Adding Government to the Social Web

Oct 15 09

Adding Government to the Social Web

Paul Weinstein

First published: 13th of October 2009 for Technorati

In part because of Barack Obama’s success in leveraging the Internet during his Presidential Campaign and in part because of the general success of “Web 2.0 companies”, there has been an explosion of discussions on how one can leverage the growing sophistication of our social interactions online.

Consider it: we cannot go a few hours these days without hearing about individuals, organizations and businesses experimenting with how to put some social networking site to work for them. Everyone wants to engage individuals with cool websites and apps – and make money doing it.

This growing complexity of the Web as a computing platform over the last half a dozen years or so has had to do with the ever increasing access to data repositories online, the development of social applications that access that data and the near ubiquitous Internet access many of us find ourselves with these days. In turn, we get businesses, organizations and individuals clamoring for tools and knowledge on how best to leverage this latest version of the Web.

But not all of the discussions about the Web these days revolves around making money. What about government? If the bold new social web can engage people in politicking, why can’t that same tool be used in politics?

That is if Obama can leverage our social interactions to raise funds and engage like-minded individuals, why can’t the government – at any level – use those same tools to engage its citizenry and help foster debate and execution of government policy? After all this version of the web is about social networks, social engagement and social collaboration, it’s the perfect tool for the debate and analysis of policy both successful and failed?

Enter “Government 2.0”: a growing trend that intersects politics, government and technology, bring democratic governments to their people, online. While still in its infancy, the idea has been gaining traction all over the world but most notably in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

For example, in the United States, President Obama’s Chief Information Officer for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government recently launched a new website, Data.gov, with the specific purpose of increasing “public access to high value, machine readable datasets” which is a critical step to bring about the creation and utilization of online political engagement.

Critical, but only a first step. Data from other parts of the government, such as local and state run institutions, are still in need of exposure. Those application developers who are just starting to incorporate these new repositories of open data into their social applications will be able to expose important and interesting information to the public at large.

A trend to keep an eye on, even if you’re not a technologist. As Thomas Jefferson said in his First Inaugural Address, “The diffusion of information and the arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason, I deem the essential principles of our government.”