Category Archives: government 2.0

White House goes direct on Instagram in advance of “Zillow Town Hall”

Tomorrow, President Barack Obama will be answering questions about housing during a live event with Zillow. Today, President Obama went directly to Instagram to ask the American people for questions about housing.

obama-instagram

In some ways, this is old hat. The source for the questions, after all, is the same as it has been many times over the past five years: social media. As I commented on Tumblr, five years into this administration, it would be easy to let these sorts of new media milestones at the White House go unremarked. That would be a mistake.

The novelty in the event tomorrow lies in two factors:

1) The White House is encouraging people to ask the president questions using the #AskObamaHousing hashtag on Twitter, Zillow’s Facebook page or with their own “instavideo” on Instagram.

2) It’s being hosted by Yahoo! and Zillow, a online real estate market place that has been a prominent supporter of the administration’s open data efforts.

As for Tuesday at 5:50 PM ET, there were only around a dozen videos tagged with #AskObamaHousing on Instagram, so if you have a good one, the odds are (relatively) decent for it to be posed. (Twitter, by contrast, is much livelier.)

Such informal, atomized mobile videos are now a growing part of the landscape for government and technology, particularly in an age when the people formerly known as the audience have more options to tune in or tune out of broadcast programming. If the White House is looking to engage younger Americans in a conversation about, Instagram is an obvious place to turn.

Today, politicians and government officials need to go where the People are. Delivering effective answers to their questions regarding affordable housing in a tough economy will be harder, however, than filming a 15 second short.

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Hi! Click here to stop from getting phished on Twitter

Today, Twitter finally started rolling out dual-factor authentication for its users. Twitter will allow users to use text messaging to a mobile phone to confirm their identity upon log-in.

In a post and accompanying video on the company blog, Twitter product security team member Jim O’Leary (@jimeo) explained how Twitter’s version of 2-factor authentication will work:

…when you sign in to twitter.com, there’s a second check to make sure it’s really you. After you enroll in login verification, you’ll be asked to enter a six-digit code that we send to your phone via SMS each time you sign in to twitter.com.

To get started, visit your account settings page, and select the option “Require a verification code when I sign in”. You’ll need a confirmed email address and a verified phone number. After a quick test to confirm that your phone can receive messages from Twitter, you’re ready to go.

Twitter has lagged behind Google, Microsoft, Facebook and institutions that allow online banking in providing this additional layer of protection. It’s showed: Twitter has been plagued by phishing scams for years.

Recently, however, high profile hacks of Twitter accounts at the Associated Press, the Financial Times and The Onion have put more focus on adding this feature. As Twitter adds more e-commerce deals and becomes more integrated into politics and business, improving security will only become more important.

Today’s announcement is a much-needed improvement. Here’s hoping it gets rolled out quickly to the hundreds of millions of users who can’t get someone at Twitter on the phone after they clicked on the wrong link.

Hat tip: The Verge

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On Corrections: Why fixing the rough draft of history matters

Last week, Slate published my article on a recent executive order on open data issued by President Obama. Unfortunately, it contained an error, which has since been corrected.
After an alert reader commented on the article, I responded with a clarification of the history. That didn’t address the integrity of the article itself, however, and since the editors had heard from another reader, I sent in a correction.
Unfortunately, I elided a rich and compelling history into a few short sentences and apologize for any misunderstanding that readers of the syndicated version may take away. I regret the error.
I ran the correction by Craig Silverman, of Poynter’s excellent “Regret the Error” blog, who generally gave high marks to the approach taken here and suggested that I tweet it out. (Done.)
For those interested in the backstory and some thoughts on corrections, read on.
Originally, the piece suggested that President John Quincy Adams agreed with Naval Observatory Superintendant Matthew Fontaine Maury about the importance of collecting and publishing astronomical data and implied that that the Naval Observatory was endowed after the publication of Maury’s book, in 1955.
Searching on the road, I found some useful history on John Quincy Adams, the Smithsonian bequest and the founding Naval Observatory. (Thank you, Google!) Here’s the correction I sent in:
While Adams signed a bill to create a national observatory before leaving office in 1829, it wasn’t until 1830 that a “Depot of Charts and Instruments” was created by the Secretary of the Navy. This eventually became the U.S. Naval Observatory, a decade later.
The institution was funded by Congress 1842, in no small part due to the efforts of President John Quincy Adams, who served for nearly two decades in Congress after he left the White House. Adams was perhaps the Naval Observatory’s strongest contemporary political supporter and spent considerable time there with Maury, looking up at the stars.
So, that’s the history, replete with interesting details (a former president …serving in Congress! Funding scientific research and infrastructure in the 19th century!) and retrieved from the side of the road using a mobile device and network that I imagine both Maury and Adams would marvel at on many levels.
If it seems like I’m taking extra time on this, understand that it’s because I believe corrections really matter. I’ve written thousands of articles and tens of thousands of tweets over the past 7 years, the vast majority of which haven’t needed to be fixed.
Whenever there has been an error of fact, omission, broken links or misattribution, I’ve been deeply grateful for alert readers who let me know via email, phone, tweets and comments about the issue. Online communities that care enough about the source material to comment are valuable, both on their own and to me.
I don’t like being wrong and, candidly, experience embarrassment or even shame when I err. When I do make mistakes — and it’s inevitable that it will happen — I appreciate hearing about error from the networks of people in my life and am glad to fix it. I hope that doing so builds trust, particularly at a time our faith in institutions of all sorts is at historic lows.
Please keep those corrections coming.

