Common Challenges for Web 2.0 and Government
Many of these Web 2.0 technologies pose special challenges for government. We'll have to work through these challenges. I'll mention a few of them here.
1. The "frequent flyer" or "citizen activist". Every elected official knows these folks - they are the ones who grab your arm at a public meeting to rant about that crosswalk in their neighborhood or the lack of affordable housing. They monopolize public meetings and rally their supporters with mass e-mail campaigns. Most of the technologies above are also susceptible to such techniques. About all I can say is that, with these Web 2.0 tools, the "normal" constituent has additional paths to interact with elected officials.
2. Digital divide. Many people - especially those of limited income who are often immigrants and people of color - still don't have access to computers and the Internet. Web 2.0 may very well give others even more of a voice in their government.
3. Overload. While extra feedback and input is "good", it also will require even more legislative assistants and other government employees to moderate blogs, dispatch requests for service, and respond to constituents.
4. Offensive Content. There is a specific minority of people who feel compelled to use offensive four-letter words to express their ideas or characterize elected officials and government in general. This means that blogs, social networking sites and video/photo submissions will all need to be monitored and moderated. That, in turn, may lead to charges of censorship of ideas.
5. Censorship and public disclosure. Most jurisdictions have FOIA or public disclosure laws which require archiving of public records. All these Web 2.0 technologies will increase the volume of material to be archived and potentially turned over to the public with FOIA requests. This, in turn, will require better and more expensive archival and search technologies.
6. A balanced picture. Elected officials, overwhelming, seek input from constituents on all matter of public issues. And the response is - overwhelmingly - apathy. Obtaining a true picture of what constituents think, even with Web 2.0, will be difficult. And I hasten to add that all techniques - including traditional ones such as public meetings and e-mail (yes, I guess it is "traditional" now) have this problem. There are only so many issues an individual or government official can pay attention to!
While governments grapple with the possibilities and implications of Web 2.0, it is worth noting that Web 3.0 is hot on our heels. Web 3.0 is a subject for another time, but I'll tantalize you with this tidbit: truly high speed broadband is coming with fiber-to-the-premise, 100 megabit per second symmetric networks. Such networks allow a whole host of new tools and techniques such as two-way HDTV and high-quality interactive gaming. Ah, what a wonderful world the 21st Century is becoming!
Footnote: Web 2.0 Sins
A "sin" in this context is using a fancy new term to either (1) misrepresent something that is actually pretty old, or (2) hype some vaporware or non-existent or largely useless technology, or (3) promote something unethical or immoral or borderline legal by encasing it in the glitter of new technology. Examples of these sins are (1) "blogging" when really you are just posting content on a web page and expecting folks to "comment" via e-mail; or (2) Facebook's failed 2007 attempt, with "Beacon" to allow users to track their friends' activities on the new while at the same time trying to sell more "stuff" to these same users
Bill Shrier is Chief Technology Officer for the City of Seattle.
Illustration by Daniel F. Pigatto. Creative Common License Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic