What can we do with all these words?

I love reading minutes and meeting notes. They don’t give you the full picture – the best bits of meetings are normally when someone says “please don’t minute this” – but they tell us a lot.They give us insights into process, debates, promises made, community bugbears.

We also have a lot more discussions going on through our community websites and forums now, involving new people. Blog commenters are sometimes not averse to helpfully giving out phone numbers and names of council staff and relating their conversations in detail. You can have an absorbing time searching through council PDFs trying to pin down particular bits of information, should you be so inclined. Newspapers, of course, have much more space for interaction and viewpoints and their archives are often searchable. The written record is becoming ever-richer and historians will have a good time with all this ephemera.

I’m interested in asking the TAL community: what can we do with it all? Last week data.gov.uk released Your Freedom data, in which every taxi driver and digital economy activist piled in with their own thoughts back in the honeymoon period of the coalition and this caused some interest amongst the developer community but at the time of writing nothing has been posted on its page about what can be done with it.

In a period of massive change and restructuring, all these words are our collective memory. It is the material that could stop us from reinventing the wheel and ignoring community opinions, knowledge and experience. This is a good example of hyperlocal data that needs clever solutions in order for communities to make sense of it all. Useful pictures of the landscape of words would also give more people an entry point to get involved and stimulate new conversations. Paradoxically, the tools, whatever they might be, probably need to be less wordy, otherwise we become paralysed trying to plough through them all.

What are your ideas?