Government As A Platform, Not A Vending Machine - InformationWeek

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IoT
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Software // Information Management
Commentary
8/13/2009
12:46 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Government As A Platform, Not A Vending Machine

Tim O'Reilly has a knack for summing up trends in a catchphrase and a few hundred words of pithy prose. He's the guy who coined the phrase "Web 2.0," and got many of us thinking about the Web in a whole new way. Tim didn't coin the phrase "Government 2.0," but he's written a nice explanation of the implications and how the Internet fits. He sees Government 2.0 as a means of transforming the government from a vending machine to return to the Founders' vision of what it should be.

Tim O'Reilly has a knack for summing up trends in a catchphrase and a few hundred words of pithy prose. He's the guy who coined the phrase "Web 2.0," and got many of us thinking about the Web in a whole new way. Tim didn't coin the phrase "Government 2.0," but he's written a nice explanation of the implications and how the Internet fits. He sees Government 2.0 as a means of transforming the government from a vending machine to return to the Founders' vision of what it should be.Government as a vending machine? What does that mean? O'Reilly, who is founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, answers: "We pay our taxes; we get back services. And when we don't get what we expect, our 'participation' is limited to protest--essentially, shaking the vending machine."

O'Reilly adds:

Yet there is an alternate model, which is much closer to the kind of government envisioned by our nation's founders, a model in which, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Joseph Cabel, "every man … feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day." In this model, government is a convener and an enabler--ultimately, it is a vehicle for coordinating the collective action of citizens.

He notes that the most successful products in the computer industry were platforms for other people to build applications and services on top of: The personal computer, which allowed developers to build millions of applications. The Web. The iPhone, with its App Store.

This is the right way to frame the question of "Government 2.0." How does government itself become an open platform that allows people inside and outside government to innovate? How do you design a system in which all of the outcomes aren't specified beforehand, but instead evolve through interactions between the technology provider and its user community?

Read the piece to get more on O'Reilly's vision, and how the Internet and IT fits into it.

What do you think of O'Reilly's vision? Is it possible? Can government be lean and efficient? Or are pork, flab, power grabs, and mission creep inherent in the system? I'd love to hear what you think.

If you're anti-government, I'd love to hear the alternative. Don't talk to me about the "free market"; in a free market, companies tend to get larger, power tends to concentrate, and a multi-billion-dollar corporation is just as prone to bureaucracy and flab as a government agency.

Disclaimer: O'Reilly partners with InformationWeek's parent company on conferences.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on setting government IT priorities. Download the report here (registration required).

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