October 16, 2008 By Bill Schrier
A set of technologies called Web 2.0 is transforming the Internet. Web sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, in addition to RSS feeds, blogs and wikis attract hundreds of millions of people. Yet this Web 2.0 transformation of government is just beginning. How might it occur?
Web 2.0 and government are both about building community and connecting people. Web 2.0 technologies are transforming the Internet into connected communities that allow people to interact with one another in new and distinct ways.
Government is, by its very nature, all about community. Government is a group of people - citizens or constituents - doing together what they can't do as individuals or otherwise obtain from private business. I believe most of us wouldn't want individuals or private businesses to manage street networks, maintain parks or operate police and fire departments. In the end, government is community.
Therefore, Web 2.0 - community building tools - seems tailor-made for government, at least theoretically.
Potential Web 2.0 Uses
How can government use Web 2.0 tools to make a better community? Here are some ideas and examples:
MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and Second Life have broken truly new ground. These online spaces allow individuals to establish a new presence for interacting with members of their online community. Government also promotes small groups in communities, such as anticrime block watches, neighborhood disaster recovery groups and legislative districts. Having secure, social networking sites for community groups to interact, learn from each other and educate themselves has great promise.
Moderated blogs with interactive comments are potentially a good way for elected officials to garner input from constituents and interact with them. They might supplement communities' public meetings. We have many kinks to work out because too many blogs - and public meetings - are monopolized by a few citizen activists. And moderating a blog requires a lot of time and effort for a government agency.
Video and Images
YouTube is the new groundbreaker in this arena. Governments could use such Web sites to encourage residents and visitors to post videos of their favorite places to visit in the jurisdiction, special events and dangerous places (eg., intersections, sidewalks and overgrown vegetation). For instance, it could help build community if video was posted of the Northwest Folklife Festival - a popular music and crafts festival held at the Seattle Center each Memorial Day weekend. People could share videos and post "sound off" video bites with their opinions about certain subjects. The Seattle Channel, a local government access TV station, often videotapes people on the street with questions for their elected officials, and then poses those questions online in Ask the Mayor or City Inside/Out: Council Edition.
Online surveys via Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey are everywhere. Surveys could help elected officials gauge the mood of a city's residents on a range of topics. 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 online surveys with traditional surveying techniques (e.g., calling residents by phone, which is itself becoming less valid as people shed their published, landline phone numbers in favor of cell phones).
Wikis: Internal Processes
Wikis certainly hold great promise for government internally. We divide government into departments, each with unique functions. Departments tend to be siloed groups, so cross-departmental communication is difficult. Wikis, or products like Microsoft SharePoint, could be used to standardize many business processes, functions and terms across the entire government. Simple processes, such as "how to process a public disclosure request" and "how to pay a vendor invoice," are inclined to documentation and improvement through wiki. Certainly such procedures can