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May 25 2012

Top Stories: May 21-25, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

White House launches new digital government strategy
The nation's new strategy for digital government is built on data, shared services, citizen-centrism, and consistent methodologies for privacy and security.

Quantified me
Jim Stogdill is trying to walk the line between obsessive tracking and an open-ended approach to motivation.

A gaming revolution, minus the hype
"Playful Design" author John Ferrara discusses gaming's place in cultural transformation, and he offers five universal principles of good game design.

What do mHealth, eHealth and behavioral science mean for the future of healthcare?
Dr. Audie Atienza says we're just at the beginning of discovering how to best develop and utilize mobile technology to improve the health of individuals and the public.

Social reading should focus on common interests rather than friend status
In this TOC podcast, ReadSocial co-founder Travis Alber discusses her company's focus on building their platform without tying it to your social graph.

Velocity 2012: Web Operations & Performance — The smartest minds in web operations and performance are coming together for the Velocity Conference, being held June 25-27 in Santa Clara, Calif. Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20.

White House photo: white house by dcJohn, on Flickr

January 24 2012

"The President of the United States is on the phone. Would you like to Hangout on Google+?"

We're suddenly very close to science fiction becoming reality television, live streamed to large and small screens around the world. On Monday, January 30th, 2012, the fireside chats that FDR hosted on citizens' radios in the 20th century will have a digital analogue in the new millennium: President Barack Obama will host a Google+ Hangout from the West Wing, only a few weeks after the White House joined Google+.

Screenshot of President Obama sending a tweet through the @whitehouse account
A screenshot from July 6, 2011, of President Obama sending his first tweet through the @whitehouse account. On January 30, he'll host the first president Hangout on Google+.

If you have a question for the president, you can ask it by submitting a video to the White House's video channel, where you can also vote upon other questions. The president will be answering "several of the most popular questions that have been submitted through YouTube, and some of the people who submitted questions will even be invited to join the president in the Hangout and take part in the live conversation," explained Kori Schulman, deputy director of digital content at the White House, at the White House blog.

The real-time presidency

This upcoming "President Hangout" offers a fascinating window into what bids to be a disruptive scenario to citizen-to-government (or citizen-to-citizen) communications in our near future. Mobile Hangouts on smartphones running the world's biggest mobile operating system, Android, could enable citizens to connect to important conversations from wherever a call finds them.

Such town halls could be live streamed and shared through Facebook, Google+ or the White House's iOS app, reaching hundreds of millions of people connected through mobile broadband connections. In the future, we might even see iOS cameras enable citizens to "get some FaceTime with the president" through his iPad. The quality of the video on the iPad 2 is poor now, as owners know, but what if Apple adds a camera to the iPad 3 as good as the one it added to the iPhone4S? That would enable instant video chat through 100m+ connected iOS devices, along with millions of MacBooks and iMacs that have webcams.

In that future, I can't help but think of video phones from the "Jetsons." Or "Blade Runner," "Minority Report," "The Fifth Element" or "Total Recall.' Or, better yet, "Star Trek," since Gene Roddenberry's vision of a peaceful future is a lot better than the dystopian epics Philip K. Dick tended to write.

Style or open government substance?

The technology we have in our hands right now, of course, is pretty exciting. The prospect of a presidential Hangout has naturally been getting plenty of attention in the media, from CNET to Mashable to the L.A. Times to NextGov, where Joseph Marks has one of the smartest takes to date. In his post, Marks, a close observer of how the White House is using technology in support of open government, goes right to the heart of what analysts and the media should be asking: What does this mean and how will it work?

The administration is touting the Google Plus event as 'the first completely-virtual interview from the White House.' It's not entirely clear what that means. It could signal merely that the president will respond directly to questioners' YouTube videos rather than having them keyed up by a moderator. In past social media Town Halls conducted through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, Obama has typically shared the stage with a moderator who introduced and sometimes picked questions. If questioners are able to ask their questions directly, including follow-up questions through the Hangout feature, that would be a more significant innovation.

To put it another way, will the first presidential Google+ Hangout be about substance, or is this about burnishing the president 's tech-savvy image and credentials in an election year?

When I asked that question openly on Twitter, Gadi Ben Yehuda, who analyzes and teaches about the government's use of social media for IBM, replied: "Both, I bet. Message is medium, after all. Style, in this case, is part of substance."

As it happens, Macon Phillips, director of digital strategy at the White House, was also listening. "What criteria would you use to answer that question?" he asked. Noah Chestnut, director of digital media at Hamilton Place Strategies in D.C., suggested the following criteria: "Q's asked, length + content of A's, follow-up Q's vs. cursory, who writes the process stories."

As I analyze this new experiment in digital democracy, I will look at A) whether the questions answered were based upon the ones most citizens wanted asked and B) whether the answers were rehashed talking points or specific to the intent of the questions asked. That latter point was one fair critique I've seen levied by the writers at techPresident after the first "Twitter Townhall" last July.

In reply, Phillips tweeted: "Well, if the past 2 post-SOTU [State of the Union] events are any indication, you should be optimistic! One the exciting things about the Hangout format is that conversational aspect." As evidence for this assertion, Phillips linked to videos of YouTube interviews with President Obama after the 2010 and 2011 State of the Union addresses. The president answered questions sourced from the Google Moderator tool on the CitizenTube channel.

There are process questions that matter as well. Will Steve Grove, head of community partnerships at Google+, be asking the questions? Or will  the president himself respond directly to the questions of citizens?

Phillips replied that there will be a "little bit of both to involve both the voting prior and the participants during." He also told the Associated Press that the White House would have no role in choosing the questions or participants in the Hangout. "For online engagement to be interesting, it has to be honest," Phillips said. "We want to give Americans more control over this conversation and the chance to ask questions they care about."

In other words, citizens will be able to ask the president questions directly via YouTube and, if chosen, may have the opportunity to join him in the Hangout. When I asked Phillips my own follow-up question, he suggested that "for specifics on format, better to connect w/@GROVE but we are planning for ?'s that are voted on & others asked live."

I was unable to reach Grove. However, he told the Associated Press that the Hangout "will make for a really personal conversation with the president that's never really happened before."

Will there be #realtalk in real time?

Direct interactivity through a Hangout could also introduce that rare element that's missing at many presidential appearances: unscripted moments. That's what the editors of techPresident will be watching for in this new experiment. "Our prevailing hypothesis around here is that one great promise of the Internet in politics is to create unscripted moments, opportunities to yank politicians off of their talking points and into a confrontation with the real and complex problems America faces today," wrote Nick Judd. "We saw this in July at the very end of the Twitter event with Obama. Reid Epstein saw a similar occurrence when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations took him to a New Hampshire diner, where he met a gay veteran who asked him about same-sex marriage. We're hungrily looking for examples of this in the integrations of the Internet and of social media in presidential debates, and not finding many so far."

What will be particularly interesting will be the opportunities that citizens have to ask follow-up questions on the Hangout if they're not satisfied with an answer. That feedback loop is what tends to be missing from these online forums. Many citizens haven't had the opportunity to ask informed, aggressive follow-up questions like, say, at a presidential press conference at the White House. The evolution of these platforms will occur when organizations stop "adopting" them and start actually using them. In this case, using the killer app of the Google+ platform to connect directly with the American people.

As of this morning, 30,594 people have submitted 16,047 questions and cast 208,431 votes. Currently, the most popular video questions are about stopping the PROTECT IP Act and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which would establish international standards for intellectual property. The top question comes from "Anonymous," and asks "Mr. President, it's all good and well that SOPA and PIPA are slowed down in Congress, but what are you doing about ACTA? This is an international agreement which could prove much more devastating."

To date, President Obama, has not commented extensively on ACTA or either of these bills. If any of those questions are answered, it will indeed be evidence that the White House is listening and the president's commitment "to creating a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration" using social media and technology is genuine.

A version of this post originally appeared on Google+.


December 30 2011

2011 Gov 2.0 year in review

By most accounts, the biggest stories of 2011 were the Arab Spring, the historic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the death of Osama Bin Laden. In each case, an increasingly networked world experienced those events together through the growing number of screens. At the beginning of the year, a Pew Internet survey emphasized the Internet's importance in civil society. By year's end, more people were connected than ever before.

Time magazine named 2011 the year of the protester, as apt a choice as "You" was in 2006. "No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square, it would incite protests that would topple dictators and start a global wave of dissent," noted Time. "In 2011, protesters didn't just voice their complaints; they changed the world."

The Arab Spring extended well through summer, fall and winter, fueled by decades of unemployment, repression, and autocratic rule in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. This year's timeline of protest, revolution and uprising was not created by connection technologies, but by year's end, it had been accelerated by millions of brave young people connected to one another and the rest of the world through cell phones, social networks and the Internet.  

"We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world," said an unnamed activist in Cairo in January.

In the months that followed, the Occupy Wall Street movement used the same tools in the parks and streets of the United States to protest economic inequality and call for accountability in the financial industry, albeit without the same revolutionary results.

This was the year where unemployment remained stubbornly high in the United States and around the world, putting job creation and economic growth atop the nation's priority list.

The theme that defined governments in Europe, particularly England, was austerity, as a growing debt crisis and financial contagion spread and persisted throughout the year. In Washington, the theme might be gridlock, symbolized by a threatened government shutdown in April and then brinkmanship over the debt crisis during the summer. As the year came to a close, a dispute between the White House, Senate and House over the extension of payroll tax cuts rounded out a long year of divided government.

We also saw a growing conflict between closed and open. It was a year that included social media adoption by government and a year where governments took measures to censor and block it. It was a year when we learned to think different about hacking, even while the "hacktivism" embodied in groups like Anonymous worried officials and executives in boardrooms around the world.

The United States bid farewell to its first CIO, Vivek Kundra, and welcomed his replacement, Steven VanRoekel, who advanced a "future first" vision for government that focuses on cloud, open standards, modularity and shared services. VanRoekel brought a .com mentality to the FCC, including a perspective that "everything should be an API," which caught the attention of some tech observers. While Kundra may have left government, his legacy remains: cloud computing and open data aren't going away in federal government, according to his replacement and General Services Administration (GSA) officials.

This was the year where the death of Steve Jobs caused more than a few people to wonder what Jobs would do as president. His legacy will resonate for many years to come, including the App Store that informed the vision of government as a platform.

If you look back at a January interview with Clay Johnson on key trends for Gov 2.0 and open government in 2011, some of his predictions bore out. The House of Representatives did indeed compete with the White House on open government, though not in story lines that played out in the national media or Sunday morning talk shows. The Government Oversight and Reform Committee took a tough look at the executive's progress in a hearing on open government. Other predictions? Not so much. Rural broadband stalled. Transparency as infrastructure is still in the future. We're still waiting on that to be automated, though when the collective intelligence of people in Washington looks at new versions of bills tied to the social web, there's at least a kludge.

Many of the issues and themes in 2011 were extensions of those in the 2010 Gov 2.0 Year in Review: the idea of government as a platform spread around the world; gated governments faced disruption; open government initiatives were stuck in beta; open data went global; and laws and regulations were chasing technology, online privacy, cloud computing, open source and citizen engagement.

