Six Government 2.0 Predictions For 2011-2012, including ‘Wikileaks Starfish Vs. Government Spiders’
Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —
A little over a year ago, I published a post on the O’Reilly Radar blog called “Government 2.0: Five Predictions for 2010-2012.” In the post, I described some “non-exhaustive, somewhat creative, and entirely debatable trends and ideas” that I thought might take shape in the coming years.
Here, I revisit these five predictions verbatim, and add one additional prediction for how Government 2.0 might evolve, primarily in the U.S., during the remainder of President Obama’s current term in office. I also discuss how the recent Wikileaks controversies intermingle with Government 2.0 and “Citizen 2.0″ in some ways.
Five Government 2.0 Predictions For 2011-2012
Local governments as experiments: Increasingly some of the most innovative ideas are being independently developed in small communities. For example, the tiny city of Manor, TX has launched Manor Labs to improve services. Citizens sign up and suggest ideas for local services like law enforcement,and their ideas are ranked by the community. Good suggestions are rewarded with “Innobucks” that can be redeemed for prizes. Innovative thinking plus government-citizen interactions plus individual incentives can result in big wins for everyone involved. How can the Federal government best keep track of local innovation,and how can everyone best keep track of Government 2.0 news in general? Where’s the TechCrunch of Gov 2.0?
The rise of Citizen 2.0: Just as governments are adopting new media communications, cloud computing mentalities, and social networking skills, so are the citizens they represent. The implication is that if citizens want a website that mashes up environmental and tourist data, or desire open chat and dating platforms for soldiers stationed overseas, or find out what their Member of Congress does every minute of the day, they might just find a way to do it themselves. Early examples like ChicagoCrime.org showed that it was possible, but with people flocking to smart phones, niche social networks, and unconferences, how long will it be before the citizens are beating the government at its own game? (I think that a lot of what we call Government 2.0 is in actuality Citizen 2.0…)
Mobile devices as primary devices: Most discussion I hear about everything from social media to cybersecurity concentrates on desktop computers plugged into a wall. Sure, those are important, and the average government-issued BlackBerry is a little out of date. But soon those mobile devices will be replaced and upgraded, and employees will increasingly demand advanced capabilities like access to social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, embedded cameras, and customized applications (“apps”) for news and other functions. What are the implications for government when an iPhone becomes more powerful than a Dell desktop running all the Microsoft that money can buy?
Ubiquitous crude video content: High production value for Internet-only video is overrated. Sometimes, if a video targets a highly specific niche audience, great content is good enough. A small company named Demand Media, valued at $1 billion, creates thousands of videos a day and posts them on YouTube and other places – more than many other “media companies” combined. Their business model involves a specific algorithm that predicts highly specific questions people are likely to ask – “What’s the best color to repaint a red Camaro?” – and then assigns freelancers to film crude videos as appropriate. People have a lot of questions about their government – could they in part be answered using Demand Media’s somewhat controversial techniques? I’ve written about this in a post about “proactive social media.”
Always on-the-record: When you combine the ideas above (local innovation + citizen 2.0 + mobile as primary + crude content) a fifth prediction emerges. I think that more and more, politicians and government officials will always be on-the-record. By this I mean that the multiplication of inquisitive citizens with mobile devices, wi-fi, and social networking know-how implies that everything from local government hearings to Senators’ travel habits can easily be documented, published, and shared. Imagine if you had a group of 20 “health care legislation enthusiasts” – what if each of them took one business day a month to follow (stalk?) members of (say) the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee around? In this episode of The Right Idea, I discuss this notion of always-on-the-record with some political experts. Think “George Allen’s macaca meets Code Pink.”
When Government 2.0 Meets Wikileaks
A year ago, I purposely tried to imagine what would happen over the next three years, rather than the more typical one year period, because I think that Government 2.0, at a strategic level, is moving very slowly. My predictions have come to pass to different degrees thus far. For example, local governments (not unlike small startup companies) have continued to be some of the most agile and innovative in applying principles of Government 2.0 to their work. And mobile devices continue to replace time spent on regular computers for various reasons, at least on the consumer side. But we have not seen iPhones, Droids, or Windows Phones wholesale replace government-issue BlackBerry devices, and we will not anytime very soon; I think this is coming at some point, however.
Citizen 2.0 is still an evolving and important concept. While the term “Government 2.0″ is certainly more popular, and government is where a lot of the power (and money to spend on goods and services from businesses) lies, ultimately citizens can do many things for themselves, and there are small examples of this constantly happening. I wrote a post about “what Government 2.0 looks like” a while ago that diagrams how Government 2.0 and Citizen 2.0 relate to and counterbalance each other (in theory or in practice). Software like the new Congress app from the Sunlight Foundation, made by citizens for citizens, if you will, should continue to empower Citizen 2.0 in the future.
The notions of ubiquitous crude video content and an always-on-the-record government have largely not come to pass. Few citizens are stalking their Congressmen and Mayors with an array of cameras and microphones for the purpose of capturing every moment of their lives (and “Sn00ki Comes to Washington” is still mainly just a fantasy of mine). True, more government activities are being live-streamed than before, but it is largely controlled. Nevertheless, I believe there will be a large “macaca” moment when the government realizes that citizens are at least as powerful as it is in some fundamental ways.
As of a few weeks ago, that last sentence seems a bit out dated, because in fact it may have just happened in the form of Wikileaks releasing hundreds of thousands of private/secret war and diplomatic documents. (Alexis Madigral at The Atlantic probably has the best primer on the recent Wikileaks controversies, if you are unfamiliar or need a refresher.)
