinks it should have.
Mr B had a go today at suggesting that contributors put road conditions in as well – “That’ll make it useful!” – he said. It’s actually a bloody good idea. But it didn’t take off. Sometimes that happens. It’s not always what you say, but very often how you say it; and how you use networks and trusted relationships that you’ve carefully built up to say it.
We’re all coming up with new stuff; working in new ways. Trying to achieve more by throwing down boundaries than would ever be achieved by putting them up. Clicking into a sense of community and just seeing what happens.
But I will speak a kind word for Mr B – his intervention has raised some of the harder questions about the practicalities of collaboration – how do we protect interests? #uksnow has to date just been a bit of fun, but what if it had significant commercial value in its own right?
Ben did all the hard work (Mr B created a conversation, I spotted the opportunity to structure it, but it was a fleeting action for both of us – Ben grafted with coding, hosting, a flood of press enquiries and so on, and deserves every bit of his kudos). Mr B put his role in his bio. I’ve put my part in mine. Ben’s put his part in his. That’s all good.
I’ve sought to tell this as a great example of a Power of Information story – just glad to have had a small part in it.
Ultimately though, behaviours and attitude count for a lot. Mr B has got a little more strenuous this evening:
he hijacked my TRAVELnews/info source corrupted into MAPPING application ie no practical NEWS he agreed the credit #UKsnow
creating a hashtag he cound have used #snowUKmap why hijack my hashtag whcih was serving a different but practical purpose?
I’m afraid in this light, Mr B’s insistence on IP rights looks, well… you decide. Leave a comment.