Jan 31, 2009

Google is Not a God

Yes, Google is human, too. The big kerfuffle was identified this (Sat) morning with the image of a Google search results page identifying EVERY SITE as unsafe to view. Like this:
Image of Google search results marked 'This site may harm your computer'.

Marissa Mayer, VP, Search Products & User Experience from Google wrote:
1/31/2009 09:02:00 AM
If you did a Google search between 6:30 a.m. PST and 7:25 a.m. PST [9:30-10:25 a.m. EST] this morning, you likely saw that the message "This site may harm your computer" accompanied each and every search result. This was clearly an error, and we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to our users.

What happened? Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message "This site may harm your computer" if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called StopBadware.org to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list. --Read it all here.
Good job, Google, in resolving this error within an hour!

That said, many of us personally use free Google tools for email, chat, document sharing, web analytics, blog software and, of course, search.

Many folks think that governments--local, state and federal--should take ample advantage of these free tools (from Google and other companies), to maximize budget and reach. Why reinvent it? And, importantly, some government agencies already use free tools.

Some think that government shouldn't use free commercial tools because tools external to the government are inherently not under government control. And something bad might happen, like the human error introduced by Google. [And for many other reasons, too, but not germane to this post.]

Some people have told me that using a tool like Google's Blogger is a vulnerability. Juxtapose that with the 24-hour email outage at the White House this last week.

So, the takeaway? I think this is a cautionary tale. The private technology sector is innovative but not perfect. Smart people will look at overall risk and rewards of implementing free and open-source solutions. They will make decisions and have contingency plans for the just-in-case scenarios and think about how they would communicate and explain the decision to go with one solution over another.

And, as usual, there is no silver bullet.

Jan 29, 2009

Grandma DOES Use the Internet

Data is your friend. It helps us make better decisions and helps to clear up biases.

Pew has a new report talking about the use of the Internet across different age groups. From Ars Technica
In fact, "older" folks (those over age 32) do a lot of things online more than the young 'uns do. Older users in general don't use the Internet as an entertainment source to the same extent that younger netizens do, instead using it primarily for communication, research, and online shopping. Older users tend to use the Internet more to look up health information, for example, as well as religious information and governmental research. Generation Xers (those between 33 and 44) lead the pack in online shopping as well, with 80 percent using the Internet to buy products, compared with 71 percent of Internet users between 18 and 32. Gen Xers also lead when it comes to online banking, though Pew notes that, as Gen Y users grow older and, you know, get jobs, they will be just as likely to bank online. --Read more at ARS Technica.
Graph showing distibution of Internet use by age cohort.
A few other quick things.
Government sites: 59% of all Internet users visit government sites. Two-thirds of Gen X (33-44) visit government sites (the biggest group), teens, pretty much not at all.
Email: One-quarter of teens do not use email. Over 90% of people 18-72 use email.
Broadband: Older people are less likely to have broadband. Less than 1/2 of the people older than 60 have broadband at home compared with over 2/3rds of the users younger than 50.

There's a great chart with data on how different age cohorts use the Internet at Pew Internet & American Life Project, you can read it here.

Jan 28, 2009

Getting to Where the People Are

Ali at Sunlight Labs--a project of the Sunlight Foundation--worked up a redesign of usa.gov, the U.S. government official search portal. The ideas include a refresh to the visual design and navigation and adding new features to allow users to customize and personalize the content.

Folks at Sunlight Labs clearly put some thought behind their recommendations. I think that allowing users to select what's important to them and using zip code to help filter content would be fabulous. I especially like the idea of gathering and mashing up data from other agencies in a personalized usa.gov view.

But this doesn't really go far enough for me.

What if we untethered the information from government websites. Rather than create yet another personalized page--and let's face it, many people only interact with federal dot-gov websites around April 15th --I would much rather be able to incorporate government information in pages that I already use.

For example, government can make services and information available in a Google gadget, Netvibes widget, Yahoo App, or embedded in a Facebook page.

These are pages that people have already made an investment in--pages that are daily destinations for millions of Internet users. For me, I would rather see my student loan information when I am on my personal banking site. Or, if I opted to provide my zip code to personalize my iGoogle page, what about a tool that would feed me timely information about product recalls, storm warnings or eligibility for aid programs?

This isn't a new idea. Gartner released two reports in November 1987.
"The first-stop shop for almost anything on the Internet is a search engine, a personal home page, or a preferred home page that matches the consumer's needs and interests. This type of home page is likely to be provided--not by a government organization--but by an Internet player (such as Google, Yahoo or MSN), a media company (such as CNN or The New York Times), a telecom operator (especially for mobile devices), an investment firm, a parent association or a golf club."

