Tag Archives: social media

Requiring Facebook for Your News Site (or website) – the Missed Opportunity

Last week I published I blog post titled Why Banning Anonymous Comments is Bad for Postmedia and Bad for Society in reaction to the fact that PostMedia’s newspapers( including the Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen, National Post, etc…) now requires readers to login with a Facebook account to make comments.

The piece had a number of thoughtful and additive comments – which is always rewarding for an author to read.

Two responses, however, came from those in the newspaper industry. One came from someone claiming to be the editor of a local newspaper. I actually believe that this person is such an editor and their comments were sincere and additive. That said, there is some irony that they did not comment using their real name, while talking about how helpful and important it is that real names/identities be used. Of course they did use an identity of sorts – their role – although this is harder to verify.

The other comment came from Alex Blonski the Social Media Director at Postmedia Network Inc.

Again, both comments were thoughtful sincere and engaging – exactly what you want from a comment, especially those that don’t entirely agree with post. I also felt like while they raised legitimate interests and concerns, they, in part, missed my point. Both ultimately ended up in the same place: that handing commenting over to Facebook made life easier for newspapers since it meant less spam and nonconstructive comments.

I agree – if the lens by which you are looking at the problem is one of management, Facebook is the easier route. No doubt. My point is that it also comes at a non-trivial cost, one that potentially sees power asymmetries in a society reinforced. Those with privilege, who have financial and social freedom to be critical, will do so. Those who may be more marginalized may not feel as safe. This tradeoff was barely addressed in these responses.

As I noted in my piece, other sites appear to have found ways to foster commenting communities that are positive and additive without requiring people to use their real identities (although giving them the freedom to do so if they wish). But of course these sites have invested in developing their community. And as I tried to stress in my last post – if you are unhappy with the comments on your website – you really have yourself to blame, it’s the community you created. Anil Dash has good thoughts on this too.

As a result, it is sometimes hard to hear of newspapers talk about people not willing to pay for the news and complain of diminishing revenue while at the same time appearing blind to recognizing that what makes for a great website is not just the content (which, especially in the news world be commoditized) but rather that community that gathers around and discusses it. Restricting that community to Facebook users (or more specifically, people willing to use their Facebook account to comment – a far smaller subset) essentially limits the part of your website that can be the most unique and the most attractive to users – the community. This is actually a place where brand loyalty and market opportunities could be built, and yet I believe PostMedia’s move will make it harder, not easier to capitalize on this asset.

I also found some of specific’s of PostMedia’s comments hard to agree with. Alex Blonski noted that they had commenters pretending to be columnists, that they were overwhelmed with spam, and claiming that Discus – the commenting system I use on my site has similar requirements to Facebook. The later is definitely not true (while you may use your real identity, I don’t require you to, I don’t even require a legit email address) and the former two comments feel eminently manageable by any half decent commenting system.

Indeed Alexander Howard – the Gov 2.0 journalist who uses the twitter handle @digiphile seems to manage just fine on his own. He recently updated his policies around moderation – and indeed his (and Mathew Ingram’s) opinions on commenting should be read by everyone in every newspaper – not just PostMedia. In the end, here is a single journalist who has more than three times the twitter followers of the Vancouver Sun (~151,000 vs. ~43,000) so is likely dealing with a non-trivial amount of comments and other social media traffic. If he can handle it, surely PostMedia can to?

 

Is the Internet bringing us together or is it tearing us apart?

The other day the Vancouver Sun – via Simon Fraser University’s Public Square program – asked me to pen a piece answering the questions: Is the Internet bringing us together or is it tearing us apart?

Yesterday, they published the piece.

My short answer?

Trying to unravel whether the Internet is bringing us together or tearing us apart is impossible. It does both. What really matters is how we build generative communities, online and off.

My main point?

That community organizing is both growing and democratizing. On MeetUp alone there are 423 coming events in Vancouver. That’s 423 emergent community leaders, all learning how to mobilize people, whether it is for a party, to teach them how to knit, grow a business or learn how to speak Spanish.

This is pretty exciting.

A secondary point?

Is that it is not all good news. There are lots of communities, online and off, that are not generative. So if we are creating more communities, many of them will also be those we don’t agree with, and that are even destructive.

Check it

It always remains exciting to me what you can squeeze into 500 words. Yesterday, the Sun published the piece here, if you’re interested, please do consider checking it out.

