Tag Archive | "participation"

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Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra’s Priorities


This morning at the IAC/ACT Management of Change Conference in Norfolk, VA the newly confirmed Federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Aneesh Chopra outlined his priorities.  Based on personal notes taken during the talk, here they are.  What do you think of them?

I.  Use rigorous policy changes to transform the economy through tech-based innovation.  Harness federal/state/local collaboration.

II.  Address the President’s major priorities like growing the economy, improving education, and changing the health care cost curve, through innovation platforms – game changers that make government better/cheaper/faster.   The private sector needs to lead within a culture of open standards, basic research and development may be shifted to some more advanced work, and we must learn how to better crowdsource public sector innovation.

III.  Driving reliable, resilient, and trustworthy broadband infrastructure.  The FCC should take the lead on this.  Cybersecurity plays an important role as well, and we need to have a bug-free software development process (cybersecurity is “baked in” to the software, as federal CIO Vivek Kundra says).

IV.  Create a cultural change in participatory democracy, open government, and collaboration.  We should thoughtfully incorporate the public’s thoughts at the start of the policy process rather than just at the end (”for comment”) to harness the brainpower of the American people.  Every main Cabinet agency should create on signature program in this area within one year, and focus on top policy priorities.  Finally, the CTO, CIO, and the GSA will create an “innovation sandbox” that is a set of products on a menu that agencies can “order up” for use.

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Negative Conversations With Your Attackers


I saw an interesting quotation this morning from a Social Media Club event in DC that focused on crisis communications: “Every negative attack is the start of a conversation.“  I’m not sure I agree.

“Conversation” is perhaps the hottest buzzword of Web 2.0 – your customers are having conversations, companies should participate in conversations, new media marketing is a conversation, if you’re not part of the conversation it’s happening without you, and so forth. Entire books have been written on the topic. Even I’m guilty of promoting this idea in the government space.

And conversations are fine. But is every negative attack truly the beginning of a conversation? Does every frown have the potential to be turned upside down? (And how does that scale?)

Having a conversation about some one’s negative reaction to your brand, company, government office, situation etc. is a nice strategy, but the concept of negative attacks leading to positive conversations is based on the assumption that people will always engage in rational discussions with you.

They don’t. Naivety, ideology, and stupidity are all common in society’s discourses. People make emotionally-fueled arguments all the time (this Fox News “discussion” about views on abortion and the President receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame isn’t a bad example). People often cling to strongly-held beliefs, even in the face of contradictory information, or data that oppose their views. Many conversations are irrational, or at best only partly rational. I would go so far as to say that partly rational discussions are the norm.

Economics is perhaps the field of study most heavily influenced by the finding that people behave irrationally. Traditional assumptions about economic behavior included participants in financial markets having perfect information and making rational choices related to adding value (i.e., obtaining money). But more recent research has shown that this is often not the case, and that this irrationality can spawn larger effects through complex systems.

Perhaps also with the field of communications. As hip as the concept of “communications as conversations” is, sometimes it’s best to not touch your detractors with a ten-foot pole. When peoples’ comments are irrational, when their views ignore available facts, when they’re too busy or too dumb or too angry to care what you have to say, a negative attack isn’t the start of a conversation. It’s the end of a relationship.

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Social Media Is Not Customer Service


Lots of people enjoy following parts of my life using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. But from time to time, I hear complaints about how I don’t have enough conversations, or I tweet too much, how I prefer my Twitter feed to my Facebook wall, and so forth.

I don’t care what you think. The reason for this is because these social media tools are ways in which I can express myself, for free. You’re not paying me for the Mark Drapeau Advice Service, you are not my clients, no one has an exclusive right to my content or time.

True, I do favor talking to some people more than others – they’re often people I know ‘IRL’ – in real life. And I do use Twitter more than my Facebook wall, which I use more than LinkedIn, which I use more than MySpace, etc. I do what suits me.

