Gov 2.0: please like your government

On: September 8, 2014
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About Rik van Eijk
MA American Studies and MA New Media and Digital Cultures student. From Amsterdam.

   

 

Imagine a friend of you unlocking your smartphone, scrolling through your apps and detect the Adopt-a-Hydrant app. Surprised and impressed he asks you what kind of app that is, in which you can respond: ”oh just normal you know. Like the name says, I adopt a fire hydrant. This means that in case of heavy snow, I’m in charge of freeing the hydrant from snow in case the fire department needs the hydrant.” The application is illustrative for the concept of using open government data for creating apps which involves citizens in helping out the city, county, state or nation.

The information that is necessary to locate the hydrants is provided by open government data. This is data provided by the United States government, whether it is on a local level or on a national level. Sites like Data.Gov provide thousands of databases, accessible for anyone to aggregate, analyse and use in their own way. It is the publication of this government data, that provided the start of new and innovative app-development business. The same Data.Gov provides a list with over three-hundred apps using government data to provide services to citizens. But why did the government open up this data?

To answer this question we need to go back to 2004, when Tim O’Reilly introduced the concept of Web 2.0. In contrast to Web 1.0 – which was static -, the second version of the web was built with a end-user focus and upon user-generated content (Morison, 2010: p558). This means that the user becomes an integral part of the experience of the web. They add new content and information to it daily. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook would not be able to exist without the input of all the users: the linking, sharing, friending. Data added by one source, altered by a user with new data to provide new information creates something out of reach of the official purpose; mash-ups are created, either for commercial, open source of personal use (p559).

Government could not stay behind. Some may call it a buzzword, but the concept of Government 2.0 implies the ideas of Web 2.0 into the government. The most simple form of Web 2.0 involved in the government are politicians using social media sites to publish information and discuss policies with citizens. A step further is to create a participatory space wherein citizens can discuss ongoing policies, like the We the People initiative or other forums. Even a step further of Government 2.0 another qualification is added: “The availability of information of a qualitatively new nature is the third key component which, when added to the existing elements of end-user focus and user-generated content, produces something with hugely significant potential” (Morison, p560). Whether the actor is a government body or an individual is not important; the important part is that the new information add a new perspective, opinion or revelation towards an issue.

In his book the Facebook Nation (2012), Newton Lee quotes Steven VanRoekel, Chief Information Officer of Obama at the time, that America has to become a Facebook Nation. This is a state that demands increased transparency and interactivity from the federal government. One of the citizen’s demands was to open up government data. Where Web 2.0 changed the internet and the experience of a personal computer by delivering new and unique features, user-generated content and the interlinking of platforms and data trough the existence of API’s, Government 2.0 means that, as Steven VanRoekel proposes above through his Facebook Nation metaphor, the government has to change from a passive service provider into an active platform. One seems to forget often that the GPS and ARPANET, both state-funded projects, created a whole new way of technology; of innovation (O’Reilly, 2009). They were changed from a passive service only usable by the government, into an active service just as Government 2.0 should.

As with Data.Gov nowadays, data needs to be provided to serve people’s interest, leading to renewed participation, to new apps, to new jobs. This, together with an increased interest to participate in society after the US’ presidential elections of 2008 – which is an excellent subject for another blogpost – leads to you, sweating in the cold, shovelling a fire hydrant.

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Lee, Newton. Facebook Nation: Total Information Awareness. Springer, 2012: p117-120

Morison, John. “Gov 2.0: Towards a User Generated State?” The Modern Law Review 73.4 (2010): p551–577.

O’Reilly, Tim. “Gov 2.0: It’s All About The Platform.” http://techcrunch.com/ 4 Sept. 2009. http://techcrunch.com/2009/09/04/gov-20-its-all-about-the-platform/

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