Citizens Expect Government 2.0

March 10, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

Referring to the today's young adults as the "Google Generation," Chris Anderson, editor in chief, Wired magazine, opened the FOSE conference by telling an audience of government and industry representatives that it's time for the government to catch up. Citizens have come to expect not only information from government agencies but also the ability to interact quickly with government organizations via the Web. Agencies-as well as large companies-have been slow to respond to this demand, Anderson stated.

The public also expects government Web sites to be up to date and always available, he added. Today, government services are not Google-friendly or even Google-optimized, he said. This is a hindrance when citizens today have zoomed past searching for the information they need and moved on to expecting information to be delivered to them.

It's not just the general public that expects these capabilities either. Young professionals entering the work force expect access to wikis, Google Apps, content management systems, comment systems, blogs, open databases and social networks on the job, he added. When they meet their first systems administrator who tells them access to these capabilities is denied, they quickly search for work-arounds.

Web 2.0 technologies have become so prevalent that they have spawned a new language. People are blogging and tweeting as part of everyday life and this extensive usage demands reliability. Using the example of Twitter, Anderson pointed out that it's the new symbol of reliability. Less than two years old, Twitter struggled to provide reliable service to the point where the "Fail Whale," the symbol that appeared when the service was down, is the icon for any and all failure for the Google Generation. After attention and hard work, Twitter improved its service to an amazing level, Anderson stated. In the entire month of December 2008, for example, the service was unavailable for only a total of 12 minutes.

This is the type of reliability government agencies need to aim for when employing Web 2.0 services. While this can take some time, standing in one place and refusing to jump on the interactive technologies bandwagon-because an agency has invested so much in 1990s technology it doesn't want to buy new technology or because of privacy, security and procurement rules or because of an overall lack of urgency-is a mistake, Anderson said.

While some organizations may be hesitant to use Web 2.0 technologies due to cost, Anderson pointed out that many services are available for free. When moving forward with these new interactive technologies, agencies and companies should embrace the ideas of "fail fast," the opposite of slow failure; hosted or cloud technology; nimble; experimental; beta; and "Sure!" They also should "fear" the words lengthy approval process, client server, long planning cycle, safe, sign off at all levels, "maybe next year" and sysadmin.

"For the Google Generation, there is an obligation to reach everyone, and everyone is different. They want their government their way," Anderson said.

The FOSE conference is taking place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., March 10-12.

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