"It's tough to choose which issue dominated the year in transparency, but I'd say that the Open Government Partnership, the E-government funding fight, and the Super Committee all loomed large for Sunlight," said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation. "On the state level, I'd include Utah's fight over FOI laws, Tennessee's Governor exempting himself from financial disclosure requirements, and the Wisconsin fight as very notable issues.  And the rise of Super PACs and undisclosed money in politics is probably an issue we're only just starting to see."

Three dominant tech policy issues

Privacy, identity and cybersecurity dominated tech policy headlines coming out of D.C. all year. By year's end, however, no major cybersecurity or consumer privacy bill had made it through the U.S. Congress to the president's desk. In the meantime, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made its own moves. As a result, Google, Facebook and Twitter are all now subject to "audits" by the FTC every two years.

On the third issue — cybersecurity — there was progress: The U.S. government's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace addressed key issues around creating an "identity ecosystem online." Implementation, however, will require continued effort and innovation from the private sector. By year's end, Verizon became the first identity provider to receive Level of Access 3 credentialing from the U.S. government. Look for more identity providers to follow in 2012, with citizens gaining increased access to government services online as a result.

A meme goes mainstream

This was the year when the story of local governments using technology with citizens earned more attention from mainstream media, including outlets like the Associated Press and National Public Radio.

In February, the AP published a story about how cities are using tech to cull ideas from citizens. In the private sector, leveraging collective intelligence is often called crowdsourcing. In open government, it's "citizensourcing." In cities around the country, the approach is gaining traction.

At Yahoo Canada, Carmi Levy wrote that the future of government is citizen focused. In his view, open government is about leveraging technology and citizens to do more with less. It's about doing more than leaving or speaking up: it's making government work better.

In November, NPR listeners learned more about the open government movement around the country when the Kojo Nnamdi Show hosted an hour-long discussion on local Gov 2.0 on WAMU in Washington, D.C. Around the same time, the Associated Press reported that a flood of government data is fueling the rise of city apps:

New York, San Francisco and other cities are now working together to develop data standards that will make it possible for apps to interact with data from any city. The idea, advocates of open data say, is to transform government from a centralized provider of services into a platform on which citizens can build their own tools to make government work better.

Gov 2.0 goes local

All around the country, pockets of innovation and creativity could be found, as "doing more with less" became a familiar mantra in many councils and state houses. New open data platforms or citizen-led initiatives sprouted everywhere.

Here's just a sample of what happened at the local level in 2011:

If you want the full fire hose, including setbacks to open government on the state level, read the archives of the Sunlight Foundation's blog, which aggregated news throughout the year.

Several cities in the United States hopped on the open government and open data bandwagon in 2011. Baltimore empowered its citizens to acts as sensors with new mobile apps and Open311. New York City is opening government data and working to create new relationships with citizens and civic developers in the service of smart government. Further afield, Britain earned well deserved attention for seeking alpha, with its web initiatives and an open architecture that could be relevant to local governments everywhere.

In 2011, a model open government initiative gained traction in Cook County. In 2012, we'll see if other municipalities follow. The good news is that the Pew Internet and Life Project found that open government is tied to higher levels of community satisfaction. That carrot for politicians comes up against the reality that in a time of decreased resources, being more open has to make economic sense and lead to better services or more efficiency, not just be "the right thing to do."

One of the best stories in open government came from Chicago, where sustainability and analytics are guiding Chicago's open data and app contest efforts. The city's approach offers important insights to governments at all levels. Can the Internet help disrupt the power of Chicago lobbyists through transparency? We'll learn more in 2012.

Rise of the civic startups

This year, early entrants like SeeClickFix and Citysourced became relatively old hat with the rise of a new class of civic startups that aspire to interface with the existing architectures of democracy. Some hope to augment what exists, others to replicate democratic institutions in digital form.  [Disclosure: O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in SeeClickFix.]

This year, new players like ElectNext,, Civic Commons, Votizen and POPVOX entered the mix alongside many other examples of social media and government innovation. [Disclosure: Tim O'Reilly was an early angel investor in POPVOX.]

In Canada, BuzzData aspires to be the GitHub of datasets. Simpl launched as a platform to bridge the connection between social innovators and government. Nation Builder went live with its new online activism platform.

Existing civic startups made progress as well. BrightScope unlocked government data on financial advisers and made the information publicly available so it could be indexed by search engines. The Sunlight Foundation put open government programming on TV and a health app in your pocket. Code for America's 2011 annual report offered insight into the startup nonprofit's accomplishments.

Emerging civic media

The 2011 Knight News Challenge winners illustrated data's ascendance in media and government. It's clear that data journalism and data tools will play key roles in the future of media and open government.

It was in that context that the evolution of Safecast offered us a glimpse into the future of networked accountability, as citizen science and open data help to inform our understanding of the world. After a tsunami caused a nuclear disaster in Japan, a radiation detection network starting aggregating and publishing data. Open sensor networks look like an important part of journalism's future.

Other parts of the future of news are more nebulous, though there was no shortage of discussion about it. The question of where citizens will get their local news wasn't answered in 2011. A Pew survey of local news sources revealed the influence of social and mobile trends, along with a generation gap. As newsprint fades, what will replace it for communities? We don't know yet.

Some working models are likely to be found in civic media, where new change agents aren't just talking about the future of news; they're building it. Whether it's mobile innovation or the "Freedom Box," there's change afoot.

This was also a deadly year for journalists. The annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists found 44 journalists were killed in the line of duty, with the deaths of dozens more potentially associated with the process of gathering and sharing information. Only one in six people lives in a country with a free press, according to the 2011 report on world press freedom from Freedom House.

Open source in government

At the federal level, open source continued its quiet revolution in government IT. In April, the new version of incorporated the principles of Web 2.0 into the FCC's online operations. From open data to platform thinking, the reboot elevated from one of the worst federal websites to one of the best. In August, the Energy Department estimated that the new would save $10 million annually through a combination of open source technology and cloud computing.

The White House launched IT Dashboard and released parts of it as open source code. (It remains to be seen whether the code from those platforms is re-used in the market.)

NASA's commitment to open source and its game plan for open government were up for discussion at the recent NASA Open Source Summit. One of NASA's open source projects, Nebula, saw its technology used in an eponymous startup. Nebula, the company, combines open source software and hardware in an appliance. If Nebula succeeds, its "cloud controller" could enable every company to implement cloud computing.

In cities, the adoption of "Change By Us" in Philadelphia and OpenDataPhilly in Chattanooga showed the potential of reusable civic software.

At the end of 2011, Civic Commons opened up its marketplace. The Marketplace is designed to be a resource for open source government apps. As Nick Judd observed at techPresident, both Civic Commons and its Marketplace "propose to make fundamental changes to the way local governments procure IT goods and services."

Open government goes global

As White House tech talent comes and goes, open government continued to grow globally.

In September, a global Open Government Partnership (OGP) launched in New York City. Video of the launch, beginning with examples of open government innovation from around the world, is embedded below:

Making the Open Government Partnership work won't be easy, but it's an important initiative to watch in 2011. As The Economist's review of the Open Government Partnership highlights, one of the most important elements is the United States' commitment to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. If this initiative bears fruit, citizens will have a chance to see how much of the payments oil and gas companies send to governments actually end up in the public's coffers.

Even before the official launch of the OGP, there was reason to think that something important was afoot globally in the intersection of governments, technology and society. In Africa, the government of Kenya launched Open Kenya and looked to the country's dynamic development community to make useful applications for its citizens. In Canada, British Columbia joined the ranks of governments embracing open government platforms. Canadian citizens in the province of British Columbia now have three new websites that focus on open government data, making information related to accountability available and providing easier access to services and officials. In India, the seeds of Gov 2.0 started bearing fruit through a growing raft of civil society initiatives. In Russia, aimed to expose state corruption.

For open government advocates, the biggest advance of the year was "the recognition of the need for transparency of government information world wide as a means for holding government and its officials accountable," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, via email. "The transparency genie is out of the bottle — world wide — and it's not going back into the darkness of that lantern ever again.  Progress will be slow, but it will be progress."

Federal open government initiatives

"Cuts in e-gov funds, evolution, and the launch of many contests were the big stories of the year," commented Steve Ressler, the founder of Govloop. Ressler saw Gov 2.0 go from a shiny thing to people critically asking how it delivers results.

At the beginning of the year, OMB Watch released a report that found progress on open government but a long road ahead. At the end of 2011, the Sunlight Foundation assessed the Open Government Directive two years on and found "mixed results." John Wonderlich put it this way:

Openness without information is emptiness.  If some agencies won't even share the plans they've made for publishing new information, how far can their commitment to openness possibly go? The Open Government Directive has caused a lot of good.  And it has also often failed to live up to its promise, the administration's rhetoric, and agencies' own self-imposed compliance plans. We should remember that Presidential rhetoric and bureaucratic commitments are not the same thing as results, especially as even more administration work happens through broad, plan-making executive actions and plans.

In 2011, reports of the death of open government were greatly exaggerated. That doesn't mean its health in the United States federal government is robust. In popular culture, of course, its image is even worse. In April, Jon Stewart and the Daily Show mocked the Obama administration and the president for a perceived lack of transparency.

Stewart and many other commentators have understandably wondered why the president's meeting with open government advocates to receive a transparency award wasn't on the official schedule or covered by the media. A first-hand account of the meeting from open government advocate Danielle Brian offered a useful perspective on the issues that arose that go beyond a sound bite or one-liner.

Some projects are always going to be judged as more or less effective in delivering on the mission of government than others. An open government approach to creating a "Health Internet" may be the most disruptive of them. For those who expected to see rapid, dynamic changes in Washington fueled by technology, however, the bloom has long since come off of the proverbial rose. Open government is looking a lot more like an ultra-marathon than a 400-yard dash. As a conference at the National Archives reminded the open government community, media access to government information also has a long way to go.

Reports on citizen participation and rulemaking from America Speaks offered open government guidance beyond technology. Overall, the administration received mixed marks. While America Speaks found that government agencies "display an admirable willingness to experiment with new tools and techniques to involve citizens with their decision-making processes," it also found the "Open Government Initiative and most Federal Agency plans have failed to offer standards for what constitutes high-quality public participation."

On the one hand, agencies are increasing the number of people devoted to public engagement and using a range of online and offline forums. On the other, "deliberative processes, in which citizens learn, express points of view, and have a chance to find common ground, are rarely incorporated." Getting to a more social open government is going to take a lot more work.

There were other notable landmarks. After months of preparation, the local .gov startup went live. While went online back in February, the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) officially launched on the anniversary of H.R.4173 (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act),  with Richard Cordray nominated to lead it.  By year's end, however, he still had not been confirmed. Questions about the future of the agency remain, but to place credit where credit is due: the new consumer bureau has been open to ideas about how it can do its work better. This approach is what led New York Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber to muse recently that "its openness thus far suggests the tantalizing possibility that it could be the nation's first open-source regulator."

When a regulator asks for help redesigning a mortgage disclosure form, something interesting is afoot.

It's extremely rare that an agency gets built from scratch, particularly in this economic and political context. It's notable, in that context, that the 21st century regulator embraced many of the principles of open government in leveraging technology to stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

This fall, I talked with Danny Weitzner, White House deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy, about the administration's open government progress in 2011. Our interview is embedded below:

In our interview, we talked about what the Internet means to government and society, intellectual property, the risks of a balkanized Internet, digital privacy, the Direct Project, a "right to connect," ICE takedowns and open data initiatives. On the last issue, the Blue Button movement, which enables veterans to download a personal health record, now has a website: In September, Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra challenged the energy industry to collaborate in the design of a "green button" modeled after that Blue Button. All three of California's public utilities have agreed to standardize energy data for that idea.

