I ran into this odd post recently about the US Census Bureau's census tool called American Factfinder -- odd because it was mix of interesting, fact-based reporting with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek facetiousness. Nursing a "long-standing grudge against another piece of contractor-built government software," William Hartnett (who may or may not be a journalist) decided to submit a FOIA request to find out how much it cost to build and then wrote a post about it entitled "The U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, which everyone in the universe hates, cost taxpayers $33.3 million. So that’s great."
Hartnett's FOIA request garnered an amazingly quick response from the US Census Bureau:
The name of the company that developed the current version of the American FactFinder web application is IBM U.S. Federal and the total $33,340,681.00.
While I'm the first to admit that FactFinder is a difficult and confusing tool to use (not to mention that the Census Bureau decided not to host the 1990 census data on AFF2 but instead to only make it available for download on their FTP server!), I would put it in neither the "useless boondoggle" nor even the "steamy pile of sh*t" category. But at least now we now know how much FactFinder cost to build.
Besides that little informational tidbit, Hartnett also provided pointers to 2 Web sites of interest:
Muckrock: This site, for a small fee (not clear if they'll manage your FOIA fees exemption), helps researchers, journalists and the public submit and manage their FOIA requests, and scans and makes them available to the public. Check out the FOIA requests currently in their queue. You can follow @MuckRockNews on twitter.
Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) has a Census project "designed to provide journalists with a simpler way to access 2010 Census data so they can spend less time importing and managing the data and more time exploring and reporting the data." This is a great example of a useful tool built from bulk data supplied by the US Census Bureau! Check out the tool and let us know what you think.
I've been fascinated by the struggles with, and now the apparent embrace of, social media by the U.S. Armed Forces. When I first saw that the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs was tweeting, it signaled the military's shift towards strategically harnessing new media to advance the Armed Forces public affairs goals and "compete in an evolving global messaging space". And lest you assume that Admiral Mullen just tweets what he had for lunch, his social media strategy clearly outlines his goals to engage and expand audiences. (Incidentally, in addition to following who you'd expect, such as his wife and President Obama, Admiral Mullen also follows The Economist, Oprah, Thomas Friedman, Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulus, and UNHCR).
Below are a couple of examples of the military's web presence in the 21st C. network. Of course, while providing useful information for servicemembers, their families, researchers, students, and the general public, they are also public relations outlets. But in our rich information landscape, that's true of many "authoritative sources" (all the more reason for teaching critical thinking about information):
Department of Defense Social Media Hub
"Designed to help the DoD community use social media and other internet-based capabilities to share responsibly and effectively, both in official and unofficial capacities." See especially their "How To" guides, which explain the basics of various 2.0 tools, and highlights examples of how servicemembers are using social media.
Head over the the 'shows' section to browse the wide range of video and audio broadcasting available online, including "This Week in the Pentagon" and the American Forces Press service weekly podcast for military news; "Battleground", featuring historic films from past wars; and "Downrange", a newscast from Iraq and Afghanistan. On the lighter side, check out "The Grill Sergeants", a cooking show featuring top chefs in the military, and "Fit for Duty: Pilates" for a good workout.
Information as Power, U.S. Army War College
To learn more about these practices in the context of security issues, check out this electronic library of academic work by and for the U.S. Army related to information as an element of national power. You'll find publications such as "Bullets and Blogs: New Media and the Warfighter", "Information Operations as a Deterrent to Armed Conflict", and "War in the Information Age".
The federal government is providing lots of free, useful "widgets." These are small pieces of code you can paste onto your website; the code will then display information from a government website on your website.
Hat tip to ResourceShelf!
White House boosts social media apps, by Doug Beizer, FCW.com (Dec 15, 2009).
An application produced at Princeton University that makes it easy to search the Federal Register is an example of the applications White House officials want to see created, McLaughlin [the deputy federal chief technology officer] said. The application, named FedThread, also lets users to sign up to receive alerts about items published in the Federal Register based on keywords.
..."We can make a lot of government data available, but it doesn't really do much good unless apps developers translate it into Web sites, mobile applications or platform apps that really are useful."
Here is an interesting collection of officially unofficial military blogs, facebook, flickr, myspace, and delicious pages, youtube channels, twitter accounts, and more.
- DoD Social Media (Defense.gov "Registered Sites")
So, yes, the National Guard has a facebook page and COCOM - CENTCOM - U.S. Forces Afghanistan has a YouTube channel, but the disclaimer says that that they are not "endorsed" by the DoD and that the DoD does not "exersise any editorial control of the information you may find" [insert ironic "sic" here]. So, Official, but UnOfficial. Registered, but not endorsed. Good sources of information, but unedited. Consistent with the mission, but ... use at your own risk?
The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exersise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. All links are provided consistent with the mission of Defense.gov.
While these quasi-official social media channels are at least quasi-official, there is even more, less-official, information coming soon. A Twitter thread on Gov 2.0 has been hot recently asking the question, "What if every govt employee have a blog?" and referring to this O'Reilly post: Why Posterous Is a Smart Tool For Informal Government Blogging.
Tim O'Reilly (O'Reilly & Associates) recently observed that Representative Jim Culberson (R-Texas) saw a demonstration of a product called SharedBook at the Gov 2.0 Summit and decided to use it to collect feedback from his constituents on the healthcare bill.
SharedBook is a publishing and annotation program advertised for a variety of purposes, including creation of dynamic documents:
Policy makers, nonprofits, educators, and special-interest communities can use SharedBook's platform to allow their members or constituents to engage in an online dialogue on bills, rules, research and other important documents. Starting with highlighted excerpts from the original content, a series of comments and replies can be posted and shared with any and all interested users to facilitate a pointed and detailed discussion. The source document is locked down and the community discussion is stored and presented back as footnotes at a granular level.
My first reaction to this was that opencongress.org already provides an excellent interface for viewing and commenting on bills before Congress, including the House's health care bill, why go to the trouble of setting it up for this one bill? The answer is that Mr. Culberson is using SharedBook because he wanted comments only from his own constituents.
Here's the press release.
This post follows my September 18th post, Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase: Govies Represent.
The Gov 2.0 Summit, sponsored by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb and held in Washington, DC on September 9th and 10th, was a Big Event--particularly for those who were there. Lots of blogging, lots of tech press coverage. It was full of big tech invitees and priced too high for the average local government webmaster or civic hacker. And me. So this is a view from the outside.
Fortunately, videos from many of the conference sessions are available on the Summit website. You can review the full schedule of sessions and click on "Read more" to link to videos and any other material available for a session. One of the highlights, based on the chatter, was Carl Malamud's By the People... talk. The Summit website does not have it, but the video of Malamud's talk has been posted to his own site and is linked from FGI as a lunchtime listen.
Here is a sampling of some of the videos available:
Rapid Fire: Setting the Stage, esteemed panel presents 2.0 examples
GeoEnabling Gov 2.0, Jack Dangermond, founder and president of ESRI
Creating an Effective Platform, John Markoff of NY Times interviews the father of the Internet, the co-founder of Twitter, and Facebook's DC rep
Based on the tweets, the Gov 2.0 Summit attendees seemed to be genuinely ecstatic about the show and new to many of the existing projects and the landscape of government information. Whether they see a market here is another question.
For more coverage, check out the Summit website's long list of links to news articles about the conference.
Last week's Gov 2.0 Expo conference, run by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, featured over 25 five-minute presentations by people who have managed government projects -- at all levels of government -- that involve Web 2.0 methods. For the summaries and presentation links related to each speaker, see the full Gov 2.0 Expo schedule; each session title is linked to the relevant information.
In 2.0 participatory fashion, attendees texted to vote for the best presentation in each program segment. The winners were:
City of Santa Cruz Offers Blueprint for Solving CA Budget Crisis with Social Media - Peter Koht (City of Santa Cruz)
txts 4 africa - Merrick Schaefer (UNICEF)
Transit 2.0 at BART.gov - Melissa Jordan (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
Utah Department of Public Safety Media Portal - Jeff Nigbur (State of Utah, Department of Public Safety)
Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds - Rita King (Dancing Ink Productions)
Of special interest to the FGI audience, Steve Schultze of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard discussed RECAP in his presentation, Crowdsourcing Federal Court Transparency. Also of interest, the presentation on EPA's MyEnvironment, MyEnvironment: Environmental Information for Your Community, generated lots of approving noises from the audience.
Tim O'Reilly was everywhere at the conference, quickly and respectfully responding to tweets and blog posts critiquing his "Government as a Platform" catch phrase/vision/conversation-starter.
O'Reilly Media must view the Expo Showcase as a success; another has been announced for 2010.
The Expo preceded the main event, the Gov 2.0 Summit. I'll have more on that in a later post.
From Mark Drapeau via O'Reilly Radar this excellent critique of government's use of Facebook. He thinks agencies may have signed up lots of Facebook fans but they aren't participating in the collaborative culture:
But it's not novel and it's not social and it's not engaging. The execution is flawed, the tactics are questionable, the strategy is vague, and the goals are unclear. And all the government pages in the top 10 list effectively look the same. Monkey-see, monkey-do.
Read the article here.
Peggy Garvin has an excellent overview of new tools and sources for following Congress.
- The Government Domain: Tracking Congress 2.0, by Peggy Garvin, LLRX (August 31, 2009).