How Government should interact with Developers, Data Geeks and Analysts

Below is a screen shot from the Opendatabc google group from about two months ago. I meant to blog about this earlier but life has been in the way. For me, this is a prefect example of how many people in the data/developer/policy world probably would like to interact with their local, regional or national government.

A few notes on this interaction:

  • I occasionally hear people try to claim the governments are not responsive to requests for data sets. Some aren’t. Some are. To be fair, this was not a request for the most controversial data set in the province. But it is was a request. And it was responded to. So clearly there are some governments that are responsive. The questions is figuring out which one’s are, why they are, and see if we can export that capacity to other jurisdictions.
  • This interaction took place in a google group – so the whole context is social and norm driven. I love that public officials in British Columbia as well as with the City of Vancouver are checking in every once in a while on google groups about open data, contributing to conversations and answering questions that citizens have about government, policies and open data. It’s a pretty responsive approach. Moreover, when people are not constructive it is the group that tends to moderate the behaviour, rather than some leviathan.
  • Yes, I’ve blacked out the email/name of the public servant. This is not because I think they’d mind being known or because they shouldn’t be know, but because I just didn’t have a chance to ask for permission. What’s interesting is that this whole interaction is public and the official was both doing what that government wanted and compliant with all social media rules. And yet, I’m blacking it out, which is a sign of how messed up current rules and norms make citizens relationships with public officials they interact with online -I’m worried of doing something wrong by telling others about a completely public action. (And to be clear, the province of BC has really good and progressive rules around these types of things)
  • Yes, this is not the be all end all of the world. But it’s a great example of a small thing being doing right. It’s nice to be able to show that to other government officials.

 

Not Brain Candy: A Review of The Information Diet by Clay Johnson

My body no longer kills me when I come back from the gym. However, I had a moment of total humiliation today: theoretically my ideal body weight is 172 pounds and I weigh 153 Ibs. The woman at the gym calibrated my fat/water/meat/bone ratios, made an inward gasp and I asked her what was wrong. She said (after a tentative, you-have-cancer pause), “You’re what’s technically known as a ‘thin fat person.’ ”

– Douglas Copeland, Microserfs

We know that healthy eating – having a good, balanced diet – is the most important thing we can do for our physical health. What if the same is true of our brains?  This is the simple but powerful premise that lies at the heart of Clay Johnson’s excellent book The Information Diet.

It’s also a timely thesis.

Everyone seems worried about how we consume information, about what it is doing to our brains and how it impacts society. Pessimists believe Google and social media are creating a generation of distracted idiots unable or unwilling to steep themselves in any deep knowledge. From the snide ramblings of Andrew Keen in The Cult of the Amateur to alarmed New York Times executive editor Bill Keller – who equates letting his daughter join Facebook to passing her a crystal meth pipe – the internet and the type of information it creates are apparently destroying our minds, our society and, of course, our children.

While I disagree with the likes of Keen and Keller, your humble author admits he’s an information addict. I love reading the newspaper or my favourite columnists/bloggers; I’m regularly distracted by both interesting and meaningless articles via Twitter and Facebook; and I constantly struggle to stay on top of my email inbox. I’m a knowledge worker in an information society. If anyone should be good at managing information, it should be me. Reading The Information Diet forces me to engage with my ability in a way I’ve not done before.

What makes The Information Diet compelling is that Johnson embraces the concerns we have about the world of information overload – from those raised by New York Magazine authors and celebrated pundits to the challenges we all feel on a day to day basis – and offers the best analysis to date of its causes, and what we can do about it. Indeed, rather than being a single book, The Information Diet is really three. It’s an analysis of what is happening to the media world; it’s a self-help book for information-age workers, consumers and citizens; and it’s a discussion about the implications of the media environment on our politics.

InfoDietIt is in its first section that the book shines the brightest. Johnson is utterly persuasive in arguing that the forces at play in the food industry are a powerful mirror for our media environment. Today the main threat to Americans (and most others living in the developed world) is not starvation; it’s obesity. Our factory farms are so completely effective at pumping out produce that it isn’t a lack of food the kills us, it’s an overabundance of it. And more specifically, it’s the over-consumption of food that we choose to eat, but that isn’t good for us in anything greater than small quantities.

