Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Apps for America (Yet another cool project from Sunlight Foundation)

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 at 8:54 am

Sunlight Foundation has a great development content underway.

Apps for America is Sunlight’s annual development contest! Prizes go to developers who can use data from Sunlight and their partners that makes Congress more accountable, interactive and transparent.  Sunlight helped create insanely useful applications like: OpenCongress , MapLight and Congresspedia.

*personally, I’d love to see an application which combines OpenSecrets.org API with Hoover’s API’s. But then someone would have to pay for Hoover’s data…  It would make targeting corporations and lobbyists easier and more powerful.

Back to the contest:

How to Compete

  1. Contestants must join the Sunlight Labs Google Group
  2. Entries must use one of the following APIs or Datasets in their mashup:
  3. While not required, bonus points go to using one of Sunlight’s open source libraries
  4. All software you write has to be licensed under the MIT, New BSD, or the GPL family of licenses.


Submissions have three parts:

  1. A link to a fully functional demonstration of the software on a web server you provide
  2. A link to a public source code repository (Subversion, Git, or just a Tarball is fine)
  3. An email describing the software also containing the links to 1 & 2 sent to labscontest@cjoh.otherinbox.com


Submissions are due on March 31st. Winners will be announced on April 7th.


Down with the walls!!

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2008 at 11:15 am

This will be an ongoing area of exploration on this blog.  Generally looking at the current non-profit ecosystem, asking a few questions and hopefully proposing a few solutions.
A few recent blogs and discussions to help get this discussion going:
From Allison Fine’s most excellent blog:  Working Differently in a Crisis
Which briefly highlight’s need for collaborative fundraising efforts by the non-profit community; and a guest post by Dan Pallotta at the Huffington Post last week. Which calls for a change in the way we create change.  He advocates for less ”charity” mindset and more of a “commerce” mindset.
I agree with much of what is being said and believe that at this unique moment in time, where perhaps hundreds of thousands of non-profits may be closing shop in the next 2 years, with the new call for service we hope for from the Obama administration, and an a growing basis of active citizens, it’s time to take down the walls of non-profits. A shift to a more collaborative fundraising model would be a good move.  A number of other shifts might help as well, such as: encouraging and supporting npo leaders to take more risks (fail fast and learn what works and doesn’t work), blur the boundaries between nonprofits and social entrepreneurial efforts (so good people can work across both), normalize pay levels for talent to make it easier for people to choose non-profit as a career path,  and shift the funding mindset from organization and volunteer/funders to organization and “stakeholders” (it seems to be that a fast majority of private individual donors are rarely engaged in defining the agenda of the organizations they support). Nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers, but most executive directors do a poor job of managing them. As a result, more than one-third of those who volunteer one year do not donate their time the next year—at any nonprofit. That adds up to an estimated $38 billion in lost labor. Great analysis in this SSIR article “The New Volunteer Workforce”

I’ll post more on this topic in the coming weeks and months.

Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm

Originally saw this on Micah Sifry’s blog.

Lots of great information here from the the Federal Web Managers Council.  The Federal Web Managers Council is an interagency group of almost 30 senior web managers from the federal government. The group includes web directors from every cabinet-level agency, several independent agencies, and representatives from the judicial and legislative branches.

This is an important idea/vision, though one that seems challenged if built inside Government IT groups, with all of the process, requirements for approvals, GSA awards, etc..

Would love to see them open up the development efforts to third parties who already do a great job of building usable and friendly web applications, like the Sunlight Foundation.

Also would like to see more thinking around the line between government and citizen.  Right now much of the discussion still draws too rigid of line between the two, with Gov writing and Citizen’s reading, reviewing. How about more of a sharing of responsibilities?  It’s after all our government, yes?

