British Columbia’s top climate protection official and Gov 2.0 Radio host Adriel Hampton discuss how hackers and open government data are helping Canada tackle global warming (British Columbia Climate Action Secretariat James Mack on “Apps for Climate Action).
In Discussion with Sen. Kate Lundy: The G2R crew talks with Sen. Lundy about Australia’s recent Declaration of Open Government, the AU Government 2.0 Taskforce, public sphere discussions around open government, the National Broadband Network (delivery of a fiber at 100Mbps to over 90 percent of Australians, with rural areas getting 12Mbps via wireless or satellite), and the controversy over a proposed Internet filter in Australia.
Socrata CEO Kevin Merritt on Open Data: Merritt and Gov 2.0 Radio host Adriel Hampton discuss open data principles, open standards and APIs, and how to use social principles to get more value out of government data.
Gov 2.0 Radio discusses social media and local government with Morris County, NJ, Web Manager Carol Spencer, treasurer of the National Association of Government Webmasters. A veteran of IBM, Spencer calls social media the biggest revolution in technology since the personal computer. On government agencies blocking social media, she says, “You’re blocking access to the way people live.”
For at least that past two years, a tiny yet fast-growing group of folks who call themselves “Gov 2.0 advocates” has worked tirelessly to spread a message that emerging technologies, low-cost communications and digital culture can reshape government to be more collaborative, transparent, efficient and connected to its citizens.
We have advocated for humanizing government, and for using new tools to bring more citizens into the deliberative process and to help shape the future of both our democracy and the bureaucracy. One of the main tools for the Gov 2.0 movement has been social media, as activists and line workers join technologists and political reformers in calling for more open communication between officials and agencies and the public they represent and serve.
Last week, Government 2.0 â€“ a term first used by Bill Eggers in his 2005 e-gov-focused book of the same name, and that has become almost synonymous with Web 2.0 as developers have turned on to the promise of government-brokered data troves and universal open standards â€“ won a significant victory. Twitter, the popular social media messaging service that has serves as a platform for thousands of startups using its architecture and user base, announced that it is hiring for its first field office, focused on the government sector.
Twitter goes to DC
Twitter’s job posting and further remarks by corporate spokesman Sean Garrett explain the DC-based position as the first step towards a public affairs unit, with support for innovative and engaging uses of Twitter in politics and policymaking. A new blog by Garrett and his team has since March been highlighting interesting government uses of the platform, from San Francisco’s integration of Twitter and 311 non-emergency service requests, to construction updates and border crossing wait times by tweet, to the British Prime Minister’s communications usage.
Twitter, thanks to millions of active and aggressive content-sharers and innovators around the world, has transformative powers. Conan O’Brien took to the service to recreate himself after losing his show, creating numerous accounts, rallying his fan base and using the free and frenetic publicity it to launch a comedy tour. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert, after panning Twitter as trite, has become one of its staunchest advocates, using it to deliver and amplify commentary on everything from film to politics to sport and humanism. Newark Mayor Corey Booker has used it to spread a hands-on philosophy of hope far beyond his New Jersey township.
Twitter grows due to user innovations
Twitter’s growth and popular features have often evolved from the minds and whims of its user base, from the intensely popular “retweet” convention for repeating and affirming others’ messages, to the hashtag form of semantic tagging in its short messages, to Follow Friday, the day that tweeps around the world recognize friends and favorites.
Government 2.0 â€“ which first hit Twitter’s mainstream of “trending topics” during a March 16, 2009, pilot broadcast of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast including govies, contractors and consultants calling in from South by Southwest and their DC-area homes â€“ is now set to join the legacy of user-driven Twitter conventions. The first Twitter office outside of San Francisco will help connect politicians with their constituents and agencies with the public. It will help serve an engaged and innovative Government 2.0 movement, while that movement continues to shape and grow Twitter’s utility.
Government 2.0 and the use of social media for politics and public service are still in their infancy, but it’s safe to say that Twitter’s new focus on this arena is a milestone of which we can be proud.
Engaging app developers with government data: A discussion with Mark Headd, an app developer and former govie, about civic apps. Headd explains Open311 and accessing government services and lowering costs using Twitter, and gives ideas on how to engage developers around government civic apps contests.
