O’Reilly’s Gov 2.0 events took place last week. We’ve had some time to think about what the current wave of activity means to buyers and adopters of content technologies.

Both the Expo and Summit programs delivered a deluge of examples of exciting new approaches to connecting consumers of government services with the agencies and organizations that provide them.

  • At the Expo on Sept 8,  25 speakers from organizations like NASA, TSA, US EPA, City of Santa Cruz,  Utah Department of Public Safety, and the US Coast Guard provided five-minute overviews of their 2.0 applications in a sometimes dizzying fast-paced format.
  • Sunlight Labs sponsored an Apps for America challenge that featured finalists who combined federal content available on Data.gov and open source software in some intriguing applications, including DataMasher, which enables you to mash up sources such as stats on numbers of high school graduates and guns per household.
  • The Summit on Sept 9 and 10 featured more applications plus star-status speakers including Aneesh Chopra, the US’s first CTO operating under the Federal Office of Science and Technology Policy; Vinton Cerf, currently VP and evangelist at Google; and Mitch Kapor.

A primary program theme was “government as platform,” with speakers suggesting and debating just what that means. There was much thoughtful discussion, if not consensus. Rather than report, interested readers can search Twitter hash tags #gov20e and #gov20s for comments.

From the first speaker on, we were immediately struck by the rapid pace of change in government action and attitude about content and data sharing. Our baseline for comparison is Gilbane’s last conference on content applications within government and non-profit agencies in June 2007. In presentations and casual conversations with attendees, it was clear that most organizations were operating as silos. There was little sharing or collaboration within and among organizations. Many attendees expressed frustration that this was so. When we asked what could be done to fix the problem, we distinctly remember one person saying that connecting with other content managers just within her own agency would be a huge improvement.

Fast forward a little over two years to last week’s Gov2.0 events. Progress towards internal collaboration, inter-agency data sharing, and two-way interaction between government and citizens is truly remarkable. At least three factors have created a pefect storm of conditions: the current administration’s vision and mandate for open government, broad acceptance of social interaction tools at the personal and organizational level, and technology readiness in the form of open source software that makes it possible to experiment at low cost and risk.

Viewing the events through Gilbane’s content-centric lens, we offer three takeaways:

  • Chopra indicated that the formal Open Government directives to agencies, to be released in several weeks, will include the development of “structured schedules” for making agency data available in machine-readable format. As Tim O’Reilly said while interviewing Chopra, posting “a bunch of PDFs” will not be sufficient for alignment with the directives. As a result, agencies will be accelerating the adoption of XML and the transformation of publishing practices to manage structured content. As a large buyer of content technologies and services, government agencies are market influencers. We will be watching carefully for the impact of Open Government initiatives on the broader landscape for content technologies.
  • There was little mention of the role of content management as a business practice or technology infrastructure. This is not surprising, given that Gov2.0 wasn’t about content management. And while the programs comprised lots of show-and-tell examples, most were very heavy on show and very light on tell. But it does raise a question about how these applications will be managed, governed, and made sustainable and scalable. Add in the point above — that structured content will now be poised for wider adoption, creating demand for XML-aware content management solutions. Look for more discussion as agencies begin to acknowledge their content management challenges.
  • We didn’t hear a single mention of language issues in the sessions we attended. Leaving us to wonder if non-native English speakers who are eligible for government services will be disenfranchised in the move to Open Government.

All in all, thought-provoking, well-executed events. For details, videos of the sessions are available on the Gov2.0 site.

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