The internet is not another channel

I had a pleasant day last Wednesday at the joint NPIA and ACPO event on ‘Policing 2.0’, at the invitation of Nick Keane.

(A quick word in praise of Nick. I have known him for over 3 years now, and in all that time, he has been quietly plugging away at the NPIA, whispering in ears, promoting ideas, talking with others. When things weren’t quite going his way, he never gave up, or had a tantrum, but quietly got on with things. All that effort is now bearing fruit, and the police should be grateful that they have Nick. Every organisation should have a Nick – in fact, they probably do. Find him, or her, as soon as you can, and treasure them.)

I presented a mid-morning slot titled ‘Whose Police is it, anyway?’ – my attempt at a mildly amusing reference to the recent MyPolice saga, which has now thankfully been resolved in a sensible way.

I won’t go into the details of the farrago – the links above will fill you in – but the one lasting impression I got was that quite a lot of people don’t take the internet, and those that inhabit it, terribly seriously. This is a huge mistake and a massive missed opportunity for those that take this view.

This tends to take two main forms. One is that any digital element of a project is left until the last minute before it is considered, meaning that things are inevitably rushed, and not as thought-through as they could be.

The second form is, as I alluded to in the title of this post, that online is considered as just another channel. The fact is, though, that the internet is not a channel. The internet is not the same as your newsletter. It is not the same as your advertisement. It is not the same as your poster.

The internet is a big, important thing. In my presentation, I drew on Stephen Fry‘s analogy from the Digital Britain summit last year, when he described the internet as a city. A place where people meet socially, where they go to work, where they play games together, create wonderful things, share knowledge, thought and jokes.

Like any city, it’s also a place where bad things happen. But like a city, the answer to that is not to shut the bad places down, or build wire fences around them, but to try and root out the bad people and convince them of the error of their ways.

Therefore, like any place where people are so active, they care about the internet. It matters to them. It isn’t something that should be disregarded as a plaything for geeks, or somewhere that only sad, lonely people use to find friends (it is, of course, both of those things, but not exclusively).

Open source wouldn’t happen without the internet. Wikipedia wouldn’t happen without the internet. MySociety wouldn’t happen without the internet. wouldn’t happen without the internet. Guido Fawkes wouldn’t happen without the internet. Of course these things all have their flaws, but the fact that they happen at all, and have the impact they do, is a remarkable testament to the culture of the net, which every individual and every organisation has something to learn from.

Here are my slides – a few won’t make much sense, but they were all trying to make one point or another, some more profane than others.