What was your path to Gov 2.0?
When I found out computers could talk to each other, I fell in love. That was over 20 years ago, and I’ve spent most of my career using the internet to bring democracy to different industries. I was involved in partnering with Netscape to bring the Open Directory Project to Lycos and Hotbot back in the late 90’s. Yahoo built a directory by hand, and Chris Tolles had this crazy idea that he could crowdsource a much better version. This was probably one of the first Web 2.0 projects, before the term even existed.
From 2003-2008, I built a non-profit media company, Brave New Films, that used the internet to orchestrate tens of thousands of screenings for Robert Greenwald’s political documentaries. We essentially crowdsourced a theatrical run, and I built a free service for filmmakers called Brave New Theaters so they could do the same.
Now I’m working on NationBuilder, a platform for running adhocracies over the internet. I’ve been experimenting with it at White House 2, figuring out what works and what doesn’t based on how real people are using it. I will be publicly beta-testing NationBuilder for awhile, and hope to get a lot of people using it in different contexts to figure out how we can make a new world.
What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
Congress. It’s totally broken. 100 years ago, a member of the House represented 200,000 people. Today that number is 700,000. The only way Representatives have been able to connect with their constituents has been through mass media, and that costs money, which gives undue power to those with money. Web 2.0 tools are perfectly suited to fixing this. It sounds really simple, but it’s going to be very very messy. There are a lot of people who like the way the system currently works.
What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?
Government as “customer service” is important and there’s a lot of people focused on that. But I think what will get really get people excited is if they can influence what’s on the national agenda in a meaningful way. That’s what I’m focused on. The UK’s Number10 petitions site got 10% of the UK population, so a site like WhiteHouse2.org that was approved by Obama could get 20 million people in a year.
What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?
Making government work. Much of the country doesn’t think government can solve anything. The technology community knows how to deal with inefficient industries, we just make them obsolete. I think the big question is whether we’ll be able to reinvent government, or whether we’ll have to replace it with something new. Either way, it’s going to be exciting.