With information, our problem isn’t that we consume too much – Johnson correctly points out that physically, this isn’t possible. What’s dangerous is consuming an overabundance of junk information – information that is bad for us. Today, one can choose to live strictly on a diet of ramen noodles and Mars bars. Similarly, it’s never been easier to restrict one’s information consumption to that which confirms our biases. In an effort to better serve us, everywhere we go, we can chomp on a steady diet of information that affirms and comforts rather than challenges – information devoid of knowledge or even accuracy; cheaply developed stories by “big info” content farms like Demand Media or cheaply created opinion hawked by affirmation factories like MSNBC or FOX News; even emails and tweets that provide dopamine bursts but little value. In small quantities, these information sources can be good and even enjoyable. In large quantities, they deplete our efficiency, stress us out, and can put us in reality bubbles.

And this is why I found The Information Diet simultaneously challenging, helpful and worrying.

Challenging, because reading The Information Diet caused me to think of my own diet. I like to believe I’m a healthy consumer, but reflecting on what I read, where I get my information and who I engage with, in parts of my life, I may be that dreaded thin-fat person. I look okay, but probe a little deeper and frankly, there are a few too many confirmation biases, too many common sources, leaving my brain insufficiently challenged and becoming a shade flabby. I certainly spend too much time on email, which frankly is a type of information fix that really does sap my productivity.

Helpful, because in part The Information Diet is a 21st-century guide to developing and honing critical thinking and reasoning skills. At its most basic, it’s a self-help book that provides some solid frameworks and tools for keeping these skills sharp in a world where the opportunities for distraction and confirmation bias remain real and the noise-to-signal ratio can be hard to navigate.  To be clear, none of this advice is overly refined, but Johnson doesn’t pretend it is. You can’t download critical thinking skills – no matter what Fox News’s slogan implies. In this regard, the book is more than helpful – it’s empowering. Johnson, correctly I believe, argues that much like the fast food industry – which seeks to exploit our body’s love of salty, fatty food – many media companies are simply indulging our desire for affirming news and opinion. It’s not large companies that are to blame. It’s the “secret compact” (as Johnson calls it) that we make with them that makes them possible. We are what we consume. In this regard, for someone that those on the right might consider (wrongly) to be a big government liberal, The Information Diet has an strong emphasis on personal responsibility.

There is, of course, a depressing flip side to this point: one that has me thinking about the broader implications of his metaphor. In a world of abundant food, we have to develop better discipline around dieting and consumption.

But the sad fact is, many of us haven’t. Indeed, almost a majority has not.

As someone who believes in democratic discourse, I’ve always accepted that as messy as our democratic systems may be, over time good ideas – those backed by evidence and effective track records – will rise to the top. I don’t think Johnson is suggesting this is no longer true. But he is implying that in a world of abundant information, the basic ante of effective participation is going up. The skills are evolving and the discipline required is increasing. If true, where does that leave us? Are we up for the challenge? Even many of those who look informed may simply be thin fat people. Perhaps those young enough to grow up in the new media environment will automatically develop the skills Clay says we need to explicitly foster. But does this mean there is a vulnerable generation? One unable to engage critically and so particularly susceptible to the siren song of their biases?

Indeed, I wish this topic were tackled more, and initially it felt like it would be. The book starts off as a powerful polemic on how we engage in information; it is then a self-help book, and towards the end, an analysis of American politics. It all makes for fascinating reading. Clay has plenty of humour, southern charm and self-deprecating stories that the pages flow smoothly past one another. Moreover, his experience serves him well. This is man who worked at Ask Jeeves in its early days, helped create the online phenomenon of the Howard Dean campaign, and co-founded Blue State Digital – which then went on to create the software that powered Obama’s online campaign.

But while his background and personality make for compelling reading, the last section sometimes feels more disconnected from the overall thesis. There is much that is interesting and I think Clay’s concerns about the limits of transparency are sound (it is a prerequisite to success, but not a solution). Much like most people know Oreos are bad for them, they know congressmen accept huge bundles of money. Food labels haven’t made America thinner, and getting better stats on this isn’t going to magically alter Washington. Labels and transparency are important tools for those seeking to diet. Here the conversation is valuable. However, some of the arguments, such as around scalability problems of representation, feel less about information and more about why politics doesn’t work. And the chapter closes with more individual advice. This is interesting, but his first three chapters create a sense of crisis around America’s information diet. I loved his suggestions for individuals, but I’d love to hear some more structural solutions, or if he thinks the crisis is going to get worse, and how it might affect our future.

None of this detracts from the book. Quite the opposite – it left me hungry for more.

