Jim Gilliam

How developers can win Congress

House of RepresentativesIn a recent post from Coder-in-Chief Clay Johnson, Clay outlines several reasons why developers should run for Congress. Among them:

  • They’re under-represented as a profession.
  • Government’s problems are becoming increasingly technical.
  • Great developers are systems fixers and systems hackers.
  • Developers are great digital communicators.

Despite the argument we should keep developers out of politics, Microsoft’s Howard Dierking’s Engineering Good Government suggests the Constitutional framers were in fact the nation’s first patriot programmers:

Modern software design deals with the complexities of creating systems composed of innumerable components that must be stable, reliable, efficient, and adaptable over time. A language has emerged over the past several years to capture and describe both practices to follow and practices to avoid when designing software. These are known as patterns and antipatterns. This chapter will explore known software design patterns and antipatterns in context of the U.S. Constitution and will hopefully encourage further application of software design principles as a metaphor for describing and modeling the complex dynamics of government in the future.

If the developer community is serious about building a more concerted effort around changing the way Washington works, here are some recommendations:

Find the founders

It’s not enough to say ‘if you’re a developer ‘” consider a run!’ Developers with civic passion need to step up and show it can be done. The movement needs real faces, real leaders that will walk the walk. Tech leaders already at the intersection of government and technology like Clay Johnson (yes you, Clay), Jim Gilliam or tech publisher Tim O’Reilly, can show firsthand you can change government from the inside.

Build a coalition

Create a sense of unity. A well-labeled coalition would allow candidates to better affiliate themselves with a movement and simplify their message. It doesn’t have to be a new iParty, just something that unifies the platform, much the way the Blue Dog Democrats have done. Ultimately, when these candidates are elected, they could build their own official caucus with a more formal, long-standing impact.

Build an ‘Operating System for America’ platform

Much like Newt Gingrich did with ‘Contract for America,’ developers need to present their case in a concise manner. Create specific objectives as to how the work on Congress needs to change and tie in the spirit of innovation, technology so that it will resonate with citizens. More importantly, the objectives need to be defined outside of standard political issues.

Establish a support network

Most professions have a supporting political organization that provides resources, networking and fundraising opportunities for members running for office. A ‘Coders for America’ organization doesn’t have to be a formal 501c organization, but there does need to be a foundational support network that can help developers better understand the campaign process and better access resources.

Make geek chic

We’re all too familiar with the stereotype that developers are introverts or think they’re smarter than everyone else. The iParty needs to be more iPhone, less Android, so to speak. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs has perfected the art of making geek chic. Tech-centric political candidates would do well to take a page from his book (or iPad).

As the dynamics of government and politics increasingly shift to the Web, and citizens adopt tools and technology that make it easier to access elected officials, developers are well-suited to best understand how to tap into this opportunity.

The next step is to do something about it.

Best of GovFreshTV in 2009

GovFreshTV interviewed many of the leading figures in the open government, Gov 2.0 movement in 2009. It’s an incredible list of thinkers shaping the future of government.

I’m honored to have met and talked with each of them about the work they’re doing.

Here’s a review:

Craig Newmark

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark talks about Gov 2.0 and social media’s role in democracy.

Bill Eggers

Bill Eggers is the author of ‘Government 2.0’ and co-author of ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government.’

Ellen Miller

Sunlight Foundation Co-founder and Executive Director Ellen Miller discusses open government, transparency and gov 2.0.

Clay Johnson

GovFreshTV talks with Sunlight Labs Director Clay Johnson.

Dmitry Kachaev

GovFreshTV talks with Dmitry Kachaev, Director of Research and Development, DC Government OCTO Labs.

Jake Brewer

Sunlight Foundation Engagement Director Jake Brewer discusses Gov 2.0, open government and transparency.

Mark Drapeau

Dr. Mark Drapeau (@cheek_geeky), co-chair of Gov 2.0 Expo, share his thoughts on Gov 2.0 in 2009, and what to expect in 2010.

Laurel Ruma

GovFreshTV talks with O’Reilly Media’s Laurel Ruma.

Silona Bonewald

GovFreshTV talks with Silona Bonewald of Citability.org and League of Technical Voters.

Jim Gilliam

GovFreshTV interview with NationBuilder, act.ly and whitehouse2.org founder Jim Gilliam.

Gov 2.0 Hero: Jim Gilliam

Gov 2.0 Hero: Jim Gilliam

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.