A: Exactly. Back in the days of kings, people would kiss the ring, and the king would decide all the rules and regulations and how to promulgate them. But the purpose of democracy is that you move away from being treated as subjects and become active citizens. That's what participatory democracy is all about. It's not about being a subject to a centralized, autocratic government, but it's about "we the people" being able to hold our government accountable. And also ensuring that we are creating a better government. My view is that citizens are co-creators of government, not just subjects of it.
Q: One example of turning citizens into real partners is your Apps for Democracy project. Can you talk a little about this?
A: That followed after I published all these data feeds related to government. I thought how do you really embark on a technology revolution in the public sector? And the best way to do it, in my view, is to actually engage the citizens. We basically said we're going to put out $50,000 -- a modest sum -- for a competition, out of which $30,000 went to run the competition and only $20,000 went to prizes. The highest prize was $2,000. I put a limit of 30 days on the competition, and the challenge was for citizens to create applications for citizens themselves and the public sector. To my delight, we ended up getting 47 fully functional applications in 30 days for $50,000. By our calculations, that would have cost us about $2.6 million and would have taken us two years.
Q: What kind of applications did contestants create?
A: There is one called iLive.at. This application allows you to put in your home address and based on that address, it lets you know crimes that happened in your neighborhood, the closest bank and things of interest near you. It lets you find the buses and trains and when they are coming. So it really takes all those data feeds and gives them to you in the context of your address.
A second application is for people who love bikes. It lets you know where the best bike routes are, where bikes are getting stolen, where you can buy cheap bikes, and it lets you create a community of bicyclists if you want to go on long rides.
A third application is called Point About, created specifically for the PDA. We are using it as one of the official inauguration apps because, using your iPhone and your BlackBerry, based on your GPS coordinates, it lets you know the closest Metro station and when the next train is coming or where the closest restaurants to you are. It takes those data feeds we have and geocodes them. People can look all these up on the Web at dps.dc.gov. That URL, by the way, is part of my vision of creating a digital public square.
Q: Did you face any obstacles moving away from the custom or enterprise software and tackling the notion that government is different or that the security has to be so much better?
A: Yes, but I think it's the 80/20 rule. I would agree with the critics who would say classified information can't be moved to the cloud or if you have very sensitive information, you need to deal with that differently. I totally agree with that.
Q: So public safety applications, for example, are a separate case with very legitimate concerns. But those concerns don't then have to extend right across all government.
A: Right, and that's my argument: The sensitive or classified data represents 20 percent of the public sector. But there are cost-saving possibilities for the 80 percent, where most of the information isn't highly sensitive. It's