The Great Threat of 'Free' to OpenGov

Nothing is free. We pay with our privacy, or with our taxes, or with foundation money, or investors' money, with our eyeballs and our influence, and sometimes we actually pay directly for goods, information and services.

The notion that somehow online and "open" government services are free is a great danger to the open government movement.Ā 

Do I think that online access and standardized formats for much governmental information are important? Yes. Do I believe that open government data access in many instances saves money and spurs innovation and economic growth? Often.Ā 

Does "public equal online"? OK.

But it sure as hell isn't free.

Every online service has to be paid for, and we're competing for tax resources against subsidized transit, the social safety net, public safety, teacher salaries and hundreds of other government services you and I probably value deeply.Ā 

What will sustain the open government movement? Innovative and realistic funding models, and, yes, fees for service. In the best world, governments use minimal funding to create standardized "open" access to information, and companies build services on top of that information. An no, those services won't be free, not if they're to be sustainable.

There is a reason that companies like Socrata and and NIC Inc. are doing significant and lasting work in the e-Gov and Gov 2.0 spaces: they are for-profit businesses with focus, endurance and realistic funding models.

I don't want an OpenGov world where a slavish devotion to "free" means we don't acknowledge competition for scarce resources, or where rich benefactors and their foundation funding decide which initiatives are worthwhile. And in fact, if "free" is the mantra, there won't be an OpenGov future.

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