Full launch for Met crime maps

Wednesday saw the formal launch of London’s crime maps, which first appeared in beta only a couple of weeks back. Don’t call it ‘1.0’ though: the source code declares it’s actually ‘beta 1.02′.

As before, it shows areas colour-coded for the rates of ‘burglary, robbery and vehicle crime’, based on comparisons with ‘the average’. Yes, that’s an approach which has its limitations – my favourite being that areas containing police stations tend to rate worst for offences, because of (for example) finding drugs on someone you’ve just taken into the custody suite. But as a first step, it’s surely a good one. There are plenty of legal and logistical issues to overcome before we start putting dots on the map according to offences… and as we all know by now, if you try to sort everything out before going live, you never go live.

No mention of the total cost in the official press release, but I’ve seen a figure of £210,000 reported (eg Daily Mail). Given that it’s a fairly straightforward map mashup, using the standard infoWindows and polygons built into the (free) Google Maps interface, I’d be very interested to see a confirmation and/or breakdown of that. Fair play to Boris and his Conservative administration for getting it out the door early; but the next ‘how much did that government website cost?’ argument could be interesting.

Meanwhile, I see the Foreign Office is doing some map mashing of its own, with a cute (rather than useful) map of travel advice notices for the home nations’ World Cup qualifiers. But crucially, they’ve done it using the free ‘My Maps’ functionality; and it’s offered purely as an external link, not even an embed on the FCO page.

The best we can do?

Nominations have closed for this, the tenth year of the New Statesman new media awards. So the winners of the five trophies are (theoretically) listed somewhere on this page. You might find a few gems you didn’t previously know about, but overall, I instinctively find the list a bit depressing.

Most nominees have only received a single nomination, in many cases by themselves, judging by the frequent use of the words ‘I’ and ‘we’. Most are pretty straightforward uses of off-the-shelf technology, by ‘one man band’ operations. And from a technical and/or creative perspective, most frankly aren’t great.

Maybe there’s a lesson in that. It’s now trivially easy to set up a passable website. Quality still takes time and skill, but you can get to the start line in next to no time, and with minimal up-front investment. From there, it’s really a question of the passion and commitment of the site ‘owner’, and its readership / community.

But I dare say it’ll be the bigger fish who will win. Expect at least one for MySociety. And I’d like to see recognition for the London Mayor ‘votematch‘ site, one of the few sites recently to really make me think. (The result it gave still haunts me.)

The perfect ballot battle

In all the analysis of Ken’s downfall and Boris’s triumph, one element I hope doesn’t get ignored is the turnout. The RSA’s Matthew Taylor blogged on Friday suggesting it was the most interesting result of all, and I’m inclined to agree – although possibly for the opposite reason.

The London mayoral contest should have been the perfect electoral tussle. With all due respect to Paddick et al, it was always a two-horse race. Two instantly recognisable figures, well known by both broadsheet and tabloid readerships. A posh bloke versus a champion of the working class, neither of them ‘party men’. Plenty of real local issues to focus on. Plenty of media exposure too. A fairer electoral system, allowing you a ‘free vote’ for your first preference (with all the possibilities that offers) before casting your ‘proper’ second vote. And most importantly, an end result that was genuinely in the balance.

Yet it only stirred 45% of Londoners to bother to vote. Granted, this was up from previous years: 34% in 2000, and 37% in 2004. But it falls well, well short of the 70% we used to expect at general elections. And it means that, even taking both first and second preference votes into account, the winner only won the active support of 21.5% of the total electorate.

Of course we should be happy to see turnout rising. But it’s hard to imagine an election that could have been easier to ‘sell’ to the voters; and we only managed 45%. It’s not great, is it.

PS: Interesting to see the Tories heavily promoting their Twitter account on the conservatives.com homepage. We knew it was official, but I guess this makes it a formal comms channel for them… although I note the promo goes for the ‘subscribe via SMS’ approach, watering down the commitment to Twitter a bit.

Maybe if I was a Londoner

I’m actually a big fan of ‘fill in this questionnaire and we’ll tell you who to vote for’ websites. Granted, it’s all a bit unscientific: it’s close to impossible to boil the key policy issues down to a series of multiple choice answers (never mind agree/disagree), then assess how each candidate’s policy correlates to the available options. But at the very, very least it makes you think. It makes you question what you thought were your natural leanings. And it may even change your mind. In these days of political disengagement, and plunging voter turnout, that could be pivotal.

Unlock Democracy has just unveiled such a site for the London Mayoral elections. Although I spend a lot of my time in London, I no longer live there, so I don’t have a vote. (But that’s for another time.) This allows me to approach the exercise with a degree of detachment. It genuinely is just a bit of fun.

Twenty-five agree/disagree questions later, the site gives me a response. Two candidates came joint-top of the list: one I probably expected, the other I probably didn’t. And curiously, I’m pretty sure the two don’t consider themselves to be in competition for my (non-existent) vote. Something for me to think about… and arguably, something for the candidates to consider too.

No, I’m not going to say which two candidates: I try to keep my own party politics (such as they are) out of things here. But feel free to offer your own guesses. :)

And by the way… if anyone (eg Tom Steinberg) has a URL for the similar Dutch ‘Stem-viser’ website that Tom Steinberg always quotes as an example, do pass it on. An accurate spelling would be a start.