And I suspect it will do the same for anyone interested in participating as a citizen or worker in the knowledge economy. Making The Information Diet part of your information diet won’t just help you rethink how you consume information, live and work. It will make you think. As a guy who knows he should eat more broccoli but doesn’t really like the taste, it’s nice to know that broccoli for your brain can be both good for you and tasty to read. I wish I had more of it in my daily diet.

For those interested you can find The Information Diet Blog here – this has replaced his older well known blog – InfoVegan.com.

Full disclosure: I should also share that I know Clay Johnson. I’ve been involved in Code for America and he sits on the Advisory Board. With that in mind, I’ve done my best to look at his book with a critical eye, but you the reader, should be aware.

The Canadian Government's New Web 2.0 Guidelines: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Yesterday, the government of Canada released its new Guidelines for external use of Web 2.0. For the 99.99% of you unfamiliar  with what this is, it’s the guidelines (rules) that govern how, and when, public servants may use web 2.0 tools such as twitter and facebook.

You, of course, likely work in organization that survives without such documents. Congratulations. You work in a place where the general rule is “don’t be an idiot” and your bosses trust your sense of judgement. That said, you probably also don’t work somewhere where disgruntled former employees and the CBC are trolling the essentially personal online statements of your summer interns so they can turn it into a scandal. (Yes, summer student border guards have political opinions, don’t like guns and enjoy partying. Shocker). All this to say, there are good and rational reasons why the public service creates guidelines: to protect not just the government, but public servants.

So for those uninterested in reading the 31 page, 12,055 word guidelines document here’s a review:

The Good

Sending the right message

First off, the document, for all its faults, does get one overarching piece right. Almost right off the bat (top of section 3.2) is shares that Ministries should be using Web 2.0 tools:

Government of Canada departments are encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools and services as an efficient and effective additional channel to interact with the public. A large number of Canadians are now regularly using Web 2.0 tools and services to find information about, and interact with, individuals and organizations.

Given the paucity of Web 2.0 use in the Federal government internally or externally this clear message from Treasury Board, and from a government minister, is the type of encouragement needed to bring government communications into 2008 (the British Government, with its amazing Power of Information Taskforce, has been there for years).

Note: there is a very, very, ugly counterpart to this point. See below.

Good stuff for the little guy

Second, the rules for Professional Networking & Personal Use are fairly reasonable. There are some challenges (notes below), but if any public servant ever finds them or has the energy to read the document, they are completely workable.

The medium is the message

Finally, the document acknowledges that the web 2.0 world is constantly evolving and references a web 2.0 tool by which public servants can find ways to adapt. THIS IS EXACTLY THE RIGHT APPROACH. You don’t deal with fast evolving social media environment by handing out decrees in stone tablets, you manage it by offering people communities of practice where they can get the latest and best information. Hence this line:

Additional guidance on the use of Web 2.0 tools and services is in various stages of development by communities of expertise and Web 2.0 practitioners within the Government of Canada. Many of these resources are available to public servants on the Government of Canada’s internal wiki, GCpedia. While these resources are not official Government of Canada policies or guidelines, they are valuable sources of information in this rapidly evolving environment.

Represents a somewhat truly exciting development in the glacially paced evolution of government procedures. The use of social media (GCPEDIA) to manage social media.

Indeed, still more exciting for me is that this was the first time I’ve seen an official government document reference GCPEDIA as a canonical source of information. And it did it twice, once, above, pointing to a community of practice, the second was pointing to the GCPEDIA “Social media procurement process” page. Getting government to use social media internally is I think the biggest challenge at the moment, and this document does it.

The Bad

Too big to succeed

The biggest problem with the document is its structure. It is so long, and so filled with various forms of compliance, that only the most dedicated public servant (read, communications officer tasked with a social media task) will ever read this. Indeed for a document that is supposed to encourage public servants to use social media, I suspect it will do just the opposite. Its density and list of controls will cause many who were on the fence to stay there – if not retreat further. While the directions for departments are more clear, for the little guy… (See next piece)

Sledgehammers for nails

The documents main problem is that it tries to address all uses of social media. Helpfully, it acknowledges there are broadly two types of uses “Departmental Web 2.0 initiatives” (e.g. a facebook group for a employment insurance program) and “personnel/professional use” (e.g. a individual public servant’s use of twitter or linked in to do their job). Unhelpfully, it addresses both of them.