Tim O'Reilly talked with Chopra and White House deputy CTO for public sector innovation Chris Vein about the White House's action plan for open government innovation at the Strata Summit in September. According to Chopra, the administration is expanding communities to agencies, focusing on "smart disclosure" and building out "government as a platform," with an eye to embracing more open innovators.

As part of its commitments to the Open Government Partnership, the White House also launched an e-petitions platform this fall called "We The People."

The White House has now asked for feedback on the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, focusing on best practices and metrics for public participation. Early responses include focusing on outcomes first and drawing attention to success, not compliance. If you're interested in giving your input, Chopra is asking the country questions on Quora.

Opening the People's House

Despite the abysmal public perception of Congress, genuine institutional changes in the House of Representatives, driven by the GOP embracing innovation and transparency, are incrementally happening. As Tim O'Reilly observed earlier in the year, the current leadership of the House is doing a better job on transparency than their predecessors.

In April, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent a letter to the House Clerk about releasing legislative data. Then, in September, a live XML feed for the House floor went online. Yes, there's a long way to go on open legislative data quality in Congress — but at year's end,  following the first "Congressional hackathon," the House approved sweeping open data standards.

The House also made progress in opening up its recorded videos to the nation. In January, Carl Malamud helped make the hearings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform available on the Internet in high-quality video at Later in the year, brought live video to mobile devices.

Despite the adoption of Twitter and Facebook by the majority of senators and representatives, Congress as a whole still faces challenges in identifying constituents on social media.

It's also worth noting that, no matter what efforts have been made to open the People's House through technology, at year's end, this was the least popular Congress in history.

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Open data

The open data movement received three significant endorsements on the world stage in 2011.

1. Open government data was featured in the launch of the Open Government Partnership.

That launch, however, offered an opportunity to reflect upon the fundamental conditions for open government to exist. Simply opening up data is not a replacement for a Constitution that enforces a rule of law, free and fair elections, an effective judiciary, decent schools, basic regulatory bodies or civil society, particularly if the data does not relate to meaningful aspects of society. That said, open data is a key pillar of how policy makers are now thinking about open government around the world.

2. The World Bank continued to expand what it calls "open development" with its own open data efforts

The World Bank is building upon the 2010 launch of It's now helping countries prepare and launch open government data platforms, including support for Kenya. In December, the World Bank hosted a webinar about how countries can start and run open government data ecosystems, launched an online open data community, and published a series of research papers on the topic.

Realizing the Vision of Open Government Data (Long Version): Opportunities, Challenges and Pitfalls

3. The European Union's support for open data

The BBC reported that Europe's governments are "sitting on assets that could be worth 40bn euros ($52bn, £33.6bn) a year" in public sector data. In addition, the European Commission has launched an open data strategy for the EU. Here's Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, on public data for all:

Big data means big opportunities. These opportunities can flow from public and private data — or indeed from mixing the two. But a public sector lead can set an example, allowing the same taxpayers who have paid for the data to be gathered to benefit from its wider use. In my opinion, data should be open and available by default and exceptions should be justified — not the other way around, as is too often the case still today.

Access to public data also has an important and growing economic significance. Open data can be fuel for innovation, growth and job creation. The overall economic impact across the whole EU could be tens of billions of Euros per year. That's amazing, of course! But, big data is not just about big money. It promises a host of socially and environmentally beneficial uses too — for example, in healthcare or through the analysis of pollution patterns. It can help make citizens' lives easier, more informed, more connected.

As Glynn Moody wrote at Computer World UK, Europe is starting to get it.

Open data is not a partisan issue, in the view of professor Nigel Shadbolt. In 2012, Shadbolt will lead an "Open Data Institute" in England with Tim Berners-Lee.

Shadbolt is not out on a limb on this issue. In Canada and Britain, conservative governments supported new open data initiatives. In 2011, open government data also gathered bipartisan support in Washington when Rep. Darrell Issa introduced the DATA Act to track government financial spending. We talked about that and other open government issues this fall during an interview at the Strata Conference:

There was no shortage of other open data milestones, from Google adding the Public Data Explorer to its suite of free data tools to an International Open Government Data Camp in Poland.

In New York City, social, mapping and mobile data told the story of Hurricane Irene. In the information ecosystem of 2011, media, government and citizens alike played a critical role in sharing information about what's happening in natural disasters, putting open data to work and providing help to one another.

Here at Radar, MySociety founder Tom Steinberg sounded a cautionary note about creating sustainable open data projects with purpose. The next wave of government app contests need to incorporate sustainability, community, and civic value. Whether developers are asked to participate in app contests, federal challenges, or civic hackathons, in 2012, the architects behind these efforts need to focus on the needs of citizens and sustainability.

Open mapping

One of the biggest challenges government agencies and municipalities have is converting open data to information from which people easily can draw knowledge. One of the most powerful ways humanity has developed to communicate information over time is through maps. If you can take data in an open form and map it out, then you have an opportunity to tell stories in a way that's relevant to a region or personalized to an individual.

There were enough new mapping projects in 2011 that they deserved their own category. In general, the barrier to entry for mapping got lower thanks to new open source platforms like MapBox, which powered the Global Adaptation Index and a map of the humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa. And charted attacks on the media onto an interactive map of Afghanistan., a new project launched by the FCC and FortiusOne, aimed to convert open data into knowledge and insight. The National Broadband Map, one of the largest implementations of open source and open data in government to date, displayed more than 25 million records and incorporated crowdsourced reporting. A new interactive feature posted at used open data to visualize excess federal property.

"Maps can be a very valuable part of transparency in government," wrote Jack Dangermond, founder of ESRI. "Maps give people a greater understanding of the world around them. They can help tell stories and, many times, be more valuable than the data itself. They provide a context for taxpayers to better understand how spending or decisions are being made in a circumstance of where they work and live. Maps help us describe conditions and situations, and help tell stories, often related to one's own understanding of content."

Social media use grows in government

When there's a holiday, disaster, sporting event, political debate or any other public happening, we now experience it collectively. In 2011, we were reminded that there were a lot of experiences that used to be exclusively private that are now public because of the impact of social media, from breakups to flirting to police brutality. From remembering MLK online to civil disobedience at the #Occupy protests, we now can share what we're seeing with an increasingly networked global citizenry.

Those same updates, however, can be used by autocratic regimes to track down protestors, dissidents and journalists. If the question is whether the Internet and social media are tools of freedom or tools of oppression, the answer may have to be "yes." If online influence is essential to 21st century governance, however, how should government leaders proceed?

Some answers could be found in the lessons learned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and Crisis Commons that were entered into the Congressional Record when the U.S. Senate heard testimony on the role of social media in crisis response.

If you're a soldier, you should approach social media carefully. The U.S. Army issued a handy social media manual to help soldiers, and the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a progressive social media policy.

A forum on social media at the National Archives featured a preview of a "citizen archivist dashboard" and a lively discussion of the past, present and future of social media — a future which will certainly include the growth of networks in many countries. For instance, in 2011, Chinese social media found its legs.

For a comprehensive discussion of how governments dealt with social media in 2011, check out this piece I wrote for National Journal.

Intellectual property and Internet freedom

In 2011, the United Nations said that disconnecting Internet users is a breach of human rights. That didn't stop governments around the world from considering it under certain conditions. The UN report came at an important time. As Mathew Ingram wrote at GigaOm, reporting on a UNESCO report on freedom of expression online, governments are still trying to kill, replace or undo the Internet.

In 2011, Russia earned special notice when it blocked proposals for freedoms in cyberspace. The Russian blogosphere came under attack in April. This fall, DDoS attacks were used in Russia after the elections in an attempt to squelch free speech. As Russian activists get connected, they'll be risking much to express their discontent.

In May, the eG8 showed that online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. While the first eG8 Forum in Paris featured hundreds of business and digital luminaries, the policies discussed were of serious concern to entrepreneurs, activists, media and citizens around the world. If the Internet has become the public arena for our time, as the official G8 statement that followed the Forum emphasized, then defending the openness and freedoms that have supported its development is more important than ever.

That need became clearer at year's end when the United States Congress considered anti-piracy bills that could cripple Internet industries. In 2012, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act will be before Congress again. Many citizens are hoping that their representatives decide not to break the Internet.

After all, if an open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world, billions of people will be counting upon our leaders to keep it open and accessible.

What story defined the year for you?

On Govloop, the government social network, the community held its own debate on the issue of the year. There, the threat of a government shutdown led the list. A related issue — "austerity" — was the story that defined government in 2011 in Chris Dorobek's poll. I asked people on Govloop, Quora, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ what the most important Gov 2.0 or open government story of 2011 was and why. Their answers were all about what happened in the U.S., versus the globe, but here's what I heard:

1. The departure of Kundra and White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck mattered

"The biggest story of the year was Vivek Kundra and Beth Noveck leaving the White House," commented Andy Krzmarzick, director of community engagement at Govloop. "Those personnel changes really stalled momentum, generally speaking, on the federal level. I respect their successors immensely, but I think they have an uphill climb as we head into an election year and resisters dig in their heels to wait it out and see if there is a change in administration before they spend a lot of time and energy at this stage of the game. Fortunately, the movement has enough of a ground swell that we'll carry the torch forward regardless of leadership ... but it sure helps to have strong champions."

Terell Jones, director of green IT solutions at EcomNets, agreed. "The departure of Vivek Kundra as CIO of the United States. Under his watch they developed the Cloud Computing Strategy, the 25 Point Plan, and the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI). He saved the federal government millions, but they cut his budget so he would be ineffective; so, he escaped to Harvard University," commented Jones. "He may have been frustrated with the speed at which government moves, but he made great strides in the right direction. I hope his replacement will stay the course."

2. Budget cuts to the Office of Management and Budget's E-Government Fund

"I think the biggest story is the Open Government budget cuts," commented Steve Radick, a lead associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, which consults with federal agencies. "After all, these seemed to be the writing on the wall for Vivek's departure, and forced everyone to re-think why open government was so important. It wasn't just for the sake of becoming a more open government — open government needed to be about more than that. It needed to show real mission impact. I think these budget cuts and the subsequent realization of the Gov 2.0 community that Gov 2.0 efforts needed to be deeper than just retweets, friends, and fans was the biggest story of 2011."

3. Insider trading in Congress

"I think the most important story of the year was the 60 Minutes expose on insider trading in Congress," commented Joe Flood, a D.C.-area writer and former web editor at and NOAA. "It demonstrated the power of data to illuminate connections that were hidden, showing how members of Congress made stock trades based upon their inside information on pending legislation. It showed what could be done with open data as well as why government transparency is so vital."

4. Hackathons

"I feel like 2011 was kind of the year of the hackathon," commented Karen Suhaka, founder of Legination. "Might just be my perception, but the idea seems to be gaining significant steam."

5. iPads in government

"I think the winner should be iPads on the House Floor and in committee hearings," commented Josh Spayher, a Chicago attorney and creator of "[It] totally transforms the way members of Congress can access information when they need it."

