Category Archives: Politics & Government

Obama Calls Out the Xbox: Maybe it’s the Social Buzz

Last night President Obama spoke at the 100th Anniversary celebration of the founding of the NAACP and told parents “You can’t just contract out parenting. For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn. That means putting away the Xbox — putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour.”

Some wonder why Obama called out the Xbox, as Andrew LaVallee posted for the Wall Street Journal, especially since the Wii has been the market share leader in console sales according to the latest NPD numbers.

Maybe it’s the buzz. Using Radian6 dashboard, here are all the mentions of the PS3, Wii and Xbox over the last 30 days, and clearly more are talking about the Xbox than any other console.

NPR noted that the President spent two weeks drafing the speech; I wonder if Obama’s team is using Radian6?

Are We Ready for the Acceleration of Change, Transparency and Shifts in Power?

During a session at the Personal Democracy Forum 2009 conference, Simon Rosenberg of NDN vented frustration with the Obama administration’s “obsession with speed” in changing policy, versus taking the time to get it right. Yet a recurring theme over the two day conference is that the administration, as well as politicans and businesses, might not have the luxury of time: people, empowered and augmented by social media tools, are already way ahead of these organizations in how they expect to be engaged.

The Personal Democracy Forum 2009 conference is a truly amazing opportunity to listen to and interact with amazing people from both technology and politics. In just two days we saw:

  • Vivek Kundra, White House CIO, presenting a breathtaking dashboard of the federal government’s tech spending at, just the first step in “democratizing data” by providing access to the raw data in multiple machine readable formats. Putting in American’s hands the mind-blowing ability to review each project, where it is versus budget, links to GAO and other agency reviews, and the ability to drill down to the CIO in charge of the project or the contractor performing a subset of the project. This beta site and structure is a dazzling roadmap on how to get the rest of the government’s 10,000 systems moving forward to provide transparent data, the ability for input into how to do things better and unprecedented accountability
  • Mayor Michael Bloomberg over Skype announcing a similar opening of raw data at the city level, as well as move 311 to Twitter (@311nyc – “it’s always been customer service, not just a phone service.”)
  • Beth Noveck, Deputy CTO for the White House showing how they are openly soliciting input from the public in policy making, coming up with more ideas than a three-person team in the White House could ever do by themselves. Watch the process unfold this summer (from brainstorming of 1000 ideas, to 16 core topics that required more discussion, to actual drafting of language and revisions) at
  • Joe Trippi, David Weinberger and Britt Blaser talking about Facebook Application ivote4u as the itunes for politics – “you organize and manage your music collection, why not your politicians” providing you access to your politicians voting records, letting you mark your votes on legislation and compare. There are a lot of other aggregator sites in the marketplace, but the difference with ivote4u is having users verified as constituents, which will help lawmakers to hone in on the core voices amongst all the noise out there, and potentially understand how those constituents feel about legislation before the vote

All in all, an amazing shift in government, providing transparency and the groundwork to allow people to participate more fully in their governance. The question remains as to how to get people to interact and to provide quality feedback, but these organizations are experimenting with different tools to make that happen. Hopefully we can give government the room to fail, learn and optimize the process even further.

Power to the (Network of) People

But democratizing data is just one part of a broader over-arching theme: we are currently undergoing a major shift in power, from hierarchical organizations to adhocracies, networks. Alec Ross noted that just as the invention of the printing press shifted power from the church, we are seeing networks aided by the internet and social media tools begin to shift power around the globe. David Weinberger noted the old credentialing system was based on the limitations of paper – printing books was expensive – and the world has evolved from “facts” in an encyclopedia to a more real-world view about the discussions, arguments and different points of view around those facts, via the hyperlink. The power is in the network to extract knowledge and wisdom from the discussion around the facts. And that shift in power was reiterated in a number of examples:

  • Where diplomacy has always been “two white guys in white shirts and red ties” meeting government to government, Ross noted the 21st Century diplomacy is government to people (Obama speeches like the one in Cairo being translated into farsi and other languages and shared virally) and people to people (groups organizing via Facebook like Colombians against FARC and Iranians after the election)
  • is allowing patients to track their experience with diseases like ALS, marking close to 200 different metrics so that users can share what treatments worked, what symptoms were showing up, and providing a kind of meta data about diseases heretofore not available, as the hierarchy of doctors haven’t been able to share that depth of data. What was once only the doctors’ domain could become the people’s domain.
  • Newsrooms of old guard newspapers continue to try to hold on to the power, as Dan Froomkin, former Washington Post blogger noted that their tremendous ferver to not take sides in the newsroom, to reach an impartial center is like a “self-inflicted lobotomy.” Instead of “calling it like it is,” the corporations hold back the front-line reporters, trying to maintain circulation by not offending anyone. As Froomkin noted, in a world of blogs, “not offending people is not a business model” that is going to work long-term.