In my mind 95% of the document relates to departmental uses… this is about ensuring that someone claiming to represent the government in an official capacity does not screw up. The problem is, all those policies aren’t as relevant to Joe/Jane public servant in their cubicle trying to find an old colleague on LinkedIn (assuming they can access linkedin). It’s overkill. These should be separate documents, that way the personal use document could be smaller, more accessible and far less intimidating. Indeed, as the guidelines suggest, all it should really have to do is reference the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service (essentially the “idiots guide to how not to be an idiot on the job” for public servants) and that would have been sufficient. Happily most public servants are already familiar with this document, so simply understanding that those guidelines apply online as much as offline, gets us 90% of the way there.

In summary, despite a worthy effort, it seem unlikely this document will encourage public servants to use Web 2.0 tools in their jobs. Indeed, for a (Canadian) comparison consider the BC Government’s guidelines document, the dryly named “Policy No. 33: Use of Social Media in the B.C. Public Service.”  Indeed, despite engaging both use cases it manages covers all the bases, is straightforward, and encouraging, and treats the employee with an enormous amount of respect. All this in a nifty 2 pages and 1,394 words. Pretty much exactly what a public servant is looking for.

The Ugly

Sadly, there is some ugliness.

Suggestions, not change

In the good section I mentioned that the government is encouraging ministries to use social media… this is true. But it is not mandating it. Nor does these guidelines say anything to Ministerial IT staff, most of whom are blocking public servant’s access to sites like facebook, twitter, in many cases, my blog, etc… The sad fact is, there may now be guidelines that allow public servants to use these tools, but in most cases, they’d have to go home, or to a local coffee shop (many do) in order to actually make use of these guidelines. For most public servants, much of the internet remains beyond their reach, causing them to fall further and further behind in understanding how technology will effect their jobs and their department/program’s function in society.

It’s not about communication, it’s about control

In his speech at PSEngage yesterday the Treasury Board Minister talked about the need for collaboration on how technology can help the public service reinvent how it collaborates:

The Government encourages the use of new Web 2.0 tools and technologies such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These tools help create a more modern, open and collaborative workplace and lead to more “just-in-time” communications with the public.

This is great news. And I believe the Minister believes it too. He’s definitely a fan of technology in all the right ways. However, the guidelines are mostly about control. Consider this paragraph:

Departments should designate a senior official accountable and responsible for the coordination of all Web 2.0 activities as well as an appropriate governance structure. It is recommended that the Head of Communications be the designated official. This designate should collaborate with departmental personnel who have expertise in using and executing Web 2.0 initiatives, as well as with representatives from the following fields in their governance structure: information management, information technology, communications, official languages, the Federal Identity Program, legal services, access to information and privacy, security, values and ethics, programs and services, human resources, the user community, as well as the Senior Departmental Official as established by the Standard on Web Accessibility. A multidisciplinary team is particularly important so that policy interpretations are appropriately made and followed when managing information resources through Web 2.0 tools and services.

You get all that? That’s at least 11 variables that need to be managed. Or, put another way, 11 different manuals you need to have at your desk when using social media for departmental purposes. That makes for a pretty constricted hole for information to get out through, and I suspect it pretty much kills most of the spontaneity, rapid response time and personal voice that makes social media effective. Moreover, with one person accountable, and this area of communications still relatively new, I suspect that the person in charge, given all these requirements, is going to have a fairly low level of risk. Even I might conclude it is safer to just post an ad in the newspaper and let the phone operators at Service Canada deal with the public.

Conclusion

So it ain’t all bad. Indeed, there is much that is commendable and could be worked with. I think, in the end, 80% of the problems with the document could be resolved if the government simply created two versions, one for official departmental uses, the other for individual public servants. If it could then restrain the lawyers from repeating everything in the Values and Ethics code all over again, you’d have something that social media activists in the public service could seize upon.

My sense is that the Minister is genuinely interested in enabling public servants to use technology to do their jobs better – he knows from personal experience how helpful social media can be. This is great news for those who care about these issues, and it means that pressing for a better revised version might yield a positive outcome. Better to try now, with a true ally in the president’s office than with someone who probably won’t care.

 

Weaving Foreign Ministries into the Digital Era: Three ideas

Last week I was in Ottawa giving a talk at the Department of Foreign Affairs talking about how technology, new media and open innovation will impact the department’s it work internally, across Ottawa and around the world.