These are all channels that consumers use to find Internet services and content nowadays - and Gartner suggests that consumers will expect to find e-government services through those channels too. So Gartner's conclusion is that governments "should make sure that their information, services and applications are accessible through a variety of different channels, some of which are not controlled or directly owned by government."--Read more on ReadWriteWeb.
Information is currently swirling around us, and we are grabbing the pieces that we want. Whether it's using Amazon reviews to research an item that you are looking for on Craigslist, or reading tweets to find links to reading recommended by your network, or using Wikipedia to navigate the Library of Congress site to find speeches for your report on the League of Nations (yes, my son really did this. He couldn't find the resources directly on LOC), we need to move beyond the "website" and begin thinking in terms of information.

Of course we will continue to have websites and web-based applications. But we need to think about getting the information and tools to where the people are and knocking down the walls of the Web site. And, by extension, the walls around government.

Smart people are already doing this. For example, the FBI has a most-wanted fugitive widget. Do you have other examples of dot-gov putting the content where the people are?

Jan 27, 2009

"Process has Trumped Outcome"

The Technology, Innovation & Government Reform Policy Working Group (TIG-R group) is advising the Obama administration to help implement the Innovation Agenda--including a range of proposals to create a 21st century government that is more open and effective, leverages technology, renews our commitment to science, and catalyzes active citizenship and partnerships in shared governance.

A member of the group is Vivek Kundra, the CTO for D.C. government. He posted an absolutely terrific video on his Facebook profile about the work of the TIG-R that I was able to track down on YouTube. (Thanks Bev Godwin for sharing!)

Kundra nails one of the big challenges when he says, that one of the biggest problems in federal government is that "process has trumped outcome...everybody is focused on compliance. Nobody is thinking about innovation and how to drive change within the government."

Now, it's not there there is NO innovation in government--of course there is. And it's awesome. BUT, every day projects are dismissed, canned, discouraged, pooh-poohed because "it can't be done." (Don't get me started on implied endorsement, for example.) Innovators are "asking forgiveness." [Wait for a new government acronym for this one (can we get FU in it?).] Many are keeping things underwraps, diminishing the ability for others to share and copy--and potentially missing important caveats.

Overall, the video is very hopeful. The people on the workgroup fully expect that government CAN innovate and meet the challenges. I agree with this, too.

Jan 26, 2009

120 Day Countdown to Transparency and Open Government

The President published a Memorandum today outlining instructions and and three principles for open and transparent government. [bold emphasis mine]
  1. Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

  2. Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

  3. Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation. --Read the whole memo.
The end result of this will be an Open Government Directive with instructions for all federal departments and agencies to implement the principles. In 120 days.

Note also that the yet-to-be-named CTO is on the hook for developing the open gov directive.

Last note, I can't seem to navigate to the page on whitehouse.gov--I can only get there from the link that I got from a tweet from the fabulous David Fletcher, CTO for the state of Utah.

Jan 25, 2009

You Tube as Search Tool?

Why is it important for dot-gov to use You Tube? Well, what if people began to use You Tube to search for information?

According to The New York Times
And now YouTube, conceived as a video hosting and sharing site, has become a bona fide search tool. Searches on it in the United States recently edged out those on Yahoo, which had long been the No. 2 search engine, behind Google. (Google, incidentally, owns YouTube.) In November, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore.

This startling statistic prompted Alex Iskold, the founder and chief executive of Adaptiveblue.com, a Web start-up, to ask in a blog post, “Is YouTube the next Google?” In other words, is YouTube effective as a mainstream search engine, and might it supplant or rival Google some day?" -- Read more on NYTimes
The Times also reported that You Tube's share of videos streamed soared to 40 percent in November from 17 percent in March 2007. What does this mean in real numbers? Well in November, 146 million Americans watched videos online, streaming a total of 12.6 billion video clips. That means YouTube streamed over 5 billion videos. In November 2008.

Don't fool yourself by saying that you or your friends don't use You Tube as primary search. Look at the data, and follow the trend.

As they say in real estate, it's Location, Location, Location. Put another way, if people are looking for information on You Tube and you're not there, then you don't exist.

See also Alex Iskold, Is You Tube the Next Google? as he helps me to rethink You Tube:
Kids no longer learn about the world by reading text. Like the television generation, they are absorbing the world through their visual sense. But there is a big difference. Television was programmed and inflexible. YouTube is completely micro-chunked and on demand. Kids can search for what they need anytime. This is different, and powerful.

True, the current model of YouTube is still raw and still skewed to entertainment. But imagine online video 5 years from now, geared to kids, where entertainment, games, education, travel -- everything for kids -- is mixed and delivered via searchable channels. This would be a big change on the Internet and in the world. Just as we no longer think twice about Googling, kids of the future will be consuming huge volumes of information via video. --Read it all.
Better have a video strategy! (And better have access to YouTube from desktops in dot-gov!)

Jan 24, 2009

Don't Question the Power of the Interwebs: recovery.gov

How will news be driven in this new Administration? Take a look here.Image of google hot searches page. recovery.gov results.

President Obama, in his weekly video address spoke about a new "under construction" website called recovery.gov.

Next to immediately, people flocked to google and made the search for recovery.gov "spicy" (I guess that's google for "hot.")

Image of under construction recovery.gov siteNow, there isn't a recovery.gov site, outside of a placeholder. But that placeholder is receiving traffic. And bloggers are blogging it, reporters are reporting it. This means that there are multiple references to the site, so it will have good search engine placement.

The President has the power to drive people to a web site by saying "something dot-gov." And he is using the power of the Internet and the echo-effect of social media to broadcast further than a radio address. (Although, I hope he continues to broadcast his address on radio, too, for that audience that might never get to You Tube.)

This administration is providing one case-study after another in harnessing the power of multi-channel communications. While most agencies do not have the reach of the White House and President Obama, these techniques can be used on a smaller scale to broadcast messages to specific audiences and stakeholders.

It's important to remember that it will take time to build your own electronic network. So, a few things to keep in mind:
  • Start by tracking usage from day one. You won't know how far you have come if you don't know where you started. First day, zero.
  • Have an idea of where you want to be. A great thing about social media is that it's easy to find benchmarks--the data is frequently right there. See how other agencies, non-profits, companies do with their video views, Technorati rankings (for blogs), rss subscribers. Also, check-in with your dot-gov colleagues and ask them about their numbers. (See www.webcontent.gov to find folks.)
  • Figure out how to use current tools, like email and your current website, to drive your audience.
  • Be consistent in your efforts. People need to learn to count on your information. This is a long-term process.

Influence Ripples--Not A Straight Line


Influence Ripples, originally uploaded by David Armano.

Great visualization of the ripples of distribution and influence in social media. I like it especially because it represents the overlapping and interconnectedness of today's communications.

Communications is not one way, and it is definitely not linear. I am going to spend more time studying this image.

David Armano is the creator of this image graph. I got the reference for this from Shannon Paul's blog.

Today Shannon talks (very smartly) about why blogs matter for communicators. And let's face it, we are ALL communicators.

Whether anyone likes it or not, information no longer travels in a straight shot from company to journalist to public.

Instead, it bounces back and forth between all three. It’s just as possible for information to swell up from the public to the journalist to the company, or from the public to the company to the journalist. Or from the journalist to the company to the public and back again.

...More than three quarters of journalists see blogs as helpful in giving them story ideas, story angles, and insight into the tone of an issue, according to a study conducted last year by Brodeur, a unit of of Omnicom Group in conjunction with Marketwire. --Read the entire post.
Why is this important for government? It's more important to understand the communications ecosystem than to use the newest tools. Creating a myspace or Facebook page doesn't mean that you are succeeding in communicating. What are you trying to accomplish? How does this tool or technology fit your goals? Are you reaching your audience(s)? And the next important question, are you ready to let your audience reach you?

Jan 23, 2009

Helping ME Online

Pulling myself away from the topic of the new administration, turns out there are other things going on in dot-gov. Like college.gov from the Department of Education (Ed).

This is a portal to Ed college resources in a slick presentation layer. The interactive videos and easy to understand language are signs of a good experience.

We are going to use the Free Application for Student Financial Aid on the web as soon as my husband gets back from Sundance. It is great to have the application on the Web. It's this type of web tool--more so than blogs or tweet streams that make online government relevant for citizens.

The top queries on USA.GOV are not about White House twittering or videos of fireside chats. They are much more pragmatic, like:

Summary - Down Arrow: Sort this list of answers in descending order, from Z to A Summary - UP Arrow: Sort this list of answers in ascending order, from A to Z
1 Government Grants and Loans for Individuals
2 DOS: National Passport Information Center (NPIC)
3 State and Territorial Governments
4 Food Stamps
5 Social Security Administration (SSA)
6 Housing Assistance - Purchasing
7 Tax "Rebates" for Americans
8 Passports: Renewing a Passport Book or Card
9 State Fish and Wildlife Agencies
10 Travel Overseas: Foreign Entry Requirements

People want money, passports, aid, benefits, and help getting to those resources. So as we work to add the coolest new features to the dot-gov menu, let's not forget to serve the needs and desires of The People.

With all the hype about Madoff, I had toyed with the idea of ponzi scheme to pay for college, but will try the online application instead. And I'm glad that it's there.

Jan 20, 2009

The Change is Here

Screenshot of new www.whitehouse.govChange came today to whitehouse.gov, and I saw it happen live!