6. Social media in emergencies, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and open government in the European Union

"I think there was significant progress in the use of social media for emergency alerts/warnings and disaster response this year," commented Mollie Walker, editor of FierceGovernmentIT.  "It also shows agencies are letting this evolve beyond a broadcast medium and seeing the value of a feedback loop for mission-critical action. Although it hasn't really come to fruition yet (it's technically in the "operational" phase, though development and migration appear to still be in progress), I think the NARA's electronic record archive has some positive implications for open government going forward. It's something to watch for in 2012, but the fact that NARA tied up a lot of loose ends in 2011 was a big win. The open government efforts in the E.U. are also worth noting. While there have been isolated initiatives in the U.S. and U.K., seeing a governing body such as the E.U. set new standards for openness could have a broader impact on how the rest of the world manages and shares public information."

If you think there's another story that deserves to be listed, please let us know in the comments.

The year ahead

What should we expect in the year ahead? Some predictions are easier than others. The Pew Internet and Life Project found that more than 50% of U.S. adults used the Internet for political purposes during the 2010 midterm elections. Pew's research also showed that a majority of U.S. citizens now turn to the web for news and information about politics. Expect that to grow in 2012.

This year, there was evidence of the maker movement's potential for education, jobs and innovation. That same DIY spirit will matter even more in the year ahead. We also saw the impact of apps that matter, like a mobile geolocation app that connected first responders to heart attack victims. If developers want to make an impact, we need more applications that help us help each another.

In 2011, there were more ways for citizens to provide feedback to their governments than perhaps ever before. In 2012, the open question will be whether "We the People" will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better.

The evolution of these kinds of platforms is neither U.S.-centric nor limited to tech-savvy college students. Citizen engagement matters more now in every sense: crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdmapping, collective intelligence, group translation, and human sensor networks. There's a growth in "do it ourselves (DIO) government," or as the folks at techPresident like to say, "We government." As institutions shift from eGov to WeGov, leaders will be looking more to all of us to help them in the transition.


December 05 2011

White House to open source as open government data platform

As 2011 comes to an end, there are 28 international open data platforms in the open government community. By the end of 2012, code from new "" may help many more countries to stand up their own platforms. A partnership between the United States and India on open government has borne fruit: progress on making the open data platform open source.

In a post this morning at the blog, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel (@StevenVDC) and federal CTO Aneesh Chopra (@AneeshChopra) explained more about how is going global:

As part of a joint effort by the United States and India to build an open government platform, the U.S. team has deposited open source code — an important benchmark in developing the Open Government Platform that will enable governments around the world to stand up their own open government data sites.

The development is evidence that the U.S. and India are indeed still collaborating on open government together, despite India's withdrawal from the historic Open Government Partnership (OGP) that launched in September. Chopra and VanRoekel explicitly connected the move to open source to the U.S. involvement in the Open Government Partnership today. While we'll need to see more code and adoption to draw substantive conclusions on the outcomes of this part of the plan, this is clearly progress. in a boxThe U.S. National Action Plan on Open Government, which represents the U.S. commitment to the OGP, included some details about this initiative two months ago, building upon a State Department fact sheet that was released in July. Back in August, representatives from India's National Informatics Center visited the United States for a week-long session of knowledge sharing with the U.S. team, which is housed within the General Services Administration.

"The secretary of state and president have both spent time in India over the past 18 months," said VanRoekel in an interview today. "There was a lot of dialogue about the power of open data to shine light upon what's happening in the world."

The project, which was described then as "," will include components of the open data platform and the document portal. Now, the product is being called the "Open Government Platform" — not exactly creative, but quite descriptive and evocative of open government platforms that have been launched to date. The first collection of open source code, which describes a data management system, is now up on GitHub.

During the August meetings, "we agreed upon a set of things we would do around creating excellence around an open data platform," said VanRoekel. "We owned the first deliverable: a dataset management tool. That's the foundation of an open source data platform. It handles workflow, security and the check in of data -- all of the work that goes around getting the state data needs to be in before it goes online. India owns the next phase: the presentation layer."

If the initiative bears fruit in 2012, as planned, the international open government data movement will have a new tool to apply toward open data platforms. That could be particularly relevant to countries in the developing world, given the limited resources available to many governments.

What's next for open government data in the United States has yet to be written. "The evolution of should be one that does things to connect to web services or an API key manager," said VanRoekel. "We need to track usage. We're going to double down on the things that are proving useful."

Drupal as an open government platform?

This Open Government Data platform looks set to be built upon Drupal 6, a choice that would further solidify the inroads that the open source content management system has made into government IT. As always, code and architecture choices will have consequences down the road.

"While I'm not sure Drupal is a good choice anymore for building data sites, it is key that open source is being used to disseminate open data," said Eric Gunderson, the founder of open source software firm Development Seed. "Using open source means we can all take ownership of the code and tune it to meet our exact needs. Even bad releases give us code to learn from."

Jeff Miccolis, a senior developer at Development Seed, concurred about how open the collaboration around the code has been or will be going forward. "Releasing an application like this as open source on an open collaboration platform like Github is a great step," he said. "It still remains to be seen what the ongoing commitment to the project will be, and how collaboration will work. There is no history in the git repository they have on GitHub, no issues in the issue tracker, nor even an explicit license in the repository. These factors don't communicate anything about their future commitment to maintaining this newly minted open source project."

The White House is hoping to hear from more developers like Miccolis. "We're looking forward to getting feedback and improvements from the open source community," said VanRoekel. "How do we evolve the U.S. as it sits today?"

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Open data impact

From where VanRoekel sits, investing in open source, open government and open data remain important to the administration. He said to me that the fact that he was hired was a "clear indication of the importance" of these issues in the White House. "It wasn't a coincidence that the launch of the Open Government Partnership coincided with my arrival," he said. "There's a lot of effort to meet the challenge of open government," according to VanRoekel. "The president has me and other people involved meeting every week, reporting on progress."

The open questions now, so to speak, are: Will other countries use it? And to what effect? Here in the U.S., there's already code sharing between cities. OpenChattanooga, an open data catalog in Tennessee, is using source code from OpenDataPhilly, an open government data platform built in Philadelphia by GIS software company Azavea. By the time " in a box" is ready to be deployed, some cities, states and countries might have decided to use that code in the meantime.

There's good reason to be careful about celebrating the progress here. Open government analysts like Nathaniel Heller have raised concerns about the role of open data in the Open Government Partnership, specifically that:

... open data provides an easy way out for some governments to avoid the much harder, and likely more transformative, open government reforms that should probably be higher up on their lists. Instead of fetishizing open data portals for the sake of having open data portals, I'd rather see governments incorporating open data as a way to address more fundamental structural challenges around extractives (through maps and budget data), the political process (through real-time disclosure of campaign contributions), or budget priorities (through online publication of budget line-items).

Similarly, Greg Michener has made a case for getting the legal and regulatory "plumbing" for open government right in Brazil, not "boutique Gov 2.0" projects that graft technology onto flawed governance systems. Michener warned that emulating the government 2.0 initiatives of advanced countries, including open data initiatives:

... may be a premature strategy for emerging democracies. While advanced democracies are mostly tweaking and improving upon value-systems and infrastructure already in place, most countries within the OGP have only begun the adoption process.

Michener and Heller both raise bedrock issues for open government in Brazil and beyond that no technology solution in of itself will address. They're both right: Simply opening up data is not a replacement for a Constitution that enforces a rule of law, free and fair elections, an effective judiciary, decent schools, basic regulatory bodies or civil society, particularly if the data does not relate to meaningful aspects of society.

"Right now, the problem we are seeing is not so much the technology around how to open data but more around the culture internally of why people are opening data," agreed Gunderson. "We are just seeing a lot of bad data in-house and thus people wanting to stay closed. At some point a lot of organizations and government agencies need to come clean and say 'we have not been managing our decisions with good data for a long time'. We need more real  projects to help make the OGP more concrete."

Heller and Michener speak for an important part of the open government community and surely articulate concerns that exist for many people, particularly for a "good government" constituency whose long term, quiet work on government transparency and accountability may be receiving the same attention as some shinier technology initiatives. The White House consultation on open government that I attended included considerable recognition of the complexities here.

It's worth noting that Heller called the products of open data initiatives "websites," including Kenya's new open government platform. He's not alone in doing so. To rehash an old but important principle, Gov 2.0 is not about "websites" or "portals" — it's about web services and the emerging global ecosystem of big data. In this context, Gov 2.0 isn't simply about setting up social media accounts, moving to grid computing or adopting open standards: it's about systems thinking, where open data is used both by, for and with the people. If you look at what the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to do to revolutionize healthcare with open government data in the United States, that approach may become a bit clearer. For that to happen, countries, states and cities have to stand up open government data platforms.

The examples of open government data being put to use that excite VanRoekel are, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the healthcare front. If you look at the healthcare community pages on, "you see great examples of companies and providers meeting," he said, referencing two startups from a healthcare challenge that were acquired by larger providers as a result of their involvement in the open data event.

I'm cautiously optimistic about what this news means for the world, particularly for the further validation of open source in open government. With this step forward, the prospects for stimulating more economic activity, civic utility and accountability under a global open government partnership are now brighter.


November 04 2011

The maker movement's potential for education, jobs and innovation is growing

Dale DoughertyDale Dougherty (@dalepd), one of the co-founders of O'Reilly Media, was honored at the White House yesterday as a "Champion of Change." This White House initiative profiles Americans who are helping their fellow citizens "meet the challenges of the 21st century." The recognition came as part of what the White House is calling "Make it in America," which convenes people from around the country to discuss American manufacturing and jobs.

"This is so completely deserved," wrote Tim O'Reilly on Google+. "When you see kids at Maker Faire suddenly turned on to science and math because they want to make things, when you see them dragging their parents around with eyes shining, you realize just how dull our education system has made some of the most exciting and interesting stuff in the world. Dale has taken a huge step towards changing that. I'm honored to have worked with Dale now for more than 25 years, making big ideas happen. He's a genius."

The event was streamed online at Video of the event is up on YouTube, where you can watch Dougherty's comments, beginning at 58:18. Most of the other speakers focused on energy, transportation or other economic issues. Dougherty went in a different direction. "You're sort of the anti-Washington message, in that you guys just hang out and do great stuff," said U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra when introducing Dougherty.

"I started this magazine called 'MAKE'," Dougherty said. "It's sort of a 21st-century 'Popular Mechanics,' and it really meant to describe how to make things for fun and play. [We] started an event called MakerFaire, just bringing people together to see what they make in their basements, their garages, and what they're doing with technology. It really kind of came from the technology side into what you might call manufacturing, but people are building robots, people are building new forms of lighting, people are building … new forms of things that are just in their heads," he said.

"You mentioned tinkering," said Dougherty, responding to an earlier comment by Chopra. "Tinkering was once a solid middle-class skill. It was how you made your life better. You got a better home, you fixed your car, you did a lot of things. We've kind of lost some of that, and tinkering is on the fringe instead of in the middle today.

The software community is influencing manufacturing today, said Dougherty, including new ways of thinking about it. "It's a culture. I think when you look at 'MAKE' and MakerFaire, this is a new culture, and it is a way to kind of redefine what this means." It's about seeing manufacturing as a "creative enterprise," not something "where you're told to do something but where you're invited to solve a problem or figure things out."

This emergent culture is one in which makers create because of passion and personal interest. "People are building robots because they want to," Dougherty said. "It's an expression of who they are and what they love to do. When you get these people together, they really turn each other on, and they turn on other people."

