Dec 29, 2009

Round Up for 2009

Here are some of articles, papers, and videos that shaped my thinking this year.
  • Putting Government Data Online Tim Berners-Lee most excellent article challenging us to take the risk and be open before we know the results. My #1.
  • Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable Clay Shirky's view of journalism is an insight into the disruptive change we are living.
  • "The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online" danah boyd's speech at June's Personal Democracy Forum forcing folks to sit up and think about how we use and think about online social networks.
  • Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On (PDF) Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle's discussion on how the Web is learning, and maybe solving some of our data issues.
  • Is Twitter a Complex Adaptive System? Vanessa Miemis laces a number of disciplines together to build on structure and development of online social systems (not just Twitter).
  • Cultural Change is Free In this video, John Seddon talks about "systems thinking", as opposed to the top-down "management thinking" or "Command and Control" thinking. Or, the manifesto to letting it go. Watch the entire video, it's worth it.
What else should I be reading? I want to learn more--put your favs in the comments.

Next, here are the ten most popular posts from this blog in 2009.
  1. What Is the Most Important Thing?
  2. Transparency Requires Plain Language
  3. Yellow Brick Roadmap: Five Examples of Getting Gov 2.0 Done
  4. 5 Social Media Memes Changing Government
  5. Hey dot-gov! Don't Believe Your Hype
  6. Innovation Causes Failure
  7. New Utah Website Graded on Tasks
  8. Talk Talk vs. Do Do
  9. 7 Listening Tools: Getting from Asking to Listening
  10. Social Networking and National Security
Thanks for reading and egging me on.

And, last, here's to an exciting New Year! Can't wait to see what's next.

Dec 22, 2009

21st Century Snow Removal

A nice boy shoveling his neighbors' walk.Snaps to the Mayor and to the terrific folks at D.C. Public Works. After 20 inches of snow fell for 26 hours through Saturday night, the street in front of my house--a side street no less--was plowed before 5 a.m. Sunday morning. (Maybe even earlier. No neighbors were awake to verify.)

This was very different from twenty inches of snow that fell on Washington in 1987. An absent Mayor and a bumbling snow removal process lives large in Washingtonians' memories as a symbol of political incompetence.

It's also a reminder that people care about things that affect them personally. As Tip O'Neill famously said, "all politics is local." This translates into helping people and providing services that have an immediate and personal impact. Sure, it's great if it helps "everyone," but what about ME?

Last week, the President announced the winner of the SAVE Award, Nancy Fichtner. Fichtner's idea was to allow patients discharged from VA hospitals to take home leftover medications, rather than throwing them out. Often, patients turned around to get the same prescription filled at the local pharmacy--the government paying twice. Fichtner's is a great suggestion, not only because it saves money, but because it also touches people directly.

Tucked into the President's remarks on the Save Award were other plans to make government more efficient, including information about a tech forum,
That’s why we’re holding a forum at the White House next month to seek more ideas from the private sector, specifically about how we can better use technology to reform our government for the 21st century.--President Obama
This is an opportunity to take another look at the services that government offers to citizens--especially the mundane transactions like filling out financial aid forms, paying taxes, getting passports, updating W-2 forms, signing up for health programs, disaster assistance, etc.--and making these transactions more efficient and friendly.

Treating people like valued customers--think Zappos or Amazon. Simplifying government transactions to save citizen time--think how easy it is to sign up for Netflix or build your network on Facebook. Helping people get to where they need to be--think Google.

Putting citizens first, making information easy to find, relevant, accurate and understandable; ensuring that common tasks can be easily completed online; being consistent across all channels, online and offline; opening up venues to receive and act on citizen feedback; and being accessible whether someone has a disability or isn't proficient in English--these are the opportunities to make technology work better. And, not just work better for government, but for the citizens, too. (These recommendations are from the Federal Web Managers white paper to the transition team from last year.)

Just a reminder to get down to brass tacks. We care about getting our snow removed. Like NOW!

Dec 13, 2009

Open Government Needs Data (not just provide it)

Flickr network universe 2005Last week was a "Big One" in dot-gov. The much anticipated Open Government Directive was announced. Peter Orszag, the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, summed it up.
The directive, sent to the head of every federal department and agency today, instructs the agencies to take specific actions to open their operations to the public. The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration are at the heart of this directive. Transparency promotes accountability. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise to government initiatives. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions.--Read more at the Open Government Blog
Out of the box, much of the specifics in the Directive was focused on transparency and the opening of public data sets. For example, in 45 days, three heretofore unreleased high value data sets need to be available on [Sunlight Foundation parsed the directive and published a timeline for agency requirements.]

Requirements for collaboration and participation are less specific. [See Nancy Scola's very good summary and analysis on the Directive content on Tech President.]

Getting ready for collaboration and participation is what I wanted to talk about.

There's been plenty of work on engaging with the public--from the March Open for Questions exchange fueled by people submitting questions and voting for the ones they wanted the President to answer to the development of the Directive itself.

Chris Brogan is a well-known new media marketing guy. He suggests that people try and think like "-ologists" and learn from -ologists (anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists) in their outreach. Check out his 45 second video.

It's critical for government to take a broad look at how we interact, how people interact, and what it might mean. Taking a structured analytical approach--dare I say scientific--becomes critical. Open government efforts need to be structured to include measurement and evaluation. Best practices can't be defined without understanding the variables and the inputs. Did we get a good result because we were lucky? Did we get a good result because we think we did? Or, did we get a bad result that we believe is good? Did we get a good result because we went into the experiment as an -ologist?

This post was inspired by a reference in my Sunday paper to "Web-Based Experiments for the Study of Collective Social Dynamics in Cultural Markets" (PDF). The authors, sociologists Salganik and Watts, provide some perspective on how the idea of popularity can influence what is popular. The researchers found that there is randomness in the creation of popularity within a network. A song, for example, becomes more popular as other people in the network show interest. In another network, a different song could be the winner. That's why it's hard to predict the next hot song, band, movie or toy. It's somewhat random and unpredictable.