It was noon-oh-something, and I was looking at the site when it changed before my very eyes. I didn't refresh my browser. It was pushed new to my existing session. Pretty cool.

It's been a very long day, but I did want to acknowledge that in addition to a fabulous day on the mall--no arrests despite 2 million folks crowded on the mall and parade route--change is already happening.

Not so good, the new White House site deleted all the old pages so many federal sites--and other sites throughout the Interwebs--now have a bunch of broken links. The Good News, the White House site has a blog and other interactive and the promise of interactive features. Setting the bar for other government agencies!

See the quick change at www.state.gov, too. In addition to a nice and clean new look, they also archived the old Dipnote. It looks like they will continue to build on this popular destination. To the team at State: Nice work getting a half-dozen or so new blog posts up today! I hope State continues to provide a multimedia hub on the Dipnote site.

Jan 19, 2009

Change.gov coming to the White House

Reports that www.change.gov will be the new www.whitehouse.gov at noon tomorrow--"touted as a bold experiment in interactive government based largely on lessons learned during the most successful Internet-driven election campaign in history"--also talk about the effect of this shift in communications throughout the bureaucracy.
"According to some political analysts here, the biggest learning curve in the days to come is not for the Obama White House -- which already 'gets it' -- but for the entrenched Washington bureaucracy and members of Congress.

'Obama is going to change the game with government the way he changed the game with politics,' said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a Washington-based progressive think-tank.

'We should expect that experimentation is not just going to happen in the White House, but there will be competition inside the administration,' he said at a panel discussion this week on the Internet and policy-making.

'Using these tools is going to become a critical way that Barack is going to evaluate the performance of his own team,' Rosenberg said. 'My joke is that at the Monday cabinet meeting the (agency) directors will be comparing notes on how many YouTube views they got and how many comments on their blog post.'" Read more. Change.gov coming to the White House
We know that many federal web managers have been preparing for this future, and many have been using social media tools--see for example work of CDC, NASA, and EPA. I guess it's on!

A Change Is Gonna Come

Here is an incredible piece of news for dotgov. YouTube tries out downloads with Obama videos.
"Google Inc.'s YouTube began offering downloadable video for the first time [my emphasis] over the weekend with offerings on President-elect Barack Obama's ChangeDotGov channel.

Small 'Click to download' links began appearing under videos on Obama's channel, allowing users to download the video to their computers and devices rather than simply stream them online." Read (a little) more here
This news is an exciting harbinger for people working to use social media in government. It has been really hard for government to work with Web 2.0 providers. Hard to talk to the right people. Hard to make headway in moving projects forward. Government has different rules and LAWS that interrupts use of social media. What I read from this snippet, is that the Obama team is talking to the right people to make changes, and that this should trickle throughout government.

My first request in using this conduit--Let's work with the private sector to put making social media more accessible to people with disabilities at the top of their list. Rather than seeing Section 508 as a barrier, let's work collaboratively between the private and public sector to make information more available to everyone.

The video below isn't so much related, but what a performance! [hey it's my blog, I can do what I want!]

Jan 15, 2009

Pew Study on Adults and Social Networking

The first commandments of any dotgov effort is Know Thy Audience and, it's corollary, Know About Thy Audience.

The Pew Internet and the American Life Project is a great source for data on Internet use and trends--sometimes specific to gov, but mostly about everyone. Their most recent report is on "Adults and Social Network Websites." The data may blow away some of your assumptions.

Social network users are equally likely to be men and women and more likely to be young.
  • 75% of the online adults between ages 18 and 24 use social networks
  • 57% between 25-34
  • 30% between 35-44 year olds
  • 19% among 45-54 year olds
  • 10% among 55 to 64 year olds
  • 7% of online adults 65 and older.
Whites are less likely than African-Americans or Hispanics to have an online profile.
  • 48% of online Hispanics adults have a social networking profile
  • 43% of African-American adults
  • 31% of white adults
Data like this can help you build your "social strategy." Read the entire report.

Jan 14, 2009

The Promise and Myth of Barack Obama’s Government 2.0

See Gaurav Mishra's most excellent post, The Promise and Myth of Barack Obama’s Government 2.0. In addition to a great set of links and smart analysis, he provides a good structure to think about and talk about "government 2.0."
"It is obvious that different people associate different things with government 2.0. In essence, they are talking about five different level of government 2.0, which can be plotted on a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is the most radical version of government 2.0 –

Level 1. Allowing government employees and elected officials at all levels to access and use social media tools like blogs, wikis and social networks to connect with their constituents.

Level 2. The strategic use of social media tools like blogs, wikis and social networks by government agencies to achieve their objectives and solicit citizen feedback to improve their processes.

Level 3. A participatory platform that engages citizens in policy debates and voluntary service at all levels of the government.

