Colin Jackson – Independent Technology Consultant, IT.GEN.NZ

“That would have been about ’94-’95 that we first put it together. I was one of the people involved in that though I can’t claim all the credit. Nat Torkington up at the University had a bit to do with it. The basic deal was that I was in the Ministry of Commerce, as then was, that became the Ministry of Economic Development later, so it’s part of the New Zealand Government. We had a very sympathetic Minister, a man named Maurice Williamson, who also realised just how huge the Internet was going to be. He was behind us. My boss was behind me. The problem here was, how could I ever go to the IT department of a government department and say, “I want a Web server” – and this was back in the early-to mid-’90s. I mean you could imagine how hard that would have been. So I didn’t even attempt that. What I did was this deal with Nat Torkington up at the University and of course, up at the University they could just throw a Web server up – in fact, they already had several. They were playing with it, they thought it was marvellous, they understood the technology. I figured out how to get documents out of Government departments. So I did the deal with Nat. I put up the Web server by in fact writing a lot of the early material on it. There wasn’t a proper explanation of the MMP electoral system. It was just coming in or revamped constitution so quite a lot of that I just wrote. I got a proper version of the Treaty of Waitangi, together with a scholarly modern translation of the Maori version. And we put that up there as well. And then I started hawking around other government departments – other departments apart from the one I was working in – and I’d invite their communications people in. I spent a bit of my boss’s budget on buying them wine and cheese and I had this enormous Dieter projector... I remember it cost 17 grand and was the size of a suitcase and it projected VGA up on the wall and I would show them, “Look, this is what a Web server looks like. This is what’s out there”. And, of course, by today’s standards it looked horrible. It was like grey-on-grey and those horrible layered tables. It just looked terrible, but it was amazing back then. And most Government departments, I went to them and I said, “Guys, what I really need from you is information that I can publish. Don’t worry too much about what it is, just chuck it at me. I’ll take your annual reports, I’ll take policy, I’ll take anything you’ve got. Anything that anybody, somebody, might find even remotely interesting. And by the way, if you could flick me a bit of cash, that would be really handy. Because I was trying to run this thing on nothing. I didn’t have a budget. So I would extract a grand here or there from odd departments. And I used that to pay a student to code HTML to keep the site going. And actually they were exciting times. You could get away with a lot that today you probably wouldn’t regard as all that professional, but back in those days, it was so new, you could do it. And most government departments were really keen. The pitch I gave them was, “Please give me a little a bit of money, but if you can’t please just give me documents, information that I can publish”. And as the ‘90s wore on, government departments got increasingly keen and then some of them started running their own servers and then after a while, it really became clear that it wasn’t sort of core business for the Ministry I was in and the thing went off to the Department of Internal Affairs.”


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