The got me thinking about how important network dynamics are to spreading ideas, forming consensus and developing meaningful interactions. Meaningful for citizens as well as government. And, it got me thinking that people are already studying these patterns in other venues.

This isn't getting any easier.

Dec 6, 2009

Facebook: What's The Point?

Three cute little kids playing soccerIt's time for end of year rankings. This week the top fifty brands on Facebook were identified.
...a ranking of the brands that are currently making the best use of Facebook. Various metrics—including fan numbers, page growth, frequency of updates, creativity as determined by a panel of judges, and fan engagement—were factored into each page’s score and ultimate rank on the list.--More from The Big Money.
The list included beverage companies Dr. Pepper, Coke and Mountain Dew to food companies Crispy Creme, Ben & Jerry's and Taco Bell to lifestyle brands like Louis Vuitton, Audi and Victoria's Secret.

These companies made the list--with very few exceptions--for the lamest of reasons. And without a discernible formula for success.
  • Two companies with millions of fans have "impressive fan base even though it rarely updates its page." Does this mean that you shouldn't interact with your fans?
  • One company was cited as a success because it posts frequently for fan engagement. Another was successful because it posts infrequently--their fans don't like to hear from them. Some companies post fan pictures or videos on their corporate pages. Does this mean you should interact with your fans? Or not?
  • A number of companies proved that buying ads on Facebook led to more fans. Well, duh! But what happens after the ad buy? What do these fans do? How does having fans help reach organizational goals?
  • A few other organizations found out that when they gave things away--hamburgers or danishes--people become fans. Again, after the promo was over, fan growth rate slowed. And it's unclear what the fans will do--buy another danish?
  • And, to great fanfare, a few media companies get "many" people to "like" their Facebook entries. How many of these fans who "like" a post actually click through and read the entire article? Is there a small core of people who click "like"? Do they share the link? Do their friends click through, increasing traffic? Why is "liking" important to an organization?
I am not saying that growing a fan list on Facebook is unimportant. I am wondering, however, why these companies are doing it. The raw number measures are not very meaningful. I would like to know
  • Do more people use free danish coupons in the Sunday paper? How do those customers compare with Facebook "fans?" Are they the same?
  • What does it mean if someone "likes" a page? Are people who "like" pages more likely to partake in another valued activity?
  • How do you find out how many fans are blocking your organization from their news feeds--basically hiding your messages? What is the percentage? Is there a natural falloff?
  • There are 350 million people on Facebook. What's the big win if 8,000 (2%) of your fans--a grossly insignificant number of Facebook users--vote in your contest? How do you grow that into something? What would success look like?
One bright light, Audi is using it's Facebook fan page to ask people to fill out a survey to tell the car company how they would like to interact. Not so lame.

Bottom line, it's not U-6 soccer, where everyone gets a trophy for showing up. It's past time where showing up is good enough.

A while back, I reminded government to be careful in believing its own hype. It all comes down to measures that mean something. Let's show that we take engagement seriously and create goals and measures for social media--otherwise we will not know if it's "working."

It's time for the big leagues, with stats collected and analyzed for each game, pubic win/loss records and accountability.

Dec 1, 2009

3 Reasons To Get With The Program Already

Old-fashioned Underwood brand manual typewriterFirst, the change has already happened. It's done.

What has changed is the way people communicate and interact--with each other, with companies, with government. We don't yet know what that means. We can try and predict, but the main outcomes of these predictions is fodder for future laughs.

Now to you naysayers who say that not everyone is plugged in, not everyone uses social media or the Internet or even e-mail, I say, "So? You don't have to drive to know that cars changed the way we live, where we live, how we shop, where we go."

And, to you near-term nostalgics, the people who think that texting, tweeting, friending and gaming are stupid, who prefer a stamp to online banking, I say, "it's okay for you to feel that way, just realize that the rest of the world is embracing new channels."

Second, your brand has changed. "Brand" is not a visual representation of your organization. It is the experiences that people have with your organization and the sharing of these experiences within their networks. Brand doesn't belong to your agency, it belongs to people who interact with your agency.
For example, 65% of U.S. consumers report a digital experience changing their perception about a brand (either positively or negatively) and 97% of that group report that the same experience ultimately influenced whether or not they went on to purchase a product from that brand. In a nutshell, experience matters. A lot.

...That's why Amazon continues to pour money into improving its customer service rather than run traditional advertising or marketing campaigns. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said, "We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them."--
See more at
This matters a lot to government--at least it should. People expect that their tax dollars pay for the same types of experiences that they have in the private sector. When we disappoint, we fail. Government needs to better engage with citizens and provide services that people seek--less time broadcasting/marketing our messages and more time building good experiences. Better experiences will translate into better confidence in government.

Third, you simply disappear if you are not present. People are watching TV on their cell phones at their convenience. The entire country does not sit down at 6 p.m. to watch the evening news on traditional broadcast channels.
This is why monitoring, establishing and cultivating a strategic presence and inspiring meaningful engagement is so critical in social media. It impacts the bottom line. If we are not present within the attention dashboards of our existing customers and prospects, we intentionally remove ourselves from their decision-making funnel. Consumers are among the new influencers as they now have access to the same tools and channels that reach peers and shape their impressions.--[emphasis mine] More from digital marketing expert Brian Solis

Government frequently suffers from disproportionate emphasis on traditional communications channels. The story in the NY Times, the interview on CNN will remain important, but not the most important. The results from search engines that lead to content on web sites or engaging applications that are passed around and shared among friends on social networks are equally valuable. We have the skills to get traditional news stories, it's time to build skills to bring information directly to citizens.

Wake up! The world has already changed! But we still have time to shape what it will be and what government can do to better serve our citizens.

Nov 25, 2009


cornucopiaYesterday I posted a bit of frustration to my social networks. In about 10 or 15 minutes, I received support and encouragement from all over the place. From colleagues and friends in dot-gov, from college chums, from buddies and family. Made me feel thankful.