I caught up with Dougherty and talked with him about the White House event and what's happening more broadly in the maker space. Our interview follows.

What does this recognition mean to you?

Dale Dougherty: I see it as a recognition for the maker movement and the can-do spirit of makers. I'm proud of what makers are doing, so I appreciated the opportunity to tell this story to business and government leaders. Makers are the champions of change.

How fast is the maker community growing?

Dale Dougherty: It's hard to put a number on the spread of an idea. The key thing is that it continues to spread and more people are getting connected. I know that the maker audience is getting younger every year, which is a good sign. That means we've involved more families and young people.

What's particularly exciting to you in the maker movement right now?

Dale Dougherty: Kits. We just wrapped up a special issue of "MAKE" on kits. Kits are a very interesting alternative to packaged consumer products. They provide parts and instructions for you to make something yourself. There's such a broad range of kits available that I wanted to bring them together in one issue. We have a great lead article by MIT researcher and economist, Michael Schrage, on how kits drive innovation. I didn't know, for example, that the first steam engine was sold as a kit. So were the first personal computers. Today we're looking at 3-D printers such as the Makerbot. We're also looking at the RallyFighter, a kit car from Local Motors, which you can build in their new microfactory in Arizona. Also, Jose Gomez-Marquez of MIT writes about DIY medical devices and how they can be hacked by medical practitioners in third-world countries to produce custom solutions.

What does making mean for education?

Dale Dougherty: Making is learning. Remember John Dewey's phrase "learn by doing." It's a hundred-year-old educational philosophy based on experiential learning that seems forgotten, if not forbidden, today. I see a huge opportunity to change the nature of our educational system.

How is the maker movement currently influencing government?

Dale Dougherty: The DIY mindset seems essential for a democratic society, especially one that is undergoing constant change. Think of Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous essay, "Self-Reliance." Taking responsibility for yourself and your community is critical. You can't have a democracy without participation. Everything we can do for ourselves we should do and not wait or expect others to do it for us. If you want things to change, step up and make it happen.

The theme of the Washington meeting was "Make It in America." America is the leading manufacturing economy, but that lead is shrinking. As one speaker said, we have to refute the idea that manufacturing is "dirty, dangerous and disappearing."

Do we want to remain a country that makes things? There are obvious reasons many would like that answer to be 'yes,' but the biggest reason is that manufacturing has historically been a source of middle class jobs.

Some folks asked how to influence people so that they value manufacturing in American and how to get young kids interested in careers in manufacturing. One answer I have is that you have to get more people participating, to think of manufacturing as something that we all do, not just a few. We want to get people to see themselves as makers. This is the broad democratic invitation of the maker movement.

Flipping this a bit, how should the maker movement influence government?

Dale Dougherty: I see four things that the maker movement can bring:

  1. Openness — Once you get started doing something, you find others doing similar things. This creates opportunities for sharing and learning together. Collaboration just seems baked into the maker movement. Let's work together.
  2. Willingness to take risks — Let's not avoid risks. Let's not fear failure. Let's move ahead and learn from what experiences we have. The most important thing is iterating, making things better, learning new ways of doing things.
  3. Creativity — What excites many people is the opportunity to do creative work. If we can't define work as creative, maybe it won't get done.
  4. Personal — Technology has become personal. It's something we can use and shape to our own goals. Making is personal; what you make is an expression of who you are. It means something and that meaning can be shared in public.

What lies ahead in the space? DIY solar, bioreactors, hacking cars?

Dale Dougherty: That's what we'd all like to know. I don't spend too much time thinking about the future. There's so much going on right now.

September 20 2011

Historic global Open Government Partnership launches in New York City

Open government is about to assume a higher profile in foreign affairs. On July 12, 2011, the State Department hosted an historic gathering in Washington to announce the (OGP) with Brazil and six other nations. Today in New York City, this unprecedented global partnership will launch. Heads of state, representatives of civil society, members of the free press and technologists will convene at the New York offices of Google to hail the "Power of Open" around the world. In the afternoon, President Obama and the leaders of seven other countries will announce their national action plans and commitments to open government. I'll be liveblogging the event here on the Radar Gov 2.0 channel and tweeting out pictures to Tumblr and other social platforms. Virtual participants will be able to watch the launch at Google's YouTube channel at 9 AM EST.

Some 43 countries have now indicated their intent to join this international open government partnership, with the vast majority joining the founding eight members, led by Brazil and the United States. The formation of the OGP revisited the bilateral U.S.-Indian partnership on open government that was announced during President Obama's trip to India last November, although India subsequently withdrew from the OGP in July.

In her remarks on July 12 at the State Department, Secretary of State Clinton explicitly connected open government to economic activity. "We've also seen the correlation between openness in government and success in the economic sphere," said Clinton. "Countries committed to defending transparency and fighting corruption are often more attractive to entrepreneurs. And if you can create small- and medium-size businesses, you have a broader base for economic activity. At a time when global competition for trade and investment is fierce, openness is not just good for governance, it is also good for a sustainable growth in GDP."

In the week following Clinton's speech, I spoke with Mario Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs at the United States State Department, about the Open Government Partnership and what it will mean. Our interview follows. You can also listen to an audio recording of our discussion, embedded above.

Can you explain how open government and a greater degrees of transparency or accountability are related to investment, economic output or activity?

"I think what the secretary said really summarizes well one aspect of what's economic growth and even economic development in a country, which is really how the rest of the world perceive it and how the rest of the world measures risk when you invest in a country," said Otero. "Clearly, if anyone looks at the components of country risk as you invest, issues that have to do with transparency and accountability are present within the factors that comprise that equation.

Otero explored other aspects of open government that arose in discussions at the forums at the State Department in July. "One was clearly that transparency will insure that resources are used for what they are meant to be used for in their totality, in part because you are seeing the transfer of funds and the use of funds, to make sure that some of that is not being set aside for other things or in some way taken out for corrupt reasons," she said. "That concept of being able to use a country's revenues in order to carry out a government's mandate and plan is again one way which the economic concept becomes important. Even if you're talking about health, if in fact you're providing improved health services to your population, you are improving their capacity to be productive citizens and to contribute to the economy. I mean, you can just go across the board."

"Another thing that came up that was very interesting, and it was actually brought up on Kenya, was the degree to which they themselves were not asking to collect information completely, but now that they are, how it is that they look at some of the items that they import into the country they they themselves could produced or could have. Just looking more carefully both at their balance of trade issues, recording all the information, giving emphasis to using data to make decisions, led, certainly the Kenyan participants, to give a couple of examples of how their imports had decreased in a couple of areas."

"These are different ways that open government can address directly the question that you are asking. I think we're going to come up with a lot more applications for open government that relate to reducing costs, said Otero. "As countries do this work more and more, we will see, especially when they are looking at the budget and the way the resources are allocated, that this will also, and the Secretary talked about this, conceivably have an impact on the tax revenue base of a country, because there are many citizens, either for excuse or otherwise, say 'well, why am I going to pay taxes if it's going to go into the pockets of some bureaucrat and it's really not going to bring about changes.' The minute you have more transparency and people begin to see how their taxes are being used, you then again increase the tax revenue that the country has available."

I brought up how the new city government in Chicago is thinking about data and the global movement towards open data, which Otero said is part of OGP. For city government under Mayor Emmanuel, open data is viewed as a means for government to understand its own operations, become more productive and deploy its resources more efficiently and effectively. The example of Chicago led Otero to highlight an aspect of the Open Government Partnership that's she found very interesting. "It is open to developed countries that have cities like Chicago, and developing countries, like a Kenya," said Otero.

"The point is that some of these tools for transparency can be used even by countries that one might think may not have the resources to be able to do that, or even the know how," she said. "In fact, it is available across the board and that is one of the characteristics of the Open Government Partnership, both recognizing that and ensuring that the leadership in this partnership from the outset is comprised of countries from the north or from the south. Again, showing examples of how you can do this in the south that are attainable to the countries that want to do that. It's very interesting that we can talk about Chicago and, say, Kisumu, Kenya in the same breath."

What concrete outcomes for open government around the world should citizens, advocates, entrepreneurs and technologists be looking for from this partnership?

"The partnership is really the first time that there is a multilateral platform to address these issues," said Otero. "The partnership could have focused on countries come in and present best practices and exchange ideas and then just go home," said Otero. "The partnership is really focused on first having countries participate that have already demonstrated interest in this area and have already put in place a number of specific things and the material laid out, if you will, the minimum standards that are being requested. What the partnership really looks for is to provide a mechanism by which the countries can each develop their own national plans on ways to expand what they're doing on transparency, accountability, and civic engagement, or to start new initiatives for them. That is really what is very different and important about this partnership, is that it is very action- and results-oriented."

When countries join the Open Government Partnership, they commit themselves to address one of several "grand challenges." "They can be anything from public service, addressing public integrity issues, for managing public resources," said Otero. "Using these challenges, they need to be able to create a plan. Now countries can, of course, choose what they will address. The partnership is not saying 'now all of you have to do the same thing.' It's very much based upon the way in which each country is assessing the specific ways it is interested in addressing. The Partnership is challenging countries to identify those areas of most interest to them, and then to be able to develop a plan that will allow them to make changes and have some real results come out of this. The broad vision for this effort is to really mobilize countries to do something very concrete and in the process develop their own capacity for doing it. Of course here, one can note that there will be some resources available to help countries do this work. That's really at the core of the work."

One clear difference that we see today from past decades is the reality of an increasingly wired citizenry. "The role of technology in doing all of this is very apparent to anyone that's been alive in the last decade," she said. "How countries are using technology, everything from using social media to creating their own websites to a variety of different things is really impressive and very innovative. So, of course, the private sector, if they've got any brains in their head, are seeing this as an important business opportunity."

"Whether you're creating new apps or working with directly with different governments, keeping your eyes open in this space, you also create different mechanisms, different technologies that can be of use to government. The bottom line is that the real effort here and the real outcome that would make the Open Government Partnership successful is signing up a significant number of countries that participate, and having those countries launch their own national plans and carry them out."

What were some of the platforms and technologies that have inspired you?

In Estonia they talk about creating a 'paperless government, Otero observed. "They really are creating 'e-governance,' as they call it, throughout, which is really quite amazing," she said. "In Iceland, it's very interesting that they're using social media to be able to have citizens participate in the redrafting of their constitution. They're using Facebook, and Twitter, and other things to just be able to communicate with the population.

Otero also pointed to the dynamic technology sector in Kenya, which launched an open government data platform this summer. Kenyans have advanced in technology more than any country in Africa, said Otero with the M-PESA system and the way that Kenyans can access information record data using mobile phones. "I think the Kenyan understand the importance of being able to use this data and some of the ideas that they put forth were more related to this area of saving resources and making some of the money available for other work. Otero also referenced open government work in Mexico, England, Honduras, Tanzania and Uganda.

India withdrew from the partnership, reportedly over concerns about a third party "audit" of its progress. Can you offer any more detail?

