Thursday, September 17, 2009

Your own personal what? Inflation rate - seriously

Here's a mockup:

Who's done it?

Beta What?

No, I'd never heard of ABS BetaWorks either, but its been in business quietly for six months.

Here's today's story:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has begun work on the ultimate tailored statistic - a personal inflation rate.

Quietly this week on the "BetaWorks" part of its website, the Bureau began displaying a so-called "personal inflation calculator" designed to display a different rate for every person who uses it.

Asked to key in monthly spending on things such as food, alcohol, newspapers and transport as well as annual spending on insurance and air travel and longer term spending on computers and appliances the user will press a button labelled "calculate" and be presented with an inflation rate that captures how the prices of the goods and services they actually use have changed...

It's a major advance on the Bureau's much-heralded new Pensioner and Beneficiary Living index released only last month.

And it doesn't work yet. It's a mock-up designed to get feedback. First Assistant Statistician Siu-Ming Tam was unable to even obtain notional calculations for the Herald/Age detailing the inflation rate faced by heavy drinker and the inflation rate faced by a single parent.

"Our price experts would probably have a heart attack if I got you that," he said.

"Betaworks is a sandpit. We're putting ideas out there to get input and collaboration rather than inventing finished products ourselves."

If its popular the personal inflation rate calculator could go live in 3 to 6 months, alongside another Betaworks prototype - import and export data presented on Google Earth showing which Australian ports are clogged shipping what to where.

If developing novel ideas and seeking feedback is a departure for the once-staid ABS, so too is the way in which it's letting people know.

It used Twitter rather than an official announcement to unveil its inflation calculator prototype because its aiming for a "soft launch" of Betaworks until its working well.

"It's what every government department should be doing, using social media to invite users of their data into the development tent," says Nicholas Gruen, head of the Government 2.0 Taskforce due to report at the end of this year.

"But it and other departments should go further and make their raw data available to anyone who wants to make their own calculators," he said.

Dr Gruen is frustrated at the attitude of organisations such as NSW CityRail who are preparing to put their timetable information on iphones, but wont share the underlying data with other developers who might want to create competing applications.

The Child Support Agency yesterday entered into the spirit of Government 2.0 putting on line a do-it-yourself guide to family break-ups entitled "My family is separating – what now?".

Published in today's SMH and Age