Dec 29, 2009

Round Up for 2009

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

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

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

Dec 22, 2009

21st Century Snow Removal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 13, 2009

Open Government Needs Data (not just provide it)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn't getting any easier.

Dec 6, 2009

Facebook: What's The Point?

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 1, 2009

3 Reasons To Get With The Program Already

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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