GovSM: From Ma Bell to Leatherman

Note: I am on vacation this week, so I have the time to write blog entires (like this one) that are not reflective of the opinions of my employer. These thoughts and their form are entirely my own.

Last October, I wrote “if agencies’ social media sites were like phone numbers, Josh [Shpayher] looked around and realized there was no central phone book. So he made one and it’s called GovSM. And it’s a Wiki.” But in early December, Josh added a new component to the site that propelled it far beyond a 1930’s operator, connecting us to our government: he began to give his site’s visitors a way to see what governors and federal officials were doing on their social media sites, how often they updated them, and who was following or friending them. He did this by adding fields with links to their Facebook Grader, Klout, Twitalyzer, and Tweetlevel scores.

This is an important addition to the site, and I hope that it presages more steps in the same direction. Essentially, it moves the site from a directory to a multi-use analytical tool. Yes, it’s important to know where to find agencies’ and elected officials’ social media sites, but it’s even more important to know how they’re using it, who’s receiving their feeds, and who they themselves are following.

(For those within agencies, I’ll also add that it’s important to know how social media figures in to records retention, the subject of a recent IBM Center for the Business of Government publication, straightforwardly titled, “How Federal Agencies Can Effectively Manage Records Created Using New Social Media Tools“)

Of the sites GovSM links to, the one I like most is Klout, because it generates easy-to-read charts that illustrate the frequency and reach of a user’s Twitter feed. For example, Governor Christie’s charts reveal a Twitterer who is retweeted between 300 – 500 times a day.

Even more useful, however, would be an add-on that showed who was retweeting. At the very least, we can now plug Twitter users into Friend or Follow, where we learn that Governor Christie follows 87 of his own followers, including Deval Patrick, Sean Hannity, Jimmy Fallon, Michelle Malkin, Chuck Grassley, Cory Booker, and Michael Steele.

This is important, because many people have begun using Twitter as a human-power news aggregator. In the next election, when Katie Couric asks a candidate what media they read, a legitimate answer might be “whatever my staff of 1,000 followers links to that makes it onto my daily paper.li site.” Sarah Palin’s daily newspaper is now available to everyone for review.

In short, GovSM is becoming more than just a wiki: the best term is probably “mashup,” but that sets it among the silly as well as the sublime, and doesn’t hint at its future as an indispensable tool for transparency and analysis. I hope that more people become involved in the project, both as developers and as users, so that we’ll create a community of data miners and analyzers up to the task of discerning meaning from information.

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