Hacking For Good Reasons

We tend to think of hacking as bad, and hackers as evil. But as well as the ones wearing white hats, ie the ones who are on our side and checking out vulnerabilities that others might exploit, there are the techno-geeks who are all dressed up and with nowhere to go.

Until now.

On the 11th March, the UK's Home Office, Cabinet Office and Ministry of Justice opened their doors to 10 technical experts from http://www.rewiredstate.com who used data.gov.uk and the web to develop tools and services that help people.

I've had a look and these are mash-ups -- the combining of two or more services -- with a difference: they are actually useful to people in helping them deal with important life issues.

At the moment, not all of the newly-created projects are working, but we are promised that they will be by the 13th March. Hmm. An IT project delivered on time? Let's see!

Some of them look very useful indeed. For example, One Click Organisations will make it possible for you to generate, at the click of a mouse, the following:

  • A constitution written in plain English
  • An official legal structure so your group can open a bank account
  • A list of group members that’s automatically kept up to date
  • A voting system to help make group decisions
  • A record of every decision that’s been made
  • Easy ways to modify the constitution as your group develops

Just those first two items alone would make it worthwhile using this app, although I think I would still want to have the legal stuff double-checked, just in case.

Moving There and other sites will prove useful to anyone looking to move into an area, in order to check crime and other stats, whilst Job Centre Pro Plus helps you find jobs in your locale. Several apps are concerned with transparency in various contexts. I especially like the sound of Voxpomp, which will collate statements made by MPs during Parliamentary debate and cross-reference them with news stories of the time. The Companies Open House ("Open 24/7, unlike Companies House") works well, allowing you to look up the details of a company unrestricted by the time of day.

There are also fun applications, such as Crime and Punishment 1707 versus 2007, described as "A slight but delightful project mashing up "The Old Bailey online - 1674-1913" and "Ministry of Justice Quarterly sentencing statistics" to compare sentencing for various types of crime." Can't wait for that one, as it will give grumpy old men like me, who think that criminals are given 32 ways of being let off, something else to rant about.

There are more of these 'Hack Days' coming up. In the meantime, to look at the apps I've mentioned in this article, and other examples of what the 'semantic web' might look like, check out the Rewired State website.