Social media isn’t Customer Service 2.0 for people who are interested in me. Not yet, anyway. If I start selling access to my information and advice, and you’re a customer of mine, then you can start asking for a callback, a tweet response, or a shoutout. Until then, while I’m really happy that people are interested in what I have to say, please stop taking social media so seriously.

There are many good reasons to use social media tools – to listen to conversations, to expand your social network, to publicize events or groups you’re involved with, and more. And everyone will do what they want.

When people sometimes ask me why I don’t follow them on Twitter or read their blog, I often say that they’re “not on my radar” – so rather than ask why someone isn’t paying attention to you, why don’t you spend your effort doing something so important that they feel compelled to follow you?

It’s not business, it’s just personal.

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Books: Currency of the Professional Writer


The essence of knowledge sharing in a democratized, long-tail, Web 2.0 world is that common people can seamlessly transition between being an author and a member of the audience. Persons with any background, qualifications, and interests can easily set up a blog or other online publishing platform and release their views to the world in minutes. Self-publishing, and indeed self-marketing, has never been easier.

But what is a blog post really worth?

Even if you write for a niche audience – and let’s face it, most everyone does – it’s common to want to increase the size of your niche. Perhaps you start as a medical reporter, but you want to be a more general science, technology, medicine, and space journalist. Or your website initially features blog posts about your children, but your goal is to create a parenting information portal. Whatever the details, it’s usually better to have more readers, all other things being equal.

Participation in traditional mainstream media can definitely bring traffic to your blog. But when was the last time you saw a blogger, however good, on Today, or Live With Regis and Kelly, or Late Night with David Letterman, or Meet the Press, or The O’Reilly Factor, or Real Time with Bill Maher, or Oprah? Basically, never.

Do you know which writers you do see on those shows? People who wrote books. Yup, they’re the author of a book, and they’re hawking it. Then the next day they’ll get on a plane and do a book signing in San Francisco, or Portland, or Kansas City. No one goes on Meet the Press or O’Reilly and hawks their latest blog post, or even their latest Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair article. Have you ever seen a blog signing? Even someone has well known as Christopher Hitchens goes on a show as the author of – now in paperback – God is Not Great, and not as the writer of the post he did in Slate last week – no matter how good that post is.

(About the best exception to this I can think of is a model signing the cover of a magazine she’s in. So, if you’re a beautiful swimsuit model and you’re reading this, please don’t be offended, and thank you for your support.)

Yes, to some extent book publishers are ‘in bed with’ television and radio producers. And sure, this pattern is changing somewhat. You occasionally see someone only famous for online writing get their spotlight on television. But are they ever asked back, or do they just get 15 minutes every 15 years? People who author books get fast-tracked for bigger mass media engagements that yield positive feedback for whatever else they do – run a small business, work at a think tank, or even…blog. And this is the true distinction between ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ – authors have books.

While in the disintermediated Web 2.0-powered publishing world it has become more and more difficult to determine who the ‘elite’ writers are (quality, not popularity), the same isn’t true of authors. Elite authors have book contracts with known publishers. If they’re super-elite, authors have multi-book contracts, their books are featured in brick-and-mortar stores and Amazon alike, and they get paid to read their own words in front of a live audience. Has anyone ever paid a writer to read their latest blog post out loud in front of an audience??

No one’s immune. Major online entities like Gary Vaynerchuk and Peter Shankman give keynote addresses at conference, and often get paid for it. Guess what? They’ve authored books. Same with many other similar people. Conversely, I can also think of some well-known Web 2.0 personalities who run blogs but haven’t authored books outlining their thoughts about some topic in depth. Interestingly, I can’t remember seeing them on television, either. (And the notion that they don’t want to be on television is bullshit – everyone wants to be on television.)

So I posit that authoring books is the measure of the writing elite, they are the sign that you’ve made it, they are the calling card of the true stars in a sea of words.

True, you can self-publish books with greater ease than ever before. This process has been interesting and controversial for years. But what was the last self-published book that you bought for $29.95? Who was the last self-published author you remember on Oprah’s infamous Book Club? The fact of the matter is that the cream tends to rise to the top, and great authors will eventually get a major publishing deal. There are good reasons to self-publish a book you’ve written, but fame isn’t one of them.

