Category Archives: application

Checking into Foursquare’s Time Machine

This data visualization below traces the data contrails that I’ve left around the District of Columbia over the past four years.

foursquare-the-next-big-thing

Foursquare’s Time Machine is a lovely reminder that the stories we can tell with data.

The infographic above, generated by Foursquare crunching 887 of my checkins, represents a life of work, travel and recreation. It’s one, however, that’s wholly created by my intention, as opposed to constant logging of my movements, intentions or experiences.

The map above isn’t even close to a complete snapshot of who I am, or even all of my Foursquare checkins. (I’ve checked in from Europe, Africa, South America and all around the USA.)

I’m quite happy about that, to be honest. There’s so much that exists in the spaces between these shared vignettes that I prefer to keep to myself, friends, family, colleagues or sources.

That said, thank you for the trip back through time, Foursquare.

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Less TV, more Internet: First White House Google Plus Hangout features real questions from citizens

Today, more than a quarter of a million people* watched the first Presidential Google Hangout with President +Barack Obama from +The White House.  The archived video, below, comes courtesy of  Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa, whose shared his review of President Obama’s first Hangout at Reuters.com. For the best reporting I’ve seen on the participants and questions, read Sarah Lai Stirland on President Obama’s Hangout.

My immediate takeaway? The forum featured real questions on significant issues, with genuine citizen-president interactions, with back and forth conversation. That was precisely the promise of the platform that I considered ahead of time, when I asked whether a Google+ Hangout could bring the president closer to the citizens he serves.

Earlier in the afternoon, I joined Google’s Daniel Sieberg on our own Google+ Hangout to talk about the potential impact that online video, hangouts, and live broadcasts between citizens and their elected officials could have on the political landscape.

The moderator, Google’s Steve Grove, gave the participants (2 men, 2 women and one classroom of young people) the opportunity to follow up on their questions to the president. There will be much more analysis of the questions asked and the president’s answers tonight, as there should be.

Here’s a quick recap, distilled from my notes: The forum began with a video question to the president about promoting a living wage for students working their way through college. The second question came from the Hangout, on why the White House doesn’t expand expanded H1B visas for foreign workers at the expense of skilled labor with the U.S. President Obama told the wife of a semiconductor engineer (who asked the latter question and, critically, got to follow up in the Hangout) if she sent him her husband’s resume, he’d be happy to find what’s happening.

One could dismiss it as pandering — or celebrate it as a citizen cutting through the morass of bureaucracy to tell the nation’s chief executive that the system wasn’t working as he said it should. Such followups in the Hangout are what made this different than the past YouTube and White House interviewed. Politico talked to Jennifer Wedel, of Forth Worth, Texas, who asked the question during the presidential Hangout:

“I’ll have to take you up on that,” Wedel said of the president’s offer to help her husband, Darin, who lost his job at Texas Instruments three years ago.

Later, Wedel told POLITICO that she and the president had a “pretty crazy interaction” that she hadn’t expected when she asked about the federal government granting H-1B visas to skilled foreign workers while U.S. citizens such as her husband are out of work.

“I don’t think he was trying to be condescending or anything,” said Wedel, who never completed college and was a stay-at-home mom before her husband was laid off, but now has a full-time job at State Farm to help make ends meet. “I just think I stumped him a little and he wanted me to hush about it.”

“I think he knows pretty well that the H-1B is an issue because — it’s kind of like the Occupy movement — big corporations are putting up the money to get the visas” and choosing lower-paid foreign workers over domestic ones, Wedel said. “I don’t think what he was telling me was true, and I think he knew it, and that’s why he offered to take my husband’s resume,” she said, adding that her husband has kept it updated.

Another question from YouTube featured a video taken from an #Occupy protester in Portland. A question taken from within the White House Hangout asked about the president’s plans to help small business and to restructure government, which the Washington Post covered this month.

Another question posed within the Hangout about a lack of dialogue with children about the financial crisis offered the president a human moment, where he said that he tries to explain what’s happened with economy to his daughters over the dinner table.

There were incontrovertibly tough questions asked tonight, including one from a homeless veteran who asked why the U.S. is sending money to Pakistan and places that are known to give money to terrorism. In answer, the president said that the U.S. only spends 1% of its budget on foreign aid, and that it pays off in a lot of ways as part of the country’s national security strategy. What we don’t want is countries to collapse, have to send in our guys at huge potential risk and cost to taxpayers, he said.

The President was asked a video question from YouTube that cited a New York Times story on the use of drones in Iraq, which the president called “overwritten. The drones have not caused an unusual number of civilian casualties, he said, stating that it was a targeted focused effort aimed at Al Queda, not for other purposes.

I was personally glad to see that Grove asked a question on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), noting that both were hot within the YouTube community. Needless to say, that part of the transcript will be carefully analyzed by the people whose collective online action changed Washington.

We need to use tools we have, he said, noting recent takedown action by the Justice Department. At the same time, when SOPA came up on the hill, said the President, “we expressed some concerns about the way the legislation had been written.”  Now, he said, the content and server sides need to come together for strong IP protections that preserve basic architecture of the Internet.

While the top-rated question was asked, concerning the extradition of a British national, there were no questions posted about legalizing marijuana, which once again rose to the top of CitizenTube (perhaps Grove and his colleagues at YouTube felt it had been asked enough?) nor any question was asked about the National Defense Reauthorization Act, which many other users on YouTube wanted to see addressed.

UPDATE: When I followed up with Grove on Google+ about the process behind the questions, he made the following comment:

We chose the questions from among the top-voted questions on YouTube… it’s always a fun challenge to ensure you get a broad range of issues and perspectives into these discussions from amongst the top-voted questions, but I hope people feel that we did a good job of listening to community votes. We asked several of the top-voted questions, including the #1 voted question on YouTube. Some people asked why we didn’t ask about marijuana legalization… as an FYI, we asked the President about it last year (see here: Drug Policy – President Obama’s YouTube Interview 2011).

As far as the hangout participants, we also selected them based off of the questions they had submitted to YouTube — again looking for a range of Americans… that part had to happen a little earlier during the submission process, so we could prepare for the Hangout today.

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with YouTube and Google+ to discuss his State of the Union Address, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2012. The interview was held through a Google+ Hangout, making it the first completely virtual interview from the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with YouTube and Google+ to discuss his State of the Union Address, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2012. The interview was held through a Google+ Hangout, making it the first completely virtual interview from the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Overall, I can honestly say that we saw something new in the intersection of government, technology and society. From where I sat, plugged in within the Sunlight Foundation, it felt like a good thing, not just for the White House or the president’s campaign or Google (although all certainly benefitted) but for the promise of the Internet to more directly connect public officials to those that they serve, with all of their real problems, concerns, doubts and fears.

At the end of the event, there was a moment of unexpected human connection, when one of the women on the hangout invited her three children to come meet the president.

They stared and smiled, left a bit wide eyed by the President of the United States smiling out of the computer screen and bidding them to obey their mother and do their homework. We could do with more wonder in the world, where such unexpected encounters occur online.

Viewership estimate via Google’s Steve Grove, who said at the end of the netcast that a quarter of a million people were watching on YouTube. Given the White House’s own livestream, the number could be higher.

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PBS 2.0

Earlier tonight, ReadWriteWeb dropped the news that PBS has rolled out a major new redesign. The news about the rebooted PBS.org and a new iPad app confirmed a notable aspect of the digital future that PBS vice president of digital strategy, Robert Bole, described at Fedtalks. His talk is embedded below:

As Curt Hopkins points out at ReadWriteWeb:

18 months ago, PBS launched an initiative to make the public broadcasting corporation’s site a player in multimedia. They introduced their media player, made 4,700 hours of broadcast offerings available for free, created mobile apps for kids and rolled out a subscription-based teaching platform. The next several months may add significantly to the organization’s new media juice.

Along with that iPhone app, “PBS 2.0” includes national-local integration of programming. People that follow how convoluted the licensing and syndication of public media can be for local stations know that’s a notable evolution.

New PBS apps for the iPhone and iTouch are also on the way. Note: Android apps are “on the road map” but don’t have a delivery date at the moment. I don’t think PBS is afflicted with “shiny app syndrome,” exactly, but it will be worth watching to see if an Android app is forthcoming, along with HTML5 support and more mobile optimization.

In the meantime, PBS viewers who want to watch full length episodes of programs like Frontline can now do so on demand using a Web browser. They can watch Sesame Street on YouTube. And, of course, viewers can let the folks behind all of it know what they think about it and engage them at @PBS on Twitter or Facebook.

The press release about PBS 2.0 also highlights the premiere of the first full episode of series CIRCUS, a documentary about life at the Big Apple Circus, on the new iPad app. CIRCUS can also be streamed today, in advance of the broadcast premiere.

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Tech Term of the Week: Location-based service (LBS) bacn

Over the past year, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the prevalence of notifications about mayorships and badges on Foursquare or finds on Gowalla.

During the SXSW festival, it grew monumentally worse.

As location-based services (LBS) like Foursquare and Gowalla have picked up users over the past year, many of them have chosen to share their activity on Twitter.

