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Revealed! Prime Minister's iPad 'dashboard' for controlling Britain

No shark-tank-dump button for ministers :(

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Undoubtedly the biggest IT story of the day - if not the year - is the news that David Cameron's custom "iPad app" is now in testing.

All credit to the BBC for breaking this sensational development. Furious exchanges took place on Twitter this morning as both the Beeb and the Daily Telegraph claimed credit for the scoop. Fair enough: the sleuths' professional pride is at stake.

But in fact, it isn't an iPad app at all, nor does it scrape Twitter or Facebook for a "sentiment" of real-time Web2.0rhea, giving an insight into what the internets' hive mind is thinking - as the BBC report claimed.

Nor is it exclusive to Cameron. And he can't use it to fire ministers, as was suggested back in March, conjuring an image of Dr Evil plunging failed lieutenants into the shark tank. (The sharks may, or may not, have frickin' lasers.)

So almost every piece of public information about "the Prime Minister's iPad app" turns out to be fanciful and bogus. A fantasy of electronic government contrived between policy wonks and wide-eyed reporters. So, what the hell is it, then?

One person who knows is former Zoopla ops guy Doug Monro, whose company Adzuna aggregates real-time job and housing information. Adzuna reckons it scoops up 95 per cent of publicly advertised jobs and housing listings, and donates the aggregated data to the app project for free.

The project is run from the ever-expanding Cabinet Office as part of the Data.Gov initiative. This also involves creating new websites for Whitehall services - standardising them around a single font called Transport - which is very, very important.

The "iPad app" itself is the brainchild of Rohan Silva, the policy advising genius behind Tech City UK. But it's actually an intranet front-end, developed in Scala, that's available to a number of civil servants across Whitehall - rather than just Cameron. And rather than "scraping for sentiment", it aggregates a few selected Twitter feeds.

Adzuna's data appealed to Silva because he wanted "real-time" data so users would login every day. It's got its uses, but even Munro admits the data should come with health warnings attached.

"The real-world is noisy and messy and so is real-time data," Munro said. "You'd be better off looking at the monthly ONS [Office of National Statistics] data" for a more reliable snapshot of the housing market.

The ONS data has the bonus of being processed by grown-up statisticians and economists.

The Cabinet Office told us:

"The dashboard is in working form and is now undergoing further development. It has been developed in-house using an open-source platform, modifying existing off-the-shelf technology, helping to reduce costs."

The Reg shall try to find out more. We're still waiting for more detail on what, if any, feeds are used to calculate the "sentiment" it "scrapes". We asked if it used the most vital feed of all, Popbitch, and if not why not.

So many questions. We shall let you know. ®

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