May 29, 2009

Shorts: Open Gov Dialogue, Smithsonian Future, SocMed Personalities

White House Closes Down Phase I of Open Government Dialogue, Preps for Next Phase. After receiving 900 submissions and 33,000 votes on ideas ranging from strategies for making government data more accessible to legal and policy impediments to transparency, the White House closes the Open Government dialogue at (hosted by the National Academies of Public Administration). All materials will be reviewed along with comments received from government employees in March. The goal is to use ideas from the first phase to "inform deeper discussion." The White House wanted to clarify that while "the voting on the brainstorming submissions will be instructive, it will not determine which topics are discussed in the second phase." A little confusing, too, is that the brainstorming tool will remain open for the lively dialogue through June 19, it just won't inform the process (?). More on the next steps on WhiteHouse.Gov.

The Smithsonian Crowd-sources for It's Future. The grand museums(s) on the Mall is hosting a discussion on YouTube. They are "looking for a few friends and fans from around the world to help us form the future Smithsonian experience. A revolutionary Web and New Media Strategy project is underway, and we invite you to collaborate with us as we envision a rich new media future for the Institution." They are asking people to join their group on YouTube and submit a <1 class="Apple-style-span" style="color: rgb(192, 192, 192); ">More on Smithsonian's channel.  [A little funny because the "conflict" for Night at the Museum 2, filmed at Air and Space, includes a rant against the modernization of the museum experience.] 

What’s Your Government 2.0 Personality Type? Steve Radick creates a fun set of social media archetypes ranging from the Edgerider--an early-adopter of all things technology always looking for the latest and the greatest Internet meme, idea, and initiative--to the Skeptic who asks, “Why the hell are you spending so much time on Twitter and Facebook when you could be doing real work?" And a bunch in between. See if you can find yourself at Social Media Strategery.

May 28, 2009

FBI and Social Media

Image of FBI Most Wanted widgetThe FBI is turning to social media to add to their tip jar.
The FBI is looking for fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter to expand its ability to share information with millions of social media users.

The social media programs supplement other information technology tools the bureau has deployed in recent years to make it easier for people to submit tips and get news from the FBI, bureau officials said May 15. In addition to a Facebook page and tweets sent via Twitter, the bureau also has a YouTube page and is testing the usefulness of the virtual world Second Life.

Disseminating information on such sites about fugitives, missing children, threats and scams is an extension of the bureau’s longstanding effort to enlist support and help from the public.--Read more on Federal Computer Week
The Bureau has also developed a number of widgets, including a widget which features the FBI 10 Most Wanted Fugitive list.  The widgets, available on FBI.GOV, can be easily shared via email or Facebook and can be embedded in blogs and websites, moving traditional law enforcement information outside of the walls of a dot-gov website and making it available to where people--and possible informants--already are.

May 25, 2009

For Our Troops: VA Electronic Records and Thanks

Flags at tombstones at Arlington National CemetaryToday is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have sacrificed their lives because we have asked them to. There are no words to express both the awe for and the profound loss of these brave men and women.

Today also is a day to think about the many service men and women who have returned home. These vets are supported by the Veterans Health Administration and their award-winning electronic patient records system, VisitA. Yes, since 2006, the VA has model system of electronic health records which reduces costs and errors while increasing safety and efficiency. A few measures:
  • The cost of maintaining the system is $80 per patient per year, less than the cost of one unnecessarily repeated lab test.
  • The VA outperforms all other sectors of American health care across 294 measures of quality in disease prevention and treatment.
  • Patient waiting times have declined.
The VA's system is open source so it can be freely adapted and used by civilian hospitals. Currently, less than 2% of non-VA hospitals have a full-fledged electronic patient record. This is a great example of innovation in the government sector that can solve a universal problem. As health care reform heats up this summer, expect to see more on the VA's systems.

A bit off topic, two other links for Memorial Day. 

First, an incredible mashup using Google Earth called Map The Fallen-- a new online memorial to honor those service members who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. You need Google Earth to see it, but please check out the video demo, it is truly amazing

Second, see for a small way to thank our troops. The campaign includes calls to tweet about your hero (@remind_org and #tweettoremind), share videos, and micro-fundraising. Five minutes and $5.25 isn't much to say, "Thanks!"

May 23, 2009

5 Social Media Memes Changing Government

Red Boy Scout patch with number 5Federal Computer Week, reporting on a government leadership summit [sorry, too lazy to find out more about another one of these meetings prolly sponsored by some publisher or something] talks about five social media elements that will change the way the government works.  

My [very] loose roundup of the new memes are

1.  Where, once, government was leading on technology requirements, it is now one among many (competing) consumer interests. 
What I think this means: I've been at plenty of meetings where folks say "we're the government, we are huge, they want our business, they will change to meet our needs." But if a company's entire business model is advertisement, and government doesn't drive enough traffic, where is their incentive to destroy their income stream? If government wants to use the tools, we need to figure out how we can adapt.