I have a term for that sort of notification, pushed towards followers: “LBS bacn.

I define LBS bacn as default notifications from location-based services that are autoposted to social networks.

In my view,  LBS bacn adds bits and bytes of “datafat” to otherwise useful lifestreams. For those who aren’t familiar with this porktacular digital slang, Wikipedia defines bacn as:

email which has been subscribed to and is therefore not unsolicited, but is often unread by the recipient for a long period of time, if at all. Bacn has been described as ‘email you want but not right now.’”

According to WhatIs.com’s definition for bacn,

“The term was coined in August 2007 at Podcamp Pittsburgh, a social media “unconference” attended by bloggers and podcasters. The term “bacn” was chosen because of its similarity to spam. Both are popular pork products and both can fill up your inbox pretty quickly. The term “ham,” by way of contrast, is sometimes used to refer to email that a user wants to both receive and read right away.”

Some of Foursquare, Gowalla, BrightKite or other location-based service post can be useful or entertaining. After all, a location is a relevant response to Twitter’s original question: “What are you doing?” After all, it’s not so far off as an answer to the new question, “What’s happening?” either.

Annotated locations are even interesting, in most cases. One of the best check-ins of that sort pushed to Twitter came from Amy Senger, who tweeted:

“Skilling v the U.S. (@ Supreme Court of the United States) http://4sq.com/6HSdgV

But LBS bacn, at least to me on Twitter, is not. As ever, with Twitter everyone’s approach will be different. And if LBS bacn gets too much from a given source, it’s much easier to stop reading it then to give up bacon in the real world: you can just unfollow the bacnator. I don’t hate the idea of a location-based services, or the people that use them,  although location-based services do raise online privacy concerns. Everyone will can — and will — use Twitter differently, so don’t please take this as me telling anyone what to do.

I’m just as tired of reading LBS bacn as I am of notifications from Facebook or updates that I have new friends on Friendster. No, Seriously.

/rant

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Anil Dash on Expert Labs, useful online communities and “.com as the new .gov”

“Politicians know they can use social media to talk to people. What they don’t know yet is how to listen.”

That was Anil Dash’s summary of a basicchallenges that lie ahead for many world’s representatives as they explore Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other online platforms that allow reciprocal communication. Last year, he wrote that “the most Interesting new tech startup of 2009” was government.

Dash knows a thing or two about tech startups as the first employee of Six Apart LLC, one of the world’s leading blogging companies. He understands online engagement too, after blogging at Dashes.com since 1999. Now, however, he’s set his sights on an even bigger goal: transforming the ways citizens relate to their government through social media using a startup mindset.

2010-03-11-anildashdebbieweil.jpg

Speaking to a group of “digerati” at Baked and Wired, a chic purveyor of cupcakes and Internet in Washington’s tony Georgetown neighborhood, Dash laid out his vision for Expert Labs, “a new independent initiative to help policy makers in our government take advantage of the expertise of their fellow citizens.”

The first project at Expert Labs will be a “ThinkTank App,” an open source web application that aggregates and organizes replies to status updates on Twitter. ThinkTank App was developed by Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani, who has signed on with Expert Labs to develop the platform.

The event was the fourth “Sweets and Tweets” event produced by corporate social media consultant Debbie Weil.

The first client for Expert Labs is one that would make most startup founders swoon, too: the White House will be using the ThinkTank app to get better answers from citizens.

As Dash wrote in describing “Expert Labs, Gina Trapani, ThinkTank App and our Grand Challenges,” he’ll be collaborating with the White House in support of the Grand Challenges initiative.

“We want to create a different space for participation that rewards good answers, said Dash. He cited several online websites with communities that allow meaningful exchange of information without the ugliness that pervades many comment boards, including stackoverflow.com, ask.metafilter.com and the site his wife manages, SeriousEats.com.

“We need to establish our priorities as a nation, with citizens as the think tank,” said Dash.” If we can go from six people in closed door room to sixty thousand addressing a problem, that will be a small win.” Dash asserted that the disruptive influence of online collaborative tools will cause “entire federal agencies will be transformed, just as newspapers have been.”

Given the immense economic, social and technological challenges that lie ahead for the United States and the world in this young 21st Century, that’s a vision worth keeping an eye on.

Dash’s talk was livestreamed on uStream and may be viewed there. Debbie Weil has also blogged about Anil Dash and Expert Labs, along with DC cultural maven @KStreetKate‘s write-up on NBCWashington.com@ClearedJobsNet has also posted photos from the event.

