government 2.0

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[This is a slightly edited version of the article written for "Stories: from The Local Government Web Network", issue 3, August 2011, which was distributed at the LGWN's conference in Sydney on 18 August. Some material in this article also appears in Tweeting your way out of Paranoia, the closing keynote presentation I delivered.]

If you’re not yet at least experimenting with Twitter, the real-time social messaging service, you should be.

Suppress the corporate paranoia. It’s a lot easier than you might think. And while Twitter does get far more attention than its relatively small size might suggest — truly active Twitter users number perhaps 20 million globally compared with Facebook’s 750 million active users and counting — it punches well above its weight in terms of connecting with influential community members.

Twitter may not ever become the core real-time service used by the masses. Or if it does, it may only be for a few years. You only have to look at the last decade to see the then-leading MySpace surpassed by Facebook in 2008, just four years after Facebook was founded. Google’s launch of Google+ in June this year has generated plenty of speculation that the search and advertising giant’s foray into social networking will in turn wipe Facebook off the planet. Who knows?

There will always be some real-time social messaging service, however. Whether that’s Twitter as a stand-alone service, or whether we all end up using a real-time component of Facebook or Google+ or something that has yet to be deployed — none of that matters. The principles and practices of real-time messaging will doubtless end up being much the same.

Anything you might do with Twitter will be easy to migrate to any other real-time messaging system. The lessons you learn will carry across too.

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I was invited to present the closing keynote at last week’s NSW Local Government Web Network Conference in Sydney. Give ‘em something light at the end of the day, I was told.

Here’s the result.

My argument, such that it is, is that corporations like local governments avoid change because they’re paranoid, so they need to get themselves some mental health. I present an anonymous theory about “The Three Pillars of Mental Health”. Twitter, I then argue, is the perfect low-risk exercise for a government starting to involve itself in social media and social networking to start overcoming that paranoia. I then present some suggestions for how they might tweet.

Tweeting your way out of Paranoia from Stilgherrian on Vimeo.

The articled I mentioned in the video, the one I wrote about using Twitter, is Twitter: a guide for busy paranoids.

The Flip Video delivered fairly shitty footage of me speaking, as you can see, so I decided to keep the slides in screen for most of the time instead. James Purser recorded the audio.

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets and in the media and so on and so forth.

Articles

Podcasts

Media Appearances

  • On Monday I spoke with Fiona Wyllie on ABC Radio’s Statewide Afternoons and the Fairfax tracking cookie beat-up and a father who installed a radio jammer to kill the internet so his kids wouldn’t spend so much time online. Alas, there is no recording. That’s a shame. It’s not often you’ll hear me giving parenting advice on the radio.

Geekery

  • I learned how to use Google Site Search by plugging it into the Fender Australia website. It’s fairly straightforward, but it quickly shows you the problems with how your site is constructed. As an aside, if you’re a web developer visiting that site for the first time you’ll be horrified to see that in many places it uses tables for layout. That’s because the site was originally built in 2001 and has just been re-skinned a couple of times since. It’s also maintained manually, all 950 pages of it. There’s little business case for a major overhaul — the numbers are not compelling — but we’re planning to build a proper modern database-driven site early in 2011.

Corporate Largesse

None.

Elsewhere

Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Old bar sign at the Town Hall Hotel, Newtown. Gender roles were a little different back then.]

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets.

Articles

  • ‘Open Government’ declared in Australia for Crikey. Buried in the news just before the Australian election was called last weekend, Lindsay Tanner, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, issued the Declaration of Open Government which had been called for by the Government 2.0 Taskforce. Someone ought to tell the Attorney-General’s Department.
  • Two other articles have been written but are still in the production pipeline, one for Crikey and one for ABC Unleashed. And I’ve been researching a 2000-word feature for ZDNet Australia. So I’ve been very busy, you just haven’t seen the output yet.

