August 5, 2008 By Bill Schrier
A set of technologies named "Web 2.0" is transforming the Internet. Sites such as YouTube, Myspace and Facebook plus RSS feeds, blogs and wiki's attract hundreds of millions of people. Yet this transformation by Web 2.0 of government is just now beginning. How might it occur?
Web 2.0 and goverment are both about building community and connecting people.
The term "web 2.0" covers a lot of territory and a lot of sins (see footnote). But Web 2.0 services and technologies are transforming the Internet into a set of connected-communities which allow people to interact with each other in new and distinct ways.
Government is, by our very nature, all about "community." All governments have very distinct boundaries - city limits, county lines. The community a government serves is everyone living inside those boundaries. Each government community elects its leaders, has councils or commissions or legislatures to make laws (and who, themselves, are a "community" of sorts), and elected officials are continually trying to connect back to their communities for input and ideas. And re-election, of course!
Government is a group of people - citizens or constituents - doing together what they cannot do as individuals or what they cannot obtain from private business. As specific examples, most of us would not want individuals or private businesses to manage a street network, or to create and maintain parks, or to run police or fire departments. In the end, "government is community."
So Web 2.0 - community building tools - seem (theoretically) tailor-made for government.
Potential Uses of Web 2.0 in Government
How, then, can government use Web 2.0 tools to make better community? Here are some ideas and examples:
1. Social networking. Myspace, Facebook, Linkedin, even Second Life have truly broken new ground. They allow individuals to establish a new, online, presence to interact with other members of their online community. Government also promotes small groups in communities - anti-crime Blockwatches, or SNAP team neighborhood disaster recovery groups, or legislative districts for example. Having (secure) social networking sites for these community groups to interact, to learn from each other and educate themselves has great promise.
2. Blogging. Moderated blogs with interactive comments are, potentially, a good way for elected officials to hear input from constituents and interact with constituents. They might be a supplement to public meetings in the community. We have many kinks to work out with this, because too many blogs (and public meetings) are monopolized by a few, self-anointed citizen-activists. And moderating a blog is a lot of time and effort for a government agency.
3. Video and images. YouTube is the new-ground-breaker in this arena. Governments could use such sites to allow residents and visitors to post video of their favorite places to visit in the jurisdiction, dangerous places (intersections, sidewalks, overgrown vegetation), and special events. It would help build community if, for example, visitor video of the Folklife Festival could be posted on a SeattleTube site for all to share. (Folklife is a popular music and crafts festival held at Seattle Center, at the foot of the Space Needle, each Memorial Day). People could even post "sound off" video bites with their opinions on certain subjects. The Seattle Channel will often video tape people on the street with questions for their elected officials, and then pose those questions online in Ask the Mayor or City Inside-Out: Council Edition.
4. Interactive surveys. Online surveys via Zoomerang and Survey Monkey are ubiquitous. Surveys could help elected officials gauge the mood of a city's residents on any particular topic. Like all online surveys, however, activists and special interest groups can rig the results by "voting early and often". Such surveys won't be statistically valid. It might be possible to combine traditional surveying techniques (calling folks on the phone - itself becoming less valid as people shed their published
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