So here's some thanks.

Thanks to you guys, the people who read and comment on this blog. You on the Google Reader, thanks! Friendfeed folks, thanks! You, coming here from a Twitter link, thanks! You, from Governing People, thanks! My buddies at GovLoop, where I repost, thanks! Facebook friends, thanks! You from the comfort of your email, thanks! You, who came here randomly from a Google Search, thanks, hope you got some of what you were looking for! You, who followed a link from a blog, thanks!

Thanks for the inspiration. Thanks for taking chances and trying new things out. Thanks for the constructive criticism. Thanks for participating in dot-gov and working to make the world a better place. (Yes, I do think that's what we're doing.)

Now I am off to make cranberry sauce.

Nov 21, 2009

YouTube Captioning Makes Video More Accessible for All


Dear Google/YouTube,
We want it. We want it NOW!
Your Dot-gov Buddies

Johnny's hearing aids. Johnny is  my son.A big barrier to making video content available to people who can't hear is creating captions for the audio--like the closed captioning you see on TV. This is especially important to government because we are required-- by law and by mission--to make content available to all people, regardless of their abilities. So, the dot-gov space was a-flutter [I almost said a-twitter, and that was true too] when Google announced two new features to make videos on YouTube accessible to the deaf and hearing impaired.

First, and available to EVERYONE now, YouTube account holders can upload a transcript with a video and YouTube will be automatically generate, time stamp, and incorporate captions into your video.

What does this mean? Well, in order for captions to make sense, they need to be coded to match up with the audio on the video. Bottom line, using current technologies, it takes more than a few painstaking staff hours to time code a 15 minute video. This delays posting the video--or fosters a reluctance to create video content or, even worse, encourages posting video that people who are deaf can't access. This is a huge problem for time sensitive, safety messages.

Why is this extra cool? The generated YouTube caption file can be downloaded from YouTube and used in other versions of the video. Most federal agencies post their video on a dot-gov site in addition to posting on YouTube. This will turn around processes and let us create the timestamp file on YouTube to post with our videos. Yay! I know at least one hard working captioner who will be ecstatic to turn her attention to more video production and less caption production. Breaking news: IT WORKS!!

[Google has] combined Google's automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. The captions will not always be perfect, but even when they're off, they can still be helpful—and the technology will continue to improve with time. --Read more on the Google Blog.
Auto-caps is being piloted withUC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Yale, UCLA, Duke, UCTV, Columbia, PBS, National Geographic, Demand Media, UNSW and most Google & YouTube channels.

This is pure awesomeness--despite any imperfections in machine generated captions--because unscripted events require a transcriptionist at cost of time and money. If the captioner is also transcribing it can take an hour to get a minute or two of captioning done. Google's auto-caps is a game changer with the potential to make more video more accessible to everyone.

Let's let Google explain the service:

This is great news for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. This is great news for government agencies that struggle with the cost and expertise required to make video accessible to everyone. This is great news because government can't be transparent for most of the people--open government is only meaningful when it's available to all.

Dear Google/YouTube,
Thanks for this new service! We are happy to help beta test your auto-captioning feature. Give us a call!
Your Dot-gov Buddies

Nov 8, 2009

Ripe for Change: Compliance and Hiring

Aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis making a sharp clockwise U-turn on the deep blue ocean. Picture by Tina Lamb, USNGovernment 2.0 is more than social software. It's also updating processes that are barriers to a nimble, effective, collaborative government. Processes like hiring and compliance.

A hearing last week focused on yearly cybersecurity reporting and compliance versus protecting systems. NextGov reported on challenges with FISMA, the Federal Information Security Management Act, which requires agencies to identify and inventory their IT systems and determine how sensitive the information is that is stored on those systems.
"It seems like OMB thinks that a snapshot of agency preparedness every three years will defend our critical networks," said Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., during a hearing of the Senate Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, which he chairs. "But instead, billions of dollars are spent every year on ineffective and useless reports. Meanwhile, we continue to get attacked."
Efforts at more realtime, and effective, cybersecurity were cited at Department of State.
To supplement FISMA reporting requirements, State implemented a widely lauded risk-scoring program that scans every computer and server connected to the department's network no less than every 36 hours to identify security vulnerabilities and twice a month to check software configurations. The program assigns points on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the riskiest security threats. Points are deducted once issues are resolved. Since July, overall risk on the department's key unclassified network measured by the scoring program has been reduced by nearly 90 percent at overseas sites and 89 percent at domestic sites.

"These methods have allowed one critical piece of the department's information security program to move from the snapshot in time previously available under FISMA to a program that scans for weaknesses continuously, identifies weak configurations [every] 15 days, recalculates the most important problems to fix in priority order daily, and issues letter grades monthly to senior managers tracking progress for their organization," Streufert said.--
Read more in NextGov
On the hiring side, John Berry, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) boss, said that "cracks are showing" in the personnel system. According to Government Executive, he outlined a number of areas that might be ready for updating. Berry said that
Reformers must realign personnel systems to recognize, reward and promote merit within the federal workforce, while making the merit system principles a matter not simply of fairness but of job performance.
While not making specific policy edicts, he offered a few focus areas like
  • Expanding the eligibility for big bonuses--beyond the Senior Executive Service
  • Helping agencies pilot and incorporate telework
  • Working to better recognize and reward star performers
  • Focusing on training managers and workers to help adopt change
  • Reviewing the current 15 grade system for a more flexible and simplified promotion path
  • Creating "results-only" work environments, removing time and place from performance. Read more on GovExec.
Are these the "right" areas to focus on? I don't know. Frankly, the emphasis on big bonuses seems a caricature of the private sector. And, I would like to add changing the hiring process to allow more fluidity between the public and private sectors--the two systems are currently incompatible. But I do believe, like Berry says, "we can seize this moment to build something new."

It takes a while to turn around a large, complex vehicle like government. These efforts are helping to turn in the right direction.

