Records Keeping in a Web 2.0 World

Time was when a lot of government agencies, including a few I worked for, kept their records in the equivalent of an old shoebox containing a few old spiralbound notebooks left in the care of that secretary, whats-her-name, who retired four years ago…

Yeah. With the advent of e-mail a few decades ago records keeping got moved off the back burner. Now with implementation of Web 2.0 technologies many agencies are re-visiting this task with growing alarm.

How exactly are we going to keep records of our director’s Facebook statuses (stati?), or our agency’s Tweets? This is not just an issue for historians or those irritatingly nosy people who FOIA everything. With the new administration’s goal of transparency in government, using a political party’s organizational e-mail for official communication probably isn’t going to fly. And any messages or statements disseminated on social networking sites are going to have to be kept track of.

Somehow I have visions of “Auto-archiving” Facebook applications by 3rd party fly-by-night dotcoms cold calling my office right now and I shudder. Having to buy several site-specific solutions with names like “Tweet-Cage” or “FaceSav”, doesn’t seem like a cost-benefit winner to me. New services will spring up daily. I think an in-house solution would be the most efficient, but every time this comes up all I hear about is expanding budgets for server storage.

Other than resorting to a faith-based initiative like contracting several monasteries of monks to scribe everything on parchment, which may result in the same embarrassment as that faith-based firewall idea, some government-wide solution is needed, even if is just a set of onerous procedures. Maybe BEFORE we dive headfirst into the Web 2.0 pool?

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Jeff Cochran

Unfortunately, the solution is quite easy. You block all access to social network sites for offices and officials who might post public data that needs to be retained. You do this until the records laws catch up with the technology and either legislate or accept the dillema this causes. It may not be the ideal solution, and it may not satisfy those in power, but it’s the only technical solution that works.

Bowen Moran

In the private sector, server storage costs next to nothing, so I don’t know why it costs so much for the Public Service. I think the concern over records in a web 2.0 environment is actually ironic. A year ago teens were being warned off Facebook because “it never goes away”. Now we’re concerned that we won’t be able to prodice the records we need as demanded by laws which were never written to address collaborative networks, let alone electronic records effectively.

In the US, the product of the Government belongs to the people, and by moving into the Social Network sphere you’ve placed the information in the people’s hands. By using Google Docs, Twitter and Facebook, as long as those core services exist, you’ll be able to find everything that you’ve ever done there. The answer isn’t burying your head in the sand and blocking access – the answer is radical new partnerships with the private sector providers to ensure that access to the records remains.