Gov 2.0 goes mainstream with a new Associated Press article on open government data

We live in interesting times. Last week, NPR listeners learned about “local Gov 2.0.” This weekend, civic applications and open data emerged further into the national consciousness with a widely syndicated new Associated Press story by Marcus Wohlsen, who reported that a “flood of government data fuels rise of city apps. Here’s how Wohlsen describes what’s happening:

Across the country, geeks are using mountains of data that city officials are dumping on the Web to create everything from smartphone tree identifiers and street sweeper alarms to neighborhood crime notifiers and apps that sound the alarm when customers enter a restaurant that got low marks on a recent inspection. The emergence of city apps comes as a result of the rise of the open data movement in U.S. cities, or what advocates like to call Government 2.0.”

The AP covered Gov 2.0 and the open government data movement in February, when they looked at how cities were crowdsourcing ideas from citizens, or “citizensourcing.”

It’s great to see what’s happening around the country get more mainstream attention. More awareness of what’s possible and available could lead to more use of the applications and thereby interest and demand for civic data. For instance, on the @AP’s Twitter feed, an editor asked more than 634 “Hundreds of new apps use public data from cities to improve services. Have you tried any?”

Wohlson captures the paradigm behind Gov 2.0 well at the end of his article:

“New York, San Francisco and other cities are now working together to develop data standards that will make it possible for apps to interact with data from any city. The idea, advocates of open data say, is to transform government from a centralized provider of services into a platform on which citizens can build their own tools to make government work better.

Open311 and GTFS are data standards of this sort. What lies ahead for Gov 2.0 in 2012 has the potential to improve civic life in any number of interesting ways. I look forward to sharing that journey.

The 2012 Barack Obama campaign joined Google+. When will he host his first @WhiteHouse hangout?

As 2011 comes to a close, the Internet and social media are playing an increasingly big role in Politics.  Google has been trying to attract politicians to Plus, with mixed success. That’s changed rapidly over the last month. Google’s published a guide to Google+ for politicians to help them on their way. With the addition of the president’s campaign this morning, I think it’s likely that today will be a tipping point for Google Plus adoption in the political space.

As Drew Ulanoff reported at the Next Web, the 2012 +Barack Obama campaign for president joined Google Plus today. The Page has been verified by Google: this is the real thing.

The president’s campaign will be able to do more than ask questions on Twitter or post a picture of Bo on Facebook with Plus, however: he’s be able to host a Hangout with and then broadcast it live through Google’s platform using improved features that rolled out this fall. In the future, that might include mobile hangouts with the president through Android devices.

Of course, that’s already true for all of the leading Republican contenders to be next president of the United States. All of campaigns of the candidates currently leading in the polls to be the Republican nominee for president are on Google+, including +Mitt Romney, +Herman Cain, +Newt Gingrich +Ron Paul. Romney participated in the first of a series of Hangouts with candidates from the GOP primary. Bachmann, Santorum, We can expect more of them this winter.

Politicians, by nature, are drawn to crowds — particularly registered voters from their home districts. For Plus to be worth the additional time of elected officials or their staff, they’ll need to get substantial returns on that investment. If the presidential campaigns are there, it will show what’s possible to others and draw politically engaged citizens in.

The prospects for that outcome are looking better recently: Google Plus traffic surged after the addition of brands and media companies this fall. If people see it as an attractive destination to interact with candidates and their campaigns, that’s likely to continue. To date, aside from notable exceptions like +Bernie Sanders, congressmen, mayors, governors and other elected officials have not yet joined in bulk. We’ll see if that changes after the Thanksgiving holiday.

When is the first presidential Hangout?

Chris Taylor (“Barack Obama joins Google+“) writes that “at least one prominent user was making active use of the site Wednesday: President Barack Obama.” Ulanoff at The Next Web? “it’s definitely the President himself.”

Well, not so much. It’s campaign staffers, not the leader of the free world, just as it is on @BarackObama on Twitter or the Obama 2012 Facebook page. The only tweet the president has composed and sent went out from the @WhiteHouse account (more on that later).

Taylor makes it clear that he knows that Obama is not using the account himself — “it isn’t being run by the President himself, but by his reelection campaign” — but the imprecision here doesn’t help matters for readers. That’s doubly so when Google executive +Vic Gundotra writes “Welcome Mr. President! Follow the President at +Barack Obama” in introducing the new page.

As is often the case, Nick Judd has some of the smartest analysis of the intersection of campaigns and politics, over at techPresident. In his post on team Obama joining Google+, he gets to the heart of the issue: whether candidates or sitting elected officials use a given social platform to its fullest capacity to engage constituents and built community, as opposed to yet another (virtual) podium to deliver messages and speeches. So far, the Obama campaign isn’t going there.

Campaigns are using these channels primarily as another outlet for information to reach a different audience — if any candidate has used a brand page to actually go back and forth with constituents, beyond hangouts by Gingrich and Romney, it hasn’t appeared on the techPresident radar. But that isn’t stopping the hopey-changey crowd from asking: One of the most prevalent comments on Obama 2012’s first post, from around 9:17 a.m., is a request for a Google Hangout with the commander-in-chief.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching new audiences, of course — particularly for those trying to get elected — but how political accounts use social media will factor into whether they’re successful reaching and engaging them, much less influencing them. Each platform has developed its own culture and styles, from the reblogs and retweets of Tumblr and Twitter to the “Ask Me Anything” forum — or AMAs – on Reddit. (For an interesting thought experiment, imagine if the president did an AMA like former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.)

As Carl Franzen points out at TPM IdeaLab, as Google+ gets political it’s encouraging politicians to create pages, not profiles. Future analysis of the social network’s political prospects might dwell upon that initial choice. Facebook, by way of contrast, has been transitioning many fans of pages to subscribers of profiles. Senator Sanders has a profile, although the use of the third person makes it clear that its’ staffers that are updating his page.

Danny Sullivan makes another important point at SearchEngineLand: while Barack Obama joins Google, White House is still not there. (It may be a while yet, depending upon how quickly the respective legal teams at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway can work out an agreement. They did it for YouTube eventually, so stay tuned.)

There’s a larger point to make about how, where and why our elected leaders choose to use social media. Radio and television dramatically changed how political leaders could communicate with citizens domestically and humanity globally during the 20th century, both for good and ill.  In the 21st century, that capacity has further expanded and will continue to do so, in ways both expected and unexpected. Politicians can speak to the electorate whenever and where ever they are, if they choose to subscribe emails or follow profiles. Citizens can, in return, speak back using new connection technologies and, of course, speak to one another. That conversation is ongoing, whether or not an elected leader chooses to participate in it.

When President Obama stepped to the podium in the first Twitter Town Hall, he did something unexpected: he asked a question. In return, he received a selection of answers that Jack Dorsey shared at the end of the event. For this remote participant, that moment was the most interesting aspect of event, singular as it was in many respects. The president asked a question, the public replied and he read the responses.

Given the demands on the president’s time, using Twitter like this all day isn’t likely to be scalable (he might consult with Newark Mayor @CoryBooker about his experience) but it’s not hard to see the potentially utility of asking a good question occasionally and collecting the answers with ThinkUpApp or something similar. The same is true for other elected leaders too, naturally.

Given that Plus enables comments and Hangouts, there are new possibilities for sharing presidential questions and answers there as well. If the president decides to “Hangout” at the White House* himself, he’d be tapping into a new form of the potential of the Internet to connect him with the people he was elected to serve. Given the president’s current job approval ratings, he could expect to encounter some discontent, but then that’s part of the role. As with any position of great responsibility, it has its pluses and minuses.

*Mike Kruger, director of new media at the Department of Commerce, pointed out a key stumbling block for the use of Hangouts by federal agencies and the White House: they’re “easier for campaign to do. Hangouts fail 508 compliance/accessibility.”

Open Government Data and Government as a Platform in Austria [PRESENTATION]

Dr. Peter Parycek (@parycek shared his presentation on open government data today. If you’re interested in an Austrian perspective on the growth of open government data, you’ll find it interesting. (A good bit of German required near the end.)

Parycek is affiliated with the Center for E-Government at Danube University in Germany and writes at the Digital Government blog. As he shares at the end of the presentation, there’s a Gov 2.0 Camp in Vienna on December 2nd. If you’re interested in open data and nearby, that sounds like an optimal place to connect with other people in this growing international community.

International Open Data Hackathon on December 3, 2011

It’s time to think different about hacking.

Building upon the success of an international civic hackathons around the world in 2010, there will be Random Hacks of Kindness and International Open Data Day hackathons on six different continents on December 3rd, 2011. If you’re interested in volunteering for a different kind of public service, check out the wiki to see if there’s an event near you.

The International Open Data Hackathon in DC will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The organizers encourage attendees to “bring ideas, your laptop, and help create solutions to make data more open and make better use of open data.” The list of attendees is already filling up with interesting people, including members of Washington’s open government and technology communities. The DC open data hackathon is hosted by Wikimedia DC and sponsored by civic startup PopVox.

Sunlight Foundation: Congressional supercommittee is an open government failure as well

The supercommittee isn’t looking super today. The New York Times reported this afternoon that Congressional lawmarkers concede that budget talks are close to failure.

Partisan Fail

"Partisan Fail" by David @Colarusso

Why? Politico’s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, dug into the issues in this morning’s Playbook. For those who had hopes that a grand bargain could be made by this group of 12 lawmakers, the reality of tomorrow’s expected announcement is going to be bitter medicine. Allen was an optimist but made a sharp point:

We thought that human factors would prod ambitious members to crack the code, and that the committee would take on its own ecology, regardless of pressures from above or below. But we were punk’d: The supercommittee – one of the most fascinating government experiments of this generation — never existed as a dynamic political organism.

Over at the Sunlight Foundation’s blog, John Wonderlich commented on an additional facet of this historical moment: the failure of the supercommittee on open government. Wonderlich argues that this failure calls into question four assumptions that drove the design of the supercommittee:

  • public discussion is a distraction, and public attention reduces substance
  • fewer voices at the table leads to clarity
  • contrived deadlines created a shared sense of purpose and urgency
  • it’s acceptable for party leaders to force Congress to choose between the supercommittee-creating debt limit “deal” and defaulting on the nation’s debts, with no time to examine the “deal”, and no ability to change

    Wonderlich pulls few punches in his analysis and leaves his readers with a suggestion about “what might have been”:

    What if they had started with other assumptions?

    If the leaders had all decided that deficit reduction needed a contrived process, what other possibilities could they have chosen? What if they had declared a deadline for a fall proposal from the Republicans, and vowed an up or down vote in both the House and Senate on their plan, on the condition that if Republicans fail, Democrats get their chance in the Spring? And that this process would continue until one side’s bill passed? If the agreement were built on the public word of the party leadership, then both parties would start vying for legitimacy, rather than positioning themselves for failure.

    That might be a ridiculous idea. But the point is that the supercommittee process was borne of a particular set of assumptions about how compromise should work, and was structured to reflect those assumptions. Those assumptions have been discredited.

    Secrecy plus power plus contrived deadlines equals embarrassing failure.

    May our leaders see the supercommittee as rock-bottom for their secrecy addiction, rather than finding a new way to double down. And the next time they create a power-sharing scheme, they should remember the difference between their discretion as party leaders, and the expectations for self-governance inherent in a democracy.

    Tomorrow, this particular experiment in representative democracy looks likely to come to end.

    Reps. Issa and Lofgren warn that SOPA is “a bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet”

    Last week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Representative Zoe Lofgren sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to the other members of the House of Representatives entitled “A bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet?”

    I’ve posted the letter below in its entirety, adding a link to the bill page for the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) (H.R. 3261) on and a PopVox widget after it, and embedded my interview with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden about the PROTECT IP Act, the companion bill to SOPA in the Senate.

    From: The Honorable Zoe Lofgren
    Sent By:
    Date: 11/8/2011

    Dear Colleague:

    The Judiciary Committee is close to consideration of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. We write to call your attention to a recent article about the bill in the Los Angeles Times, entitled, “A bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet?” (available at

    We agree with the goal of fighting online copyright infringement, and would support narrowly targeted legislation that does not ensnare legitimate websites. We also believe that a consensus on the issue between the content and technology industries is achievable. As the attached article makes clear, H.R. 3261 unfortunately does not follow a consensus-based approach. It would give the government sweeping new powers to order Internet Service Providers to implement various filtering technologies on their networks. It would also create new forms of private legal action against websites—cutting them off from payment and advertising providers by default, without any court review, upon a complaint from any copyright owner, even one whose work is not necessarily being infringed.

    Online innovation and commerce were responsible for 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth from 2004 to 2009, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Before we impose a sprawling new regulatory regime on the Internet, we must carefully consider the risks that it could pose for this vital engine of our economy.


    Zoe Lofgren
    Member of Congress

    Darrell Issa
    Member of Congress