A lot has been written about Wikileaks, and debating those issues is outside the scope of this article. But journalism professor Jay Rosen of NYU probably has the most pertinent commentary on how Wikileaks relates to some of the Government 2.0 / Citizen 2.0 issues above, in a post titled, “The Afghanistan War Logs Released by Wikileaks, the World’s First Stateless News Organization.” Here is an excerpt:
Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.
Not unlike the recent reconsideration of terrorism in the hands of stateless, global actors vs. local actors within a state or region, the notion of Wikileaks as a stateless news organization is a fundamental shift in media, journalism, and citizen relations with governments empowered by the Internet (i.e., Government 2.0 counterbalancing Citizen 2.0), and this controversy, a modest one in the grand scheme of all government information, all international relations, and all citizens on Earth, may be foreshadowing an alternative future:
WIKILEAKS LOOKS A LOT LIKE MY 2009 PREDICTION ABOUT “ALWAYS-ON-THE-RECORD” GOVERNMENT.
And to paraphrase my former Department of Defense colleague Jack Holt, a senior advisor to the Pentagon on emerging media, the Internet is not a fortress to defend, it is a field of maneuver. Translation: You can try to defend your “fortress” of information, and you may be justified in doing so. However, in a new reality of people who want (for better or worse) some version(s) of always-on-the-record government, extreme government openness is perhaps better thought of as the new information environment within which one must operate.
The Starfish (Wikileaks) and the Spider (“the government”)
In their book The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom describe two fundamental types of organizations: essentially, traditional hierarchical ones controlled from the top down by leaders (“spiders”), and non-hierarchical ones largely inspired by leaders (“starfish”). The metaphors mean that while you can stop a spider organization by striking the head that controls all body function, striking any given part of a starfish does not stop the organization because its nervous system is distributed throughout and does not take orders from a central hub.
Traditional spider organizations include governments and large corporations. Traditional starfish organizations include Alcoholics Anonymous, Napster and other music sharing networks, global terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda … and now “stateless news organization” Wikileaks. I think that Wikileaks’ recent activity represents a fundamental shift in how citizens relate to their government (or other people’s governments). Knowledge and control are distributed within the organization, citizens are global and behave in a stateless manner if they choose, and information put on the Internet spreads rapidly and efficiently.
The fundamental problem with attacking a starfish organization in a traditional way, according to Brafman and Beckstrom, is that it becomes more distributed and therefore more difficult to fight – or even understand. Thus, regardless what is done to Wikileaks (shutting down access to Amazon, prosecuting Julian Assange, etc.), while perhaps correct to do in some sense, it is clear that the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Destroying Napster didn’t stop online music from spreading; it spawned new, more secretive, more distributed, more intelligent networks of music sharing. And then the practice became standard, and monetized, and the status quo to the point where you can download government podcasts on iTunes.
Large music companies attacking Napster in various ways is somewhat akin to large government agencies attacking Wikileaks in various ways. Years later we see that online music sharing was much more like a field to maneuver within than thinking of music storehouses as a fortress to defend. Now, is the same true of Wikileaks? (Legality and morality are irrelevant here.)
Will the government Data.gov of the future look more like Wikileaks than its current “controlled” form?
One More Prediction: Entrepreneurship and Government 2.0
Something that has surprised me during the last 2-3 years of thinking about how government and citizens will evolve is the lack of big entreprenurial success stories that directly relate to the new government openness in the U.S. and other places. Sure, one can find large companies evolving to respond with products, small consulting firms helping to make government more open, and individual citizens or small nonprofit groups making real contributions. But who’s the breakout star? Who will be the proverbial “Microsoft / Google / Facebook of Government 2.0″?
I previously wrote a Publicyte article called, “What Is The Vision for Open Government Entrepreneurship?” — I still don’t have an answer to this question. In trying to define what an “open government entrepreneur” is, I wrote in part:
The classic example of terrific public use of open government data isn’t very sexy, but you nevertheless probably take advantage of it nearly every day. Does the word Accuweather mean anything to you? The data that Accuweather and similar organizations use very often comes from the Federal government’s National Weather Service, operated by NOAA. The private sector weather market is worth roughly $1.5 billion – and it’s built on open government data stores.
Accuweather isn’t an app, or a website, or a loosely-joined group of people working toward a common goal in their spare time. Accuweather is a business, founded by a graduate student in Pennsylvania decades ago. Not that there’s anything wrong with releasing an app, running a website, or fostering a community. But are those examples of entrepreneurship? And are apps contests and volunteer groups sustainable long-term citizen-driven solutions for peoples’ needs? Do you trust them?
Bootstrapped startups can lead to long-term profitable business success independent of the ecosystem of angel investors and venture capitalists. Will the Open Government community graduate from mainly working with Web 2.0 tools and iPhones to working on far-reaching sustainable software and other infrastructure that truly serves the majority of citizens, and may even start turning a profit by… actually selling goods and services? Will they build trust with customers and citizens over time?
My final prediction about Government 2.0 for 2011-2012 is that we will begin to see potential breakout stars of open government entrepreneurship who capitalize on smartphone technology, social software, the open data / development community, cloud computing, and yes, even the principles under which Wikileaks operates, to grow sustainable and profitable business empires with large reach and influence.
Dr. Mark Drapeau is the Editor-in-Chief of Publicyte and the Director of Innovative Engagement for Microsoft’s Office of Civic Innovation. You can follow him on Twitter at @cheeky_geeky.