Government Web Sites Grapple with YouTube

YouTube is ubiquitous. Millions of people visit the site every day. For the Wired Generation, it’s the functional equivalent of television. Yet, despite the vast audience of YouTube, many government agencies do not make their videos available on the site. Some are even worse – and ban their employees from even visiting YouTube.

By withholding their videos from YouTube, government agencies are shortchanging their key mission, which is communicating to the public. Taxpayers paid for those videos and they shouldn’t be hidden away on some .gov site. They are in the public domain and should be made available in every venue possible, including the one that everyone watches. To not post your videos to YouTube is like saying, “Please don’t show my content on TV.” Continue reading “Government Web Sites Grapple with YouTube”

Will Obama Empower Government 2.0?

There’s a really interesting article in the New York Times on how Obama tapped the power of social networks to fuel his run for the presidency.  Here’s the nut graph:

Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans. Continue reading “Will Obama Empower Government 2.0?”

Should Government Employees Blog?

This is 2008.  Everyone these days has a blog.  Yet, within some sectors of government, there is resistance to using this not-so-new communications tool.  Why?  What are the “perceived risks”?

We don’t trust our employees.  This comes across in two ways.  

First, some federal agencies block all social networking sites (YouTube, MySpace) and this includes any blog with a or address.  While there are acceptable use policies on using government computers which spell out, basically, don’t screw around at work, some IT managers take things a step further and ban all social networking sites.  

This prevents inflows and outflows of communication. How does this effect government employees charged with communicating with the public?  Let’s say you’re a climatologist within a government agency. You need to write a report on the Arctic but you can’t get information on a recent mission there because it’s on a Blogger site.  Conversely, you can’t communicate to an audience who would be interested in your work because they’re a Facebook group.

Second, some unenlightened communications departments don’t trust ordinary employees with communications.  Talking to the public requires highly skilled professionals, in their view.  When they learn that non-communicators are communicating without permission, their first instinct is to shut things down. After all, these people may be off-message and may describe their work without the appropriate context.

Yet, these fears are really just “perceived risks” – they’re not actually risks.  Fear of Facebook is unwarranted.  An appropriate use policy and occasional monitoring will prevent the abuse of social media privileges.

And communicators in government must learn this is the Age of Authenticity.  Readers want unmediated information.  Gatekeepers and middlemen from every industry have given way to the masses, like it or not. Everyone is a communicator now. Communications departments should be training employees, not trying to censor them.

Blogging is just another communication tool, analogous to publishing a paper, giving a presentation, writing an email to a group or publishing a web page. It’s just another way to share knowledge with the tax-paying public.

Efforts within government to ban blogging and block social media do the public a disservice, because they prevent communication with the people who pay the bills.

Government Web Managers Conference Presentations Online

The presentations from the Government Web Managers Conference are now online. There’s a wealth of useful information in these slides, relevant to all web managers, not just government ones. The highlights for me were:

  • Janice Nall from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describing her risk-taking ways as the CDC tries everything from Second Life to “virtual viruses” to get the word out about health. Her point was not to be afraid of the lawyers and to get out there and experiment.
  • The EPA is very similar to NOAA, the agency I work for, and Jeff Levy from the EPA demonstrated some of the ways (Flickr photo contest) that they’re way ahead of us. Not that we’re jealous or anything.
  • Dan Herman, nGenera, introduced the audience to the “wikinomics” concept.  Command and control management is painfully yielding to mass collaboration.  The boomers had the Age of Aquarius.  We have Age of Participation. Not quite as catchy.

2008 Government Web Managers Best Practice Award Winners

Congratulations to…
The Centers for Disease Control have really been a leader when it comes to adopting new technologies to reach out to the public.  They use email updates, RSS, podcasts, blogs, Second Life, Whyville and other tools to get their message out.  Their site is attractive, easy to use and almost makes it fun to learn about the latest pandemics.

VA MidSouth Healthcare Network
Navigating and obtaining government benefits can be an onerous assignment.  This network of six VA Medical Centers and 32 community-based outpatient clinics has made this vital task easier by surveying their users and then adapting the site to their needs.  The use of the “I Want To” box on the home page provides quick access to medical benefits for patients.

This year’s winners and finalists were recognized by their peers as federal websites that had done an outstanding job of making it easy for their customers to complete their most important task online.

Government Web Managers Conference

On Monday and Tuesday, I attended the Government Web Managers Conference held in Arlington, VA.  This two-day conference brought together federal, local and state web folks from around the country to listen to expert speakers, hear about the latest web tools and discuss how to improve government websites.  

A major focus of this year’s conference was Web 2.0, meaning the new set of participatory web sites like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and blogs.  Web 1.0 was the static publishing of information; Web 2.0 is everyone publishing and commenting on everything.  There is broad agreement among government web folks that government sites should use these tools because that’s what the public expects.  There are two major barriers to government adopting Web 2.0:

1.  Lawyers.  Regulations for government web sites were designed for a pre-Web 2.0 age and have not been consistently applied across the federal government.  For example, on NOAA Ocean Explorer, we’re allowed to post our videos to YouTube but other agencies are not.  In some agencies, you can’t even view YouTube.

2.  IT Departments.  The principles of Web 2.0 are openness and sharing, which are a security administrator’s worst nightmare.  IT departments these days are often about locking things while we want to open up and share our information with the rest of the world.

It was interesting to hear that other government folks have the same challenges we do.  The organizers of the conference are getting together teams of people to try to develop a unified approach to these problems.  This cross-governmental cooperation will hopefully help agencies adopt these tools.  There’s value in having a critical mass of government web folks pushing to use Web 2.0.  The creation of this community of interest may be the best outcome of the conference.