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Some context and perspective on open data journalism

This afternoon, I gave a talk on open data journalism at the Developing the Caribbean Conference at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Jamaica. The diGJamaica liveblog captured the discussion. Video may be available later. For now, my presentation is embedded below, with many links inside of it.

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Are online petitions the next step in e-democracy or an e-exercise in futility?

At noon today, I’m going to be on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, DC’s local NPR station, to talk about the power of online petitions.

What do you think of them, in general? Have you signed one or more? Why? What outcomes have petitions created at Avaaz or Change.org had? What about White House e-petitions? What about e-petitions in the UK or in other countries? If you have comments on these questions or relevant research, please let me know in the comments or email me at alex [at] oreilly.com.

On one of those counts, I’ve linked up some relevant reading below on the White House e-petitions platform, “We The People,” which has been getting much more mainstream media attention in recent months. (The response to an e-petition to build a Death Star, at least, was epic.)

1. Jim Snider, White House’s ‘We The People’ Petitions Find Mixed Success, NPR’s All Things Considered, January 3, 2013.

2. Micah Sifry: How We The People could help form a more perfect union, TechPresident, 2012

3. Jim Snider: The White House’s We The People Petition Website: First Year Report Card, Huffington Post, September 23, 2012.

4. Jim Snider: The Case of the Missing White House Petitions, Huffington Post, October 31, 2011.

5. Nick Judd: Is the White House doing enough for We The People?, TechPresident, November 2, 2011.

6. Jim Snider: What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?, Huffington Post, October 20, 2011

7. Jim Snider: The White House’s New We the People Petition Website, Huffington Post, October 31, 2011

8. Alex Howard: White House launches e-petitions, National Journal, September 10, 2011

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“This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For”

The official response from The White House to the epetition to create a Death Star is, in Internet terms, epic.

By turns geeky, funny, informative about U.S. space programs, and unabashedly supportive of science and technology education, the response to a popular petition on the “We The People” e-petition platform instantly entered the annals of online government history this Friday night.

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” wrote Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it. 
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets. 
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” 

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser– roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

When White House director of digital strategy Macon Phillips replied to a tweeted question about an outstanding petition on open access, he proved his Star Wars bonafides with a echo of Yoda’s unusual grammar.

This Star Wars fan is glad to have hilarity to share on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on the power of online epetitions on WAMU next Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Noel Dickover, Carving the Death Star Pumpkin

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The White House joins Pinterest, invites users to holiday social

The White House joined Pinterest today. Over the past several years, the White House digital team has sought to leverage the growing unprecedented scale of its connections on these networks to influence national debates on proposed laws, policies and rules, applying public engagement to politics with mixed results. Now the team will be pinning as well as tweeting, blogging, liking and plussing.

Source: whitehouse.gov via Alex on Pinterest

As has often been the case over the past four years, I learned about the news first on Twitter, directly from a tweet by White House Digital Director Macon Phillips:

The White House was able to secure the /whitehouse namespace* and began pinning at pinterest.com/whitehouse.

The decision by the White House to join Pinterest comes as the photo sharing website enjoys a period of hypergrowth in 2012 that resulted in a ranking amongst the most popular social media platforms in the United States. According to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, Pinterest grew by over 1,000% over in the United States in 2012, with even high year over year growth in unique mobile Web (4,225%) and mobile app (1,698%) users. Given that the White House has an official presence on every other major social media platform, the move recognizes a new reality: Pinterest is now among the top five social destinations in the country, and therefore worth investing time and resources for staff to engage there.

The White House had already joined other popular social networks over the years, including:

Kori Schulman, the director of online engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy in the White House, blogged about the White House joining Pinterest at the WhiteHouse.gov blog. (Sam Byford was quite dubious about that “open” frame in his post at The Verge.)

Schulman described the White House’s new Pinterest account as another way to open up the White House to more people:

From the very beginning, President Obama and the First Lady have taken steps to make this the most open White House in history. “It’s the “People’s House,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome. And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can.”

That’s why the White House is open for virtual tours 24/7 through the Google Art Project and why you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other places around the web. And, it’s why we’re now thrilled to add Pinterest to the list.

The holidays are an especially exciting time for the White House to start pinning. During the 2012 holiday season alone, more than 90,000 visitors will have the chance to tour the White House holiday decorations, all hung with care by a team of crafty staff and volunteers. To kick off our presence on Pinterest, we’re inviting some of our newest followers to join us for a Holiday Social at the White House. Pinners will be invited to check out the décor, meet with the people that helped transform the White House for the holidays, join us for a craft project — and share it all with the Pinterest community.

According to Schulman, the White House will roll out its first pinboards on December 17th, the day of its first “White House Holiday Social,” a new, more general term for an in-person meeting between White House staff and people who follow its official accounts on social media platforms.

The White House has held a series of “tweetups” for Twitter users over the past year, starting with the first Twitter Town Hall. (I went to the second White House tweetup, which coincided with an in-person town hall with President Obama at the University of Maryland, where he told students that he was “absolutely convinced that your generation will help us solve these problems.”

The new approach to a “White House Social” will be more broadly applicable to future meetups, assuming that a second Obama administration continues to value creating bridges between offline and online networks of supporters.

The last descriptor is key: the White House has been experimenting on the Internet, generally — and with social media, specifically — to share the images, media and ideas that the administration wants to promulgate to the country, from proposed policies to political action. White House staff, including communications director Dan Pfieffer, have gone on the record to say that they believe social media campaigns have affected the debt ceiling debate and led to offline outcomes.

The White House’s most recent effort at public engagement through social media, in which the administration encouraged Americans to share what $2,000 dollars meant to them, resulted in 100,000 submissions at WhiteHouse.gov and 250,000 tweets that used the #My2K hashtag. That conversation was catalyzed this past week when President Obama logged on to Twitter himself again for a presidential Q&A in which he urged Americans to call, email and tweet to Congress regarding the so-called fiscal cliff.

As I’ve written before, however, real issues with meaningful use of social media by Congress persist, including an online identity ecosystem that has not provided Congress with ideal means to identify constituents online. The reality, when it comes to which channels influence Congress, in-person visits and individual email or phone calls from constituents remain far more influential with Congressional staffers than tweets. The probability that pins will prove to be any more significant in political debates remains to be seen.

The White House won’t be politically pinning alone on Pinterest. While Massachusetts Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren’s campaign stayed off of Pinterest because of worries that copyright infringement claims could lead the social sharing site to be shut down, a growing number of political campaigns and government entities have joined the platform over the last six months.

Why? Pinterest represents not just a new horizon for White House digital efforts but one in which a specific interest group — women — can be found in engaged numbers that they are not elsewhere. Pinterest is strongly identified with women, with Pew Internet research back in February 2012 finding that 1 in 5 women on the Internet are on the social sharing service.

Whether the White House’s pins resonate will also depend upon whether politics, Pinterest and political media become more intertwined. To date, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been the primary online forums for digital politics. In 2013, pinning may take on new significance.

*The White House digital team initially could be found as WhiteHouse44, not /WhiteHouse. At some point in December, they were able to secure the standard namespace. The first White House board was “inspiring.”

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