Enjoy the read…


text of report:

A White Paper Written for the 2008 – 2009 Presidential Transition Team by the Federal Web Managers Council

November 2008

Current and former members of the Federal Web Managers Council who contributed to this paper: Bev Godwin, General Services Administration/USA.gov (Executive Sponsor); Sheila Campbell, General Services Administration/USA.gov (co-chair); Rachel Flagg, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (co-chair); Melissa Allen, Dept. of Interior; Andy Bailey, Dept. of Labor; Les Benito, Dept. of Defense; Joyce Bounds, Dept. of Veterans Affairs; Nicole Burton, General Services Administration/USA.gov; Bruce Carter,
Social Security Administration (retired); Natalie Davidson, General Services Administration/USA.gov; Kate Donohue, Dept. of Treasury; Brian Dunbar, NASA; Tim Evans, Social Security Administration; Kellie Feeney, Dept. of Transportation; Sam Gallagher, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Colleen Hope,
Dept. of State; Ron Jones, Dept. of Commerce/NOAA; Tina Kelley; Dept. of Justice; Gwynne Kostin, Dept. of Homeland Security; Jeffrey Levy, EPA; Beth Martin, Dept. of Health and Human Services; Leilani Martinez, GSA/GobiernoUSA.gov; Suzanne Nawrot, Dept. of Energy; Russell O’Neill, General Services Administration/
USA.gov; Tom Parisi, Dept. of Treasury/IRS; Vic Powell, USDA; Rezaur Rahman, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; Eric Ramoth, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Rand Ruggieri, Dept. of Commerce; Richard Stapleton, Dept. of Health and Human Services; Kim Taylor, USDA; Kirk Winters, Dept. of Education.

We welcome your questions and comments. Please contact the Federal Web Managers Council co-chairs, Sheila Campbell (Sheila.campbell at gsa dot gov) and Rachel Flagg (Rachel.flagg at hud dot gov).


This White Paper recommends specific strategies for revolutionizing how the U.S. Government delivers online services to the American people. It was developed by the Federal Web Managers Council, comprised of Cabinet agency Web Directors.

The current state of government online communications

The importance of the Internet has grown exponentially over the last decade, but the government’s ability to provide online services to the American people hasn’t grown at the same pace. Building this capacity will present one of the biggest challenges—and most promising opportunities—for President-elect Obama.

We need to build on the groundswell of citizen participation in the presidential campaign and make people’s everyday interactions with their government easier and more transparent.

It won’t be an easy task. There are approximately 24,000 U.S. Government websites now online (but no one knows the exact number). Many websites tout organizational achievements instead of effectively delivering basic information and services. Many web managers don’t have access to social media tools because of legal, security, privacy, and internal policy concerns. Many agencies focus more on technology and website infrastructure than improving content and service delivery. Technology should not drive our business decisions, but rather help us serve the needs of the American people. Here’s the result when communication takes a backseat to technology:

“Often I can find the page on a government site that’s supposed to contain the information I need, but I can’t make heads or tails of it. I recently tried to Google a specific requirement for dependant care flex accounts. Although I got to the correct page, it didn’t answer my question. The links took me to the typical, poorly written tax guidance. Where did I get the answer to my question? On Wikipedia.”

We’re working to address these problems. We’ve built a network of over 1,500 federal, state, and local web professionals across the country to share best practices; we created a large-scale training program for web managers; and we’re working to support the use of social media while also addressing important privacy, security, and legal implications.

While our efforts have been very successful, a high-level mandate from the new Administration is needed to quickly and radically transform government websites.

A bold, new vision for the future

President-elect Obama should be able to promise the American people that when they need government information and services online, they will be able to:

• Easily find relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information;
• Understand information the first time they read it;
• Complete common tasks efficiently;
• Get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person;
• Provide feedback and ideas and hear what the government will do with them;
• Access critical information if they have a disability or aren’t proficient in English.

The recommendations below are designed to help the new Administration increase the efficiency, transparency, accountability, and participation between government and the American people. Some of these changes can be implemented quickly and at minimal cost. Others will require significant changes in how agencies conduct business and may require shifts in how they fund web communications.

Establish Web Communications as a core government business function

One of the biggest problems we face in improving government websites is that many agencies still view their website as an IT project rather than as a core business function. Many government websites lack a dedicated budget. Only a minority of agencies have developed strong web policies and management controls. Some have hundreds of “legacy” websites with outdated or irrelevant content. With limited resources, many find it difficult to solicit regular customer input and take quick action to improve their sites. While there are many effective government websites, most web teams are struggling to manage the amount of online content the government produces every day.

