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.