Why Doesn't Government Use the Web to Organize Its Work?

I’ve been reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. It’s a brilliant book on the information revolution that we’re going through. He believes that this revolution is as momentous as the development of the printing press, which triggered the Reformation and religious wars. The rise of amateurs and the expansion of consumer choice has meant the end of seemingly unassailable institutions like newspapers.

Seeing how the world is rushing to adapt to the web, I had a practical question. Why doesn’t the government use the web to more efficiently accomplish its work? For example: Continue reading “Why Doesn't Government Use the Web to Organize Its Work?”

The Four Stages of Job Markets

A Guide to the Recovering Job Market

I’ve had the experience of looking for work during the worst economic periods of the last twenty years.  As a recent college graduate, I passed out resumes during the post-Cold War sag of the early 1990s.  I was an unemployed web editor following the collapse of the dotcom bubble in 2002. 

And I’m looking for work now.  My timing has been impeccable; I’ve left jobs at precisely the worst times.

In Washington, we’re better off than the rest of the country but not immune to down times.  Slowly, however, things are getting better.  My experience has been that job market goes through four distinct stages. Continue reading “The Four Stages of Job Markets”

Clay Shirky on the End of Newspapers

Like it or not, newspapers are going away. Printing day-old news on dead trees and then shipping the results to subscribers by gas-burning trucks seems antiquated and inefficient, a process that has become obsolete in our lifetimes.

I love newspapers. One of things I like about living in DC is the heft of the Washington Post. Weight seems to connotate authority, a “real” newspaper for a real city, so different from the flimsy papers of smaller towns. However, that distinction is changing as the Post eliminates sections and physically shrinks while raising the newsstand price. Continue reading “Clay Shirky on the End of Newspapers”

Vivek Kundra at FOSE on Transforming Government

Vivek Kundra is the newly appointed Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the federal government. He is the first federal CIO ever and previously served as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the District of Columbia. He spoke this morning at FOSE, the major government technology tradeshow in Washington, DC.

I wanted to write up my notes before they got overtaken by events. Kundra spoke briefly, a little more than a half-hour and, to me, at least, he seemed distracted. I’d never heard him speak before but he seemed to be rushing through his presentation, almost by rote. His main points were:

  1. The IT Revolution is on a scale comparable to the Industrial Revolution. It will expand opportunities for mankind.
  2. The federal government can lead in technology. After all, the government sent a man to the moon, created the Internet and unlocked the human genome. Government needs to embrace a different self-image. It can be innovative and creative.
  3. If you want to know where he wants to take government, check out recovery.gov It is a model for the type of transparency and citizen participation that he would like to see emulated across government. Another model is the Human Genome Project, how they made data available to the public. He wants to do the same on data.gov and wants to bring these principles of openness down to the agency level.
  4. Government will embrace consumer technology. Why should government pay more for big enterprise-level solutions when off the shelf products are cheaper and more flexible? He also wants .gov to be more involved in cloud computing.
  5. The processes of government must be rethought. It’s silly to replicate some 19th Century procedure using 21st Century technology. He’s not interested in process, he’s concerned about outcomes – as are citizens. 
  6. Government employees and citizens must be freed from bureaucracy. He’s met countless smart feds interested in Web 2.0 who are stymied by outdated regulations. This must change. Also, data should be made open to the public. We must tap into their ingenuity.

Kundra took a couple questions from the audience (about IT security; he thinks it can coexist with innovation) before departing.

He might have been distracted by the FBI raid on the DC CTO’s office. This is really unfortunate.  Those in government who oppose transparency, consumer tech and citizen involvement will all use this as reason to delay and fight his efforts. They’ll say, “This is why we shouldn’t loosen regulations. Experimentation inevitably leads to malfeasance.”

I think malfeasance exists no matter what system is in place; people are way more creative than government rules. Additionally, by making government more transparent, more open to public review, we lessen the prospect of such fraud. If every government employee knew that they were doing their work in public, and subject to public accountability, I think there would be less fraud, waste and abuse.

Transparency Camp 09: Pushing Government Forward

What’s Transparency Camp?  

This un-conference is about convening a trans-partisan tribe of open government advocates from all walks — government representatives, technologists, developers, NGOs, wonks and activists — to share knowledge on how to use new technologies to make our government transparent and meaningfully accessible to the public.

