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 whitehouse.gov 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 usajobs.gov.

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 craigslist.org 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. Commerce.gov--whose data includes hurricane and storm tracking from noaa.gov, weather.gov, time.gov--has 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.