One of the more interesting panels I attended at SXSW Interactive was “Friend Me! Vote for Me! Donate Now!” It was about how the presidential candidates are using tools like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube to mobilize and communicate with their supporters. The panel (including my old friend Colin Delany from e.politics) talked about what worked and what didn’t work in this Internet age. The underlying assumption, however, was that of course candidates are going to use these tools because it’s what the public expects. For a candidate not to have a Facebook page in 2008 would be really weird and out of touch.
Listening to this panel, I got to wondering about what will happen after the election, when one of these candidates takes office. The public has an expectation that they will be able to communicate with the candidate (and each other) using web 2.0 tools. That’s not going to change just because a candidate is now an elected part of government. The public will expect to use MySpace, Facebook and YouTube to learn about what the president and his or her government is doing, just like they did during the campaign. For government not to use these tools in 2008 would seem really weird and out of touch.
And yet, most government agencies do not use these tools. In fact, in some government agencies, employees are not even allowed to access sites like MySpace and Facebook. The free flow of information from the government to the public is thwarted by legal and IT security concerns.
I’m throwing this idea out there not as a rant, but as a potential argument that government web managers (like me) can use to speed the adoption of web 2.0 tools. By using these tools, we’re responding to the expectations of tax-paying citizens who deserve to get government information in the manner they desire. Whoever the President is next year, I hope they will encourage government agencies to use the tools the public uses.