Nov 1, 2009

Yellow Brick Roadmap: Five Examples of Getting Gov 2.0 Done

The Ruby Slippers and Dorothy from Wizard of OzSince my post talking about the frustration in talking about making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative, I had an epiphany. We are all Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, wore magical ruby slippers that empowered her to do what she most wanted--return home to Kansas. BUT she couldn't unleash their power until she believed that she could. Crazy, no?

How did our heroine get to believing? Via real life experiences. So, for Halloween I will be a Good Witch and provide guidance in the form of examples of real agencies solving the problems in becoming the government that we want to be. Call it the Yellow Brick Roadmap.

So, what are the barriers and what are solutions that agencies have found?

Privacy: The Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled a new website and a set of social media tools at the end of September. They addressed privacy issues in 3rd party web tools--like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter--head on with a comprehensive Privacy Impact Assessment. DOJ writes that
[T]hese third-party websites are not a part of the Department’s internal information systems nor will they be operated by a contractor of the Department, the Department does not and will not collect information from individuals when individuals interact with the Department’s social web accounts. While it may appear that information posted by third parties on the Department’s accounts is the Department’s information, such third-party postings are technically and factually under the dominion of the third-party social websites.
DOJ's construct may be a good model for other agencies. Read the PDF of Justice's Privacy Impact Assessment.

Employee Use of Social Media: The Government Services Administration (GSA) is a Federal agency that provides services and support to other government agencies. They published a social media employee use policy in July. This policy addresses agency expectations,
As the technology evolves, this order and its accompanying handbook will evolve, but in general terms, this order defines guiding principles for use of these technologies by GSA employees. The use of social media technology follows the same standards of professional practice and conduct associated with everything else we do. Common sense and sound judgment help avoid the most vexing issues.
Read the PDF of the GSA Policy for Employee Use of Social Media.

Legal barriers in standard 3rd-party terms of service agreements: This was the original show-stopper for many agencies trying to use social networks. The federal government could not agree to some clauses in standard agreements with social media service providers.

Since this problem was identified a year ago, government-wide agreements have been negotiated with You Tube, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, and more with additional agreements in the works. This has been a collaborative effort with many agencies contributing time and lawyers including EPA, Commerce, GSA, Library of Congress and the White House.

While each agency will decide when and how to implement social media and social networking tools based on their priorities and strategies, a basic legal hurdle for all government has been cleared. See more on the process for using standard terms of service agreements on

Strategy and process: Frankly, another barrier has been, how do you get started? A terrific model for people to learn from is provided by The Smithsonian, the world's largest museum complex and research organization.
This Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy was created through a fast and transparent process that directly involved, and continues to involve, hundreds of stakeholders inside and outside the Institution. This strategy will feed into the Smithsonian’s comprehensive strategic plan, currently under development.
I'll quick stipulate that the Smithsonian is not a typical government agency, yet their approach can be modified to fit the culture and needs of any agency. First, tie new media to the agency strategy. Second, appoint a leader with decision-making authority. Third, create a tactical road map. Fourth, create a funded unit that will implement the strategy.

Before people [you!] start to moan about how hard this is, nobody said it would be easy. The Smithsonian, however, is showing a way. See all the details at the Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy Wiki.

Transparency & Open Government. While the long-awaited Open Government Directive is not yet published, the President's January 21st call for a more transparent, participatory and collaborative government has already made an impact.

The Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security have undertaken dialogues with stakeholders to strengthen not only services but also strategy. The Open Government Directive development process itself has included public brainstorming and a wiki to help develop the policy. Each of these projects and tools are part of the learning process to make open government robust and meaningful. It's already happening.

This Yellow Brick Roadmap to real accomplishments is meant to help people [you!] believe that we are making progress opening up government. And, to show concrete examples that can be leveraged by people [you!] trying to make progress in your own agencies.

The path to success is recognizing that we [you!] are already on the path, that you have the tools/ruby slippers and it's up to you to make it happen. Got it?

Have more examples with enough resources for folks to replicate? Add to the comments below. Then, pick up your basket and your little dog, too, and follow the Yellow Brick Road!

Oct 26, 2009

Shorts: Twitter Grows, Report Cards, Drupal and Memos

Twitter grows. Pew released some data last week about growth in Twitter use--from 11% of Internet users to 19% in just six-months. Other findings? Three groups of internet users are mainly responsible for driving the growth of this activity, social network users, people who are using mobile and folks under age 44. See more at the Pew Internet Project.

White Paper Report Card. Candi Harrison asks, "Web Manager Council’s White Paper – Is There Progress A Year Later?" In her post she recaps the goals of easily identifiable, relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information that is easy to understand, addresses citizen tasks, is consistent across channels, provides feedback channels and is accessible across reading, ability and language barriers. She gave government a mixed review. See more here.

White House goes Drupal. And TechPresident swoons as they announced that has moved to Open Source Software and dropped their proprietary system. I am not sure that this is a great advance for democracy--bottom line is that there will be a custom (read proprietary) system built on the open source platform. But it is good for open source. See more at TechPresident.

Finally, NextGov reports, no movement from White House on the issuing of the Open Government memo that the President announced January 21. See Next Gov.

Oct 18, 2009

Talk Talk vs. Do Do

Hot air balloonJust what we need to move the policy discussion forward, another conference?

Back in March, Mark Drapeau from National Defense University wrote about the mid-life crisis of gov 2.0.
Government 2.0 has reached its midlife crisis. Despite some leadership from influential individuals on using social software in government, there is still in many cases a disconnect between authorities issuing directives and ground troops carrying them out...Resistant to change and adhering strictly to doctrine even when nonsensical, people in the clay layer can halt progress. Despite their intentions and being in a strategic position, they often stop the progress being called for.-- Read more on ReadWriteWeb
The solution? A conference. The wonderful Government 2.0 Camp in March attracted a huge number of government (federal, state and local as well as some international) and private sector attendees to talk about government 2.0 and learn from each other.

