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Archive for the ‘FYI’ Category

The FYI FYI. Part One: Looking Back

from : http://www.flickr.com/photos/litherland/1058052964/

In August 2009 there was an open government barcamp in Wellington.

I had an interest from my previous work for the now sadly defunct theyworkforyou.co.nz; I had written a Questions for Written Answer parser for it. I ended up putting this on my own server as the idiosyncrasies of the Questions for Oral Answer  HTML consumed all of @twfynz‘s time. This provided stable URLs for written questions (they aren’t currently; this is due to the implementation of Parliament’s CMS) and was one day going to cross-link questions and drill into questioner and answerer stats. It was also faster loading and linked across where possible to theyworkforyou.

With that background, when the idea of porting WhatDoTheyKnow from a UK context to a New Zealand one came up at the barcamp, I was interested.  I was already familiar with Ruby on Rails and had experience with a port of MySociety code. As it turned out, getting the code proved somewhat difficult. At the time it was in CVS. That and bandwidth starvation meant that all we accomplished in terms of actual code that day was a “hello world” commit of a snapshot of the MySociety code into a git repository.

It was a week or so after I’d got back to Auckland that Nat Torkington got involved; he offered hosting and a domain name. The domain name was a bit of a head-scratcher:

“There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.”
Phil Karton

Going to whatdotheyknow.org.nz was a possibility, but the ambiguous emphasis made me hesitate. I fretted over it being read as: “Pfft. What do *they* know?” Ed Corkery came up with fyi.org.nz after we tossed around officialinfo.org.nz, wanttoknow.org.nz, wtk.org.nz, oia.org.nz as well as many other (far more improbable) options.

The code got disentangled from its UK context. Ways of allowing the UK to run the code in one mode and NZ to run it in another mode were put in. Yeow Kuah helpfully supplied some patches. MySociety moved to git which allowed me to get all of their history and their fixes after I’d made the original copy in August. A few performance bottlenecks got dealt with.

I’m doing this (however improbable it may sound) as my hobby; I didn’t keep a schedule. Ed kept me honest however, by adopting the position of assuming that I would do it and asking me every few days how it was going. With that there’s only a few times that you can claim that your dog ate your homework.

Rob Coup sprinkling enough magic dust to get the server working and even sending and accepting email helped change things from a few files sitting sadly on my laptop to a working site.

Nat pulled in Greer at about the same time that Ed pulled in Ludwig; after debating the merits of a designer demolition derby I instead ended up with two designers working together. That led to the current rough of their (more polished!) design being implemented.

So that’s how we got to here. Next time: where here is.

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Over the last half year, Rowan Crawford has been quietly working on a New Zealand version of the UK website WhatDoTheyKnow used for filing official information requests.

The New Zealand version has been named FYI (For Your Information) and a Beta version is available here: FYI.org.nz

FYI automates the process of creating an official information request and receiving responses from the relevant public authority. Any official information received is published on the Internet for anyone to access.

There’s still a few quirks, the design and layout are under active development, and the About pages refer to the UK site, but the functionality is all there and contact details for New Zealand agencies and councils are loaded in. Rowan will add more details on FYI’s current state with a later post.

Credits

FYI is an all-volunteer effort supported by the following people and organisations:

TODO before leaving Beta

  • Update the About pages with New Zealand-specific content
  • Implement further design changes

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