Government 2.0: Under the Hood

How it works can be as important as whether it works.

by / September 2, 2009

The frenzy to deliver Web 2.0 services oftentimes means the hard development work goes overlooked. The public audience sees only the finished project, but examining what goes on behind the scenes can be just as worthwhile.

Such is the case with, a new Web service Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office launched last week. indexes ideas for California's state government, which citizens can submit via Twitter. The site borrows features from Twitter and social media bookmarking sites like Digg. It aggregates the ideas, and users can vote on them without having to register on the Web site.

The development process was very light in terms of scale and resources, Rob Quigley, the new media director for the governor's office, recently told Government Technology.

He said other states and the feds could easily launch their own versions -- like a Myidea4Obama or Myidea4NY.

"And I think there's a lot of open range for similar types of projects that utilize and leverage the social Web, which is giving government a direct avenue to a large base of users who are passionate about sharing their time and ideas -- so long as it's done on their terms and doesn't require additional efforts to contribute, such as registering on the Web site to leave an idea or comment," Quigley said.

To build Myidea4CA, Quigley said the governor's office chose an open source content management system called ExpressionEngine. The company charges a purchase fee, but it's an open platform based on PHP programming and MySQL database, he said.

Two modules called Diggie and Importer built by Web developer Solspace are key to Myidea4ca's features, Quigley explained. Importer populates the tweets on the Web site and Diggie handles the voting.

Diggie restricts guest voting by IP address, so people can't vote more than once -- which is a necessity because the Web site doesn't require users to register. And jQuery scripting and cookies track the total votes, which determines whether an idea should be shown as voted "up" or "down." Any idea with lower than minus-2 votes isn't displayed on the Web site. A system called Disqus was used for commenting because users can comment through their Twitter and Facebook accounts -- a useful feature because the Web site doesn't allow anonymous commenting.

"[jQuery] would probably be at the end range of programming knowledge for a state worker tasked to build a Web site," Quigley said.

Even the decision to put Myidea4ca on a ".com" domain was calculated. Quigley said he wanted to set the tone that it isn't a typical government Web site. But had Schwarzenegger not been a user of social media -- he has 1 million Twitter followers -- Quigley said he might have opted to attach the Web site to and change the look and feel.


Matt Williams Associate Editor
Platforms & Programs