Government 2.0 Club is an informal organization focused on convening the tribe of technologists and thinkers focused on applying social technologies to the governments worldwide.
Web 2.0 and Federal Government Commentary
July 2, 2009 at 1:33 pm #75120
With boost from Obama, Web 2.0 government takes off
By Frank Davies
Updated: 07/02/2009 03:59:59 AM PDT
WASHINGTON — Want to give the Obama White House an earful on how to open up government? Want to sort through the latest NASA images of Mars, use a text message to donate to Pakistani refugees or help transportation officials design new bus stops?
Your government now has the tools to let you do that.
Want to know which airports have the most bird strikes, where the latest food recall is or how much your county is getting in stimulus money?
Web 2.0 government is making it easier for citizens to download and search data, slice it and dice it, and talk back to the government about it.
And if some agencies are slow to sign on, help is on the way. The new data.gov Web site allows the private sector to build applications that will help citizens sort through and analyze information.
The Obama administration is pushing hard for the government to use social networking and other Web 2.0 tools so citizens can get more information, hold government accountable and participate in more decisions.
"This is about changing the way government works and how we make decisions," said Beth Simone Noveck, the administration's deputy chief technology officer. "We can create a viral movement that really opens up government."
Noveck is part of several new media teams in the White House that are drafting open-government rules and initiatives with a lot of outside input. They're testing ideas and taking
When President Barack Obama held the first online town hall, the White House used Google Moderator to sort questions and allow the public to vote on their popularity. Backers of legalizing marijuana in effect stuffed the ballot box, forcing pot questions to the top of the list.
"There are risks, but the new administration is willing to take some risks like that, even if it doesn't work," said Kevin Merritt, the CEO of Socrata, a private company and social network that uses government data.
Obama's team "genuinely feels that if you get the data out there, people will do interesting things with it, and good things will follow," Merritt added. He compared recent developments to the 1980s, when weather data and GPS technology led to all sorts of applications, services and businesses.
While the White House is leading the charge on many Web 2.0 efforts, many ideas are coming directly from agencies and departments.
The State Department recently launched a text-message campaign that made it easy for users to donate $5 to a U.N. fund for Pakistani refugees in the Swat region of that country.
"We had the idea on Thursday and the White House approved it on Tuesday," said Alec Ross, senior adviser on innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "The government was moving at Internet speed."
Last week the National Archives announced it will start a YouTube channel featuring some of its video archive, including rare World War II footage.
And on Tuesday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a new mapping tool to track the stimulus money spent on housing programs. Santa Clara County will receive $29.7 million for 34 programs.
But serious obstacles remain to using some of the new tools in the federal government. The cultural inertia of some bureaucracies, the absence of technical know-how and strict federal rules on privacy, security and access for the disabled make it harder to adopt tools for direct public participation.
"It's not enough to put something up on a Web site. You've got to have a feedback loop people can use, and that's a culture shift for some in the government," Noveck said.
Ross, speaking at a recent forum, said some of the restrictions on new media are "analog-age laws" that may need to be changed.
Not all federal Web sites are user-friendly. Critics say some are designed to be read and used only by specialists, or by the industry an agency regulates. Senators last week criticized the Federal Communications Commission Web site along those lines.
Blogger Nancy Scola of techpresident.com agreed: "The FCC's Web site is a case study in obfuscation through ugliness, an unequal political playing field tilted worse by horrid user interface."
Many of the government's online efforts are in their early stages, and the jury is still out on how they will develop, said Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media and the man who popularized the term "Web 2.0."
"Social media is a messy space," he said. "Government doesn't always lend itself to messy spaces."
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