In practice, this meant a very smart and dedicated group of government and non-government techies devoted their weekend to collaborating, brainstorming and scheming new ways to make government more open and accessible to all of us. What was unique about the un-conference was that it was open and collaborative, where the people in the audience were just as smart as the “experts” presenting. It was also made up as it went along, as topics and panels were put together on the fly, in response to the interests and passions of the attendees.

I attended because I used to be a government web site manager and think that government sites can be better. And that they should be better, for they are paid for by taxpayers. In one session I was in, the question was asked, “What can the public do to make .gov sites better?”

My answer is to keep pushing. There are numerous barriers to improving government sites, from IT security to policy, that can only be overcome through public pressure. The public needs to demand sites that are easier to use and more efficiently managed. Why can’t .gov be like Google?

Perhaps more importantly, the creative, risk-taking spirit of events like Transparency Camp needs to be encouraged within government. There are a lot of very talented people within government who want to blog, use Twitter, publish data in open formats, create mashups and experiment with new technology to better serve taxpayers. These people need to be empowered so that they can more effectively communicate the work of government to the public that pays for it.

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”

Ocean.gov – A Modest Proposal

surfer and blue sea

Have you ever wondered why there’s no ocean.gov? This is a valuable and easy to remember URL that the government doesn’t currently use. And it should, for we all depend on the ocean for the very air we breathe.

When I was at NOAA, it was explained to me that there’s no web site at ocean.gov because no one agency or part of government “owns” the ocean. Lots of federal and state agencies have jurisdiction and interest in what goes on in the watery realm. Doing something with ocean.gov would require cooperation and agreement among the numerous governmental entities which all have a stake in the ocean. Creating ocean.gov would require a web manager with the patience of Job and the diplomatic skills of, well, I don’t know, to get all the various ocean-related partners on the same page. Which is why it’s never been done. Continue reading “Ocean.gov – A Modest Proposal”

No More Washington Post Book World?

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that one of life’s joys is to sit down with a good newspaper.  Though I’m someone who’s spent a career working on web sites, there’s some really special about a quiet morning with a paper.  And some coffee.

A newspaper is easier on the eyes than a glowing screen.  It also offers the chance of serendipity, of stumbling upon some article you never would’ve read, just because you have to turn pages to find the article you’re looking for.  A newspaper is also mostly distraction-free (no videos blaring, no animating ads) which, IMHO, makes reading an article in print a richer and more rewarding experience.  Things I really want to absorb, I need to see on paper.  

Today comes the news (ironically, from The New York Times), that the Washington Post is ending Book World, its Sunday books supplement.  Economic reasons are cited.  I find this hard to believe.  Washington is one of the most literate cities in the country, filled with readers, and writers, too.  Hop on the Metro, visit a coffee shop, stroll through a park and you’ll find scores of people lost in good books.  The city is home to excellent and popular bookstores, like Kramerbooks and Politics and Prose.  With the wide range of books that people in DC read, there’s got to be a need for book reviews. Continue reading “No More Washington Post Book World?”

The New DC Art Scene is Open to All

skateboarder at fight club 
Preparing to take off. A skateboarder at the Fixation Show.

Has the DC art scene really left the underground and emerged into the light of day? That was the premise of an article in Sunday’s Washington Post. According to the piece:

Washington has a vibrant, under-the-radar art party scene that has long been visible only to those in the know. 

While I’m no porkpie hat wearing hipster, I’ve lived in this city for a while, and am friends with artists and arts organizers. In other words, I’m “in the know” and I don’t believe that there was a vibrant art party scene that was only available to the initiated. Continue reading “The New DC Art Scene is Open to All”

Contemporary Hollywood Storytelling

Andrew Klavan has an interesting article in the Washington Post called 5 Myths About Those Tinseltown Liberals.

I listened to Klavan speak a couple months ago at a conference. He’s a very good speaker and an excellent writer. While he’s the author of the mysteries True Crime and Empire of Lies, he’s perhaps best known as the author the controversial, sure-to-enrage op-ed examining the similarities between George Bush and Batman. Continue reading “Contemporary Hollywood Storytelling”