2. Public engagement reveals the law of unintended consequences. 
What this means: Forays into social tools need to be flexible, and program managers need to keep an eye on results. None of us knows what will happen when we try something out--servers may crash, agencies may be overwhelmed with comments, the only response will be the chirps of crickets, or you might be stuck naming your international space station after a satirical opinionator. Good news for NASA on this last one--they saw an opportunity rather than a disaster.

3. Stop the analysis paralysis and make data available. 
What this means: Here is a big cultural change, from the government churning data into tables and reports that is delivered tied up in a bow to a dynamic process of developers unleashing the data to tell all kinds of stories. See #2. Also, expect a clamoring to open up more data sources.

4. It's the content, stupid!
What this means: Government can embarrass itself jumping into social streams without having anything to say. It's a conversation. It's a message. It's not just having a Facebook page or Twtitter account. It's not the technology, but the way that it's used.  So, if you say, "What's a hashtag?" you have no business putting your government agency on Twitter. Leading to #5.

5. This is the new way of the world. 
What this means: Despite old-fashioned concerns about employees goofing around (what's the difference between that sudoku book and YouTube, as far as productivity goes?) and real, to-be-addressed concerns about privacy and security, people are working, learning, collaborating and living differently. It's happening. And, even as some of the tools fall to the wayside and new ones developed, expectations of citizens and employees are out of the bottle. They can't be put back in.

Welcome to the changing government.

Read the FCW article I jumped off from, here

May 20, 2009

The Duty to Increase Technology Literacy

Responsibility wristbandRobert Groves, President Obama's pick to lead the Census Bureau offered a new competency for leadership when he was before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, criticized the bureau's program to develop handheld computers..."It's really been appalling, after spending literally billions of dollars and much time, the Census Bureau scrapped its plans to use handheld technology for nonresponse follow-up due to significant performance problems and a loss of confidence in its contractors," Collins said.

[When Groves was] asked how he would correct problems associated with the handhelds. He said the IT issues stemmed partly from management issues and partly from an absence of research and development. Groves said he would ask the bureau's top leaders to become involved in all future IT projects.

"It seems clear in my part of the IT world, large-scale surveys, that successful hardware and software development has
the user involved at the beginning, middle and end," he said, adding the traditional model of developing a list of requirements and waiting for the product to be built no longer works. "Leadership at Census can't walk away from these contracts; they must be involved. This way you build a little piece, if it's not satisfactory, you throw it away." [my emphasis] --Read the entire article on NextGov.
At a time when all of our systems are running on technology, it's critical that leaders and managers have a basic competency in technology. This doesn't mean that program managers need to know how to code, bring up a server or reindex a database. 

It does mean that they need an understanding of the complexity of systems, the confidence to ask questions, and the knowledge to pull a plug or refocus efforts when necessary. It means they need to get beyond the promise of what can be to a cool-eyed assessment of timelines and requirements. It means that leaders need to develop trusted tech-counselors to help fill their technical gaps.

In 2009, leaders can't outsource or abdicate technology knowledge. They need to amass it. Amen, Mr. Groves. 

May 18, 2009

Has RSS Peaked?

Forrester Research published a report a few months back on the state of RSS feeds [see below for info on RSS feeds]. Forrester thinks that the numbers of users of this technology has topped out. According to Steve Rubel, blogging at Micro Persuasion
[T]he research entitled "What's Holding RSS Back?," says that nearly half of marketers have moved to add feeds to their web sites. Further, RSS adoption among consumers is at 11% up from just 2% of users three years ago.  [But] that might be all she wrote for RSS' growth track.

According to the research, of the 89% of those who don't use feeds only 17% say they're interested in using them... "Unless marketers make a move to hook them — and try to convert their apathetic counterparts — RSS will never be more than a niche technology,"

RSS is only one form of opt-in communications. The potential is bigger when you look more broadly to social networking
[like Facebook newsfeed, Twitter and Friendfeed]. This larger promise still holds and as the technologies become more invisible the newsfeed could even one day subsume RSS. --Read Steve's entire post
This trend is important since government is using RSS to broadcast press releases and other information to stakeholders. It's not costly if automated, so even if the numbers of users are small, there is little lift to implement.

The White House stimulus reporting site is working to incorporate RSS feeds from Departments and agencies into their reporting, and the potential to use RSS to transmit data for mash ups remains appealing. While this technology may be niche as far as mass subscriptions go, the use of this data by developers and other key stakeholders makes the small effort create and maintain government RSS feeds worthwhile.