While there is lots to share, here are three ideas I’ve been stewing on:

Keep more citizens safe when abroad – better danger zone notification

Some people believe that open data isn’t relevant to departments like Foreign Affairs or the State Department. Nothing could be further than the truth.

One challenge the department has is getting Canadians to register with them when they visit or live in a country labeled by the department as problematic for traveling in its travel reports (sample here). As you can suspect, few Canadians register with the embassy as they are likely not aware of the program or travel a lot and simply don’t get around to  it.

There are other ways of tackling this problem that might yield broader participation.

Why not turn the Travel Report system into an open data with an API? I’d tackle this by approaching a company like TripIt. Every time I book an airplane ticket or a hotel I simply forward TripIt the reservation, which they scan and turn into events that then automatically appear my calendar. Since they scan my travel plans they also know which country, city and hotel I’m staying in… they also know where I live and could easily ask me for my citizenship. Working with companies like TripIt (or Travelocity, Expedia, etc…) DFAIT could co-design an API into the departments travel report data that would be useful to them. Specifically, I could imagine that if TripIt could query all my trips against those reports then any time they notice I’m traveling somewhere the Foreign Ministry has labelled “exercise a high-degree of caution” or worse trip TripIt could ask me if I’d be willing to let them forward my itinerary to the department. That way I could registry my travel automatically, making the service more convenient for me, and getting the department more information that it believes to be critical as well.

Of course, it might be wise to work with the State Department so that their travel advisories used a similarly structured API (since I can assume TripIt will be more interested in the larger US market than the Canadian market) But facilitating that conversation would be nothing but wins for the department.

More bang for buck in election monitoring

One question that arose during my talk came from an official interested in elections monitoring. In my mind, one thing the department should be considering is a fund to help local democracy groups spin up installations of Ushahidi in countries with fragile democracies that are gearing up for elections. For those unfamiliar with Ushahidi it is a platform developed after the disputed 2007 presidential election in Kenya that plotted eyewitness reports of violence sent in by email and text-message on a google map.

Today it is used to track a number of issues – but problems with elections remain one of its core purposes. The department should think about grants that would help spin up a Ushahidi install to enable citizens of the country register concerns and allegations around fraud, violence, intimidation, etc… It could then verify and inspect issues that are flagged by the countries citizens. This would allow the department to deploy its resources more effectively and ensure that its work was speaking to concerns raised by citizens.

A Developer version of DART?

One of the most popular programs the Canadian government has around international issues is the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). In particular, Canadians have often been big fans of DART’s work in purifying water after the boxing day tsunami in Asia as well as its work in Haiti. Maybe the department could have a digital DART team, a group of developers that, in an emergency could help spin up Ushahidi, Fixmystreet, or OpenMRS installations to provide some quick but critical shared infrastructure for Canadians, other countries’ response teams and for non-profits. During periods of non-crisis the team could work on these projects or supporting groups like CrisisCommons or OpenStreetMaps, helping contribute to open source projects that can be instrumental in a humanitarian crisis.

 

Why Social Media behind the Government Firewall Matters

This comment, posted four months ago to my blog by Jesse G. in response to this post on GCPEDIA, remains one of the favorite comments posted to my blog ever. This is a public servant who understands the future and is trying to live it. I’ve literally had this comment sitting in my inbox because this whole time because I didn’t want to forget about it.

For those opposing to the use of wiki’s social media behind the government firewall this is a must read (of course I’d say it is a must read for those in favour as well). It’s just a small example of how tiny transactions costs are killing government, and how social media can flatten them.

I wish more elements of the Canadian government got it, but despite the success of GCPEDIA and its endorsement by the Clerk there are still a ton of forces pitted against it, from the procurement officers in Public Works who’d rather pay for a bulky expensive alternative that no one will use to middle managers who forbid their staff from using it out of some misdirected fear.

Is GCPEDIA the solution to everything? No. But it is a cheap solution to a lot of problems, indeed I’ll bet its solved more problems per dollar than any other IT solution put forward by the government.

So for the (efficient) future, read on:

Here’s a really untimely comment – GCPEDIA now has over 22,000 registered users and around 11,000 pages of content. Something like 6.5 million pageviews and around .5 million edits. It has ~2,000 visitors a week and around 15,000 pageviews a week. On average, people are using the wiki for around 5.5 minutes per visit. I’m an admin for GCPEDIA and it’s sister tools – GCCONNEX (a professional networking platform built using elgg) and GCForums (a forum build using YAF). Collectively the tools are known as GC2.0.

