Author: Jon Lee

Why government wants the iPad to succeed

I’m defending the iPad. Not because I’m an Apple fanboy. Not because I’m going to buy one. But because I think there’s potential to positively change the personal computing experience in a way that helps government sleep better at night. I’m not talking about the iPad itself, but what the App store can become via the iPad.

Currently, the way most us connect to the web is through the browser, which was meant to only take you from point A to B. Unfortunately, the world wide web is a dangerous place if you don’t know how to navigate. Every day, innocent consumers fall prey to malicious scams and phishing schemes, and there isn’t much the government can do to protect them.

With the App Store, not only do you access the internet without going through a browser, but the barriers to entry for service providers should theoretically weed out illegitimate third parties. With a structured vetting process (at least security-wise, theoretically) and a crowdsourced reviewing process, there really isn’t an incentive for virtual predators to get on the App store. For the time being, you could be pretty confident that your apps aren’t trying to steal your personal information or plant bugs into your device.

But the App store is only limited to the iPad and iPhone. Is that enough to really call this a win for internet security?

Yes, the App store is only available to the relatively small number of internet users with pockets deep enough to afford the Apple products. But perhaps, the overwhelming success of the App store would lead Apple to consider expanding to the personal computing platform as an alternative to the browser.

No, the browser is not going to be replaced anytime soon. And internet security on your browser or mobile device will never be completely bulletproof. But for certain types of online activity, such as financial transactions, account creations, or anything that requires personal identifiable information, wouldn’t we feel more comfortable knowing that the servers and personnel on the other side of these transmissions are really who they say they are, and will really do what they say they’ll do?

Social media in government is like riding a bike

When my son turned three, we got him a bike with training wheels. He did quite well, but when it came time to take off those training wheels, he violently refused. Even a three year-old knew that going from four wheels down to two would increase his chances of falling from zero to incredibly high. That’s because training wheels aren’t actually training wheels. They’re impeding wheels. They rob you of the chance to learn balance, which is the most important lesson in riding a bike. It doesn’t matter how good you can pedal or steer, you have little chance of success if you can’t balance.

So, my genius wife had the idea of getting a small bike with no pedals. You push off and glide along, then plant your feet when it gets too wobbly. Since it was low to the ground, my three year-old had no fear trying it out, and by the third day, was very proficient at gliding. He learned how to balance. Shortly after, we got him on a real bike without training wheels, and he took off like he’s been riding all along.

Why do I tell this story? Because I think government can greatly benefit from a “small glider bike” when first taking on social media. Too many agencies are reluctant to try not just because they’re afraid of falling, but because some mistakes lead to severe consequences.

So why not deploy a “transition” tool so the agency can learn how to “balance” before going public? Experiment privately within your agency; don’t open it up until you figure out how to ride proficiently.

Both Twitter and Facebook have settings to create private accounts/groups. Invite your agency (try getting as many people as you can, especially your skeptics) to participate and learn how to leverage these tools to add value to your customers. There are so many facets that take time to balance, such as:

  • frequency of posts
  • tone of content
  • when to respond to inquiries
  • when to delete a comment
  • how much time to spend monitoring
  • what types of information add value
  • when to use multimedia
  • how to minimize unintended consequences
  • how to write in 140 characters (short messages apply to Facebook as well)
  • when to promote other resources
  • how to train your personnel

And on and on. Yes, it’s okay to stumble sometimes, and chances are you will make mistakes. But you can cheat the learning curve by stumbling privately and finding that balance before you go public.