November 24, 2009 By Paul W. Taylor
The first decade of the 21st century is going out the way it came in -- with bubbles bursting: dot-com at the beginning and housing (and a tangled web of global financial shenanigans) at the end. Technically speaking, 2009 isn't the end of the decade, but for many households, businesses and public agencies -- it felt like the end of the world.
This page has long invoked the credo attributed to Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University (of vintage Saturday Night Live fame), which condenses a world of knowledge into the five things you'll remember in five years. Our year-end tradition continues.
Our idea of public records (and the laws that prescribe the conditions of their disclosure) assumed a document in a filing cabinet in a physical location. The Internet took the physicality out of the equation, but we hung on to the notion of the record as static. No more, and everything from Apps for America/Democracy, NYC BigApps and Data.gov is just prolog. They provide the new platform on which governments will meet their obligation to interpret, contextualize and make data understandable to the public. But that game has been democratized.
If citizen journalists are bloggers on a mission, citizen coders are geeks similarly motivated to find meaning and value in government data feeds beyond what government would or could do for itself -- and in some cases, beyond what government would want done in terms of scrutiny on spending and official acts. There are the makings of tension and even conflict here, but it's our zeitgeist and the natural extension of all that citizen engagement we've been talking about.
The portal is both less and more than it once was. The home page remains government's front door, and it's the standard-bearer for the growing suite of online applications that stand behind it. It's a gateway to the rapidly growing universe of mobile or smartphone apps that extend the portal's reach to the palm of the user's hand. Government home pages are being bypassed via back doors -- search, mobile apps and collaborative filtering -- in ways that make them invisible.
The cloud will be (a) internal, (b) private, (c) public, (d) disruptive and (e) all of the above. There's fierce debate about whether it will be (a) secure, (b) cost-effective and (c) ultimately a friend or foe of the data center. It's also the newest face of consolidation of outsourcing.
City/state projects have redrawn boundary lines based on how things work, not on how things grew up historically. These have whittled more than 10,000 political subdivisions to 363 regions -- each anchored by a large metropolitan area -- that account for 65 percent of the U.S. population, 74 percent of the economic output and 77 percent of good-paying knowledge jobs. It underscores the argument for shared services and regional collaboration. It may portend what consolidation looks like in the future, and has sparked debate about which level of government -- city, county or state -- is the most redundant and should be voted off the political map.