"It makes all the sense in the world to have independent experts who don't do an audit, which is a word that you used, but really assess, and look, and monitor the progress that's being made," said Otero. "They do this in a way to maintain that accountability, but also to make sure that you're not rating these countries or grading them or putting them in a category from 1 to 100 or whatever. That process is in place that was decided upon and all the countries believe that it adds vigor and rigor to this effort. I think, as you said, India has provided great value in this area of open government, of transparency, of accountability. They have done very important work, and they are strongly committed to the principles that are espoused by the Open Government Partnership. In fact, in the time that they worked directly, they really contributed a great deal. I think, right now, the government has indicated that they can't participate, and I think that the reason is precisely the one that you've laid out."

"I think that they will continue to follow the progress of the partnership. Many countries have bilateral relationships with India and continue to address these kinds of issue in a more bilateral way, because they have a great deal to contribute, both to this initiative and the overall work in transparency. I think, certainly, we completely respect their decision right now to watch this closely but not be part of it right now, and to continue doing their work internally. That's really the way that I understand their position."

Progress and setbacks toward open government

Over the summer and fall, analysis and information have steadily emerged about what this open government partnership will mean to open government in the United States and around the world. David Sasaki wondered if the OGP was "democracy building 2.0." Greg Michener echoed his analysis, wondering if the Brazil was fit to lead the OGP. Global Integrity explained its role in the OGP. Emma Smith questioned whether the Philippines is serious about open government.

In the U.S., OMB Watch posited that the OGP could drive U.S. commitments, particularly if, as John Wonderlich suggested at the Sunlight Foundation suggested, a U.S. national plan for open government was matched by subsequent follow through. The White House open government "status update" capped a historic week for open government in Washington, as the administration prepares to launch e-petitions. Quiet successes, however, have been matched with setbacks to open government in Washington over the past three years. The Obama administration now faces an uncertain future for funding for its Office of Management and Budget's open government initiatives after the U.S. Senate appropriations committee shortchanged the Electronic Government Fund by some $10 million dollars last week. With these proposed funding cuts the U.S. Congress is, as OMB Watch put, it "about to underfund the very tools that will tell them how federal money is being spent." When President Obama announces the U.S. National Plan for Open Government PDF) (embedded below), the implementation will have to be undertaken in that context.

The future of funding for open government platforms coming from the White House, however, now must be taken in the context of a much broader narrative that includes dozens of other countries and hundreds of millions of other citizens. Aleem Walji, writing at the World Bank, put the effort in the context of a broad move from "eGov to 'WeGov'. His analysis captures something important: whatever action the United States does or does not take in its own movements towards greater transparent, accountable or participatory government, there is a global movement towards transparency that is now changing the relationship of the governed to their governments. Unprecedented levels of connectivity and mobile devices have created new connections between citizens and information that lie outside of traditional methods of government command and control. The future of open government may well literally be in all of our hands.

This interview was condensed and edited. A full audio recording is embedded above.

July 14 2011

There are bigger issues surrounding the .gov review

The United States federal government is reforming its Internet strategy. In the context of looming concerns about the debt ceiling, high unemployment, wars abroad, rising healthcare costs, and the host of other issues that the White House and Congress should be addressing, that might seem like a side issue.

It's not. The federal government spends some $80 billion dollars every year on information technology. If you're paying any attention at all to government IT, you know that Uncle Sam is not getting his money's worth from that investment. Furthermore, the federal government has not been getting the kinds of returns in productivity or efficiency that the private sector has enjoyed over the past decade or so. Former White House OBM director Peter Orzag called that disparity the "IT gap" last year. So when the Obama administration launched a new initiative on Web reform this summer, it might have seemed a little overdue.

Better late than never, and better now than later.

Citizens are turning to the Internet for government data and services in unprecedented numbers, and they're expecting to find answers, applications and, increasingly, people. While public servants can join the conversations on social networks to address the latter demand, delivering improved information and e-services confronts the federal government with some tough choices, given budget constraints. That challenge is one reason that they're looking to the general public and the private sector for some ideas on how they can improve their strategy.

This week, in service of that goal, the White House hosted a livechat on improving federal websites with Macon Phillips, White House director of digital strategy, Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, and Sheila Campbell, director of the GSA’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government. The chat, which has become a standard tool in the White House's online communications toolkit over the last year, included a livestream from, a Facebook chat and an active Twitter backchannel at the #dotgov hashtag. The White House also took questions through a form on and its Facebook wall.

These issues aren't new, of course, even if the tools for discussion have improved. And if you've been following the Gov 2.0 movement over the years this issue of how the government can use the Internet and associated technologies to work better has been at the core of the discussion throughout. Success online used to be measured by having a website, said federal chief information Vivek Kundra. As he observed immediately afterwards, "those days are long gone."

If the federal government is going to reform how it uses the Internet, it will need to learn and apply the lessons that Web 2.0 offers to Gov 2.0, whether it's standing up open government platforms, leveraging the cloud, crowdsourcing, or making data-driven policy.

Government is also going to need to stop creating a new .gov website for every new initiative, particularly if they're not optimized for search engines. There's some good news here: "Every month, historically, federal agencies would register 50 new domain names, said Kundra on Tuesday. "That's been halted."

This proliferation of federal .gov websites has been an issue for some time — call it ".gov sprawl" — and that what's driven the .gov reform effort in the context of the Obama administration's campaign to cut government waste. This week, for the first time, a dataset of federal executive branch Internet domains has been published as open government data online. The dataset of federal gov domains is hosted on and has been embedded below:

Federal Executive Branch Internet Domains

"This dataset lists all of the executive branch second-level domains within the top-level .gov domain, and which agencies own them," commented General Services Agency new media specialist Dan Munz in the Community page for the dataset. "As White House Director of Digital Strategy Macon Philips has pointed out (see ""), while many of these domain names point to sites that are valuable, some are duplicative or unnecessary. That makes it harder to manage the .gov domain, impairs agencies' ability to distribute information, and creates a user experience for citizens that just isn't as good as it could or should be. How can we fix that? Over the coming months, we'll have a plan for streamlining the federal executive branch webspace, and we want to invite you into the conversation. We're releasing this dataset as a first step, so that you can explore, comment, remix, and maybe even use the data to map the .gov domain in ways we haven't seen before."

OSCON Data 2011, being held July 25-27 in Portland, Ore., is a gathering for developers who are hands-on, doing the systems work and evolving architectures and tools to manage data. (This event is co-located with OSCON.)

Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD

Why reforming .gov matters

This effort is not impressing all observers. Micah Sifry, the co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, has called the move to delete redundant websites "cheap, dumb and cynical" at techPresident. "Redundant government websites probably cost the taxpayer a fraction of what we spend on military bands, let alone what we spend on duplicative and unnecessary government websites promoting the Army's, Navy's, Air Force's, Merchant Marine's, Naval Academy's, and Coast Guard's bands' websites! (According to NPR, the Marines spend $50 million a year on their bands, and the Army $198 million." In a larger sense, Sifry argued, "if you are really serious about eliminating stupid and pointless spending, then you'd be pushing for laws to strengthen protections for government whistleblowers (instead of going an stupid and pointless rampage to prosecute them!), since insiders know where the real waste is hidden."

Sifry is absolutely right on one count: the amount of money up for savings through reducing federal .gov websites is dwarfed by what is saved by, say, reducing Medicare fraud using new data analytics tools, or in finding cost savings in defense spending. Reducing the number of federal .gov websites by 90% would not significantly address the federal deficit. The biggest federal cost savings from this week's .gov livechat were likely cited by Kundra, when he said that 137 federal data centers were closed by the end of this calendar year, each of which consumes immense amounts of energy.

Where Sifry may have been overly harsh in his critique is in not acknowledging how progressive a perspective the White House appears to have embraced here. (Progressive meaning "forward-thinking," not political ideology, in this case.) Democratizing healthcare data so that it showed up in search engine results or is integrated into applications makes it more useful, argues Kundra, citing the improvements to Moving from a static website to a universe of applications and services provisioned by open government data is shifting from a Web 1.0 vision to 2.0 reality. In a country where 35% of citizens have a smartphone, delivering services and providing information to a mobile audience has to be factored into any online strategy, whether in the public or private sector. And, in most cases, it's the private sector that will be able to create the best applications that use that data, if government acts as a platform to empower civic coders. Phillips acknowledged that explicitly. "The best mobile apps," he said, "are going to be driven by the private sector making use of public data."

If e-government is going to move toward "We-government" — as Sifry has described the growing ecosystem of civic media, technology-fueled transparency advocates and empowered citizens — government data and services will need to be discoverable where and when people are looking for them. That is ultimately, in part, what getting .gov reform right needs to be about, versus straightforward cost-savings.

Kundra asked the broader community to "help us think through how we're going to provide services over the mobile Internet." If, as he said, search is the default way that people search for information now, then releasing high quality open data about government spending, the financial industry, healthcare, energy, education, transportation, legislation and campaign finance would be a reasonable next step. Tim O'Reilly has been sharing a simple piece of advice to the architects of platforms for years: "Don't make people find data. Make data find the people."

The .gov reform, in that context, isn't just about reducing the number of websites and saving associated design or maintenance costs. It's about reducing the need to ever visit a website to retrieve the information or access a citizen requires. In the years ahead, it will be up to Congress and Kundra's successor as federal CIO — along with whomever he or she reports to in the Oval Office — to get that part of "web reform" done.

December 29 2010

2010 Gov 2.0 Year in Review

I recently talked with Federal News Radio anchor Chris Dorobek about Gov 2.0 in 2010 and beyond. While our conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, it was clear afterwards that I'd missed many of the year's important stories in Gov 2.0 during the relatively short segment. I went back over hundreds of posts on Gov 2.0 at Radar and GovFresh, thousands of tweets and other year-end lists, including Govloop's year in review, Gartner's Top 10 for Government 2.0 in 2010, Bill Allison's end of year review, Andrew P. Wilson's memorables from 2010, Ellen Miller's year in Sunlight 2010, John Wonderlich's 2010 in policy and GovTwit's top Gov 2.0 stories. Following are the themes, moments and achievements that made an impact.

Gov 2.0 spreads worldwide

The year was marked by the international spread of Gov 2.0 initiatives. Wherever connections are available in the United States, citizens are turning to the Internet for government data, policy and services. Applying that trend internationally isn't unreasonable, as more of humanity comes online. It won't be easy. It's Gov 2.0 vs the beast of bureaucracy everywhere, as professor Andrew McAfee memorably put it.

In Australia, for instance, government 2.0 Down Under still has a ways to go if it isn't going to be a "one shot" contest or success story. What's next for Government 2.0 in Australia, as Stephen Collins reflected, will rely on more public figures driving change, as well as citizens demanding better results.

In the United Kingdom, the new-ish government will continue to be a test bed, given dire budget projections. A refreshed Number 10 Downing Street online presence and accounts won't address cost issues, either. A spending challenge focused on crowdsourcing cuts didn't get very far. Such initiatives are likely the tip of the iceberg, as tough budget decisions loom in 2011. While the influence of Tim Berners-Lee on is unmistakable, Gov 2.0 in the UK involves a host of small companies, agencies, elected officials and of course the citizens themselves.

Gated governments face disruption

Everywhere, governments remain concerned about the risks and rewards of Web 2.0, but with citizens increasingly going online, those same governments must respond to digital cries for help. In countries with autocratic governments, the disruption and challenge to power represented by free information flows mean that transparency and accountability are a long way off. In that context, an e-government conference in Russia has to be balanced with the government transparency issues revealed by the deployment of Ushahidi for crowdsourcing wildfires.