Level 4. Open availability of all non-sensitive and non-personal government data so that citizens can use it and third parties can build web 2.0 mashups on top of it.

Level 5. Crowd-sourcing the government, party by institutionalizing a process that directly uses the aforementioned participatory platform as an important input into government functions, including policy formation. --Read the entire post.
He goes on to give links to examples. Really, read it.

Jan 13, 2009

Analytics Toolbox: 50+ More Ways to Track Website Traffic

You can't manage what you don't measure. Really, you can't. And for folks managing web content and web applications, there is a growing --and many times free--cadre of tools to help you learn about what people are doing on your site, what they are interested in, and what they don't like.

See Mashable for 50 tools to help track traffic. You might want to check out
  • Google Analytics, for the price (free) you can't beat it. It does require persistent cookies, so is not right for dotgov without a waiver.
  • StatCounter for smaller sites, includes a nice set of reports for general website reporting.
  • Sitevolume you can track keyword volume on popular social media sites. You can see which words and phrases resonate and compare terms.
Look carefully under the hood of these tools to make sure that they meet the regulations for dotgov sites.

You Tube and dot gov Video Good? Bad?

The New York Times reported
On Monday, YouTube, in collaboration with Congress, will unveil two new Web pages, one for the House and one for the Senate, where every lawmaker will be able to create a video channel on the site. The pages will include a map of the United States that will allow users to easily navigate to the channel of their elected officials.

Already several members of Congress have channels on YouTube. But by creating a central hub for all senators and representatives, YouTube is hoping to encourage more members to create their own channels, not only as a place to promote their agendas but also as a forum for interacting with citizens. --More from NYTimes
Read Write Web thinks that YouTube is getting preferential treatment,

YouTube is not a public service but a commercial enterprise. Google might, one day, decided to just shut it down, and take its archive with it. One might argue that this is unlikely, but it could happen. A stronger argument against favoring YouTube, however, is that it does look like preferential treatment of a service that is already close to being a monopoly. Given that services like TubeMogul make it incredibly easy to post videos to a large variety of online video services, there is really no excuse for government officials to only post videos to YouTube except for being ignorant about the alternatives. --Read more on Read Write Web.

One suggestion is to have the videos on dot-gov sites (too?). This is an evolving area, but there is an emerging best practice to make sure that YouTube and other non-government sites are not the sole source for dotgov video.

It's also critical, though, that government engage within the social media ecosystem and not create a "government ghetto" that is outside of where the eyes are. Wherever they are.

[HT to Bev for the RWW link]

Jan 11, 2009

Wiki White House

The end of the crazy week meant that I got my weeks mixed up and missed the Wiki White House program sponsored by The New America Foundation and Wired at the DC Google offices.

The Command Line--Wiki White House has a great summary. I especially was interested in the discussion on public discussion.
"There was some good practical discussion of how to get the most value out of online action. Craig spoke about filters, putting tools into the hands of the public to vote up good ideas and vote down the noise. There are certainly many examples already of how such systems can work well. Sascha felt the key was to make the discussion relevant to as many members of the public as possible and was generally optimistic that the value of such interaction outweighed any inevitable trolls (Craig used the actual term) that may come along along with other risks, like inadvertent information disclosure. Sascha’s remarks also reminded me of Eben Moglen’s on pairing the best minds with the hardest problems. Sascha advocated for opening up information to get it into public hands, where it may be paired with deep interest for better analysis than either the government or private interests alone can achieve." --Read the whole summary here.
Better yet, New America Foundation YouTubed it (runtime about 72 minutes).

Jan 10, 2009

Social Media: Lists, Lists and More Lists

Cheating isn't frowned upon in the work-world, and we are always looking for case-studies and examples that we can modify and use. Not to mention looking for examples to bolster our business cases, "well so-and-so is blogging!" [Note to Joe and John: cheating IS frowned upon in school!!!]

See "Social Media Case Studies SUPERLIST- 18 Extensive Lists of Organizations Using Social Media." Lists include corporate Twitterers, directory of Fortune 500 blogs, and nominees and award winners in various recognition programs with their case studies.

In addition to Robin's fab list, here are some lists from government.

The Collaboration Project from the National Academies of Public Administration for a terrific set of case studies of social media/collaboration in federal, state and local goverments.

Also, see USA.GOV for a number of directories like:
Finally, a (looong) list of government tweeters on Twitter is available at Twitter Fan Wiki.

Don't see your agency's efforts on these lists? Speak up and tell them you are missing. These resources are updated regularly.

Fishing Through Documents for Information

timoreilly RT @kmcurry: One Web 2.0 move govt could easily make: start publishing solicitations in open doc formats that I don't have 2 download 2 readSaw this, this morning and nodded. Another way folks can adopt to make government information more available.

