Will you read the Open Government Memo on an iPad?

I love the Open Government Memo, I think it represents some of the most thoughtful and seminal policy strategy I’ve seen in 20 years in government. I don’t know who actually wrote it for the President, but I think that person should get a medal. And whoever reads it and doesn’t find inspiration for technology’s potential role towards advancing the ideals of our democracy is simply missing out.

At Adobe, we have been lauded and criticized for our role in enabling open government. When we have been criticized we listen and learn so we can improve our business strategy to support the goals of open government. (If you don’t believe me, look to our current collaboration on Design for America with the Sunlight Foundation and PDF best practices forum on GovLoop as evidence of this commitment.) But regardless of your view of Adobe technologies, you will be hard pressed to find an Adobe decision maker who hasn’t internalized the Open Government Memo, felt inspired by it and willing to support its goals.

Conversely, I don’t think the decision makers at Apple have internalized it, because Apple’s recent actions reflect no understanding of Open Government’s true possibilities or principals. I still find it hard to believe that a company that founded one of the most generative platforms in the PC era (the Apple II – which shaped an innovative spirit that enabled the Internet era to follow) could possibly work so hard to close down the openness of the Internet. Yet that is exactly what the iPad and iPhone strategy does – a strategy that contradicts the President’s Open Government goals and undermines Internet era innovation. If you are not sure what I’m talking about, I’d suggest you read the introduction to Jonathan Zitrane’s Book, the Future of the Internet, and How to Stop It, which was written before the Open Government Memo was published.

Of course, if you’ve followed the recent news, you know Apple is at odds with the broader developer community. So you can color my point of view as you wish, but I’d still ask you to consider whether you think that Apple’s strategy contradicts the principals of open government along the three main pillars of transparency, participation and collaboration. Here is my argument:

  • Development for the App Store is not transparent. The Open Government Memo “promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.” But if government wants to use the App store to do this, they’ll have to acquiesce to publishing restrictions, development guidelines and performance metrics that are defined by a closed process dictated solely by Apple. Open government developers will not find transparency at the App store. In fact, the development process is so closed that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) actually obtained the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement by using a FOIA request to a Federal agency! (I’ll save EFF an additional FOIA request, they can find Adobe’s license agreements here).
  • The iPhone and iPad are not participatory: The Open Government Memo encourages participation through “public engagement (that) enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions.” Mobile devices are a great new platform to enable this type of participation. You can get this kind of information on your iPhone from the White House iPhone application for example. But if you are one of the 298 million Americans who choose to use a different mobile platform, you don’t get the same access. Download is limited to Apple controlled devices. If you want non-Apple users to participate with a similar application (not mobile browsing), start from scratch, and remember those ongoing extra development costs come from the taxpayer.
  • Apple is not collaborating for mobile platform openness. The Open Government Memo charges government with collaborating across agencies, private sector and non-profits to innovate. What a great way to evolve formative ideas! If you want to see what collaborative mobile application development looks like check out the Open Screen Project (OSP) where dozens of mobile technology companies like Google, RIM, Intel, Motorola, and Verizon Wireless are working to provide a consistent environment for open web browsing and standalone applications. OSP includes 19 of the top 20 major mobile manufacturers – Apple chose not to collaborate. They are first to the mobile app market, and it appears that their vision for the future of mobile doesn’t include anyone else.

Six months ago, when government executives held up iPhone apps as examples of open government I cheered because the elegant and intuitive design of these devices helped people understand the possibilities of open government. But now I cringe because they are self limiting examples of a closed world where only the most fortunate have access. Open government strives to engage more people, but the government is not going to buy everyone a standard issue piece of proprietary hardware to do so. And it is unrealistic to expect that when the government builds one good application that they then have to expend the resources to rebuild it for every other mobile platform. In the Internet age, cross-platform application development is good for innovation, good for job creation, good for government and the future of our country. Innovating openness requires all of us to think along the lines of President Obama’s memorandum.

So I return to the question of my post – will you read the Open Government Memo on an iPad? Of course you can, but if you do I hope you will recognize the irony in doing so.

If you’d like an extra dose of irony for your re-read of the Open Government Memo on your iPad, please read it via a cross platform technology that is managed by the International Standards Organization, was invented by an American technology company, and spurred years of innovation – you can do so here in PDF . (And before you offer your comments juxtaposing the differences between PDF and Flash on this point, please consider Adobe’s record and philosophy on evolving open technology, which you can learn more about by clicking here)

About Rob Pinkerton

Rob Pinkerton is the Director of Government Solutions for Adobe Systems where he has responsibility for Adobe’s enterprise go-to-market and solutions development strategies for global government. Rob has 18 years experience in government and technology. He has worked in County, City, State and Federal levels of government including as an emergency medical response technician in Virginia, a law clerk in the City of Baltimore, and as Legislative Council in the United States Senate during the 104th-106th Congress. Prior to joining Adobe, Rob was Vice President of Product Management for LexisNexis’s Enterprise Data Fusion Product which was developed for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to perform complex data analysis. For 5 years, Rob worked for Siebel Systems (now part of Oracle Corp) as Director of the Global Public Sector product business where he was responsible for Siebel’s second fastest growing product line and over 200 global public sector customers using enterprise case management and CRM. Rob has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, a law degree from the University of Baltimore, a BA in economics, political science and history from the University of Richmond and has a patent for co-inventing a system for processing intelligence information (held by Oracle). Rob lives in McLean, Virginia with his wife and 2 sons.

20 Responses

  1. GovFresh, you need to mark ads as ads.

    And frankly, this ad is such an overwrought straw man spin job that you should have rejected it.

    You just lost me as a reader.


  2. Rob,

    We provide a platform for industry and government leaders to share their views on what’s happening in technology and how it may affect government. If any entity was a GovFresh advertiser or sponsor, we would surely indicate this on posts from their representatives.

    Seeing you’re an iPad enthusiast, would have been more in the spirit of transparency if you’d divulged that information in your comments.

    Thank you,


  3. I wouldn’t go so far as Rob, but I must say I was really surprised to read this post on here.

    I’d honestly say Luke that this reads less like a the views of an industry leader on technology and government and more like a representative of one vendor attacking another.

    I think my big problem though is that this is a really negative contribution to the open government debate – there’s nothing constructive in here at all! How is this helping anyone move forward?

    Oh, and in the interests of transparency, I like the Kindle!

  4. Thanks, Dave. Hopefully, Rob from Adobe will hop on and address the gist of your comments.

    On a side note, please email me if you’d like to guest-blog here. Would love to have you.

  5. Rob Pinkerton

    Dave, I think its constructive to point out that a well known technology strategy (represented by the iPad) undermines the ability of a well known government strategy (open government) to move forward. If you disagree, then lets discuss it. If you want a more positive point of view on open government, read some of my other posts on GovFresh or at governmentbits.com and please let me know what you think. But with regards to Apple, they have made it difficult to engage in a positive debate and that includes folks who I’m sure you will consider rank as true industry/tech leaders. Check out the letter this weekend from Tim O’Reilly and John Batelle to Apple: http://battellemedia.com/archives/2010/04/_an_open_letter_to_apple_regarding_the_companys_approach_to_conversation_with_its_peers_and_its_community.php

  6. Matt

    Hey Luke,
    I would like to start out by saying I am an advocate of open government and enabling simpler solutions to get towards open government.

    Whether it was the intent of Mr. Pinkerton or not, this sounded like a partner pissed about Flash issues and redirecting it back at Apple. I think the blog would be more well receievd if it were an industry “call to action” rather than outright criticism of a particular company. After-all, couldn’t we probably write this blog about every other private technology corporation. Do they not have a right to intellectual property? Gov employees have to spend the same amount of time to create apps for Windows Mobile, Google Android, and Blackberry RIM. Granted not all of these companies are US-based, but you get my point. I think Mr. Pinkerton’s comments are worth acknowledging, if they were spread across the whole mobile industry and not at one specific hardware/software supplier. I think it is turning away from the real issues of opengov initiative.

  7. Rob Pinkerton

    Matt, you make a good point. An industry call to action is a great idea (and more positive to Dave’s point above). Thanks for the feedback.

  8. @Rob P – Thanks for responding! I don’t deny that Apple’s approach sucks in many ways and that is isn’t really a platform that supports openness, whether in government or whatever.

    However, I’d say the best way of winning the argument on this issue isn’t to point out the deficiencies of rivals, rather to discuss the positive aspects of alternative approaches.

    Maybe it’s not the content of the post that turns me off, more the tone. For instance, hoping iPad-using OpenGov-ers “appreciate the irony” of their hardware choices strikes me as being a little mean. Don’t make people feel bad about their new toys!

  9. @Luke writes
    “Seeing you’re an iPad enthusiast, would have been more in the spirit of transparency if you’d divulged that information in your comments.”

    Whoa, *my* bias is the issue? I don’t work for any of the aforementioned companies.

    On the flip, this douche presumably has seven to nine figures of tax payer’s revenue tied to his job — that’s serious bias.

    How about at least an “Editorial” header and put enough of his bio above the article so GovFresh readers know what sort of shilling to expect.

    And you’re off my twitter follow list too.

  10. Morgan Wright

    I don’t believe this is the proper arena for articles such as this. What he got was a lot of free advertising, the space to bash a competitor, and the undeserved attention from Twitter to Facebook. I prefer it when competitors take the high road and invite the competition to respond. We all benefit. Instead, all this spinning is making me dizzy…and the entire article was completely self-serving. Nothing to see here…move along…

  11. Dude. Seriously? Really? Since when has an industry professional using his or her subject matter expertise as illustrative of a larger context become anathema? Oh, when your particular sensibilities are offended. I for one think that this forum is ideal for such a post.

    Apple is masterful at generating far more buzz than the merits of its products and services alone merit. And I’m an avid and eager Apple devotee.

    Adobe’s software, platforms, and solutions have unprecedented reach and impact across every major job category in every major industry on the planet.

    Both have more relevance to the open government debate than many give either credit for.

    Thanks for giving us such a clear and well-crafted distinction between openness, transparency, inclusion, and the hype, hyperbole, and hypnotism.

    All the more appropriate in this context – regardless of the vendor’s affiliation – since so many are willing to forego such ostensibly highly held convictions of openness and transparency, and neutrality, etc., in order to support a closed (and increasingly arbitrary and draconian) platform, just to get a gadget. Dude, the gadget’s coming whether you’re a hypocrite or not, so may as well as join with folks in support of more inclusive, open platforms that lower the barrier and close the digital divide rather than lift razor-wired walls and increase the information chasm.

    Sure, I’ll get even more from the Apple hardware and OS family, and I’ll do so knowing that this is just one of many companies whose manufactured mystique has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with millions of users consenting away their access to otherwise free, unfettered, and unfiltered information (and information assets, and information applications), and my desire to leverage Adobe tooling and platforms in order to help folks retain and regain access to an increasingly open society from within their increasingly walled gardens.

    So yeah, it’s an obvious choice when illuminating the transparency in government movement, to use an easily identifiable, timely, and easily understood dichotomy in the world of information systems such as the divergence betweeen Apple and Adobe.

    Caveat emptor, caveat venditor, caveat civitas. IMHO.

  12. Luke,

    I really appreciate Govfresh providing a venue for experts like Rob to provide views. I really don’t get why some folks think this type of post should be classified as “ads”. You are totally right to be a platform for dialog and Rob provided fantastic food for thought while clearly identifying his corporate affiliations.

    I also have some comments on the meat of Rob’s post:

    – I like how Rob does not run away from criticism. Good companies take it and learn from it and become better. Here are some other hopefully constructive comments for Adobe: learn from your mistakes in not supporting Apple when they were small and hungry and needed application developers to write apps for their platforms. Some of this seems to be coming back to bite Adobe now. Maybe the way to adjust is to send legions of developers to Apple to help them upgrade their OS and software to run flash/flex/air etc.

    – Or maybe the way to respond is to move faster towards Android and hope those market forces push Apple do do the right thing.

    – I have an assertion to make. Apple does not care about the government market. (I’m a real Apple fanboy and have enough old and new Mac’s to start an IT museum, and have been on their campus several times and really like the place, but my impression is Apple does not give a rat’s ass about the government market. Anyone have any data that says differently?).

    – Since Apple does not care at all about the government market, I’m pretty sure they don’t care at all about the Gov2.0 market.

    – But you have to give Apple great credit for something they have done in the iPad and latest iPhone. They have built devices that do something no other device can, they have built devices where everything just works together. Software on the iPad and iPhone does not crash other software. It is really smooth. This is because the entire environment is locked down and controlled.

    – So here is a gov2.0 contradiction: We want open architectures, open standards, open approaches and open source software. But we also want high security, high availability and systems that work well together. Doing hte first calls for an open approach. Doing the latter requires a closed proprietary approach. I’m not sure how to sort that out.

    – I have another observation to make: Adobe cares about the government market. And they care about Gov2.0. And that care is embodied in Rob Pinkerton and I appreciate hearing from him here.

  13. Luke,

    It is great to see this kind of post and this kind of conversation happening – thank you for providing the forum for it. Any dialogue that gets people to talk and think about what transparency and Open Government means is good, and I appreciate that Rob is willing to provoke the conversation.

    I don’t think that Apple cares at all about the government market and that is okay. As a business, that is their choice. And as a business, they have made the decision not to support another’s vendor’s applications on some of their platforms, which is fine too. Adobe may not be happy with this, but that is how business works.

    But if you just focus on one vendor being pissed off at another vendor, I think you missed the point of the post.

    We are becoming a much more open culture – we tweet, we post on Facebook, we blog, we Digg – and we are changing how we interact, relate, engage, and connect. A large part of this is a shift in how we deal with risk. Open Government and the movement towards more transparency by agencies is not a giant shift in what government is and how it works, it is an effort to catch up with where our culture is going and to remain a relevant part of the conversation. Government and the companies and people who support it are taking more of a risk.

    Match the cultural direction against what Apple’s strategy is – create highly desirable good looking consumer products but lock down and lock out anything that doesn’t fit a certain structure or is a danger to the business model. Reduce risk. Who care’s if someone is offended or annoyed about the strategy. They will get over it or the will buy Windows.

    It is the dichotomy of the two that Rob is rightly pointing out. Could he have made this less about Apple and more about the industry as a whole? Sure, but contradiction makes the illustration of the divergence all that more clear. How many of us have called for more open platforms, more open source software, more transparency while typing away on our Mac’s or looking at iPhones, not being aware of the hypocrisy of our actions? I am guilty of it as I am sure many more are.

    Adobe and their products have not always been the most open. And PDF is not the easiest format to get information and data out of as pointed out before. But the fact that Rob is putting himself and Adobe out here to be part of the conversation is great and I appreciate that.

    I would love to see a response from Apple, but I won’t hold my breath. And for disclosure, I carry a MacBook and an iPhone, nd use Acrobat and Flash on a regular basis, and it still annoys me daily that I can’t run Flash on my iPhone.


  14. Brandon Blatcher

    “I think its constructive to point out that a well known technology strategy (represented by the iPad) undermines the ability of a well known government strategy (open government) to move forward”

    I don’t see how the government releasing an iPhone App is hindering the open government philosophy. Is the App somehow not living up to the goals of the Open Government Memo?If so, point out how please.

    Lambasting the method used to deliver the info, when you work for company that is currently in very public disagrees with the company that makes the delivery method is a blatant conflict of interest.

    “You can get this kind of information on your iPhone from the White House iPhone application for example. But if you are one of the 298 million Americans who choose to use a different mobile platform, you don’t get the same access”

    That link you included notes that White House is working a mobile site accessible by any device and the iPhone App was just the first step.

    Frankly, it really reads like you’re schilling for Adobe here and doing so in dishonorable terms.


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