In July, Jaimie Maynard, a federal staffer, blogged about her post-conference low after the Open Government and Innovations Conference.
All web 2.0 conferences are all starting to look exactly the same. Many speakers come from agencies that are boldly using social media in a new and exciting ways, and many more "believers," who are not allowed to use those same technologies, come to hear about it. But the status quo remains the same...DoD, NASA, The White House are getting things done, but as a method to further collaboration and expand the use of social media, [the conference] failed. We need specifics: case studies, business case strategies that succeeded to support any/all of these tools, etc.
So, now it's October and there is another lament that Government 2.0 is failing or flailing. The Gov 2.0 conferences of the fall--O'Reilly's Expo and Summit--felt like just alot of talk by the same people about the same things.

Brian Drake from Deloitte blogs,
How we can get more people, enthusiasm, and get some tough issues on the table. The one group we continue to not hear from are the detractors or skeptics of social software...In addition to the slim number of public, cogent arguments against Government 2.0, our own discussions about failures are truncated. I’m noticing our Government 2.0 conferences either trumpet the achievements of the few or recast a failure as a success.--Read more on Brian's blog.
So the wrong people are coming to the conference. The solution? Another conference. This one to focus on the "Shortfalls of Gov 2.0" and attract people who aren't coming.

Steve Radick, from Booz Allen and a member of the "Goverati," offers a three part solution.
  1. Realize that not all is perfect in the land of Gov 2.0
  2. Identify the skeptics and open up a dialogue with them
  3. Hear the war stories of the people who have gone before us --Read more from Steve's blog.
And, a conference about Government 2.0 Shortfalls.

Underlying this most recent discussion is the idea that people are unaware of the barriers, arguments against, downsides to Government 2.0. I want to clarify that assumption.

People who actually work in government are well aware of the barriers and arguments against Government 2.0.

Yes, we already know. We don't need to talk about it at another conference. We need to fix it. The problems and issues have been defined and discussed since last year. A few quick examples,
  • In December 2008, the Federal Web Managers' Council published, "Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions" (pdf) This paper identified challenges with strategy, access, legal, privacy, advertising, ethics, accessibility, and the Paperwork Reduction Act. The paper also offered concrete recommendations to overcome these barriers.
  • In June, the Office of the Chief Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security held a two-day workshop to explore best practices to implement the President’s January 2009, Transparency and Open Government Memorandum. In addition to Gov 2.0 advocates, panelists included a variety of viewpoints including privacy advocates, civil liberties organizations, security professionals, and differing legal opinions.
  • Last month, the Federal CIO Council security workgroup published Guidelines for Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies identifying issues and recommendations to address security issues in social media.
While government 2.0 is bigger than social media much of the privacy, security, procurement, ethics, and laws and regulations issues are the same.

AND, many of us in government also know that there are some "successes" that have leap-frogged some hurdles and were implemented because leadership demanded that something be stood up. Agencies are playing catch up.

Gartner's Andrea DeMaio blogs very thoughtfully on government and technology changes. He recently said,
I am still amazed to see how little employee-centricity there is in today’s government 2.0 conferences, debates, positions and articles. It is as if employees were considered legacy, just part of an organization that will be transformed, and not the real fuel and soul of those organizations.

Until when their role will be given equal dignity as “citizens”, government 2.0 will remain an interesting subject for discussion, will marginally contribute to service improvement, but won’t realize a fraction of its potential.--More on Andrea's blog
I think that Brian and Steve make excellent points in their posts. I am not opposed to a conference to discuss the shortfalls of Government 2.0, but I am unsure about the payoff. What do we gain? How does it affect the policy? That's where the rubber meets the road. When will we have guidance on records? Can we make better sense out of the limits on advertising? Why does each agency need to do a privacy impact assessment on YouTube or FaceBook? Are the issues the same across government? How can we move the incentives (i.e. money) to reward cross-agency efforts? To gain efficiencies and reduce redundancies? To break down silos? To improve innovation?

Here's the challenge, because if we aren't getting to these solutions, it's just more hot air.

Oct 13, 2009

On the Side: Sidewiki and SideKick

First, a side of Google. A few weeks back, Google introduced a new feature on it's Toolbar letting people comment on any web page. Called Sidewiki, people with Google accounts can comment on the entire content of a Web page or about specific portions of the page. They can also publish these comments to Twitter, Facebook and Blogger accounts.

Why is this important? Well, it's importance depends on it's popularity, but it frees comments from websites by opening all websites to comments--outside any comment, moderation or policy of a site.

People can have discussions around your site, rather than on it. Google wins by collecting information about pages and sites from humans rather than machines to grow their search algorithms. It's also another potential ad space--imagine an ad for Coke on the Pepsi homepage, Or ads from private sector employers in the same browser window as

For site owners, Google lets you claim your sites on Sidewiki. It's a good idea, too, since site owner comments appear first. You'll need a Google Webmaster Tools account. Many government sites are already using the Google Webmaster tools after the the Google Sitemaps push in dot-gov a few years back. Follow the steps here to claim your site. It took my team about ten minutes.

My second side is a side of the cloud you didn't want to see. People using T-Mobile's Sidekick smart phone lost all of their data supposedly safe "in the cloud."
A server meltdown over the weekend wiped out the master copies of personal data -- including address books, calendars, to-do lists and photos -- accumulated by users of T-Mobile's formerly popular Sidekick smartphone.

This computing calamity allows Sidekick owners only a faint hope of backing up the information currently on their devices, and none of recovering anything they'd trusted to online storage. And it leaves T-Mobile and the operator of the Sidekick's data service, a Microsoft subsidiary formerly known as Danger, Inc. -- oh, the irony! -- with some serious explaining to do.--Read more on WaPost.
Is this a setback for cloud computing? Well, it does put a damper on the cloud hype-machine. Importantly, the "cloud" in question was a single server--a single point of failure. To me, that doesn't sound like a cloud application but an application called "cloud computing."

