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Top 5 – Ideas for FedSpace

Over the last couple days, about a dozen people have asked me, “What do you think of the FedSpace idea?” In fact, one GovLooper has already opened a forum on the subject.

What I’ve been saying: “It’s awesome. I’m a big fan.”

As Tim O’Reilly stated with his blog “Government as a platform” – it takes an eco-system of public, private, and non-profit entities to solve key government problems. Government information sharing is a huge problem that has existed for years and it will take an eco-system of solutions to help solve the problem. The more people and projects working to solve it (from GovLoop to OMB Max to FedSpace) the better.

In a sense, it breaks down to formal vs informal networks. I actually gave a presentation on the difference and value of formal and informal networks in 2008 for Wikinomics group (slideshare here) and summarized some of these ideas in a post when I started GovLoop in 2008

From my time at DHS, I see the clear value of formal networks – tools like A-Space, OMB Max and other government work spaces that offer Feds a formal behind the firewall space to share information. I used them and they’re really helpful for facilitating collaboration. FedSpace has an opportunity to be a great formal space behind the firewall and can solve specific formal problems GovLoop can’t solve (for example, sharing procurement sensitive statement of works between gov’t employees).

GovLoop is a great informal network – a space for govies to share our challenges and solve problems in real-time – and not just Feds since we also have state, local, international, academic, non-profits and private sector employees all sharing one common mission: connect government to improve government. As an informal network, we have lots of benefits – ability to move fast launching areas like data.govloop.com and our OpenGov summaries, have fun so we talk gov’t mascots and knowledge management together, and collaborate across institutional boundaries (F/S/L/I, non-profit, private) that are difficult and thorny.

I also know a lot of the people who are involved in the project over at GSA and they are some of the coolest, smartest people around…and we’ve been talking about ways to pass on lessons learned from GovLoop and leverage the best of both formal and informal network characteristics. A clear example from last year was gathering input for the Open Government Directive – a rich discussion occurred both on OMB Max (formal network which I was a part of at the time) and GovLoop – that together helped push the OpenGov movement forward.

So in the spirit of collaboration and innovation, here are my Top 5 Ideas for FedSpace:

1 – Share agency employee skills and directories in one place. I can see how some employees might not want to make all of their contact information (including email/phone/etc) available, so FedSpace could be the one place where people can find one another quickly through a searchable database or cool interface.

2 – Solve the family problems behind close doors. Every level of government is like a family. And an individual family unit doesn’t tell the whole world their problems, right? Sometimes it’s okay to share information with close cousins, a brother/sister or friend, but other times it’s best to keep the conversations behind closed doors. Think sensitive information (procurement or national security). Think of FedSpace as the place where mom and dad go to their room to talk about whether or not they’re going to let you go that sleepover party on Saturday night. They’ll get your input, then let you know their decision once they’ve talked about it.

3 – Find a Key Business Problem to Solve. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one. Find an existing business problem to solve with existing community. OMB Max, a current federal community behind the firewall, has been successful as it started with a key process problem – creating agencies budgets through collaboration and getting approved via multiple layers. There needs to be a hook…

4 – Invest in Community Management/Marketing. The hardest part with online communities is not the technology – there’s lots of options there. It is how to build and foster a community. It’s actually quite difficult and most people completely underestimate this element. Get out the word, get people coming, get people coming back – it’s hard. Successful online communities require staff and time investment…plus thinking through how to get the word out (on GovLoop we do everything from attending events, cool lanyards, and fun newsletters)

5 – Experiment and iterate over time. There is no doubt the FedSpace project will change over time. What I originally envisioned for GovLoop has taken about 8 right turns and 4 lefts to arrive at what you are experiencing today. And I think there are about two dozen more turns coming. So my advice for the FedSpace team is: get input from lots of people, build, test, ask people for more input, adapt, test some more, etc…And remember the Bob Dylan line “That he not busy being born is busy dying” – so continue to iterate. It will emerge over time and eventually become the right tool for the right people to improve Federal collaboration.

So that’s my two cents – if you want to talk about it more, feel free to comment below or join in the “Fedspace vs. GovLoop” forum.