Citizens empowered with new tools for transparency became a more powerful force in 2010, as the growing lists of examples of open government platforms in India (a democratic country) suggest. As citizens gain more means for reporting issues with services, corruptions or elections, repressive governments will be faced with more challenges in filtering, censoring, blocking or shutting down services that host contradictory or false reports.

In that context, technology companies also have meaningful choices to make, from how they cooperate (or don't) with law enforcement and government agencies that want access to its data, to "firewalling" private information from multiple services within companies, to monitoring internal controls on employee access or to providing technologies that may be used to monitor, track or censor citizens.

Open government remains in beta

While the progress of the White House Open Government Directive at federal agencies is important, as is action in Congress, there's a long road yet ahead in the United States and abroad. As John Wonderlich pointed out in his own look at 2010,

Obama’s Open Government Directive is at a crossroads (like other similar policies), and the changing majority in the House brings new opportunities for change (a 72 Hour Rule!), just as the outgoing majority brought their own new opportunities for transparency.

We're still very much in open government's beta period. Some efforts, like the State Department's Text Haiti program for the Red Cross or the "do-it-ourselves" platforms from groups like CrisisCommons, made a difference. Other efforts, partially represented by many open government plans in the throes of implementation, won't mature for months to come.

What is clear is that open government is a mindset, not simply a fresh set of technological tools. Gov 2.0 is a means, not an end. It can and will mean different things to different constituencies. For instance, the State Department released a social media policy, engaged the world through social media, launched a "Civil Society 2.0" initiative and released a quadrennial review in December. Its efforts to apply social software to digital diplomacy were laudable. By the end of the year, however, Secretary Clinton's landmark speech and policy on Internet freedom came under sharp global criticism in the wake of "Cablegate." The questions of who, where and why the U.S. supports Internet freedom became even more complex.

WikiLeaks is a reminder that the disruption new technology platforms pose will often emerge in unexpected ways.

Open data went global

The first International Open Government Data Conference highlighted how far this trend has gone in a short time. "Since the United Kingdom and United States movement started, lots of other countries have followed," said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Greece, and Finland are all working on open data initiatives. Within the United States, 16 states and 9 cities have created open data platforms. More data platforms at all levels will come online in 2011.

"The more transparency there is, the more likely there is to be external investment," said Berners-Lee, highlighting the potential for open government data to make countries more attractive to the global electronic herd. Berners-Lee anticipates a world where open government data standards will come to cities, states and countries like HTML did in the 1990s. "The web spread quickly because it was distributed," said Berners-Lee. "The fact that people could put up web servers themselves without asking meant it spread more quickly without a centralized mandate." Over in England, the new uses the linked open data standards Berners-Lee recommends.

After nearly a year in the open data trenches, Nat Torkington offered advice here at Radar for those starting or involved in open data projects:

First, figure out what you want the world to look like and why. Second, build your project around users.

The Sunlight Foundation, one of the foremost users of data journalism for open government, created a new ‘data commons’ in 2010 and launched and, both of which combine to make campaign finance, lobbying, earmark and government contract data more accessible. Sunlight Labs also made progress in opening up state legislatures.

In December, a report on the attitudes, quality and use of open government data showed strong support for the release of open data among citizens and government employees. While the open data study showed progress, there's still a long road ahead for open government data. The promise of data journalism is notable, as journalists now have huge volumes of accessible government data, but cultural roadblocks and "dirty" data still need to be addressed.

There are (more) apps for that

Around the world, apps contests are unlocking innovation. One of the biggest contests, Apps for Development, is using new World Bank open data.

As governments create their own applications, however, they'll need to avoid "shiny app syndrome" to avoid empowering the empowered.

Gov 2.0 grew locally

Gov 2.0 is going local, as techies take on City Hall. CityCamp, Code for America, Civic Commons and protocols like Open311 all grew this year. Real-time transit data is opening up exciting prospects for entrepreneurs. Local government as a data supplier looks like it may have legs as well.

Even mainstream media woke up to the local trend. Time Magazine reported on mobile civic applications that let citizens give feedback to cities. At year's end, the use of Twitter by Newark mayor Cory Booker to hack Snowmageddon after a major snowstorm buried the East Coast brought new attention to the opportunities inherent in a new digital nexus between citizens and public servants online.

Look for more citizens as sensors in neighborhoods soon.

Laws, rules and regulations

This was also the year that mainstream media couldn't stop reporting on social media in politics. Sarah Palin's tweets were read on cable news and gaffes from a Congressman or updates from the campaign trail went straight to the headlines. There have been thousands of posts and cable news reports on the topic at this point. A study on Twitter use in Congress asserted that Democrats use Twitter for transparency, while Republicans use it for outreach. For a useful perspective outside of the United States, First Monday published a terrific Gov 2.0 case study in government and e-participation at Brazil's House and presidential websites.

What such reports generally missed is that Gov 2.0 progress within agencies is bolstered by orders, laws or regulations that support these activities. This spring, the Sunlight Foundation and other transparency advocates worked with Rep. Steve Israel and Sen. Jon Tester to introduce the Public Online Information Act in both chambers. As John Wonderlich explained, the act redefines “public information” by requiring that any government information currently required to be available to the public be posted online, and sets forth better technology coordination between the branches of government to achieve that overarching goal."

In June, OMB updated its rules for cookies and privacy on U.S. government websites, enabling government agencies to use social media, video sharing and discussion platforms. In July, the House of Representatives had its first hearing on Government 2.0, examining the risks and rewards of Web 2.0 in government. The White House also released a draft of "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace," including a means for people to comment upon it online. Yes, the government has an online identity plan for you.

The passage and subsequent signing of the Telework Enhancement Act by President Obama was a win for government workers, providing new flexibility in getting the job done. The need for that ability was driven home by the historic snowfall in Washington, D.C. last winter, when "Snowmageddon" made working from home more than a "nice to have" for many parts of the federal government.

Election 2010 was a refresh for Gov 2.0, offering up numerous lessons for social media and politics from the campaign. What emerged were new prospects for the GOP to embrace innovation and transparency. That subsequently manifested with a victory for transparency in House rules.

The enactment of a plain writing law is also a boon for open government, although getting bureaucracies to move away from acronyms won't happen overnight.

In December, the passage of the COMPETES Act in Congress means that every federal agency can create prizes and competitions. Watch to see if citizens and other private entities take them up on those opportunities.

Online privacy went mainstream

While some media outlets declared that privacy is dead, government officials and institutions weren't convinced. That's why online privacy debates heated up in Washington, with Facebook privacy and Google privacy frequently in the news.

The shift to cloud computing puts Electronic Communications Privacy Act reform in the spotlight. Simply put, digital due process matters. As the year came to an end, the FTC released its online privacy report, which included a recommendation for a Do Not Track mechanism, along with increased transparency and baked-in controls.

Government moves into the cloud

When NASA Nebula's open source technology was integrated into Rackspace and others to form OpenStack, the administration's open government initiative had a bonafide success on its hands. Outside of NASA, the White House IT reforms include a "cloud first" strategy for new investments. That move is a part of a broad strategy to close the technology gap which has been a top priority of the administration's IT executives. FedRAMP, a federal government-wide approach to securing cloud computing, may help to provide some of the security and privacy questions that CIOs must ask.

While some elements of government business will never be in the public cloud, look for the cloud transition to be an even bigger story in 2011 as Microsoft, Google,, IBM, Amazon and others look for government dollars in their clouds. The White House moved to Amazon's cloud in May. This fall, moved into their cloud, too. has many agencies in its cloud. Google and Microsoft have been signing up new city and state customers all year, along with chasing federal dollars. Look for more of the same in 2011, along with more tough questions about auditability, security, uptime and privacy questions.

Open source moves deeper into government is moving to Drupal next spring, joining hundreds of other government websites on the open source content management platform. Next year, when gets an overdue overhaul, it will also be open source.

Healthcare communication got an upgrade as the Direct Project creates the basis for a "Health Internet." The NHIN Direct project's approach to creating open health records was an important example of government as a platform. For more context, Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf talked with Radar about the CONNECT project in a podcast, "from Apache to Health and Human Services.

A "milestone in making government more open" went live this summer when the new Federal Register beta launched at As deputy White House CTO Beth Noveck observed, "Federal Register 2.0" is "collaborative government at its best." It's also all open source, so the site's code is shared in Civic Commons, a project launched at the Gov 2.0 Summit that will help city governments reduce costs and inefficiencies.

Archiving went social

When the Library of Congress teamed up with Twitter to archive tweets, it made headlines everywhere. Less noticed were the social upgrades by the Law Library of the United States to, or the work that the National Archives is doing to guide other governmental agencies. When NARA issued guidance on social media, it was a watershed for many people looking for advice. moved forward

As Carl Malamud has explained:

Law.Gov is an idea, an idea that the primary legal materials of the United States should be readily available to all, and that governmental institutions should make these materials available in bulk as distributed, authenticated, well-formatted data.

This year, moved much closer to reality, as the signing and release of Law.Gov core principles was followed by Google granting major funding.

At year's end, Malamud announced that Public.Resource.Org would begin providing legal decisions freely online in 2011 in a weekly release of the Report of Current Opinions (RECOP). According to Malamud, this report "will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government."

Citizen engagement platforms grew

With a wave of new citizen engagement platforms and apps, citizens could contribute much more than a vote or a donation in 2010: they could donate their time and skills.

The growth of citizen engagement platforms, however, extends far beyond Washington. Civic developers are helping government by standardizing application programming interfaces and empowering others by coding the middleware for open government. Working with developers can be a crucial complement to publishing open data online. Those citizens matter a lot there, but only if engaged.

As the new year beckons, there are more ways for the citizens of the United States to provide feedback to their federal government than perhaps there ever have been in its history. In 2011, the open question is whether "We the people" will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better. The evolution of these kinds of platforms aren't U.S.-centric, either. Ushahidi, for example, started in Africa and has been deployed worldwide. The crowd matters more now in every sense: crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdmapping, collective intelligence, group translation, and human sensor networks.

What's next?

Have bets for 2011? Let us know in the comments.

December 24 2010

Citizen engagement platforms grow in 2010

During the 2008 election, then Senator Barack Obama said that "the challenges we face today -- from saving our planet to ending poverty -- are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck." As President, finding solutions to grand challenges means that Obama is looking again to the technology community for answers. Whether he finds them will be a defining element in judging whether a young Senator from Illinois that leveraged Web 2.0 to become President can tap into that collective intelligence to govern in the Oval Office.

Will citizens collaborate with officials, workers and one another to apply a civic surplus to open government? 2011 might be a make or break year for White House efforts to create platforms for citizen engagement. There were two notable news stories on that front this month. First, the passage of the COMPETES Act in Congress means that every federal agency can create prizes and competitions. Look for more to come on

Second, the White House has made a new, ambitious request for the American people: help design digital democracy with ideas for creating a platform for citizen consultation. For now, the project is called "ExpertNet" and is being hosted on a wiki.

Both underpin significant parts of White House deputy CTO Beth Noveck's vision for open government, where stakeholders collaborate in "wiki government." In that context, making community health data as useful as weather data has potential, where companies and citizens engage with data in ways that help them make better decisions. Open source may improve healthcare through NHIN Direct, now the Direct Project.

The growth of citizen engagement platforms, however, extends far beyond Washington. Civic developers are helping government by standardizing application programming interfaces and empowering others by coding the middleware for open government. Working with developers can be a crucial complement to publishing open data online. Those citizens matter a lot there, but only if engaged.