Podcasts

  • Patch Monday episode 49, “The software patent controversy explained” with guest Kimberlee Weatherall. She teaches intellectual property law at the University of Queensland.
  • A Series of Tubes episode 112, in which I chat with Richard Chirgwin about the Declaration of Open Government, the Privacy Commissioner’s findings on the Google Street View Wi-Fi incident, and how the Pirate Party fell at the first hurdle. Also, Internode’s John Lindsay explains the class action they and iiNet are involved with concerning Testra’s wholesale ADSL2+ pricing, and Steve Chung, consultant at Ruckus Wireless, talks about Wi-Fi privacy.

Media Appearances

[Photo: "Paddy Maguire's Hotel", at the corner of George and Hay Streets, Haymarket, Sydney, taken from a bus window on 23 July 2010.]

[Last week, Australia's Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner wrote about Government 2.0 in The government wants to blog. Later today ABC Radio wants me to talk about how Barack Obama's presidential election campaign used social media and social networking, so I've been reviewing my liveblog of the presentations made by Ben Self at Media 09 and Joe Trippi at the Microsoft Politics and Technology Forum. Trippi has worked on various Democrat campaigns including as campaign manager for Howard Dean's 2004 unsuccessful presidential nomination campaign. Self's company Blue State Digital managed Obama's online fundraising, constituency-building, issue advocacy, and peer-to-peer online networking during the primaries. I figured I might as well share my notes. Enjoy.]

More than two years since Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign, the numbers are still staggering. $770 million was raised, roughly 65% of that online. There were 3.2 million individual donors, with the average donation under $100.

This is completely different from traditional political fundraising, which revolved about dinners and other events costing $2300 a ticket — the maximum unreportable donation donation allowable from a couple at that time under US electoral laws. Obama’s campaign really did reach out and mobilise millions of ordinary Americans.

Yes, millions. The progressive Democratic Party network is now 15 million people online.

Online social networking tools made all this possible, sure, but the success came through the clever application of those tools. The key word here is “personal”.

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British Airways Corcorde G-BOAC at Manchester Aviation Park. Photo by Ian Britton, © FreeFoto.com.

Do we really think we can just bolt some sort of “government 2.0 module” onto steam-era bureaucracies and magically bring them into the 21st Century?

Sure, our governments served us fairly well in the 20th Century, at least in the West. They beat the bad guys in WWII, brought us through the scary Cold War and delivered health and prosperity our grandparents would have found unimaginable.

Not to mention Windows ME.

But times are changing. We’re starting to notice that things don’t work as well as they used to. We’re spending taxpayers’ money bailing out economies only to have bankers suck out more bonuses anyway. Conferences intended to agree on Climate Change action produce… well… nothing concrete. Sydney’s suburban railway network is slower than in the 1920s!

Having invested so much time and money on these institutions, though, we’re reluctant to let them go.

This is the sunk cost fallacy.

The Concorde is the classic example. Long after it must have been clear to the French and British governments that no-one was going to buy this aircraft, they continued investing in it simply because they’d already spent so much and didn’t want to lose those “sunk costs”. Yet those costs were gone, no matter what. To continue spending was irrational.

The same happened in the Vietnam War, where US President Lyndon Johnson kept committing thousands of troops after he’d realised the cause was hopeless and America could not win.

Afghanistan, anyone?

I’ve written before, in Risk, Fear and Paranoia: Perspective, People!, that change is being held back by, well, fear and paranoia. But this morning I stumbled across Umair Haque’s The Builders’ Manifesto. He’s got it in one.

20th century leadership is what’s stopping 21st century prosperity.

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ABC Unleased asked me think about what I want for 2010, in the context of my writing about the Internet and suchlike. My comments didn’t get a run in their piece My dreams for 2010 today, so here they are for you now, Gentle Readers.

From the government, I’d like more openness and the active inclusion of citizens in decision-making from the beginning. We’re not just an audience to be sold a policy cooked up with noisy lobby groups and the big end of town. The Government 2.0 Taskforce recommended a declaration of open government and, amongst other things, making all public sector information free and freely reusable by default, easily discoverable, and published in machine-readable formats to open standards. Let’s start seeing some of that — and not stuff at the edges like the public toilet database but big slabs of core government information.

