Government 2.0: The smarter planet initiative and Obama’s inauguration speech

21 01 2009

Yesterday at 12:00 noon EST, several parts of the world came to a standstill to watch Obama’s inauguration ceremony. It felt pretty much like a FIFA World Cup game in Brazil. I found interesting that, at 12.01, the White House site published a blog post entitled “Change has come to”., written by Macon Phillips, who has the revealing title of “Director of New Media for the White House”. Macon wrote:

Participation — President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

We’d also like to hear from you — what sort of things would you find valuable from If you have an idea, use this form to let us know. Like the transition website and the campaign’s before that, this online community will continue to be a work in progress as we develop new features and content for you. So thanks in advance for your patience and for your feedback.

That’s promising, but still a 1.0 approach: online forms are very 1994. I’m looking forward to see what they mean by “new features”. I would expect to see a conversation that’s more transparent than e-mail and forms. Something like the very cool service provided by debategraph. If you never heard about it, I highly recommend a visit now.

In 2008 we saw a major surge in interest in Government 2.0 in Canada. I spent a good part of the year working in Ottawa, and also speaking in events directed towards all levels of government. However, just by visiting the publick websites of federal and provincial government agencies, you won’t see much of a change yet. I really would like to see that changing from interest and words to action, and I hope 2009 is the year we see that happening in Canada and around the globe, and the White House site will certainly be a major influencer, one way or the other.

Other fact that came to my attention is that this is the first time “digital” is mentioned in an inaugural speech. This is not surprising, as the term was not widely used 16 years ago, but it was not accidental either.

This is an excerpt from Obama’s speech:

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

The words above seem to align nicely with this piece IBM published yesterday in the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times:

In the past, we had to make trade-offs between the imperatives of energy, transportation, infrastructure, security, commerce, the environment and more. But in an ever-more interconnected world, these vast, complex systems are no longer separate from one another. They are now interwoven and interdependent. Which is good news—because the solutions we develop for one system will ripple across many others.

Those solutions are possible because we now have the tools to literally change the way the world works. Computational power is being put into things we wouldn’t recognize as computers: phones, cameras, cars, appliances, roadways, power lines, clothes. We are interconnecting all of this through the Internet, which has come of age. And we are applying sophisticated analytics to make sense of the world’s digital knowledge and pulse.

As we look at investments to stimulate our economies, we have a lot more options and can get a lot more bang for our buck. We can ask ourselves: Do we want an airport, or a smart airport? A highway, or a smart highway? A hospital, or a smart hospital? We can think about new industries and societal benefits spawned by a smart power grid, a smart water system, a smart city. About how innovation across all these systems will multiply the number of new jobs and spread new skills.

Similar to what I said before, while I find the two excerpts above inspiring and encouraging, nothing has been done yet, so it’s still not time for celebration. But we certainly need a vision and charisma to not get lost during the execution, so the first step was a good one.

Update: I forgot to mention, but the White House blog does not seem to allow blog comments either (please let me know if I missed how to do it, other than sending emails). That’s also very web 1.0, I hope them to open it up a bit, by allowing at least moderated comments there. Not a 2-way conversation when only one side has the mike.




8 responses

21 01 2009

Terrific post Aaron. It was very exciting for me to see the connections between elements of the speech and what IBM has been saying recently in regard to Healthcare, Water, the Electric Grid, IT Infrastructure etc.

I’d like to point out IBM’s most recent YouTube video on smarter planet if I may: It gives a great overview of many of the possibilities before us in the categories listed above and more. It is presented in a nice story format. Check it out folks. I’m really proud of it.

21 01 2009
Jen Okimoto

So…we ALL need to do, not just talk. I agree. Thanks for the thoughtful post. Jen

21 01 2009
Archimedes Trajano

Why don’t we do it in Canada first? 🙂
Aaron as PM 🙂

21 01 2009

Jen, I actually removed a paragraph from the original draft post, as my thoughts were not very well developed there (are they ever?). An interesting aside of having Social Media added to the mix is that it allows worldwide participation in the conversation. Even though lots of people still see whoever happens to be the US president at any given time as THE main leadership of the world, in practice that’s debatable, bringing the question: who “WE” refers to? US citizens and others leaving in US soil only or every person on Earth? As a Brazilian-Canadian, I still see his speech as directed to the people living in the United States. The world is listening, paying attention and getting their hopes up, and that’s already some concrete change.

Archie, I’d love to be part of it, helping Canada lead the pack in the Gov 2.0 movement. But PM would at best mean “Push Me” in my case 🙂 .

21 01 2009

Just added an update to the end of the post, noting that the White House blog does not let you add blog comments there. Should they still call it a blog then? It seems more like a fancy press release with an RSS feed.

21 01 2009
Craig Barbisan

I think it’s still a blog, even though you can’t comment. I think that comments are just a feature of some blogs, but not a pre-requisite. What if the author allows comments, but only to registered users? Or users willing to provide a valid email address? Does that make it less of a blog? In my opinion, no.

If you put the following search query into Google “define: blog”, it will return several definitions of what a blog is. I looked at many of the definitions (not all though) but none of them required a comments feature to qualify a website as a blog. Even Wikipedia states that some blogs have a comments feature, but it doesn’t say that a blog must have a comments feature.

Just my 2 cents…

Craig Barbisan
Software Consultant
Toronto, ON Canada

21 01 2009

Aaron. Nice post. your comment about adding Web 2.0 to the mix reminds me of something Mike Wing wrote about how individuals can get involved in the building a smarter planet:

Now… what I think we need to start seeing is Gov’t 2.0 brought down to the city level. While I think it’s great that here in the US, the government is at least posturing around citizen input, I don’t think we’ll see the real potential of citizen input until it’s done at the city level, where the real rubber hits the real roads.

22 01 2009

George and Craig, for some reason both of your comments ended up in the spam queue. I should monitor that more often I guess.

George, thanks for the link, nicely done indeed.

Craig, technically you are right. As long as it’s in the web, and in a log format, it fits the blog definition. In practice, though, I tend to agree with this person. I would say that the White House blog follows the letter of law, but not its spirit. Their first post listed 3 priorities for their new media efforts: communications, transparency and participation. An obvious way to realize that is to allow comments, even if moderated. As a matter of fact, this whole discussion could be happening there, but it’s instead being fragmented all over the Internet in blogs and tweets.

Adam, brilliant, I’m with you there. We can scream all day about the big issues, but for most of us, there’s no global act, only local ones. The small things we do in our daily lives are the enablers for large and sustained change, going back to the main message of the video George mentioned: everything is connected.

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