There's a growth in "do it ourselves (DIO) government," or as the folks at techPresident like to say, "We government." That's likely to be important in the context of crises in state budgets. It was an important enough topic that I was happy to accept Adriel Hampton's invitation to join him on Gov 2.0 Radio to talk about the growth in citizen engagement in 2010. Our conversation is available in the following audio clip:

You can break down what's happening into categories:

  • Platforms
  • Data-driven decisions
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Helping one another with the digital divide and information literacy
  • Guerrilla design efforts to make better cities
  • Sharing information with one another with respect to how to do things

Social media is a big part of that, but far from the only one. The "army of techies" taking on City Hall are using apps like SeeClickFix and Citysourced to report issues and track their resolution.

The growth of CityCamp is fascinating to watch, in that context. 2010 was the year when many of these camps did something more than talk and share information, though those activities have value. While the federal government, particularly the Coast Guard and EPA, used social media to get information out and set up, citizens used platforms like Ushahidi at the Lousiana Bucket Brigade, or tried grassroots mapping. Citizens can do a lot on their own. Look at what people did with the CrisisCamp Haiti work, particularly Open Street Map.

That's important, but when you look at what happened with CrisisCommons, you can see the germ of something bigger in the Oil Reporter app. That's one reason why the Sloan Foundation gave them a grant. CrisisCommons uses the Internet to act as a platform for people to help one another. As Andy Carvin from NPR has pointed out, now citizens can do more than donate blood or money. They can share information and donate their skills and time.

2010 was also notable for the growth of civic hackathons, like the International open data hackathon, the Times Open Hack Day, and Random Hacks of kindness.

As the new year beckons, there are more ways for the citizens of the United States to provide feedback to their federal government than perhaps there ever have been in its history. In 2011, the open question is whether "We the people" will use these new participatory platforms to help government work better. The evolution of these kinds of platforms aren't U.S.-centric, either. Ushahidi, for example, started in Africa and has been deployed worldwide. The crowd matters more now in every sense: crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdmapping, collective intelligence, group translation, and human sensor networks.

I'll close with a prediction for 2011: Watch for important innovation to come out of India in the mobile space, as open government for transparency moves ahead.

December 09 2010

White House proposes sweeping federal IT reforms

For years, the differences between the use of information technology in the public and private sector have been glaring. Closing the technology gap has been one of the most important priorities of the administration's IT executives. Today, the White House released a report (below) that acknowledges those issues and proposes specific reforms to begin to address the IT gap that Peter Orzag, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the White House, highlighted this summer.

This morning in Washington, the White House will host a forum on information technology management reform hosted by federal chief performance officer and OMB deputy director for management Jeffrey Zients and U.S. chief information officer Vivek Kundra. The two will lay out the Obama administration's strategy to reboot how the federal government purchases and uses information technology. The event will be streamed live at It's also embedded below:

Key reforms proposed in the plan include:

  • Create career tracks for IT program managers
  • Move to pilot projects with more budget flexibility and greater transparency in the implementation process
  • Develop IT acquisition specialists to closely align acquisition with technology cycles in the broader economy
  • Following the model of Social Security, enact the requirement for complete, integrated teams to be in place before projects are approved
  • Launch "myth-busting" campaigns about acquisition of federal IT.
  • Use "TechStat" sessions and other accountability measures to end or accelerate troubled projects
  • Reduce the number of federal data centers by at least 40 percent by 2015.

May 05 2010

Building better White House policy through online citizen engagement

Cammie CroftCammie Croft, former deputy director of new media at the White House, is taking on a new challenge as the director of new media at the Department of Energy.

In her new role, Croft will be upgrading elements of the IT infrastructure at an immense federal agency to enable her and her team to implement the digital tools for online engagement that she applied during the presidential campaign and the new administration's first year in office. The Department of Energy has IT infrastructure challenges that exist within many government bodies at all levels, from an outdated content management system (CMS) to difficulties supporting blogs or commenting.

Net Generation D.C.

When I met Cammie Croft, she was typing rapidly into a friend's new iPad in a coffee shop, transcribing notes and glancing at a buzzing BlackBerry on the table next to her. At first glance, she looked cast directly from the contemporary mold for young Washingtonian professionals in the spring of 2010: chic business casual, constantly-connected through multiple devices, and thoughtful about the changing relationships between government and citizens due to technological innovation.

After I solicited her opinion of the iPad's utility for web work -- she'd adapted rapidly, though missed a keyboard -- our conversation about her work revealed both a wry sense of humor about Washington politics and a deep understanding of the commitment required to create, manage and sustain online engagement strategies.

Then again, Croft is no ordinary web worker. She's been in the new media trenches at the highest level of government, from the real-time presidential campaign to the rapidly-changing platform behind the White House's online communications.


Gov 2.0 Expo 2010Croft explained it took 10 months for the White House new media staff to progress to the IT infrastructure they wanted for While the new media team did relaunch on January 21st with a new blog, it was hosted on a different CMS. Eventually, was relaunched on the open source Drupal platform -- but it took many months to get there. "We'd like to open up comments on," said Croft, "but we're wrestling with how to make it a constructive online community. We like to say: 'How do we avoid getting to the place that YouTube comments are?'"

The new media team came in with lofty goals for applying online tools. Confronted with older IT equipment, they needed to rethink what the basic requirements were to get the job done. "A big part of what we needed to do in those first nine months was to build infrastructure for new media tools," she said. "The biggest change in decades" was incorporating a new media team into the White House proper, which required the cooperation of multiple stakeholders in the legal, IT, cybersecurity and policy realms.

Making the @WhiteHouse social

Getting a Facebook presence established, for instance, took four months. The White House is characteristic of many places in government: serious security arguments needed to be addressed. "Also, because Facebook is a third-party site, we had a need to tell our audience that they were leaving and that they were subject to other Terms of Service. We had to set up a license agreement with Facebook to make sure privacy concerns were addressed."

Those security concerns mean that no one in the White House had access to Twitter or Facebook, at least on the internal networks. Staffers could (and did) update accounts using smartphones. Now, said Croft, there are specific computers in the new media department that are configured to provide secure access to social networks. "After building a foundation that we could use to launch a Facebook presence and @WhiteHouse Twitter account, we could use the same policies for Robert Gibbs, Bill Burton and Macon Phillips," explained Croft.

Other new media platforms present different issues. "To get access to YouTube and post to YouTube without having a cookie issue was tricky because of privacy concerns," she said."You can't just go post, and post there alone, either. We also had to create our own video player with captioning for Section 508 compliance."

All of the White House new media accounts have to adhere to another specific requirements beyond security, privacy and accessibility: the President Records Act. "We needed to archive anything of importance or official business," said Croft. Work that was done online also had to be preserved, which meant that we had to figure out how to handle comments. That then meant we had to let people know that a selection of Facebook comments would be archived but that it would not be used in any other way." When asked whether comments that hinted at violence or other negative action toward the administration were a concern, Croft noted that "Secret Services operations are completely separate."

PBS Newshour filmed a special segment on the White House new media team, embedded below:

Shifting from campaigning to governance

So why didn't the IT infrastructure to support new media engagement exist when the new administration entered the White House in 2009? "There wasn't a success story to justify building a team around online communications yet," Croft. "It took the 2008 presidential campaign to be the catalyst for that move."

New media was a key component of how they won, said Croft, as it allowed the campaign to convey messages broadly and rapidly. "Our central thought was that anyone was capable of accomplishing extraordinary things if given the way to do so. One way to empower people is through online tools. Our idea was to take the same principle to see if we could change the way government works."

Croft and the rest of the White House new media team found, however, that governance and campaigning require different strategies for online engagement. "It's important to separate the DNC [Democratic National Committee] from what the White House does," she said. "Governance steps away from advocacy. You're trying to move people up a 'ladder of advocacy' on the campaign, vs public service in office."

In the White House, "you're working on behalf of the public," said Croft. "It's incumbent upon us to make each transaction as efficient and effective as possible. One reason I'm excited to move into an agency environment is that that's where things can really be improved by better infrastructure and technology that can increase services."

Croft posited a potential example of e-government from the other "DoE" - the Department of Education. "Consider college, where you fill out a FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid]," she said. "It's an awful experience that doesn't have to be. You can see the potential in things you can build that will tremendously enhance many transactional functions. Consider DMVs [Department of Motor Vehicles] and registration or renewing licenses."

Integrating online engagement with offline action

In either campaigning or governance, Croft emphasized, online engagement doesn't occur in a virtual bubble. "Any campaign will be more effective if it's integrated," she said, pointing to her work at, the Obama campaign's effort to get out ahead of the news cycle to frame factually-false claims and provide supporters with tools to spread that message on and offline.

"We noticed that email smears were getting traction during the campaign," said Croft. "When I came on board, the site already existed. The trouble was that it was doing a better job promoting smears than facts. We did a lot of thinking about redesign, in terms of showing visitors how to find a smear and leading with the truth." Croft said that they added options to share by email or print a flyer, along with integration with They also began to watch the site traffic for trends. As c resu,t, the new media team was able to figure out if smears were "going hot" from audience searches and act to highlight an issue before it became a news story.

Working from within the White House, Croft pointed to other areas where online engagement was coupled with offline action. "For example, we hosted a live chat with Secretary of Education [Arne] Duncan about loans and affordability," she said. "It was one of our most successful chats because it was coupled with reaching out prior to the event with email, including partnerships with other organizations. When we met with groups, we'd let them know it was coming."

Measuring online engagekent e�fectiveness

Croft observed that online engagement isn't always quantifiable along standard metrics for success. "I don't like to use page views, since they always spike around hot news. I watch, them but don't live and die by them. Consider the health care summit: there were many livestreams ] but I don't think that something else that didn't get the same huge pickup unsuccessful," she said. White House director of new media Macon Phillips tweeted that the healthcare reform summit was streamed 3.9 million times, including many embeds of the video.

Croft pointed to a number of other ways that the White House new media staff has used digital tools to influence policy making. "Consider the Greengov Challenge or the SAVE Award," she said, "where we asked the federal government community for ideas on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or save costs. The top ideas were incorporated into plans and will be implemented."

For online engagement to be effective, Croft suggests that it has to go in two ways, with both an intuitive way to get feedback and an accessible mechanism for knowledge sharing. Whether it's Google Moderator (used for the Open for Questions "virtual town hall"), IdeaScale, Facebook or some other tool, making sure it's intuitive is crucial. Otherwise, "you'll just get a lot of questions about how to use it."

One thing that didn't work as well was a live chat that Croft moderated about the innovations budget. "Innovation is a hugely expansive term which we had just 45 minutes and four policy experts there to address. We learned that it was better to keep a program to 2-3 people, including the moderator, and make the topic much more specific. The situation made it very difficult to get beyond the surface."

When a strategy for online engagement does work, and the audience knows that someone is really listening, it "raises the stakes," said Croft.

"One of the key things we're trying to do is be more open and provide information that we can open up and engage people around. You shouldn't just have engagement for the sake of having engagement, either. If you ask people for time, you have to have respect for their time and then to use that information to influence your next steps and be transparent."

Croft will be speaking about building online communities through citizen engagement at the upcoming Gov2.0 Expo in Washington, D.C. on May 25.

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