Government likes it's DOCUMENTS. Documents are the coin of the realm. [Documents with alot of unnecessary over-syllabelized words, but that's another post] Papers, brochures, powerpoints, pdf's of press releases, reports, lists, tables, etc., etc., etc. Logos and boilerplate language reposted and repeated again and again in formats requiring downloads and plugins, opening new applications and interrupting the flow accessing and using information.

People (also sometimes called "users" in the tech space) should be able to choose the format that they will see the information. The open document format separates the content, styles, metadata and application settings into four separate XML files. Then the XML can be read by different applications that use the same standards.

Opening up documents--especially data, but also reports and papers--allow the information/content to be more easily analyzed and reused. It's a good step toward opening up the content locked in government websites and applications.

Tim O'Reilly's tweet also is a reminder that we need to think again about how we present information. Is the age of the memo done? Why have a report with five pages of introductory information when you are on the website that provides all the context via click? How do we tease the information from print-documents and integrate it into the information stream? How do we help people fish and take what they need from the stream?

Jan 8, 2009

Wisdom of the Pot-People

Wonderful lunch today with some of the smartest people working on the web in government. We talked about how critical it is to take risks, the power of great leadership (and what to do when that is less than available) and a bit of the happy dance on the promise of new media/Web 2.0 for improving government (with a small side of concern that we still have a long way to go on "web one-point-oh").

We were talking about innovations on change.gov, the official web site of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, and tried to read it as if it were the tea-leaves predicting the tools and expectations of the new administration. Like the interactive content "Open For Questions" section where folks can ask questions and other readers can rank the importance of the topics.

Me: What do you think was the top question?
Smart People at Lunch: Jobs! Definitely the economy. Health care.
Me: Nope.
SP@L: The bailout.(s). Environmental.
Me: No.
SP@L: (frowns and not such smart looks)
Me: Legalization of marijuana.
SP@L: I missed that part of the debate, I guess.

Yes, it was true. Take a look. Round one of questions had 978,868 votes on 10,302 questions from 20,468 people (about 48 votes were cast per person).

The question reads, "Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"

AND, m
ore than a dozen of the top 50 vote-getting questions pertained to amending America’s drug policies. See more on The Hill.

I want to be clear that I am not evaluating the value of this question, but I did want to offer the results of this effort as something to consider.

Is this the most important issue to the American people?
If it is, why didn't anybody know it?
If it's not, why does it appear to be the most important?
What can we learn from this analysis to help build participation into dot-gov?

I blogged on a quote from Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder) a few days back:
I recommend to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, but to never give up on the objective of the political process becoming more rational and less prone to hidden pressure group agendas.
And this will include trying and trying and learning and learning until we get it right. In the meantime, we need to figure out what we do with the results.

Army Reports Brass, Not Bloggers, Breach Security

Fear of blogging? from Wired:
For years, the military has been warning that soldiers' blogs could pose a security threat by leaking sensitive wartime information. But a series of online audits, conducted by the Army, suggests that official Defense Department websites post material far more potentially harmful than anything found on a individual's blog.

The audits, performed by the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell between January 2006 and January 2007, found at least 1,813 violations of operational security policy on 878 official military websites. In contrast, the 10-man, Manassas, Virginia, unit discovered 28 breaches, at most, on 594 individual blogs during the same period. --Read the rest.

Can't really add much more to that.

Jan 7, 2009

Twitter News Conference for FEMA

Here you go from @femainfocus

You can follow the news confernce on Monday (Jan-13) at twitter.com/femainfocus

Looks like there will be a few tweets from Chief Paulison to get started (signed -P) followed by a tweet exchange. The promise is to have staff answer any tweets that the Chief can't get to.

Government 2.0: How Social Media Could Transform Gov PR

Mark Drapeau writes
Behind every press release, web page, and social networking account is a person. But when people "hide" behind organizational brands, it reduces the authenticity and transparency that people -- citizens, customers, fans -- have become accustomed to seeing in the Web 2.0 world. New social tools and niche communications can empower people to connect with their audiences on a more personal level through what has been termed

Every citizen now has the potential to be a collector, an analyst, a reporter, and a publisher -- and so does every government employee. Engaging, trusted personalities employed as brand ambassadors will complement -- not replace -- traditional public affairs and government outreach. Depending on their agency or office's mission and goals, individuals can follow customized strategies to engage specific niches of the public at events, in interviews, and through constant, pervasive use of new and emerging media tools. In an ongoing bi-directional conversation, brand ambassadors employing I3 would work not only on behalf of the government among the people, but also on behalf of the people within the government.