For government, at the simplest it means to make sure you know what you are buying, understand redundancies and risks, and NEVER let your data get out of your control. A tough reminder, caveat emptor.

Oct 4, 2009

Hey dot-gov! Don't Believe Your Hype

Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album cover.Success! Popularity! Fans! Page views! I win! Seems everybody wants to be Internet-important. Not to bust anybody's bubble, but government success and engagement numbers benefit from some perspective.

For starters, Federal Computer Week listed the "Top Ten Agencies with The Most Facebook Fans." Tops is White House's Facebook page with (now) 375,000 fans. That's a respectable number that continues to grow. But for comparison, the Facebook page for Nutella--that chocolate hazelnut spread--has 3.3 million fans. Plus there are two other Nutella fan pages with 977,000 and 750,000 fans each.

NASA, government's popular space agency, is pulling closer to 10,000 fans of it's Facebook page. Pink Floyd--a band that released it's last album the day that Netscape was founded and who created one of the best rock albums of all time Dark Side of the Moon (released in 1973 the same year that NASA's space station Skylab was launched)--has 1.6 million fans. [See also Mark Drapeau's post on this topic.]

Second, there are the arguments I hear about the important power of government content and presence on the Internet. Overall, this is true. According to comScore data* all dot-gov traffic combined puts government among the top 10 online properties.

Top websites by unique visitors, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, Facebook. ALL of Dot-Gov, Fox Interactive, Ask Network, Ebay, AmazonLooking closer at the numbers is more sobering. Because government sites are fragmented they are less trafficked than the aggregated numbers show.

For example, the online classified site has three-fifths (60%) the traffic of the entire government. Comparing the State Department--despite high traffic for passport and travel information, the sports-entertainment site ESPN has ten times more visitors. data includes hurricane and storm tracking from,, less than one-sixth the traffic of the popular Weather Channel. And, the transaction heavy Social Security Administration has 10% of the visitors that Wal-Mart does.

Government websites and social media efforts exist in a broader ecosystem. Yes, let's celebrate success, but let's first define and refine what that means. The tough news? Looking at numbers without context can lead to believing that you are more important than you really are. The good news? The fact that you are less important than you think doesn't mean that you aren't important at all.

* The comScore data on government sites July 09 and regarding other media sites Aug 09.

Sep 27, 2009

When You Wish Upon The Cloud

In which Pooh decides to imitate a cloud in order to trick the bees into not realizing that he is after their honey.Government cloud computing is being touted as the next new thing. Promises of cheaper costs and a reduced carbon footprint, along with consumer experience with the ease of free e-mail and document sharing via "the cloud" makes it a no-brainer. And, bonus, instead of using out-dated government computing structures, the commercial cloud promises innovation and flexibility.

It's not necessarily easy, though.

First, a reminder that cloud computing is real. There are physical servers in physical server farms. It's important to remember that The Cloud is made up of data centers running 24/7/365. There are racks and racks of blades, power supplies, spare parts, monitoring tools and data center staff. These servers and computing capacity are shared by The Cloud tenants. The Cloud is excess computing capacity from the likes of Amazon and Google. The Cloud is not frozen water crystals or fluffy cotton puffs. It's not magic. The Cloud is physical. Learn more about The Cloud here.

This is important because issues with cloud computing are real, too. And real is the backbone of my wish list for government cloud computing. I wish for

Analysis of the risks. Some security experts are very concerned about the security of cloud computing. Casey Coleman, CIO of the General Services Administration, said, "Something like 45 percent of the IT portfolio is ranked at a FISMA certification level of low. What that means is that those applications and that data are candidates for running on some sort of commercial or hybrid cloud service." [Read more from Coleman in Federal Computer Week.] So, what can securely be run in a cloud environment? What can't be? And no cheating on the analysis because the idea of the cloud makes you nervous. Be real.

Analysis of the costs. It makes intuitive sense that money can be saved by sharing computing resources, but the devil is always in the details. Consumers think that software and storage is free--Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs--but they pay by viewing advertisements. Will some applications and storage be on a commercial cloud? Will government data centers shut down? Will they connect and share computing power to become a gov-cloud? Will government share applications with commercial and retail tenants? What would it cost? What about software licensing? Cloud-wide software licensing agreements? Money is real, too.

Useful cloud services. I want to improve accessibility of content by having captioning, live captioning, and translation services on demand. I want a government-wide blogging platform like Blogger for Government. The Department of Defense is already doing this in the dot-mil domain--DoD Live, Army Live, Air Force Live, Coast Guard Live--using a common Wordpress install. I want to be able to transfer large files securely from agency to agency using a cloud FTP server. I want a platform solution for posting multimedia and conducting surveys. I want easy access to website analytics--and, better yet, a way to compare the traffic data across agencies. I want government-wide options for search, dialogue, white pages, email, relationship management, instant messaging. And, I want the service whether it's available on the GSA schedule or via another purchasing option. No reason to be parochial in The Cloud.

What I want from the government cloud. Quicker--like "just in time"--purchase and implementation of tools that are being used in government. Removing roadblocks and silos that make government function like hundreds or even thousands of governments instead of one. Each of these mini-governments have their own ways to buy, their own ideas of security, their own interpretations of the Privacy Act of 1974, their own cookie policies, their own implementations of accessibility guidelines, and their individual risk tolerances. This makes sense for individual agencies who know their particular niches, but it makes no sense to the people--businesses, NGOs, staff, citizens--who need a simple answer and a single conduit to find it. Last, and not the least, I want citizens to control their own identities and to manage their relationship with government not on a per-agency basis but in a system that recognizes that they are whole people. This would make a real difference in the way government does business.

Now, keeping it real, what are YOUR wishes for the government cloud?

Sep 17, 2009

Serving the Public Better, Together

Bev Godwin, Director, and Web Best Practices at U.S. General Services Administration, gave a warm shout out and outlined the incredible accomplishments of the government web manager community at the Gov 2.0 Summit.

During the Summit, when people were discussing barriers and success factors, time and again they repeated the mantra, it's not about the technology but about the people.

