What’s the opposite of sustainable software?

Government IT projects are out of control. That’s a given. 30 billion quid is a lot of money (for something visible from space it would be a lot of money – in fact, it would get you quite a long way up your space elevator).

I don’t want to trivialise the task of integrating dozens of creaking National Health systems and putting something useful on hundreds of thousands of desks but I do want to make a simple (naive?) comparison – what does it cost to build and run, ooh, Hotmail (200 million users and climbing) or eBay/PayPal (95 million members and $7.5B in transactions) or Yahoo (274 million users) or Google (4.28 billion pages and 100,000 servers)? What does it cost to build complex and meaningful applications like Flickr and MySQL and Asterisk and Linux itself (or even Windows)?

Answer (let’s be frank): bugger all. Absolutely nothing. Well, a trivial sum – at least in comparison to these consultant-built monsters (how many trees would you have to plant to make the NHS system carbon neutral?). Since we seem to be constitutionally incapable of building sustainable, appropriately-scaled applications to deliver public services via the conventional route, it’s about time we took a chance and handed one of these projects (or even a tiny slice of one of them) to the hackers to see if they could do a better job…

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