As Weil shared on her blog, there’s no shortage of other places to learn more about Dash’s progress or last night’s event:

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FCC goes mobile, launches iPhone, Android apps for crowdsourced broadband speed testing

Test your broadband speed? Yep, there’s an app for that.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) built upon its growing new media prowess with the launch of iPhone and Android applications today.

The FCC’s new apps will allow users to test the speed of mobile broadband service and report deadzones where mobile broadband is not available. The FCC iPhone app is a free download from iTunes or the Android marketplace.

“Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition,” said Chairman Julius Genachowski in a press release. “The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country. By informing consumers about their broadband service quality, these tools help eliminate confusion and make the market work more effectively.”

The Consumer Broadband Test and the Broadband Dead Zone Report are also available as fixed applications at Broadband.gov. According to the FCC, the Ookla, Inc. Speed Test and the Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) running on the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform are used to power the app.

In the future, the FCC says it will making additional broadband testing applications available for consumer use. Consumers can also submit availability information by e-mail to fccinfo@fcc.gov. And, perhaps taking a page from Google’s playbook, this application is in beta. According to the Consumer Broadband Test information page, “this beta version is the FCC’s first attempt at providing Americans with real-time information about their broadband connection quality.”

I ran a quick test on my home cable Internet connection.

My downlink isn’t quite fiber optic speed, but I found it close to existing tools. The test depends upon Java, though many users are likely to have that installed at this point.

I tried out the mobile app as well, which used the GPS in my iPhone to discover my location. According to the FCC mobile broadband testing app, I’m getting 1.42 Mbps download speed from AT&T 3G here in Capitol Hill and .11 Mbps upload.

Beats GPRS, if not a Clearwire 4G connection — or my wifi.

Privacy concerns?

The FCC states that it’s “committed to protecting the personal privacy of consumers utilizing these tools, and will not publicly release any individual personal information gathered.” It’s posted a privacy statement to that effect.

Crowdsourcing citizen reporting

The larger context of the release of the FCC mobile broadband testing app is worth noting. The FCC will release its National Broadband Plan next week.

Part of that plan will certainly incorporate assessing where broadband service is exists, how robust it is and, perhaps, how closely service matches advertised rates.

This kind of data could serve in much the same vein as the FTC’s consumer complaint assistant works at FTComplaintassistant.gov. The FCC has given citizens a tool to report service quality and availability around the country. Equipped with that data, commissioners may be able to make more informed policy decisions as they roll out the broadband plan.

Now it remains to be seen whether citizens use it or not.

UPDATE: On Saturday night, March 13th, the FCC tweeted that over 80,000 tests had been registered using the Broadband Speed Test. It was unclear how many tests were through Broadband.gov or the apps.

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Voices from the #Gov20LA Unconference: On Innovation and #Gov20

Earlier this month, I stopped in Los Angeles to see what was happening at Goverment 2.0 LA, a hybrid of the unconference/camp and conference model organized by Alan W. Silberberg and Lovisa Williams. I’ve already shared some thoughts on what I learned about language of government 2.0, the history of disruptive innovation and the ways government adapts to technological change.

While I’m proud of those posts, one of the themes that emerged from the weekend was the importance of video for communication. I’m not at all on “video as the new text,” especially for countries with low Internet penetration or bandwidth, but there’s no denying that online video has extraordinary power in conveying messages. Just look at video of Iranian protesters on the streets of Tehran, reports from the earthquake in Haiti or the President of the United States on YouTube. Tune in to CitizenTube any minute of the day to witness that power in action.

Following are short videos from Gov2.0 LA organizers and attendees that share their takeways from the event.

Lovisa Williams

@lovisatalk talks about the goals of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Ben Berkowitz

@BenBerkowitz is the CEO of SeeClickFix.

Lewis Shepherd

@LewisShepherd discusses collaborative technology and government.

Wayne Burke

@wmburke talks about Govluv.org, on online platform for connecting to government representatives using Twitter.

Antonio Oftelie

@AntonioOftelie conducted a Government 2.0 Survey for Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Alan Webber

@AlanWebber talks about the international flavor of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Laurel Ruma

@LaurelRuma on her impressions from Day 1.

Lisa Borodkin

@LisaBorodkin on the language of Government 2.0.

Christina Gagnier

Christina @Gagnier on communicating about Government 2.0.

Justin Herman

@JustinHerman goes West Coast.

Adriel Hampton

@AdrielHampton on his impressions from Day 1.

Finally, here’s GovFresh.tv‘s video that features interviews with some of the people above and more:

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Google Buzz: adding algorithmic authority and relevance to social media

A few minutes ago, Google Buzz went live at http://buzz.google.com. Google posted a video introducing the Buzz, which ties together Google contacts into a distributed social network accessed through a new tab in Gmail.