• Agencies should be required to fund their “virtual” office space as part of their critical infrastructure, in the same way they fund their “bricks and mortar” office space.

• Agencies should be required to appoint an editor-in-chief for every website they maintain, as do the top commercial websites. This person should be given appropriate funding and authority to
develop and enforce web policies and publishing standards, including ensuring that prime real estate on government websites is dedicated to helping people find the information they need.

• OPM should develop standard job descriptions and core training requirements so agencies can hire and retain highly qualified experts in web content and new media—not just IT specialists.

Help the public complete common government tasks efficiently

The U.S. economy loses millions of hours of “citizen productivity” every year when people can’t efficiently accomplish basic government tasks online, such as filling out a form, applying for a loan, or checking eligibility for a government program. This adds to people’s dissatisfaction with their government.

• Agencies should be required and funded to identify their core online customer tasks, and to develop service standards and performance benchmarks for completing those tasks. If the core
customer tasks are not yet online, agencies should determine whether or not those tasks can be made available online, and if so, develop a plan for making them available online within one year.

• The Government should use social media, not just to create transparency, but also to help people accomplish their core tasks. For example, agencies could post instructional videos on
YouTube to explain how to apply for a small business loan or learn about Medicare benefits. To do this, the government must ensure that federal employees who need access to social media tools have them, and that these new ways of delivering content are available to all, including people with disabilities.

• The new Administration should develop government-wide guidelines for disseminating content in universally accessible formats (data formats, news feeds, mobile, video, podcasts, etc.), and on
non-government sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and SecondLife. To remain relevant, government needs to take our content to where people already are on the Web, rather than just expecting people will come to government websites. Having guidelines will ensure that we’re part of the larger “online information ecosystem,” without compromising the integrity of government information.

Clean up the clutter so people can find what they need online

President-elect Obama will inherit thousands of U.S. government websites. We have too much content to categorize, search, and manage effectively, and there is no comprehensive system for removing or archiving old or underused content. Some agencies have posted competing websites on similar topics, creating duplication of effort and causing confusion for the public. Much government web content is written in “governmentese” instead of plain language.

• The Government should set stricter standards for approving new, or renewing existing, government websites. All federally owned, managed, and/or directly funded websites must be hosted on .gov, .mil or fed.us domains. Where agency missions are related, a lead agency should be appointed to coordinate the online “information lane,” and all other agencies should defer to the lead agency for posting comprehensive government information on that topic. This
will reduce duplication, save money, and help consumers find accurate information.

• Agencies should be required and funded to conduct regular content reviews, to ensure their online content is accurate, relevant, mission-related, and written in plain language. They should have a process for archiving content that is no longer in frequent use and no longer required on the website.

• Agencies should be funded and required to follow the latest best practices in web search. This will improve the quality and findability of online government information, and help agencies
deliver the services most requested by their customers.

Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service

Agencies often don’t have resources to effectively manage customer input. For those that do, they must go through a clearance process before they can survey the public (requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, which was enacted before many agencies even had websites). Many web pages are developed without regular feedback or testing with customers. When people do provide feedback or ideas, they often never hear what the government will do with their suggestions.

• Agencies should be required and funded to regularly solicit public opinion and analyze customers’ online preferences – just as Amazon, eBay, and other top commercial websites do. This can be done on an “opt-in” basis and without tracking personally identifiable information by using blogs, online surveys, a “Citizens Insight Panel” (such as that used by the Canadian
government), or similar tools. Agencies should be required and funded to do user testing before undertaking major improvements to any current website, or launching a new website.

• Agencies should use their website to publish a summary of common customer comments and explain the actions they are taking in response to the feedback. Doing so will create better transparency and accountability.

Ensure the public gets the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, print, or visit in-person

Agencies communicate with citizens via many different “delivery channels,” including web, email, publications, live chats, blogs, podcasts, videos, wikis, virtual online worlds, and more. But it’s difficult to ensure timeliness and consistency when various delivery channels are managed by different divisions within an agency.

• Agencies should provide multiple ways for people to contact them and ensure that information is consistent across all channels. They should be funded to coordinate all types of content targeted to the general public (web, publications, call center, email, common questions, web chat, etc). Agencies should be rewarded for delivering consistent information, both within agencies and across government.

Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online

Agencies are required to provide online information that’s readily accessible by people with disabilities, as well as to people with limited English proficiency. However, few agencies have the funding, training or resources to meet these obligations.

• The government should establish standards and guidelines for multilingual websites, and agencies should be funded and staffed with qualified bilingual web content professionals who can create and maintain them. This will help newcomers learn about the rights and responsibilities of living in the U.S.

• Agencies should receive adequate resources to make their websites fully accessible to people with disabilities and meet requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. The new Administration
should invest in government-wide solutions, such as captioning software to make videos and webcasts accessible to people with disabilities.


By harnessing the collaborative nature of the web, the new Administration has the potential to engage the public like never before. The web can foster better communication and allow people to participate in improving the operations of their government. By listening to our customers we can provide better services, focus on their most pressing needs, and spend their tax dollars efficiently. We’re confident that President-elect Obama will appoint leaders who will invest in the web as a strategic asset and make these goals a reality. The millions of Americans who interact with their government online expect and deserve no less.

Coolish survey from Nokia on GPS- finds that almost half the population admits to giving the wrong direction on purpose

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Found this to be an interesting study from Nokia.  12,500 people in 13 countries were surveyed about their sense of direction and navigation habits.  Here are the summary findings.

Some of my personal favorite:
• One in five (18%) people believe a sense of direction is genetic
• Almost one in two people (43%) admit to giving the wrong directions on purpose
• Germany is the country with the world’s best sense of direction, with a third (34%) of people claiming to have never lost their way

Other summary results:
Lost cities
• London is the most confusing city, with one in ten (10%) people finding it impossible to navigate around
• Followed closely by Paris (9%), Bangkok (5%), Hong Kong (5%) and Beijing (4%), making up the top five ‘lost cities’ on the planet

A sense of direction
• 93% of the world get lost regularly
• An average person wastes 13 minutes when lost
• Germany is the country with the world’s best sense of direction, with a third (34%) of people claiming to have never lost their way
• One in five (18%) people believe a sense of direction is genetic
• One in ten (9%) Spaniards consider a sense of direction matures with age, like fine wine
• One in ten (11%) people miss a job interview, an important business meeting or flight because they lost their way
• Affecting people’s personal lives, one in ten (9%) Brazilians miss out on a date because they got lost en-route
• Indian men are the most likely people in the world to miss the birth of their child (2%)

Laying the blame
• Almost one in two (49%) people get lost when rushing or when they are in busy crowded spaces during commuter rush hour
• Nearly a third (30%) of people blame their partner for getting them lost
• A third (29%) of people admit to frequently losing their way when they are tired
• The most popular excuse for getting lost by Asians is bad weather (24%)

Digital navigation overtakes traditional maps
• One in ten (8%) people admit they can’t read a map
• One in ten women (11%) are unable to read a traditional map, twice the number of men (5%)
• More than a quarter (26%) of people surveyed rely on online and mobile navigation tools to find their way around
• Germany is the country with the highest reliance on satellite navigation (48%)
• 13% of people use a mobile phone as their primary navigation tool
• Nearly a quarter (22%) of Italians rely on mobile navigation devices to find their way

Keeping up to date with the ever changing landscape
• When approached by strangers asking for directions, many people use iconic landmarks (18%) such as statues, churches and bridges as recognizable ‘breadcrumbs’ to a destination
• People in Britain prefer to use local pubs to signpost directions to others (18%)
• The Chinese typically use skyscrapers to give directions (10%)
• Over a third (38%) of the world rely on other people for directions to get from A to B
• Almost one in two people (43%) admit to giving the wrong directions on purpose
• Russians have an alternative motive when it comes to asking for directions, with one in ten (9%) using it as an excuse to flirt

New favorite word: Selective Ignorance

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2008 at 10:16 am

From Merriam-Webster’s “word of the year” efforts:

Selective Ignorance (noun): the practice of selectively ignoring distracting, irrelevant, or otherwise unnecessary information received, such as e-mails, news reports, etc.

Another, of many signs, pointing to the  Attention Economy.  Great analysis (if a bit dated) at Read Write Web on the matter.  Worth a read.