Did you know that 1,600 web managers participate in an open, collaborative, sharing community with the goal to make the best government websites in the world? Across local, state and federal agencies, school districts, departments? Breaking down silos and working with IT, legal, records, procurement, and program staff?

For more on how federal web managers collaborate and information on best practices and how to better serve citizens using the Web and new media see

As Bev said, "Let's stop this madness and get organized!"

[so's you know, I am a proud member of this community.]

Sep 13, 2009

Searching for My Inner Craig

Topic One at the big Government 2.0 Summit here in Washington last week was "What is Gov 2.0, and how do we get there?"

This isn't a new question. Twenty-seven months after HHS launched the first Cabinet-level public discussion via a blog, we are still trying to define both the destination and the journey.

My own embrace of a new, open, transparent, participatory and collaborative era of government is shackled by the fact that I am an implementer. I don't get to sit on the sidelines and make smack-talk. I have to figure out how to make this work operationally, legally, and effectively for a federal agency. And, I would be a big, fat liar if I didn't admit that it is harder than it looks and more than a little scary [insert your favorite "not safe for work" link here].

This is where my unknowing mentor Craig comes in. Craig, the man who put the Craig in Craigslist, has been successfully herding cats--by not trying to herd them--on the humongous, world-wide online classified ad site and community he founded in 1995. He's also an active advocate of improving government services.

I've been studying Craig's zen-like approach to service and communities as a model to help me with Gov 2.0. In searching for my inner-Craig I've begun to identify some "truths" to help in actualizing open, transparent, participatory and collaborative government.

Truth 1 Trust. Craig says, "Most people are trustworthy and good and want to treat other people like they want to be treated." While this seems easy, in a bureaucratic, conservative command and control organization--like the government--it's easy to get stuck on the word "most." Since not everyone is a good guy, risk-averse organizations develop structures and policies to treat all comers as if they were "bad." Michele Weslander Quaid, CTO for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said that ODNI hired a risk manager to help make decisions based on risk/reward. By identifying potential risks and the chance the event will occur, government can develop policies that make sense. Working from fact, not fear, lets us trust people to do the right thing--even when it's something we didn't expect--and get out of their way.

Truth 2 Patience. Government social media and transparency efforts are in their infancy. We need to take the time to build out a process. It won't happen overnight. Craigslist grew organically in the Bay Area for years. There were trials and lessons learned to apply to new cities as it gradually expanded over a decade. This isn't to say that we need to slow down efforts, but that there will be successes and failures. We need to learn from both. It's like a three act play. After the heady first act of new blogs, video sharing and wikis, we are now in the long second act where the heroes are tested and do battle, make mistakes and learn how this works. We are still a ways from the climax and dénouement of Act III. We can't rush the story.

Truth 3 Customer service is public service. It's easier to have all the answers than to spend time listening to your audience. It's also not a successful strategy. For government, our audience--our customers--are the American people. We don't make government for the sake of government. We make government on behalf of, and in service of the people. So, its up to us to get out of our cubbies, our jargon, and our assumptions and get out of the way of the information and services people need. Behind Craigslist is the philosophy that people are basically good and their needs fairly simple (see trust above) so a minimal structure led by user needs will let people work things out by themselves. Government should not direct the user, the user directs the government to meet their needs.

Danielle Blumenthal is getting at this in her recent blog post.
Silence is not the answer. Jargon is not the answer. Long sentences and self promotion are not the answer. Let's stop talking to ourselves in a haze of groupthink and fear and start having real conversations about who the customer is (the public) what they want and need to hear (the truth) and how we need to say it so that they really get the message (any method of communication that works).--More from Branding and Social Media.
Knowing the truths is not the same as truly incorporating the truths. I am not all the way there, but I have a path. And I am working on it.

Thanks Master Craig, from Grasshopper Gwynne.

[For more on Craig, check out his blog or the recent Wired Magazine feature on him. ]

Sep 8, 2009

Shorts: Wiki Strategy Tool, NonProfits Blog, Cultural Divide

Smithsonian sharing their social media strategy development via wiki. Check out the process and get some tips on developing your own new media plan on this wiki. The plans are to feed the web and new media strategy into the Smithsonian's comprehensive strategic plan. Look and learn on the wiki.

Nonprofits lead way in social media adoption. The Society of New Communications Research looked at the 200 largest U.S. charities and found nonprofits outpaced corporations and academic institutions in their adoption of social media. 57% of charities have blogs compared with 18% of the Fortune 500. See more on BizGtowthNews.

The great gov 2.0 cultural divide. On his GovFresh blog, Luke Fretwell uses this week's Gov 2.0 summit and events as a backdrop to smartly talk about bridging the gap between Washington and West Coast tech-entrepreneurs. He says "Washington, D.C., needs to understand Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are no different than GSA Schedule government contractors or corporate-funded trade associations, all seeking to profit on an industry that will never file for bankruptcy and can always print more money." Read more on GovFresh.

Sep 1, 2009

4 Lessons for Dot-gov: What Makes a "Top" Website?

The number 4Last week, Time published its Top 50 Websites for 2009, and there was nary a government site on the list.

The closest dot-gov came was #39,'s NameVoyage, which uses Social Security Administration data to help parents find popular--and not so popular--names across the ages. But didn't make the list.

Looking at the sites that did "make it," Time's criteria for selecting Top Sites are clear. There are four main themes shared by Top Sites, and four lessons for government site owners who want to meet citizen and stakeholder needs.

1. Do something. Pretty much every Top Site had a task for people to complete. From searching for something on Google to selecting the best name for their baby to booking cheap travel on Kayak, Top Sites are where people go to accomplish something. Can people accomplish something on your site? Is your offer worth their time?

2. Focus. Most Top Sites have a clear single purpose. You use Netflix to find and rent movies. You go to OpenTable to make restaurant reservations. Fonolo helps you skip a corporate phone tree and get to a live person. Pretty direct. Many government sites, on the other hand, are multi-purpose. This makes search and navigation especially important to help people. How does your site help your visitors get someplace? Are you setting up a clear hierarchy with your users' top tasks up front?

