Tag Archives: Repubblica

Here's me with my old band

Sign o’ the times: the death of rock’n’roll and the demise of yet another Italian music magazine

I used to be a fairly successful rock musician (Italian Wikipedia). So, when in the 90s the main Italian daily newspaper, Repubblica, launched a music magazine (called XL in its latest incarnation), my colleagues and I were paying close attention. This was, after all, possibly the only genuinely mass market music medium in the country other than embarassingly bad commercial radio – no Melody Maker for Italians. My projects ended up being featured in the mag several times over the years.

I recently gave another interview to XL magazine – this time in my capacity as an economist with some expertise in the digital economy. Lo and behold: the cover story is dedicated to the death of Rock’n’Roll (with a photo of the late Lou Reed to drive the point home). My interview is titled “Music has lost its ability to change the world”. And this sets the mood for what turns out to be the final issue of the magazine in paper: from now on it will be just a website, bits all the way down. The digital perfect storm, the crisis of traditional publishing models yada yada.

Hardly world shattering news, just another music mag in a peripheral country that did not make it through. But hey: there is a poetic touch in here. Look, I am featured again in this magazine – I used to be in it back in the days. It’s shutting down, because it could not navigate the Internet era. You, dear reader, and I, on the other hand, are not shutting down, because we more or less could. I count myself as very privileged: I had a front seat – more than that, I was literally in the stage – in the 90s, a time when the planet seemed to be changing for the better and music seemed to play a big role in the way we thought about the world and what to do with it. Later, just as the Internet age was setting in, I dropped out of my nice middle-class minor rockstar status and ventured onto the social Internet. I am still here, over twenty years after publishing a surprisingly successful debut album, leveraging my economics studies and lots of complexity science that I picked up on the way, trying to make sense of it all.

And yes, I am confused. And no, I have no master plan, I make it up as I go. But I don’t feel like a complete stranger to this world, and I’m not utterly lost or future shocked. Nor have I ended up a nostalgic. Really, I could not ask for more of my middle age.

Wikicrazia Big Bang: no need for gurus, thanks

Many people wrote me to congratulate for a high profile article on Repubblica (three full pages on one of the main national daily newspapers) on the topic of open government (called “Wikicrazia”, after my book, in the title)and of the interest it is attracting in the national debate. The article itself contributed to such interest: a very strong endorsement induced new curiosity in people previously unaware or uninterested, and prompted some who were already intrigued to take action.

I think the open gov movement, though still a niche one, is going to be irresistible in the long run. Why? Because the work can be divided in packets so small, and the tools are so cheap, that even a single person committing a little time can make a small, but noticeable difference, here and now, without having to wait for systemic reform or cultural change. But I also think that much credit for the present wave of interest should go to Riccardo Luna, former editor in chief of Wired Italy and author of the article in question. Riccardo is not only a good journalist and an excellent communicator; he has become an activist and an organizer of this movement. We talked a lot to each other in these latest few months, and I have seen his enthusiasm grow and become vision. He has an inclusive style, always taking care to give credit where credit is due and to avoid overpersonalization, has won him a lot of sympathy and credibility.

If I am allowed to offer advice – not so much to Riccardo, as to all of us – I think it is important to try to keep the focus on mass collaboration based on self-selection, avoiding to personalize the issue and resisting the temptation to make good, effective contributors to this movement into gurus. It would be misleading. With each project I start, I know that the most valuable collaborator is a person I don’t know yet. It for him or her that I design: so that they can find their way to the project that needs exactly his or her skills, and can be engaged in a useful, respectful and fun way.

Gurus, on the other hand, are just about the last thing we need.

Against all odds: open data in Italy make a breakthrough

Last Tuesday in Rome a wonderful thing happened: OpenSpending Italy — the first Italian contribution to the OpenSpending platform — was launched.

The data were there. They come from a dataset of consolidated public spending by region that the Department for Development Policies started gathering in 1998. They were already published in open format: the Department can rightfully take credit for it. Yet, I would argue that Tuesday’s launch marks an important step forward.

A step forward was made in accessibility to data. A very important, well maintained, comprehensive dataset on public spending is now accessible through advanced, interactive visualization, easy to compare with analogous international data. Even more interesting, it was published in widget form: anybody can copypaste the embed code anywhere she wants, like I did above.

But the more interesting step was made in the scope and diversity of collaboration that lead to this result. The data for OpenSpending Italy have been gathered, cleaned and associated to metadata by Italian civil servants in the Department for Development Policies and the State’s Accounting Service; processed by code written by British and German coders at Open Knowledge Foundation, a third sector organization; and published through the data journalism channels of Guardian Media, a British private business. The idea has been generated in the context of the meeting places of the Italian open data movement, and of a virtual meeting place in particular: the Spaghetti Open Data mailing list, born in September 2010 to provide civil servants and civic hackers with a constructive, respectful environment to talk about open data.

Thanks to this “managed diversity” (in the sense that trolling is not tolerated) SOD — like other places — allows people with complementary backgrounds and skills to meet up, explore each other, and maybe do something together. OpenSpending Italy was born from the collaboration of two wonderful civil servants, Aline Pennisi of the State Accounting Service and Simona De Luca of the Department for Development Policies, and civic hacker Stefano Costa of Open Knowledge Foundation Italy. Stefano got the international branch of OKF involved (Jonathan Gray and Friedrich Lindenberg need mentioning); and the latter enlisted Guardian Media (Simon Rogers, who — just like Gray — happened to be in Italy to participate in the Journalism Festival in Perugia). 72 hours later the data went live on OpenSpending’s first page and on the Guardian’s datablog.

This story, as I see it, has a clear implication: the Italian open data movement has come of age much faster than expected. Available datasets are growing; we are converging on standards of openness; we have visualization tools, physical and virtual meeting places, supporters in several administrations and ISTAT. We have friends overseas in the global open data movement, and we can and do collaborate with them as peers. We even have an emergent leadership: even as OpenSpending Italy was released, Aline was already working on a new project with OpenPolis and Open Linked Data Italy. Codenamed Open Budgets, it aims at making the budgets of more than 8000 Italian municipalities open and accessible. All this in a country perceived as indifferent, immobile, declining — with good reasons.

Me, I’m just happy and proud of the little I can give to the Italian open data movement, maintaining the SOD mailing list (I am the condominium’s janitor, so to speak). All together, civil servants, geeks and simply curious, committed people, we are showing that we can achieve some change for the good here and now, with the available resources and skills, without having to wait for some Global Change or a cultural singularity. May this attitude spread elsewhere in the public sphere. Heaven knows we need it.