Anyways, I’m only piping up because I love GCPEDIA so much. For me and for thousand of public servants, it is something we use every day and I cannot emphasize strongly enough how friggin’ awesome it is to have so much knowledge in one place. It’s a great platform for connecting people and knowledge. And it’s changing the way the public service works.

A couple of examples are probably in order. I know one group of around 40 public servants from 20 departments who are collaborating on GCPEDIA to develop a new set of standards for IT. Every step of the project has taken place on GCPEDIA (though I don’t want to imply that the wiki is everything – face-to-face can’t be replaced by wiki), from the initial project planning, through producing deliverables. I’ve watched their pages transform since the day they were first created and I attest that they are really doing some innovative work on the wiki to support their project.

Another example, which is really a thought experiment: Imagine you’re a coop student hired on a 4 month term. Your director has been hearing some buzz about this new thing called Twitter and wants an official account right away. She asks you to find out what other official Twitter accounts are being used across all the other departments and agencies. So you get on the internet, try to track down the contact details for the comms shops of all those departments and agencies, and send an email to ask what accounts they have. Anyone who knows government can imagine that a best case turnaround time for that kind of answer will take at least 24 hours, but probably more like a few days. So you keep making calls and maybe if everything goes perfectly you get 8 responses a day (good luck!). There are a couple hundred departments and agencies so you’re looking at about 100 business days to get a full inventory. But by the time you’ve finished, your research is out of date and no longer valid and your 4 month coop term is over. Now a first year coop student makes about $14.50/hour (sweet gig if you can get it students!), so over a 4 month term that’s about $10,000. Now repeat this process for every single department and agency that wants a twitter account and you can see it’s a staggering cost. Let’s be conservative and say only 25 departments care enough about twitter to do this sort of exercise – you’re talking about $275,000 of research. Realistically, there are many more departments that want to get on the twitter bandwagon, but the point still holds.

Anyways, did you know that on GCPEDIA there is a crowd-sourced page with hundreds of contributors that lists all of the official GC twitter accounts? One source is kept up to date through contributions of users that literally take a few seconds to make. The savings are enormous – and this is just one page.

Because I know GCPEDIA’s content so well, I can point anyone to almost any piece of information they want to know – or, because GCPEDIA is also a social platform, if I can’t find the info you’re looking for, I can at least find the person who is the expert. I am not an auditor, but I can tell you exactly where to go for the audit policies and frameworks, resources and tools, experts and communities of practice, and pictures of a bunch of internal auditors clowning around during National Public Service Week. There is tremendous value in this – my service as an information “wayfinder” has won me a few fans.

Final point before I stop – a couple of weeks ago, I was doing a presentation to a manager’s leadership network about unconferences. I made three pages – one on the topic of unconferences, one on the facilitation method for building the unconference agenda, and one that is a practical 12-step guide for anyone who wants to plan and organize their own (this last was a group effort with my co-organizers of Collaborative Culture Camp). Instead of preparing a powerpoint and handouts I brought the page up on the projector. I encouraged everyone to check the pages out and to contribute their thoughts and ideas about how they could apply them to their own work. I asked them to improve the pages if they could. But the real value is that instead of me showing up, doing my bit, and then vanishing into the ether I left a valuable information resource behind that other GCPEDIA users will find, use, and improve (maybe because they are searching for unconferences, or maybe it’s just serendipity). Either way, when public servants begin to change how they think of their role in government – not just as employees of x department, but as an integral person in the greater-whole; not in terms of “information is power”, but rather the power of sharing information; not as cogs in the machine, but as responsible change agents working to bring collaborative culture to government – there is a huge benefit for Canadian citizens, whether the wiki is behind a firewall or not.

p.s. To Stephane’s point about approval processes – I confront resistance frequently when I am presenting about GCPEDIA, but there is always someone who “gets” it. Some departments are indeed trying to prevent employees from posting to GCPEDIA – but it isn’t widespread. Even the most security-conscious departments are using the wiki. And Wayne Wouters, the Clerk of the Privy Council has been explicit in his support of the wiki, going so far as to say that no one requires manager’s approval to use the wiki. I hope that if anyone has a boss that says, “You can’t use GCPEDIA” that that employee plops down the latest PS Renewal Action Plan on his desk and says, “You’ve got a lot to learn”.