Twitter’s plan to hire a government liaison (its first DC employee) has set off a a tweetstorm from the U.S. Capitol to London to Tokyo, and likely a flood of resumes into the Web 2.0 firm’s SoMa offices. Some of the Gov 2.0 community’s brightest have already offered great suggestions for how this new Twitter position can serve official government social media, and, with Facebook’s recent stumbles, the lighter social network may have a real opening here.I look forward to commenting and continuing the discussion on Twitter and on friend’s blogs (check out the hashtag #twitgov), but here I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the political side of the equation.
In 2009, I ran for House of Representatives in a crowded special election in the San Francisco East Bay. I had experience covering politics and government for the San Francisco Examiner and a few years of local government service under my belt, and a burning vision of the potential for social media and collaboration tools to change American politics and governance.
I launched my campaign in the dead of night, sending scores of private direct messages (by hand) to my most influential Twitter connections – mostly apolitical social media rock stars like Kim Sherrell and Calvin Lee – with a link to a blog post announcing my candidacy. The next morning, enough of my connections tweeted the post out publicly that the news quickly spread around the nation. By lunchtime, I was fielding calls from Democratic Party operatives and political Web publications from DC to San Francisco.
I made Politico and CQ Politics and kicked off what was to become a heated contest between five Democrats in a left-leaning district. I went on to fizzle, because while I knew media, I didn’t know a lick about fundraising or building a local political organization in the few short months before the election. Former Lt. Governor John Garamendi blew out the field, beating me by about 100-to-1.
However, I interacted with hundreds of people on Twitter during the campaign, tweeting thousands of times. On a microscopic budget, my campaign generated dozens of stories in the traditional press and I participated in a dozen debates with the region’s top politicians. Twitter also put me on the national stage and brought me several of my core volunteers, including an incredibly talented graphic designer and editing help from social media friends in New York and Washington state. It established scores of off and online relationships that remain valuable today.
It is my firm belief that what I did will be repeated more and more successfully over the next few election cycles, by better and better grassroots candidates, until we see social media-fueled campaigns beat the traditional. (One of Congressman Garamendi’s aides mentioned after the campaign that the boss had been concerned that my Twitter presence was bigger than his; each Democratic candidate in the field adopted a Twitter account, although only Garamendi and I kept ours up after the campaign.)
I used other tools, too – MixedInk, NationBuilder, Ning, WordPress, Google Docs and Facebook – but Twitter stood out, turning my mobile phone into full-fledged media operation and national sounding board.
This is a long way of saying that social media is changing the game. And Twitter has the potential to push that change along, reimagining grassroots democracy around the world.
The company’s active move into the world of government and politics is a big deal, and I hope it’s a great success. Twitter has a fairly high learning curve (I still see officials starting general audience messages with an @ ID sign, for example) and training politicians on its effective use is imperative to turning them on to its possibilities.
Much of improvement in gov/political uses will be driven by listening to the Twitter community, and I hope folks will leave suggestions here. A few of mine:
Suggested user list
There has been huge controversy around the SUL, which has helped a select group of Twitter users, including prominent politicians, quickly amass followings of a million or more. Since traditional media often rank candidate strength by number of followers (yeah, didn’t work for me ;), this kind of favoritism has real world political impact. But, like public financing, there is huge potential for the SUL to invigorate grassroots campaigns. What if instead of a employee-blessed suggestion list, Twitter created a political category that tied politicians to their own regions and added them only after meeting minimum and transparent social media influence marks? Any politician that could rally a threshold of local support could then benefit from enhanced exposure among the larger Twitter community.
Twitter, with its light infrastructure and geo-location capabilities, could become the backbone of election sites and official gov portals, bringing social networking to more staid government and political sites and using universal log-ins to unlock additional features on candidate and constituent-services sites.
Transparent engagement metrics
From my own experience, the Twitter community craves and rewards engagement. As Twitter builds out its usage metrics, what if it it created a prominent dashboard that candidates could use and voters and newspapers could track?
These are just a few thoughts and personal reflections. I hope you’ll engage in the discussion about the future of Twitter for politics and government.
Can Twitter reimagine democracy?
OhMyGov!: Gov 2.0 Radio in conversation with Mark Malseed, executive editor of OhMyGov!, a media company and consultancy chronicling the best and worst of the U.S. government and documenting the rise of social media in politics and governance.