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Birmingham City Council versus the web

David Gregory | 17:15 UK time, Monday, 5 October 2009

BCCDIY logoCan a website built for free by a programmer with one hand behind his back be better than a site that cost nearly £3m? Well the creators of say it can. So what is their website, who are they competing against and why only one hand?

BCCDIY stands for Birmingham City Council do it yourself. A group of around 50 people based in the city who are rewriting the council's newly unveiled website in their spare time.

They say their version is much easier to use than the official version.

Trying it out myself I found BCCDIY was much better than the council website at finding my local councillors, paying my council tax online and finding a list of council jobs. Although it did fail to load on one occasion.

BCCDIY has been created by "scraping" data from the council's own website and then getting a team of volunteers to simplify and improve everything from the actual programming to the writing and the pictures. Stef Lewandowski was the man who did the initial scraping at breakfast holding his infant daughter in one hand and typing on his laptop with the other. So if not one hand behind his back, at least one handed!

There's a great link on Stef's blog that explains much more about the project and tips-the-hat to the many people involved.

So will we see more of this kind of thing? Until very recently there just weren't the tools for this sort of vast collaborative project. Now we can all access them all linked together by broadband. And while Birmingham City Council don't have anything to say about all this other councils are watching it very carefully. Because as Stef Lewandowski explained to me:

"If you look just at the amount of money it costs to answer a phone call. Just to find out when the bin day is. By one estimation that costs eight pounds. If we can save the council 1,000 phone calls that's a job done as far as I'm concerned"

But don't take their word for it, try it yourself. You can find the official site here and BCCDIY here. Let me know how you get on in the comments or via e-mail and Twitter.

Check back later because we'll be updating this story...


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