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The Europe Roundup: Introducing GOV.UK

BY Antonella Napolitano | Friday, February 3 2012

The UK government launched the beta version of GOV.UK
  • UK | Introducing GOV.UK

    Last Tuesday the UK government launched the beta version of GOV.UK as a "first step towards a single government website."

    The homepage of GOV.UK 

    "We’re building GOV.UK the way Google build Google and Amazon build Amazon." wrote deputy director of government digital service Tom Loosemore in the introductory post, also providing lots of context on how the process has been developed so far and what the next steps will be:

    First, iteration: we’re going to be looking at your feedback, observing user behaviour and doing loads of testing to see how we can improve the experience of the site. Expect lots of design elements to change, features to appear and disappear and various aspects of the site to be tightened up and refined. 

    Second, content: there are huge swathes of government information and services that we haven’t dealt with yet. Content which explains what each Government department does is coming soon in the second phase of the beta (we use the term ‘corporate’ as a shorthand for this). And information of special interest to businesses will follow in the second half of the year. And, as yet, we’ve not scratched the surface of improving the service design/user experience of transactions nor the vast corpus of specialist and technical content that government publishes for lawyers, accountants and the like.

    According to O'Reilly Radar's Alex Howard, this could become "the" model for open government websites. He wrote an in-depth analysis on the UK project and approach:

    GOV.UK is open source, mobile-friendly, platform agnostic, uses HTML5, scalable, hosted in the cloud and open for feedback. Those criteria collectively embody the default for how government should approach their online efforts in the 21st century. 

    [...] GOV.UK is a watershed in how government approaches Web design, both in terms of what you see online and how it was developed. The British team of developers, designers and managers behind the platform collaboratively built GOV.UK in-house using agile development and the kind of iterative processes one generally only sees in modern Web design shops. Given that this platform is designed to serve as a common online architecture for the government of the United Kingdom, that's meaningful.

    Loosemore also wrote that this is the first release phase, with a second one following in a matter of weeks. A third phase is set for the end of March.

  • Italy | A SOPA-alike Amendment Rejected by the Parliament

    In the past, in the Italian Parliament there have been many attempts to limit freedom of speech or to block social networks. In 2010 former Interior Minister Roberto Maroni even called for  "swift measures to block Web sites and social networking sites that incite violence." (the bill was dismissed)

    But the global movement against SOPA may have just won another "local round" right in the same Italian parliament that discussed those swift measures in the past: last Wednesday, the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament dismissed an amendment called Fava (from the name of the deputies who had proposed it) which would have impacted ISPs liability exemptions.

    The amendment, soon labeled as a SOPA-alike bill, was rejected by a majority of deputies.
    As reported on Media Laws, a collective website of law researchers:

    As already pointed out in a previous post, this bill had been proposed as an amendment of the “Legge comunitaria” (an act which implements, at one time, the European laws which have not yet been implemented in the national legal system). 

    The aim of the signatories of the amendment was, probably, to circumvent the control of the European Commission, to which the text of the amendment itself, as an autonomous bill, had been notified. In fact, according to reliable rumors, the bill had raised many doubts as to its compatibility with EU rules, especially for its provisions on filters.

    From time to time freedom of speech grassroots movement have voiced their concerns online against these kind of measures, but only in the past few months their protest seems to be having an impact on politicians' decision.

    A consequence of the anti-SOPA global response or more a "side effect" of the spread of Twitter among the political class?

  • EU | Resources to Understand ACTA

    Are you confused by all the articles on ACTA?
    Lawyer and EU affairs Ralf Grahan lists a few useful resources on his blog:

    Here are a few gateways to critical networks and sources to help you steer towards more reasoned opposition.
    You can follow @StopActaNow on Twitter for information including noteworthy blog posts and articles. The website contains both facts about ACTA and promotional items for activists.
    There are links to critical civil society websites and selected documents for further study.
    You can advance to the ACTA dossier of La Quadrature du Net, the by professor Michael Geist, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastrucure FFII ACTA blog, the What's Wrong With ACTA Week at EDRI (with five short briefing papers), theAccess websitefor global digital freedom and the section on trade agreements at

  • Ukraine | Online Interactive Map to Fight HIV

    Rising voices, a Global Voices project that aimes to connect online media activists, features a story on an interactive anti-AIDS map created by an Ukrainian charity. AIDS is ia widespread problem in the country, reports Rising voices' Maryna Reshetnyak.

    The map will make easier for users to find HIV testing sites in their region as well as condom vending machines, writes Reshetnyak:

    The interactive map shows not only the address of a particular site but also telephone numbers and the information about business hours. It also lists whether the site is unanimous or a person needs to present the ID. The database includes 173 sites of fast testing where a person can get the results in 15-20 minutes. 

    According to Google Ukraine blog the future plan of the project includes implementing improved navigation map and preparation of the mobile version of the service.

In other news:

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In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.


tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.


Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.


monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.


friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO