An open source union movement

Earlier this year, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ignited an open source movement in government when the city approved the nation’s first open source software policy. Now, another movement — labor may be getting behind this effort. I have been asked to speak with Local 21 of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE/AFL-CIO) today about Gov 2.0 initiatives I helped lead for Newsom and why unions should embrace open source technology.

Open source saves union jobs

San Francisco’s legislation came about from a combination of factors, but the primary one was the City wanted to save money without laying off employees. Reducing the millions of dollars that were being spent on software licensing fees and other proprietary software was a no brainer for city leaders facing a half a billion-dollar budget deficit.

The first-of-its-kind policy requires that open source be considered equally to commercial products when buying new software. Instead of paying software-licensing fees year after year, under the direction of the City’s CIO, Chris Vein, and the Department of Technology the City opted to train employees with new skills.

San Francisco decided to invest in people and a new open source government.

It all started with a tweet

Last week, former Local 21 President Richard Isen (an app developer for the City of San Francisco) and I were talking about what I should talk about later today. He reminded me how the open source movement in San Francisco government started with a tweet.

Eighteen months ago, Mayor Newsom was at Twitter headquarters for a conversation about technology in government. During the town hall Newsom received a tweet about a pothole. He turned to Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams and said let’s find a way for people to tweet their service requests directly to San Francisco’s 311 customer service center.

Three months later, San Francisco launched the first Twitter 311 service, @SF311 allowing residents to tweet, text, and send photos of potholes and other requests directly to the City. As it turns out, Isen was the app developer on the project.

Working with Twitter and using the open source platform, CoTweet Isen turned @SF311 into reality. Normally, the software procurement process for something like this would have taken months. Instead from idea to implementation it took less than three months. Oh and the latest reports show @SF311 is saving the city money in call center costs.

Security in open source

Craig of Craigslist always reminds me when talking about open source to highlight the added security and stability of open source over proprietary software. I won’t get into it here but I recommend reading Sun Microsystems President & COO Bill Vass’ blog about the topic, “The No. 1 Reason to Move to Open Source is to IMPROVE Security.”

Unions for open source

Since the launch of @SF311, San Francisco has continued to utilize open source software to expand city services while reducing costs and implementation times from DataSF.org to the first national API for government. Meanwhile, open source legislation has spread from California to Vermont.

Unions should join the Gov 2.0 effort and make the open source movement their own. Demanding that more local governments pass open source legislation will save taxpayers money and protect union jobs.

About Brian Purchia

Brian Purchia is a communications strategist that has led media strategy for politicians, tech start-ups, and Fortune 500 companies. His recent successes include organizing the first mayoral forum on Gov 2.0, SFOpen 2011 and leading communications for Change.org, an online platform for social change. The New York Times says Change.org’s profile “skyrocketed,” with Purchia as Communications Director. From 2006-10, Brian was San Francisco Mayor Newsom’s New Media Director. Purchia was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as Newsom’s “go-to guy for new, and especially social media” for his implementation of a groundbreaking new media strategy called “gutsy” and “brilliant” on NPR. Purchia’s work, described by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark as “genuinely innovative,” led to Newsom ranking as #1 mayor for his use of social media by the leading search engine for finding and tracking consumer-generated opinions, Samepoint. Newsom’s extensive new media operation was used to build the mayor’s reputation as an environmental leader. In 2010, Newsom was selected the greenest mayor for the second year in a row by TreeHugger. Brian was also the driving force behind the nation’s first open data law, open source software policy, and API for government.

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