LinuxConf Europe: Discovering Free Software in the UK Public Sector

Sep 05, 2007

On Tuesday the primary conference sessions concluded with a selection of talks on how far the UK public sector has come in its adoption of Free Software. Talks by Mark Taylor (President, Open Source Consortium) and Francis Irving (MySociety) were both informative and candid in their appraisal of the UK public sector.

Francis' talk focused primarilly on MySociety's most successful project to date, the 10 Downing Street E-Petitions website. This website allows members of the British public to submit petitions and gather signatures online and was created by MySociety at the request of the government.
Since its creation, the E-Petitions site has been massively successful, to the point that government ministers have responded publically; even Tony Blair's office responded during his premiership. Francis developed the technical aspects of his talk by explaining the site's biggest success and failure to date: the "Scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy" petition.
At the height of its success this petition was receiving 150 signatures per second and by closure had amassed a total of over 1.8 million. Problems in the implementation arose because the site was intended to receive no more than 50 signatures per second, the result was this petition completely crashed the site.
The combination of Francis' talk and Mark's overview of Free Software in education and the BBC iPlayer gave a reasonable insight into the progress of Free Software in the UK public sector. Mark was quick to point out that UK lags far behind mainland Europe in this respect and that the problems were far more than just technical. The creation of E-Petitions was a step forward for open government in the UK, more importantly, as they increased in popularity they would continue to be a prominent success for Free Software in the public sector.

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