In a live webcast on YouTube, Bradley Horowitz (@elatable) explained what Google was after with Buzz: a way to add relevance to the information firehose represented by social messaging and activity. The Web application will act as a user interface to for social data.

Based upon the demo, it will be a snappy app for processing, sharing and annotating images, video and conversations. “Organizing the world’s social information has been a large problem, the kind @Google likes to solve,” said Buzz product manager Todd Jackson, explaining at least some of the why behind the application of algorithmic authority to social media. Jackson writes more in his introduction to Google Buzz at Google’s official blog.

Content shared on Buzz can be posted publicly to a Google Profile (like the one for, say, Alexander Howard) or sent privately within a network. At first glance, the user interface and contrls looks like a Friendfeed clone, with the additional of familiar keyboard shortcuts from gmail and Google Reader. And, notably, Google has adopted the “@reply” convention from the Twitter community as a means of initiating a conversation with contact.

To get a user started with a network, Buzz will autofollow people you’ve emailed. In other words, as Jeremiah Owyang predicted last summer, Google made email into a social network.

Buzz is also mobile.

The mobile Web application, which works on both iPhone and Android, includes geotagging and voice recognition, allowing the user to make spoken updates. While Google profiles will aggregate a user’s Buzz activity, “Places” will aggregate location-based reviews. (In other words, look out Yelp.) A “Nearby” button provides location-based context for Buzz users. Google also launched a new mobile verion of  Google Maps, adding a a social layer to its maps. The new “conversation bubbles” on Google Maps indicate geotagged Buzz updates and look like a lightweight, useful version of Twittervision.

Coming soon to the enterprise

Google Buzz will be launched as an enterprise product, says Horowitz. Buzz would likely serve as microblogging layer for Google Apps, providing helpful filtering for the noise of the social Web, unlike Wave, which added it. “A lot of the functionality is inspired by Wave,” said Horowitz, a likely nod to a decision to adopt the best features of the often maligned social messaging platform.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin was on hand to share his personal experience with Buzz, offering a preview of how it might be pitched to other business executives or CIOs. “I found a huge amount of productivity from using Google Buzz internally,” said Brin. “I posted [an] OpEd to Buzz. I looked at the broad categories and did a general edit based on that feedback. It was far more efficient.”

Open APIs?

Public feeds are supported as an XML feed and are fully supported by PubSubHub as of today, said another Google exec. By going open API and openly courting developers to join them on Google Code, Google may be after the same fertile ecosystem that surround Twitter.

What does Google Buzz mean?

All of the above gives an idea of what Google’s newest Web application can do and how it might work. Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang has already posted a quick take on what Google Buzz will mean. Key insights:

  • At the high level, this is a strong move for Google, they continue to aggregate other people’s social content, and become the intermediatry. This helps them to suck in Twitter, Flickr, and any-other-data type as the APIs open up, giving them more to ‘organize’. This is Google acting on its mission to the world.
  • For consumers, the risk of privacy will continue to be at top of mind. Although the features allow for sharing only with friends or in public. expect more consumer groups to express concern. Overtime, this will become moot as the next generation of consumers continues to share in public.
  • For consumers, this could potentially have more adoption than Twitter as Gmail has a large footprint Google told me it’s tens of millions (active monthly unique). Of course, most Gmail users likely aren’t Twitter users, but there could be a large platform to draw from.
  • For Facebook, this is a direct threat, these features emulate Friendfeed and the recently designed Facebook newsfeed. Expect Google to incorporporate Facebook connect, commoditizing Facebook data as it gets sucked into Google and displayed on Google SERP.
  • For small busineses and retailers, this will impact their search engine results pages, as a single top ‘buzzer’ could cause their content to be very relevant, if that person was relevant, then their influential content could show at top of SERP pages. Expect Google to continue to offer advertising options now around buzz content –fueling their revenues.
  • Strong, near real-time analysis from Owyang. One area he didn’t dwell as much on is the utility to both businesses and many users of the social Web who want relevance for work or for specific topics, without the noise that often obscures both on Twitter, Facebook or other social networks. Power users have had to evolve many strategies to filter signal from the noise, including shadow accounts, lists, keyword searches or alerts. Google Buzz has the potential to allow over 150 million gmail users to quickly filter the most useful content from the social Web and then selectively share it with either friends, colleagues or the open Web. That action, often termed “curation” in the digital journalism space, is singularly useful.

    If Buzz easily enables that activity for mobile users, it will have the potential to massively disrupt the nascent mobile social networking space that currently includes Yelp, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and Foursquare. If users turn to Buzz for reviews, to find who is nearby or what’s being discussed in the neighborhood, Google will also have made Google Maps much stickier, which could in turn make it a more useful platform for contextual mobile advertising. Given the potential for targeted ads based on location to be more useful, that might in turn be of great utility to both users and the search engine giant, though electronic privacy advocates are likely to look at the move with concern.

    Will people use Buzz? That’s the multi-million dollar question. Facebook and Twitter own the social Web, as it stands. If Buzz offers a UI that adds relevance, it has a shot. If users find utility in the way that Buzz helps them filter social media from other platform, it could stack up well against Brizzly, Seesmic or similar “social dashboards.”

    I’ll keep an eye out for the function to go live in my inbox in the meantime and read TechMeme for other reactions.

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    On Language: Government 2.0, jargon and technology [#gov20LA]

    [Image credit: Wikinomics

    Does the public need to know what Government 2.0 is?

    One might ask Tim O’Reilly, who has written eloquently about the topic and emceed the Gov2.0 Summit last year. One might also ask Mark Drapeau, who asked the question above earlier tonight on his blog, or Laurel Ruma, his co-chair at the Gov2.0 Expo last year, which showcased software and online platforms that used government data in innovative ways.

    Or one might ask the nation’s technology executives, like US CIO Vivek Kundra or CTO Aneesh Chopra, both of whom participated in the Summit in Washington last summer. The attendees of the summit were asked by the organizers to define the term themselves in an online contest, offering up a multitude of interpretations of the nebulous term. Unfortunately, tonight I didn’t seek comment, turning instead to Wikipedia for the crowd’s opinion. As of tonight’s version, Wikipedia’s entry for “Government 2.0” defines it as:

    “a neologism for attempts to apply the social networking and integration advantages of Web 2.0 to the practice of governmentWilliam (Bill) Eggers claims to have coined the term in his 2005 book, Government 2.0: Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy.[1] Government 2.0 is an attempt to provide more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses. Integration of tools such as wikis, development of government-specific social networking sites and the use of blogs, RSS feeds and Google Maps are all helping governments provide information to people in a manner that is more immediately useful to the people concerned.[2]

    Well and good. The line I find most compelling in the above explanation for the term is the “attempt to provide more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses.” If I had to explain the idea to my technophobic friends, that’s the tack I’d take. O’Reilly defined government 2.0 as a platform, which I also find to be a useful metaphor, if one that demands the explanation that O’Reilly himself provided at TechCrunch.

    Getting technical with government

    For those more technically inclined, it might be useful to talk about open data, mashups, Data.gov, the Open Government directive, XML, XBRL, virtualization, cloud computing, social media and a host of other terms that have meaning in context but without prior knowledge do little to inform the public about what, precisely, the “2.0″ means. Most people have some sense of what “government” is, though there’s no shortage of opinion about how it should be constituted, run, regulated, managed or funded. Those discussions go back to the earliest days of humanity, well before organizing principles or rules emerged from Hammurabi or were enshrined on the Magna Carta or constitutions.

    In all of that time, the body politic and its regulatory and enforcement arms have been equipped with increasingly sophisticated tools. In 2010, agencies and public servants have unprecedented abilities because of the rapid growth of online tools to both engage and inform both their constituencies, relevant markets and others within government. The question that confronts both citizens and public servants around the globe is how to turn all of that innovation to useful change. Savvy political campaigns have already found ways to leverage the Internet as a platform for both organizing and fundraising. Few observers failed to see the way that the Obama campaign leveraged email, text messaging, online donations and social networking in 2008.

    One area that will be of intense interest to political observers in 2010 will be whether that same online savvy can be harnessed in the Congressional mid-terms. Micah Sifry wrote about an “Obama Disconnect” at length; I leave it to him to explore that question. What I find compelling is whether any of these technologies can be turned to making better policy or delivering improved services. In theory, good data can be aggregated to create information, which can then in turn be used to form knowledge. Whether the Open Government Directive dashboard at White House.gov reveals information or simply adherence to defined policy is on open question.

    Where Web 2.0 matters to Government 2.0

    Does the public need to know what Government 2.0 is, exactly? One might wonder if the public needed to know about what “Web 2.0″ was? Judging by search traffic and years of Web 2.0 Conferences, my perception has been that there’s interest, if only to know what the next version of the World Wide Web might be, exactly. After all, the Web that Tim Berners-Lee’s fecund mind brought into being has been one of the most extraordinary innovations in humanity’s short history: what could be better? The short answer has often reflected the definition of Government 2.0 above: a combination of technologies that allows people to more easily publish information online, often with a social software or computing component that enables community between their online identities.