Government social ambassadors should be fully accessible, transparent, authentic, and collaborative leaders that inspire people to cooperate for the sake of common concerns. As part of their missions, government brand ambassadors should conduct community-based research to understand the "marketplace."--Read the entire post.
Mark's comments fit right in with my lunch conversation. My friend was at a meeting yesterday and had an impromtu a conversation with another attendee from Sunlight. When he asked her, "Do you mind if I blog this," she did take pause.

Everyone is a government spokesman because everyone can be a publisher. It doesn't matter if you don't want the game to change, it already has. Might as well embrace it.

Open APIs Are Good (Government)

The Atlantic has a good piece--albeit on the fringe of geeky--about government using open APIs.

APIs are a way to access data that can be easily used and shared--mashed up with other data for example. This is important because it makes government data available for re-use in other applications.
Well, USAspending.gov might look like any other government Web site, but its API—that’s Application Programming Interface—allows access to the site’s raw data in an open, standard file format...Enterprising programmers, researchers, bloggers, or watchdogs like the Sunlight Foundation or Govtrack can grab that data and slice it, dice it, chart it, graph it, map it, or mash it up with new feeds.

It’s not just the API that’s a big deal, Greg Elin, Sunlight’s chief data architect, told me. “It’s the discipline an API imposes,” he said. To build one, an agency has to record and store data in a way that anticipates public use. “Data sharing is no longer an afterthought,” Elin explained. “You begin with the notion that you’re going to share information. And you’re going to make it easy for people.” (Compare that with the approach of the Federal Communications Commission, which allows only limited searching of filings and comments; or that of the Department of Justice, which puts out data on foreign lobbying in unwieldy PDF format and binders.) An API also encourages the release of data in real time, instead of in occasional reports, like Federal Election Commission figures, or earmark spending. --Read the whole article.
My favorite quote from the article, "It’s not 1995. A single Web site is not the endgame anymore."

See also Marketing Profs Daily Fix for a better explanation of APIs for non-technical people, with a non-geek video.

Jan 6, 2009

Even MORE on the CTO

With news of the announcement of the CTO imminent (or not), another august group of tech insiders weigh in on the CTO and (more interesting) some ideas for him/her to consider.

From The Daily Beast:
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, has discussed several of the president-elect's technology proposals with the Obama team, including a website where "Users will be able to rate their volunteer experiences, and those requiring service will be able to specify skill sets and time commitments required," according to the campaign's national service plan. "Users will also be able to track their hours of service if they choose and perhaps compete for awards from local chambers of commerce or foundations."

Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz is tired of tussling with federal agencies over Freedom of Information Act requests, and he wants Obama's CTO to put public government data online for all to see.

Swartz goes even further, proposing a national project to scan the millions of paper documents that live in the National Archives, Library of Congress, and other repositories—a massive program that would dwarf Google's effort to scan library books. "Imagine if we had a public process to take this and put it online—not just for one company, Google, but for the public at large," he says.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, suggests the White House try launching similar "wikis" to connect citizens. Indeed, the president-elect's advisers have cited the online encyclopedia as a way in which Americans could meet online to mull over legislation and policy issues. --Read the entire article.
The best advice came from Jimmy Wales.
"Don't just throw up a wiki and hope that something miraculous will happen," he wrote in an email. "A successful wiki requires a clear vision, a clear and achievable goal. I think there are great possibilities for the use of wikis to help citizens help each other. I recommend to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, but to never give up on the objective of the political process becoming more rational and less prone to hidden pressure group agendas."
Jimmy is right. Trying something for the sake of trying (Hey kids! Let's put up a show!) is not a path to success. Resources are finite. Projects should have a strategy and outcomes should be measurable.

Downsizing or Building Your Social Network Portfolio

And speaking of trying social networking/media sites, people frequently want to know, "Where do I start?" Great question.

Don Reisinger on CNET does an assessment of critical social categories, what works for him, and settles on the same set of tools that I would recommend.

Delicious for social bookmarking.
Twitter for micro-blogging.
Reddit for news-aggregator.
Facebook for social networking.
YouTube for video.

I would also add Flickr for photo sharing due to ease of use--they even make it easy to retain rights to your photos--and sheer volume.

Not all of these will make sense for your agency social media strategy, but like I said before, you need to get your own feet wet.
Read the complete CNET article here.

Secret Underground Guide to Social Media

If you are interested in learning about social networking for your organization put this little (23 page) e-book on your reading list, The Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations, by our Canadian neighbour Colin McKay. (Colin works for the Canadian government, so he knows a bit about large bureaucratic orgs.)

The book is terrific because Colin emphasizes the critical success factor in introducing and using social media organizationally -- actually using it yourself.

The only way that I have been able to explain an RSS feed to somebody is to show them and watch the lightbulb go off. The only way to understand Twitter is to actually tweet--signing up for an account and sending "test" doesn't count. The best way to see how easy it is to edit a page on Wikipedia is to just do it. And so on.