And let’s not even discuss the even greater disparity between online music and video stars on YouTube and other sites, and actual rock stars and movie legends. Yes, free flowing audio and video serves a purpose in society, but when we’ve forgotten most of the winners from American Idol, what’s the chance you’re going to convert a YouTube channel into something bigger?

So, viewing writing through this lense, I’m not too concerned about the cult of the amateur ruining the profession. Everyone will continue to give their slant on the truth, sites like Wikipedia will continue to weight opinions from ‘experts’ and amateurs equally, and newspapers and other media will continue to lose share. But don’t fret – we’ll still know who the best writers are. They’ve authored a book.

See more opinion pieces like this in my upcoming column at True/Slant.

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Expand Your Twitter Base


If you use the popular microsharing site Twitter, you’re probably familiar with the idea that people are communicating in different ways than ever before. Twitter is purposely not well-defined, but it can be viewed as a massively multichannel instant messenger, a text talk radio channel, and a modern mobile CB radio.

Have you assessed your last 40 tweets lately? There’s no right nor wrong way to use Twitter per se, but many people would like more followers. However, if you use Twitter primarily as a broadcast IM tool that no one else is listening to, you may as well just use Yahoo Messenger, or text messaging, or talk on the phone. You’re not doing it ‘wrong’ but you’re also not maximizing the power of the microsharing platform – and to some extent you’re also wasting your effort.

Why pretend to broadcast when you’re really narrowcasting?

If you want to expand your base, provide value to people you’re not personally familiar with. This might mean linking to interesting material, using hashtags to create metadata within your tweets, or simply being funny or interesting enough for people to re-tweet you. Provide useful material that can be discovered by strangers.

Gaming the Twitter system to accumulate new followers is generally just a short-term strategy. What you really want to do is be true to yourself, and execute against your core set of beliefs, values, and interests. Then, you’ll be happy about what you’re writing about, and attract a group of followers in microniches of interest to you over the longer term.

You might be happy to use Twitter to chat with your friends, and that’s fine. But if you hope to expand your base for personal or professional reasons, and your last 40 tweets are 80% or more personal chatter, no one else is listening to you. So why would they ever be tempted to follow?

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Individual Incentives for Transparent Data


There are many group incentives for having more open, participatory, and collaborative work environments.  In private business, powerful leaders can impose new information-sharing systems, with the primary group incentive being increased revenue.  What’s the individual incentive for an individual in this situation?  If there is one, it’s often some kind of profit-sharing, a chance for more rapid promotion, or similar.

Academic information-sharing needs different incentives, because professors don’t directly profit from research, and there’s generally nothing to be promoted to.  Rapidly sharing raw experimental data with the world offers advantages to the community of medical researchers searching for disease genes.  But there is a counterbalancing advantage to cheating and withholding data to make it proprietary to a certain laboratory and a small cabal of collaborators.  What’s the incentive for an individual professor or laboratory director to share data?  In this case, with genome sequencing and expression data for instance, the community decided that sharing would be a prerequisite for publication (the lifeblood of academia) – so everyone complies.

What about transparent, open sharing of government data?  There are at least three parallel issues here: sharing within government, between government and contractors, and between government and the people.  David Stephenson organized a thought-provoking discussion about group-level incentives for sharing government information at the recent Transparency Camp in Washington, D.C.  But individual-level incentives were hardly discussed.

What’s the incentive for an individual government employee to make the effort to change the status quo, if they’re not currently a “transparent government cheerleader“?  I don’t have an answer to this question.  But finding that answer requires a fresh look at the human resources of the government – How are they recruited, trained, incentivized, compensated, and retained, and how does this influence their day-to-day work? People do not always do what’s best for the group.

Technical problems with open, transparent, and participatory government have recently been highlighted in the mainstream press. But from a holistic standpoint, this is far more than a technology problem.

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