From media magnates, less whinging about new competitors “stealing” your audience — we’re not your property! — and a lot more about making yourselves relevant to our new needs. We’ve got so many ways of informing and entertaining ourselves now, so do take that on board. Also, sourcing a comment to a random person on Twitter is not journalism. Find out who and where they are and give a bit of background.

And from the Twitterverse, quite a bit less self-congratulation and a quite a lot more practical work. Turning your avatar green or red or black changes nothing. “But I’m raising awareness” it not a valid explanation, either, because chances are your friends already agree with you. Open communication with someone well outside your normal circle and make a difference. Please.

The ABC piece is worth reading too, with contributions from editor Jonathan Green, Sophie Cunningham from Meanjin, comedian John Safran, opposition leader Tony Abbott, refugee and human rights activist Pamela Curr, futurist Mark Pesce, researcher and author Chris Berg, Julian Morrow of The Chaser fame, Robert Manne, Catherine Deveny, human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, artist Gerard Oosterman, scientist Julian Cribb, journalist and former writer for The Chaser Gregor Stronach, and Keysar Trad from the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia.

I haven’t had a chance to think about what I want personally. I was working on some urgent, stressful documents right up until close of business on New Year’s Eve, and went to bed early, exhausted. Maybe today’s beautiful showery day in Sydney, or tomorrow’s thunderstorms, will provide that inspiration.

ZDNet Australia logo: click for Patch Monday episode 22In episode 22 of Patch Monday, a look at the draft final report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce with the Taskforce chair Nicholas Gruen.

I also talk a little about the Taskforce’s MashupAustralia competition and its winners. And there is, as usual, quick run-through of the week’s news headlines, should you have missed them.

You can listen below. But it’s even better for my stats if you listen at ZDNet Australia or subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe in iTunes.

Please, let me know what you think. Feedback very, very welcome. And do let me know if there’s any topics I should cover, or guests we should interview.

Gosh, is it really a week since I last posted something here? Must. Do. Better.

Further to my appearance on Radio National’s Future Tense talking Telstra and corporate transparency, last week a little more of my recorded interview was used in their program on Participatory democracy, Web 2.0 and the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

My main point was that people will expect the Government 2.0 Taskforce to do a lot of things — especially given their massive brief — and yet they’ll be disbanded at the end of the year.

There are going to be expectations that there’ll be something really significant to put on the table by Christmas, and yet it’s all uncertain. The uncertainties in all this are incredible. We’re expecting this group of people to essentially solve all of the problems of government 2.0 and have this grand road map in just a few months. It’s an enormous bullet point list of stuff that they’ve got to achieve. And now that people are starting to look at it, they’re realising we’re only at the very early stages of people starting to agree on what the questions might mean, let alone what the answers might look at. And my gut feeling is people are starting to be a bit hesitant about ‘Hey, are we actually going to get something of value at the end of this, or is it just another of the Rudd government’s talkfests to make it look like we’ve got something happening but there’s no real end result?’ I mean the Australia 2020 Summit, did we ever get anything really concrete out of that?

Duncan Riley essentially agreed. But I found the response from Nicholas Gruen, who chairs the Taskforce, interesting.

Gruen says that unlike most government inquiries — and he’s been on eight — this time the recommendations aren’t the important thing. It’s more about educating everyone — including the public service and politicians.

Click through to the program for the full transcript or, for a limited time at least, to listen to the podcast.

Penny Sharpe MLC asked me to say something controversial at her NSW Sphere event back on 4 September. Here it is. The full video and transcript (below) of my somewhat rambling discussion of the challenges facing the Government 2.0 revolution.

Hi. I’m Stilgherrian, and I’m avoiding the whole projection thing today.

My presentation, the long name was “Risk, Fear and Paranoia: Perspective, People!”, and I just want to spend a few minutes throwing in some ideas which might trigger some discussion point around those, those words.

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