Did you want to learn more about RSS? Here is a great introduction video from CommonCraft:

May 15, 2009

Shorts: Flickr License, Chu Vents, CDC Web Stats

Flickr Creates New License for White House Photos. The White House had been posting pics to Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution license that lets people reuse, reprint and remix the photos just as long as they credit the original photographers--but since government works can’t be copyrighted that was a fail. Over the weekend, though, the licenses changed, and now the photos are labeled “United States Government Work” and link to an explanation on  The change marks a first for Flickr, which did not have a license for government works, other than a “No Known Copyright Restriction” license. Read the post on Wired.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu Vents About IT Bureaucracy and provides Quote of the Day: "They (DoE's infosec people) forgot the Department of Energy has a job, and it’s not to protect the Department of Energy. It’s to get something done...(Risk) has to be balanced against the mission of the Department and so this is something that I feel very strongly about." Can I get an AMEN?  From Personal Democracy Forum.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Posts Data on Web Experience. Being perfectly transparent about what people are looking for and how happy they are, CDC is posting quarterly numbers on visits,visitor satisfaction, what they look for on the site, and top pages. The quarter they are reporting includes heavy traffic from the peanut recall and H1N1 (nee swine) flu.  See the data dashboard on CDC.GOV.

May 13, 2009

Prototype to Development Success

Why do so many IT projects fail? Well, one of the reasons, according to CIO Update is the requirements process.

You know requirements: When you write down everything you want, might think you want, and might think you might think you want in excruciating detail? And then you turn over the document to the developers only to find that the software or website doesn't do what you expected? Or, from the developer point of view, the client didn't know what he wanted, kept changing the scope and then complained that it doesn't work?

Dot-gov exists on software. Software that can be complex. The challenge is 
While it may seem simple to just have the customers or end users write up a requirements document, those often include unnecessary features or have a tendency to omit key elements.

Skimping on gathering the requirements leads to problems down the road when users start adding to the project scope, or get upset about features that were never mentioned, but, they assumed, would be included. Getting it right takes time, so don't underestimate what it takes to actually determine what it needed or shortcut the process.--
More on CIO Update
How about a suggestion to get this closer to right?
The building a prototype to the requirements, rather than using the prototype to determine them.

“We're asking (developers) to define dynamic systems that configure themselves, based on previous answers and state changes and applying business rules,” [Brian Cook of Cook Enterprise Corp] said. “There is all this complexity and we expect people to describe in words what it will do? No wonder such dismal record in terms of the results; it is the wrong medium, the wrong way to approach requirements.”

The correct approach is to build a visual prototype and then engage with the stakeholders about how the system should work. Users can then work with the initial model and give their feedback. That feedback then gets incorporated into the final design. And since it is based on actual user experience, it eliminates trying to add in lots of additional features which may not be needed. He said that doing it this way gets more people engaged in the requirements process, instead of one expert dominating the discussion of what should be built.  --More on CIO Update
This method requires a clear set of goals, the right people building, reviewing and working on the prototype and significant time and engagement from the business owner. Just as Amazon has incrementally evolved over the years based on user feedback and goals to be the biggest online retailer, and  just as Google brings projects out in large, ongoing betas, so can complex projects be brought online using prototyping and a multi-phased approach.

Today's e-gov projects are never "done," but continue to be developed as part of a feedback loop between users, business owners and developers. This also means the development costs are an ongoing budget item--like subscriptions or building and vehicle maintenance. Let's look at updating what it means to develop and deploy software.

May 11, 2009

7 Deadly Blindspots in Social Media

Seven deadly social media blind spots are outlined in MarketingProfs Daily Fix by Mark Ivey,
1) Not thinking like social media marketers: Social media is all about sharing, opening up, being transparent, providing real value to our customers. It’s about long-term relationships, not short-term campaigns. We must give up control, take some risks and get out there. 

2) Not connecting social media programs with the larger corporate strategy and other programs: Social media programs are too often set up as separate silo programs. 

3) Not really listening to customers: Social media is about listening to our customers. What are their needs? What are they missing? How are they using your product/service? [U]nderstand what they would want from you.

4) Not listening to the market: How can you target your products/services if you don’t know your market?
Think about your goals—what are you trying to monitor/achieve? 

5) Not trusting the employees:
The old days where the company controlled employees’ content is long over—they’re conversing online whether companies condone it or not. Establish company guidelines but provide employees the tools and freedom to express themselves—and then step back. 

6) Not creating “social” content: Good content drives traffic, links, goodwill and much more. The
problem is much of our content is in corporate-speak and brochure-ware that we slap on the web. Your content needs to be fresh, interesting, engaging, relevant to your audience--and “share-able.” Forget your message a few minutes and focus on your customers. 

7) Not creating cool videos: See the trend?
Videos need to be about the customers’ needs, interests, not your latest product overview. -- [my emphasis added] Read the full story at MarketingProfs.
Even though the article focuses on marketing, dot-gov still has a take away: If you want to use social media to meet your goals, start with your customers first, and your customers again, last. It's in the creation of value for your customers (citizens, stakeholders) that you will be able to use new tools to achieve your mission.

May 7, 2009

Metrics That Matter, Some That Don't

Good article on ClickZ recommending that we update our assumption about important metrics. Augustine Fou writes
Time on Site Is a Bad Metric. Time on site is still often referred to as if it's a useful metric of a program's success. However, this metric is quite possibly one of the worst indicators of "engagement" because so many factors can increase or decrease it without having anything to do with a user's interest.

For example, if someone opens a page in a Web browser, then takes a 30-minute phone call before coming back to the page, that "time on site" is artificially higher. Or if someone can't find something and spends some frustrating minutes looking around on the site, the extra time spent doesn't indicate greater interest. In fact, the person may get increasingly annoyed at the site and never come back.
Other factors decrease time on site artificially -- for example, the person found what they were looking for immediately through site search. The person was very satisfied and left the site after completing a mission.

Takeaway: there are no benchmarks for this metric. Drop it entirely as a success metric.--Read more on ClickZ.
So, what should you measure? Fou suggests new metrics that indicate user interest and intent like
  • On-site search. Are your visitors looking for something specific on your site?
  • Time they spend with a piece of content -- not just on the site in general. Are they spending time with a specific piece of content?
  • Site bounce rate (lower is better). Are people on your site finding that they were looking for?
  • Percentage of repeat visits. Do users find your site useful or valuable enough for them to come back?--Again, read the whole thing on ClickZ.
Take a look at what you are measuring, and make sure that it makes sense.

May 4, 2009

Who Controls Language on the Interwebs?

A rose by any new name may be unfindable.

Last week, official Washington began calling the artist formerly known as "swine flu" the "H1N1 flu," as did the World Health Organization. There are very good reasons for this--the virus isn't transmitted by eating pork products, it is hurting the economy, the relationship between pigs and the virus is debatable, it is more accurate to call it by it's scientific name and the government response is based on science, etc. 

That said, people are looking for information on "swine flu" and people are talking about "swine flu." From BlogPulse:

NielsenBlogPulse view of the terms swine flu vs. H1N1, swine is much more popular.The blue line is the trend for the use of the term "swine flu" in blogs, and the orange trends "H1N1." 

Looking at Google Trends, we see that the change in terminology from "swine flu" to H1N1 was picked up and acknowledged in the news (lower graph), but is not having much impact in general web searches (upper graph). This data is for U.S. searches only.

CDC has said that they were going to work on transitioning their online information to H1N1 from swine. That sounds like a good idea, since we wouldn't want a choice of words interrupting people's ability to find critical health information. 

Takeaway? Use data and trends to find out what people are looking for and build web sites and tools according to data. Help people learn the new terms, but remember that once a meme has legs, it's ingrained in the collective and will not be replaced easily.

In the meantime, wash your hands!, and see CDC for up-to-date information on the H1N1 (swine) flu. 

If you want to track what is happening in the blogosphere the Nielsen BlogPulse is a great resource. Book mark it! Also, Google Trends for what people are looking for. Great FREE sources.

May 3, 2009

Social Media Opportunity & Vulnerabilities

Open window.The Social Media Academy released a report reviewing the "social media status" of six global enterprises including Dow Chemical, John Deere, NetApp, New York Life, Toyota, and Vodafone.
We had a pretty good understanding about the estimated outcome –yet it was shocking to realize how vulnerable businesses are that stay away from social media. The present case demonstrates how a small group of social media savvy consultants can compromise a global enterprise based on publicly available data.

We used only publicly available data by dissecting the social web. The data was aggregated from over one million people who publicly expressed their opinions and emotions in social networks, groups, communities, forums, blogs, and other social media related places. The “Mind Share Report” demonstrates not only that social media is heavily used by businesses across all industries but also that it poses a significant threat to companies who do not understand how publicly available information can be used by their competitors to create devastating effects.--
The full study is available for $195, but you can glean some very good insights from the free 30-page executive summary, especially as a blueprint for using social networks to find out more about your audience/stakeholders and what they think about your organization and issues. 

What you see in the corporate world are fan pages set up in Facebook, reviews of services in Yelp!, LinkedIn profiles of employees and groups related to their organizations, Twitter streams about organizations and from organizations, videos both for and against on YouTube. These same outlets are used by citizens to share things that they like about government and things that they don't like about government. Social media is the world's largest, ongoing focus group.

Take a look at the report and start searching networks for your agency and issues that you touch. Learn and engage. You can read the free 30-page executive summary (in PDF) here.