    In 2010, the dominant platforms that represent Web 2.0 are well known: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, Digg, Ning, StumbleUpon and a host of new mobile communities or platforms. In each case, the company is often defined by what it allows users to do: upload pictures or video, stay connected to friends, track and discover news, save bookmarks or create communities that do all of those things.

    When it comes to government 2.0, I believe that’s precisely how any service be defined: by its utility to helping citizens or agencies solve problems, either for individuals or the commons. The 2.0 term provides an umbrellas term for the movement and the technologies.

    Why explaining Government 2.0 matters

    As a thought experiment, I asked five people in the lobby where I write if they knew what “government 2.0″ was. I asked the same question of “Web 2.0.” In every circumstance, no one could explain the term.

    And, in every circumstance, people knew what Facebook, Twitter or YouTube was, including the use of those technologies by government officials.

    That’s one reason why Bill Grundfest’s talk at a “Government 2.0 Camp in Los Angeles was a useful balance this past weekend, not least because as the creator of  “Mad About You” he’s part of the cultural and business fabric of Hollywood.

    Grundfest sat through the morning’s sessions and took copious notes in a way that was novel, at least to this author, capturing the themes, memes and jargon shared in the talks on coffee cups.

    Christina Gagnier, an IP attorney located in LA, wrote about Grundfest’s approach at the Huffington Post in “Gov 2.0: A message from Hollywood to the Beltway.”

    As she captured there, the focus of Grundfest’s frequently entertaining talk was grounded in the entertainment business: communicate clearly, humanize what’s being offered and move away from jargon.

    That message was delivered, by and large, to a room that knew and used the jargon. For that audience, getting advice from a true outsider held utility in both its clarity and lack of pretension. Grundfest may not have developed or managed government programs to deliver services but he has certainly learned how to tell stories.

    Storytelling, as journalists and teachers know well, is one of the most powerful ways to share information. It’s an art form and human experience that goes back to our earliest days, as hunters and gatherers huddled around fires to share knowledge about the world, passing on the wisdom of generations.

    The activity is scarcely limited to our species, as anyone who’s watched a honey bee shimmy and shake to pass on the details of a pollen gathering trip knows, but humanity’s language skills do tend to advance our ability to convey knowledge, along with the technologies we have at our disposal.

    Grundfest recommended the use of video, testimonials and other narrative forms to provide an entrance point into the what, how, where and, especially, why of new government technologies or platforms for engagement.

    Couched in humor, his audience responded with interest to the simplicity of the message. Embedded below is a video on the Gov2.o LA unconference from Govfresh that reflects that recommendation. (For others, visit YouTube.com/digiphile) By and large, I believe Grundfest’s message was delivered to a crowd of “goverati” for whom the message was valuable.

    Instead of dwelling any further on what Government 2.0 might be or couching discussion or branding in jargon, explain what the technology or platform will do — and what problem it will solve. And at the end of the day, remember that on language, usage drives meaning.

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    Google Wave: Good for a 2009 Year in Review but is it useful for more?

    Barb Dybwad over at Mashable picked up on a video by Whirled Interactive where they use Google Wave as vehicle for a clever 2009 Year in Review that breaks down the major news events.

    As Dybwad writes, this video shows the potential for Wave as a “video production medium,” like the “Pulp Wave Fiction” movie that Mashable shared elsewhere. And as Adam Ostrow tweeted, the folks over at Whirled Interactive are “super talented.”

    As funny as these videos may be, I’m still looking for a personal use case for Google Wave. I’ve been dipping in and out of Wave for months as new people log on and explore. I expected the network effect of having more contacts there to result in some pick up. Enterprise 2.0 is not THAT big of a deal,as Andy McAfee says: what about Google Wave?

    The Good

    Google proposes any number of functions for Google Wave, including:

    1. Event Organizing
    2. Creation and Management of “Living” Group Projects
    3. Drag-and-Drop Photo Sharing
    4. Creation of “Living” meeting notes
    5. Interactive Gaming

    The best way to learn about the software, however, is to read Gina Trapani and Adam Pash’s Complete Guide to Google Wave and to watch this (long) intro video from Google itself:

    Lorraine Lawson wrote about Google Wave’s potential for enterprise integration over at IT Business Edge back in June and offered any number of potential use cases. (I have yet to hear about their transition into case studies.) Dion Hinchcliffe was bullish on the potential of the tool when he wrote about the enterprise implications of Google Wave at the end of May. He offered an excellent “first look” review there, for readers who want a more detailed breakdown of what Wave it and how it works.