3. Engage. This is a corollary to doing something. One of the somethings that Internet uses want to do is to participate. Many Top Sites, for example, Yelp and Amazon, let users have a say--rating movies, music, restaurants, services and products. Others, like Facebook and social networking sites, encourage friends to take silly polls and forward links. Once people have engaged, they are more likely to come back. Does your site allow feedback? Voting? Tagging? Can people see what others' have said? Do you make it easy for someone to send a link from your site? Do you talk back to them?

4. Share. Different from engaging, sharing lets site visitors collaborate in content creation. This can be Flickr (#1 on the List) which lets users upload photos for people to view, comment and reuse. Or Wikipedia, where you can share your expertise in a wildly popular public encyclopedia. Or buy joining a microfinance group via Kiva to invest in developing countries. Are you inviting people to share in their government? Are you inviting their creativity and smarts?

Whether you think Time's criteria is fair, the traffic behind many of these sites show that Internet users value them, too. Might be time to review what makes e-gov tick. Maybe we'll make the 2010 list.

Aug 23, 2009

To the Data User: Caveat Emptor

Last week a few reports were released that can help shed some light on teen Twitter behavior.

[begin rant] You likely heard about the Morgan Stanley [rubbish] "report" written by a precocious fifteen-year-old intern from their London office. It's been stuck in my craw since it's post-release media flurry. No disrespect to the young man who solidly reported the experiences of he and his mates, but the ah-ha frenzy of corporate boardrooms and media belies that every observant parent of teens already knew what their kids do. [end rant]

Anyway, among the "findings" in the report--and one I have been arguing about--is that teens don't use Twitter because they are limited by limited cell phone use and texting.

Last week, Pew released a study on teens and cellphone use.
  • 71% of the people between 12-17 have cell phones. The percentage jumps to 85% for 16 and 17 year-olds.
  • Use is up from 63% in 2006 and almost catches teens up to the 77% of adults with cell phones.
  • Almost 40% send text messages DAILY.
  • Three-quarters of the 18-29 year olds text daily. (Pew Wireless Internet Use)
So, looking at the data, it doesn't seem that there is a huge lack of access to cell phones or text messaging that would limit the use of Twitter for teens.

THEN, there is the idea that it's important to tweet from your cell phone.

Read Write Web reported, also last week, that Twitter users are most likely to use the Web, not a cell phone, to share their tweets.
[U]pdating your status online via is still the dominant way that most people use Twitter, with 65% of tweets attributed to this method....Besides the web, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of Twitter updates, the second most popular way to update is via text message. However, with 6% of tweets sent, this method only accounts for 1/10th as many tweets.--Read more on Read Write Web.
Data shows that text messaging from phones is not preferred by Twitter users, period. Since more than 90% of all 12-17 year olds are online, more than any other age group, teens have at least the same access to the Twitter web interface as any other Twitter users.

So, the data does not support that dismal teen tweeting is "caused" by the lack of access to technology. It's more likely that they simply are not interested in Twitter

"So," you ask, "why did you go here? Taking us on this trail for a little tidbit of clarification on a fairly small topic?"

Two reasons. First, it's critical that folks working on innovation and technology make decisions based on data, not just fashion. And, second, it's imperative to take a hard look at the data sources. We need to carefully look at the data and assumptions and get past the hype, whenever we can. And not pass on the hype.

[Okay, and thirdly, because I was right and now there's nothing stuck in my U-Mich SRC craw. The benefits of being the blog owner.]

Aug 18, 2009

Research on Privacy Perceptions

The White House is reviewing the federal government's cookie policy. Abridged version, it's been a 9-year rejection of the use of what many see as a benign tool and others see as government invading citizen privacy.

Part of this discussion has included what privacy means to people using online tools in 2009. Some think that people don't care about privacy, some that folks have no (or should have no) expectations of privacy, and others think that people care very much about their online privacy.

Fortunately, to help us learn more about just what privacy means, Patricia Abril and Avner Levin published a paper in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law on privacy perceptions in online social networks. The team surveyed 2,500 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 about the personal information they post online, what they do to protect their information, and any concerns regarding their personal information.

They reported that sharing information on social networks, and allowing other to share information about you, creates vulnerabilities, and that people know that they are potentially vulnerable.
  • 72% have adjusted privacy settings to restrict some groups of people from accessing their profiles.
  • More than 60% believe that they have taken sufficient steps to protect themselves.
  • 42% said they have read social networking sites' privacy policies.
  • Only 22% were not concerned that information about them (photos, videos, comments by others about them) could be created and posted by others.
  • 67% said that they were were most concerned about potential harm to their image or reputation.
  • 54.3% agreed with the statement, “Work life is completely separate from personal life, and what you do in one should not affect the other.”
  • 82% said that it would be inappropriate for employers to require them to "friend" a manager.
This young cohort appears to be both careful and realistic about their privacy. They are most worried about privacy lapses that could affect their reputations. And they want to keep some sort of firewall between their social selves and their work selves.

Based on their research, Abril and Levin created a concept of "network privacy."
We call this notion network privacy. According to network privacy, information is considered by online socializers to be private as long as it is not disclosed outside of the network to which they initially disclosed it, if it originates with them, or as long as it does not affect their established online personae, if it originates with others. [online social network]s, as businesses profiting from socializing online, are best positioned to offer online socializers, often the young and vulnerable, effective protection in accordance with their notion of network privacy above and beyond regular measures of personal information control, and they should be required to do so.--Read "Two Notions of Privacy Online."
Moving forward toward a meaningful, twenty-first century privacy policy, we will need to recognize the conflict between the desire and need to share information within networks and the difficulty in regulating networks with loose barriers.

Translating this to the cookies' debate, it seems that people may be less concerned with the mechanics of being "tracked" except when any "tracking" would reflect poorly on them.