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Mary Davie

Steve – you make some very good points. We do have several tools available and in use in gov today and need to think through best use of a platform such as FedSpace.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Good points Steve. I hope that the GSA folks will collaborate with you on the development of Fedspace. My problem is that I’m reaching the tipping point where I need to limit the social networks that I use. I’m close to dropping LinkedIn, only use Facebook for business, still like Twitter to check the pulse. I never really liked Max because of its clutsy interface and separate logins.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Sixth point – include apps to make Fedspace a virtual workplace. Make it easy to embed or link to Google Apps, ZOHO apps, etc. so that ROWE federal workers, teleworkers, and so on can easily collaborate with each other whether they are in their office or in a coffee shop. Abolish the agency IT silo walls to allow for true cross-agency collaboration.

Teri Centner

I hope that FedSpace will link to other communities, like OMB Max, that are behind the Federal firewall, rather than keeping each of them separate. One of the things I think most people love about the Internet is discoverability, and we haven’t been able to replicate that behind the Federal firewall on any large scale. (DoD’s DISA and ODNI’s ICES are working on that problem for the national security community with something called Enteprise Search, but they haven’t quite cracked the nut yet.)


I really like what people have to say about linkability.

I think content should be able to be share socially to:
-Other networks like GovLoop, Facebook, Twitter
-To other internal networks like Diplopedia, A-Space, OMB Max, etc

Andrea Di Maio

Looking at your points and reading commments I am even more convinced that a potentially fatal limitation will be the “only-behind-the-firewall” nature of FedSpace. Great observation by terrence about limiting the number of platforms. Then, which ones wopuld you use? One that allows you to reach out to folks outside your firewall (as a deliberate choice, not just as an accident of course) or one that keeps you within your four walls?
Let’s take procurement. Of coruse I want to share information with my peers, but then I may wish to reach out to somebody in state & local government who may help, and then – why not – contractors, potential suppliers, researchers, people who can help me solve my problem more efficiently and effectively.
One can create private groups with both Facebook and LinkedIn: I have doubts it is possible to create a public group with FedSpace.
Your points above all make a lot of sense, but the whole premise about being able to control the boundaries of collaboration may be flawed.

Jon Verville

I have not asked Emma or anyone on the FedSpace team, but I wondering if the platform is going to allow for what OMB MAX calls enclaves, which are team sites which can include non-federal individuals, whom can be invited by the manager of the enclave space.

I believe this would serve to solve some of the problems you are talking about Andrea.

What if FedSpace and GovLoop had widgets by which one could seamlessly move/share information (whether it be in a form of a blog post, wiki page, etc.) back and forth between the two platforms. This would get around the couple of steps necessary to “manually” do this, its funny how decreasing the time to do this type of thing could have dramatic impacts.

What if you could click 1-2 times and have a post go to more than one platform. Tell me that wouldn’t be powerful….

With today’s open API’s this should not be a problem!


I agree with Andrea, I think thjs is the wrong approach.

The new NASA Spacebook is based on my design for OpenNASA v2.0. I’ve recommended that NASA release the Spacebook (i.e. OpenNASA v1.5) source code as opensource.

This would be a much better approach.

That way each agency, whether Federal, State or Local, could use the opensource code as a starting point for their own intranets or OpenGov v2.0 portals and could then tailor to individual/internal requirements.

If the idea catches on, more and more agencies would be leveraging the same basic (very general) portal design, making the navigation between the portals seamless and transparent, and enabling sharing of widgets and gadgets between portals.

It moves us away from the whole “stovepiped” solutions, of which we already have too many.

Here is my lastest slidedeck that summarizes the general concept for the public-facing OpenGov 2.0 platforms:


I am not sure where NASA is in the process of relasing the source code, but if interested, our contact for OpenGov is: [email protected]


I do like the idea of offering agencies an easy way to leverage this work. Would be great in apps.gov if an agency could quickly get thebsame solution. One trick would be tonconnect w ldap and agency email so pulls required info

Jim Kovach

Portals behave like Portals. I read “clutsy” in the comments and agree. In Social, Adoption is King, and User Experience drives Adoption…I believe this quote sums it up:

“Over the next few years we’re going to see that the applications built from the ground up to be social will have a fundamental advantage over applications that slap it on top, check the box, and think they can move on from there.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Founder & CEO, Facebook

“Over the next few years we’re to see that the applications built from the ground up to be social will have a fundamental advantage over applications that slap it on top, check the box, and think they can move on from there.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Founder & CEO, Facebook