    More recently, Lifehacker included Google Wave on its 5 best collaboration tools, and collected an impressive breadth and variety of Google Wave use cases that range from family life to wedding planning,  disaster relief to translation for research.

    The bad

    For me, combining a heterogenous suite of wikis, microblogging, email, IM and Skype has continued to be more useful than Wave. As a working environment, I’ve found it to be both noisy, as I watch other contribute, and often unstable.  (I even gave it a try on my iPhone over wifi, an experience akin to pouring molasses down a snowdrift).

    My colleague, Rachel Lebeaux, expressed much the same reaction when she wrote about Google Wave as an enterprise collaboration tool. (She found a CIO who is installing a Wave server in her comments; I hope to hear more on that.)

    Since then, however, the reaction online has often been withering, due in part to the learning curve required of new users that don’t have the attention span to watch that video or read the manual. For good or ill, people expect to be able to figure out collaborative software without that time investment. The editor-in-chief of TechRepublic, Jason Hiner, put the software at the top of his “worst tech products of the year.” Tough year in review to make:

    “After trying Google Wave when the product was released into the wild, my opinion hasn’t changed (and others such as Robert Scoble have come to the same conclusion). Google Wave is basically a super-chatty IM client, and a badly overhyped one at that. The only use I can see for this product is for geographically dispersed project teams collaborating and brainstorming on documents and product development ideas in real time.”

    And as Shaun Dakin @replied tonight, “@RWW named it as one of the top 10 products failures of the year, I agree. Solution in search of problem.” To say that Jolie O’Dell was rough on Wave is an understatement:

    “We have to hand it to Google’s publicity team; we don’t know one geek who wasn’t positively salivating for a Wave invite. The ReadWriteWeb back channel was a complete melee when the first invites were rolled out to team members. But once we got there and saw the new tech tricks, like watching one another type, we started thinking about use cases. And the more we struggled to understand and use this product, the more frustrated and bored we became. Blame it on the steep learning curve. Blame it on our misunderstanding the product. Mount whatever feeble defense you like, but techies know Wave was a flop.

    The trouble-y

    Even with all of that negativity, I still have trouble with dismissing Google Wave as a victim of hype. I’ve already read about some innovative use cases for those who can get through the UI challenges. And I’ve met CIOs and CTOs who are interested in what happens next, when Google’s engineers iterate to address user feedback.

    Many media organizations are trying out Google Wave for news, as Leah Betancourt shared on Mashable and Lifehacker wrote about above. As she writes:

    Additionally, as Revolution Magazine reported, Welt Kompakt, a spinoff of the German daily Die Welt, is among the first newspapers around the world to integrate Google Wave into its coverage.

    When I asked if any of my followers had found a use for Google Wave, Wayne Kurtzman @replied that “Google Wave is amazing if people use it as a collaboration tool; not just e-mail. Google does not make it easy to learn how & holds it back. I used Wave to collaborate on a voice over script for a video; elements SoundFX, vid, script, etc. Goog has no resources to teach others. Security, cultural (collab) and our size are challenges. Wave can be a game-changer.”

    As quoted in Forbes, Tom Mornini, CTO and founder of Engine Yard, “pointed out recently (see: “The Real Meaning of Google Wave”), the major impact of Google Wave will ultimately come from its power as a development platform for serious, distributed applications.” If you’re wondering at how far Google Wave will get, consider whether enterprise software makers like SAP are taking it seriously as a platform. As Forbes described, SAP Research  used of it in its Gravity demonstration prototype, combining SAP’s business process modeling (BPM) technology with Google Wave.

    My colleague Kristen Caretta was balanced  in assessing what Google Wave may mean for IT, offering that Gravity use case. Kristin also wrote that “Salesforce.com is working on a prototype extension to Google Wave that could help its customers provide customized, documented support in their own businesses.”

    Attendees at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in San Francisco this fall were presented with other Google Wave use cases by Google Wave product manager Gregory D’Alesandre, including Novell Pulse and ThoughtWorks. The collaboration tool is certainly part of Google’s plans for its enterprise customers. “Wave will be available as part of the Google Apps suite if you have Google Apps for your domain,” said D’Alesandre.

    That might all imply that at least some techies do not, in fact, regard Wave as a flop. Google continues to add more to its development team with the recent acquisition of Etherpad, a Web-based collaboration app that may well be a boost to Google Wave.

    As for this geek, caught somewhere in the intertices between journalism and techiedom, I’ll be on the lookout for more enterprise and media use cases. If you have one at hand, please share it in the comments.

    Welt Kompakt, a spinoff of the German daily Die Welt, is among the first newspapers around the world to integrate Google Wave into its coverage, Revolution Magazine reported yesterday.
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