Do Second Life and Google AdSense represent a fundamental shift in how we conduct our online lives? Does Wikipedia really signal that the age of Web 2.0 is upon us? Or is it all just modern vaporware - interesting applications that have little practical value?

Depending whom you believe, Web 2.0 is the launch pad for a brave new online world, or another in a long line of made-up phrases describing what some choose to perceive.

While questions about its veracity persist, the Web 2.0 phenomenon continues to command serious attention from analysts and insiders across all sectors, including government. In an attempt to better grasp how government ought to operate in a Web 2.0 world, the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council (eC3), a consortium of leaders from both the public and private sectors, recently held its 2007 symposium, Government in the Age of YouTube. Participants included high-level government officials, private-sector technology executives, and public opinion and thought leaders.

In December 2007, eC3 released an executive summary of the symposium - created with input from symposium participants - which notes that barriers to participation in government's Web-based, citizen-facing applications will begin to diminish any appeal a government site may possess.


2.0 Be or Not 2.0 Be

The phrase "Web 2.0" was coined in 2004 at the O'Reilly Media Conference, and since then, has been assigned myriad definitions.

Some say Web 2.0 is a new generation of Web sites that foster user collaboration, creativity and connectivity - sites such as MySpace, Flickr, Wikipedia and YouTube. Others contend Web 2.0 is little more than the natural progression of Web technology. There is also a contingent that condemns Web 2.0 as nothing but a clever marketing ploy that has already suckered a good number of people.

The difficulty in trying to define Web 2.0 is evident in a document written by O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly. What Is Web 2.0 spans five pages and tries to separate fact from fiction. O'Reilly believes Web 2.0 is embodied by applications that deliver richer user experiences and harness collective intelligence - two things most government Web sites don't do well.

Sites like Flickr and Amazon - which permits users to create tag clouds to categorize photos and thrives on user reviews, respectively - foster a loyal user community. Their success goes a long way toward dismissing the skeptics' claim that Web 2.0 is a flash in the pan.

Operating under the supposition Web 2.0 is indeed a reality, the eC3 symposium asked fundamental questions: How can government use Web 2.0 technologies? And how will Web 2.0 affect government? The consensus seems to be Web 2.0 can help government enhance its existing relationship with citizens by creating new avenues of interaction.

"This whole suite of tools is far more participatory in its nature," said Iowa CIO John Gillispie, president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). "So clearly, getting more participation by citizens with their government is an objective that is very worthwhile."

Symposium participants found that virtually all of government's Web-based, citizen-facing applications tend to fall short in terms of participation. According to the summary, "Most 'government 1.0' applications, such as licensing, e-voting, online tax filing and search tools, are based on straightforward transactions that are bounded. That is, an online form, structured by a government entity, replaces an analogous, traditionally paper-based process."

In the symposium summary, it's argued that barriers to participation will begin to diminish any appeal a government site may possess. One such barrier, said symposium participant John Komensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, is often manifested by government CIOs, many of whom are befuddled by the nexus

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.