Normattiva (“active norm/law”) is a new online portal from the Italian Government that “using innovative software technologies creates a reliable, free and complete information service about Italian laws”. Normattiva opened to the public in March 2010. I first heard about it on March 19th. Three days later, on March 22nd, 2010, I saw a post from Flavia Marzano that said: ”(now that) Normattiva is online, normeinrete is offline”.

Normeinrete (what was it anyway?) is no more…

Normeinrete or "Norme in rete" means "norms, laws and regulations put online". As a matter of fact, when I went to www.normeinrete.it on March 22nd at 10:24 am, I only found a terse announce from the Ministry of Justice that Norme In Rete is not available ("non disponibile") anymore, but just what is Normeinrete.it? Well, Normeinrete.it is an official websitee of the Italian Government that was first announced in 1999 and offered for years online services... very similar to those that will appear in Normattiva.

The first reaction to the discovery that, in 2010, the Italian Government created (surely not without spending some money) Normattiva when there had been for almost ten years another of its website already doing the same job is very predictable, if not obvious: "gee, here's another case of governments reinventing their own wheels just to give more public money to some other lobby". Thinking it through, however, one understands that there is no proof that this is what's behind the Normattiva/Normeinrete switch.

The history of the Internet is full of projects launched in perfect good faith but proved completely uneffective, inefficient or useless after a few years, simply because they were started too early, on wrong hypotheses or using still immature technology. Therefore, the mere existence of Normeinrete is not, in and by itself, enough of a reason to not replace it with something else. As a matter of fact, the official long-term vision driving is to make of that new portal (capital letters are mine):

the strong core around which - in a logic of growing coordination and convergence of ALL the institutions - the UNIFIED service/portal of law-related information accessible by all citizens will have to be built in the next years. The final goal will be the creation of a FULLY INTEGRATED database that offer a UNIQUE, friendly access to the whole corpus of norms (from several sources) that regulate the severa

If that's the goal, OK. I welcome the intention of reducing duplications and wastes of money, in order to offer really needed public services at the lowest possible cost, with the lowest possible effort (as long as all the data are really open, of course). After all, the Italian government has already wasted many millions of Euros on not-so-successful public portals.

...no, wait. It's back?

What's funny is that, at 10:24 am of March 22nd, 2010, Normeinrete wasn't really, completely offline!. Only the home page was replaced with that cryptic announcement. The project description, FAQ and the web form for advanced research on all the national and regional norms are still there. It is true, however, that when I tried to use that form I only got a "service temporarily unavailable" message: if this weren't a temporary glitch, but a result of turning off the backend database software, then OK, the real reason for the existence of Normeinrete would indeed be offline. I will check this again in the next days.

However, why leave half the website online if they did switched off the database? Shutting down for good a website that is hosted by your own computers, that you have under your full control, is a terribly easy and quick thing to do. So why didn't they do it properly, if that is what they wanted? I don't know, but please forgive me for smiling and feeling a bit relieved: these guys who can't even shut down properly their own websites are the same ones who are trying to shut half the Internet off. If this is how they work, we're safe!

Of course, there is also the fact that, being Normeinrete a public, official service, nobody in the Government should dare shutting it off without any explanations, especially when providing them would be as simple as adding a link to some other web page that explains all the reasons. But that's another story...