Colin's e-book has alot of other very good tips and advice, rounded out by the idea that if you want to use social media in your agency, you need to get into training so you are ready when they (finally) are. Get the book!

Jan 5, 2009

Twitter Gets Hacked, Badly

From Tech Crunch:
Phishing attacks, which hit Twitter over the weekend, are a sign a service has arrived Facebook has the same problem). But someone hacking into Twitter’s internal admin tools and compromising 33 high profile accounts, including President Elect Barack Obama, has Twitter users freaking out about what to do.

Here is Twitter’s official explanation:

This morning we discovered 33 Twitter accounts had been “hacked” including prominent Twitter-ers like Rick Sanchez and Barack Obama (who has not been Twittering since becoming the president elect due to transition issues). We immediately locked down the accounts and investigated the issue. Rick, Barack, and others are now back in control of their accounts.

What Happened?

The issue with these 33 accounts is different from the Phishing scam aimed at Twitter users this weekend. These accounts were compromised by an individual who hacked into some of the tools our support team uses to help people do things like edit the email address associated with their Twitter account when they can’t remember or get stuck. We considered this a very serious breach of security and immediately took the support tools offline. We’ll put them back only when they’re safe and secure.

Read the rest here.

I got a suspect tweet yesterday. It came direct to my phone, so I knew something was wrong. Here is more from twitter on the scam they were caught in.

This is a reminder to all using social media--but more importantly for advocates of social media. It's critical that advocates keep up with the "news" and status of the new favorite tools. Early adopters need to be aware of the risks and be the ones to bring it up.
[Finally, I hope that this isn't the thing that makes Scott owe me $5.]

More on What is a CTO: What Vint Cerf Thinks

Trending on the talk about the new CTO--rumours abound that the announcement will be made on Wednesday, here is an excerpt from The Guardian (UK) interview with Vint Cerf, the real father of the Internet.

They asked Mr. Cerf, "What do you think the CTO's job will entail?"
The first problem is 'what's the job?' - it isn't 100% clear what is desired as an outcome. It's pretty clear just looking at the campaign rhetoric that there's a great apparent desire in the Obama administration to make better use of information technology throughout the government. And so part of the motivation, as I perceive it, is to take steps to improve that.

But the choice of the term CTO, I think, was very deliberate - and probably extends to a much broader range of technologies than what you and I might think of as information technology. The indications that I have seen suggest the broader interpretation.

...So what I think is going on here is a great desire to stimulate serious thinking about how to put technology to work - and in the current economic climate there are huge opportunities.

Think of all the infrastructure that needs rebuilding across the United States. Clearly we don't want to rebuild it using 20th century technology, we want to use 21st century technology. We get to reinvent a substantial portion of the American physical infrastructure, and I would include in that the telecommunications component – so we're talking broadband.

....What I'm sensing here is that there are many parts of the government interested in green technology or practices – and the CTO, probably, could be a very vocal proponent. --Read the entire interview.
Mr. Cerf identifies a big swath of potential responsibility for a White House CTO. He goes on to raise important questions about funding and policy making. The guy has been doing his homework and says nobody has asked him about the job.

What Does A CTO Do?: DC's Tech Czar

Wash Post features the government CTO for the District of Columbia.
In the 18 months since joining [the DC government, Vivek] Kundra has gotten attention for taking an unconventional approach to government, which is not typically first to adopt the latest computing trends.

....His ideas have caught the eye of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and landed him a role as a tech policy adviser to the new administration. His approach could serve as a model for how a federal chief technology officer, a new position Obama has pledged to appoint, might operate. Kundra has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the job.
--Read full article
How does this translate for vision and results?
  • Posted the bidding process for IT procurement contracts on YouTube
  • D.C. employees use versions of Wikipedia and Twitter in the office
  • Launched a contest called "Apps for Democracy" to encourage developers to create applications for the Web and cellphones to give District residents access to crime reports and pothole repair schedules. See award winners.
  • Aspirations include using Facebook to pay parking tickets and renew driver's licenses
Kundra is playing the role of CTO as an innovator solving business problems using technology. He is ruffling feathers and shaking up the status quo. He has had successes and not-so successes. But while innovations like these might be harder in the federal arena, it definitely represents change.

Jan 2, 2009

The Air Force’s Rules of Engagement for Blogging

Everyone is looking to figure out the best ways to engage with the blogs and bloggers. The Air Force has developed a guideline document that does a pretty nice job setting out a procedure.

Schematic of the US Air Force's Rules of Engagement for Blogging
See Joey Devilla's post on Global Nerdy for more. Nevermind the haters in the comments, this is a tool that I know many of us will be using.