Mark Pesce noted that this shift in power is like sand paper, slowly reducing the power of different hierarchies and it is going to be a struggle for hierarchies to fight adhocracies because the organizational structures are so incredibly different. Pesce pointed to the fight by the Church of Scientology versus Wikipedia, where Wikipedia has banned updates by the Church. There is no one person in charge of Wikipedia, it is a social contract, an adhocracy, a network. Watching how the hierarchical organizations engage the adhocracies is going to be a telling sign of the bumps ahead in this transition of power, as we all work towards “getting it right.”

Internet Week New York: Politics, Technology and Transparency

This week is Internet Week in New York and I was able to attend several panels and demos, but the one thing that really made me feel like there was substantial change afoot was the power of technology to truly transform government: to make it a truly transparent and inclusive process. Specifically, at the NY Tech Meetup on June 2nd, the New York State Senate CIO Andrew Hoppin presented massive changes made in an incredibly short time period. Some of the unofficial rules of NY Tech Meetup is that you have to be a NY based organization, you only have 5-10 minutes to present your company or product, and you can’t do it in a PowerPoint; the New York State Senate was allowed to shirk the Power Point rule because what they’ve done is so extraordinary.

I can see your eyes rolling, just as I saw when I explained who presented to a VC at another panel the next morning. The New York State Senate? Yes.

What they’ve done is this…

  • Move from a behind-closed-doors, pre-internet mind set and put every committee meeting online via YouTube. Before this, the only way to see what was discussed was to be in Albany. Nothing more transparent than that; in addition every one of the 34 subject-specific committee has an RSS feed and you can sign up to get email or text alerts as well.
  • Provide every Senator has a RSS feed and systems are built to support Facebook Fan Pages and Twitter accounts if the Senator chooses to use them; every committee has an RSS feed so you can keep tabs on the latest issues she may be tackling (I looked at what made up my Senator’s list of accomplishments and the fact that he has no social media savvy so far this term and I’m decidely underwhelmed – time to push him or support a new candidate)
  • Allow citizens of New York State to actually comment on pending legislation and actually shape legislative agendas using crowdsourcing. From the site:
    • “Crowdsourcing tools leverage the “wisdom of crowds.” By creating a forum where large numbers of people can submit ideas and vote on them, a crowdsourcing application can gather new ideas from beyond the walls of the Capitol to make the Senate a more effective lawmaking body. Crowdsourcing will be used by the Senate’s Policy group to tap into the public to generate ideas and feedback on certain legislation. By doing so, the Senate will encourage citizen participation in the legislative process. “
  • Efficiently using technology to save money and plow it back into programs like the above; every morning staff would get up early, take exacto knives and cut out articles and scan them to make them available to Senate staff at a cost of $1.5 million a year; automating that changed where budgets are focused

Talk about shattering boundaries! Pure access that in the past had been the domain of lobbyists and here is technology in action making politics accessible.

This is not without challenges. One of the biggest challenges to date has been changing the workflow to get take in user comments and changing mentalities in really integrating user comments. Politics change from election to election (the Democrats had been out of power since 1965 and CIO Andrew Hoppin cited new majority leader Malcom A. Smith as the impetus for change, but things can change in the next election). To succeed, costs have to be minimized and more than anything, New Yorkers have to start using the tools and demand they are maintained.

This spirit is the core of another upcoming conference announced this week, the Personal Democracy Forum 2009 to be held June 29 and 30 in NYC at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Conceptually this is a mashup between tech and politically-minded people in figuring how to leverage tech to radically change and democratize our government and the election process. The lineup is impressive (White House CIO Vivek Kundra, Joe Rospars of Obama ’08, Mark McKinnon of John McCain ’08, Nate Silver of, and leaders from Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter) and the cost is very affordable at $455. In addition, you can get a $100 discount from NY Meetup using code NYTech. Definitely looking forward to understanding how they are using social media to listen to constituents outside of crowdsouricng as well as understanding metrics they uncovered during the last Presidential campaign with regard to their email and social media efforts.