Just a day before the inauguration, the Obama team has published a video about their Technology, Innovation and Government Reform (TIGR) group. As its name suggest, that is the group that will supposedly lead technological innovation in the Federal Government. My understanding is that they are the people running change.gov and they were behind their Citizen’s Briefing Book initiative.
This latter idea probably deserves a separate post, but in the meantime, I just wanted to share a couple of observations from visiting change.gov after consuming it primarily via an RSS feed for quite a while now. What you miss when you consume content via RSS are the comments. This is where it is getting interesting. When I checked the aforementioned post, there were only 16 comments and here is what I saw.
First, it is really difficult to maintain an open platform and at the same time maintain your agenda. Naturally, the TIGRs are using change.gov in order to share information about government activities presented in a positive light. However, it looks like people are not necessarily interested to talk just about the topic set by the administration. Thus, for example, there were a number of comments dealing with some controversy surrounding Bishop Robinson. I’ve been slightly out of the loop recently, so I am not sure what the controversy is about, but people seem to care and seem to feel free expressing their dissatisfaction and critique on the transition team’s website, even when the topic is something absolutely not related.
Second, kind of related to the previous one, if you open your communication channels, there is no way you will be able to downplay criticism. In this particular post, people have been voicing their criticism also about the technology and innovation aspects of the transition team’s conduct. Particularly, there were some comments about people’s dissatisfaction with the way their opinions were treated in the Citizen’s Briefing Book project. Apparently, the visitors of change.gov voted legalization of Marijuana as their top priority, but this topic was apparently neglected from the book. I am not sure whether this opinion represents the popular opinion of the American society or just that of those who feel comfortable using the web to participate actively. Anyhow, the TIGRs are probably factoring in additional information and not just the users’ comments. It looks though that the users of change.gov do view themselves as representing the entire country.
Third, again related to the previous, the issue of digital divide was brought up in this discussion by the users. A user named Mona Marlow wrote:
“While I think this is a vast improvement, one aspect has been overlooked. There is a huge portion of us who live and work in rual America. We cannot view some of this “new” tech, thus miss out on alot. Due to the lack of having access to or affording the high-end internet access required to partisipate and/or view some of this new content. It would be of great help and service to “us” if there was a basic html view as well. There is not much you can do of the video content, but perhaps have a transcript of it for rual America to read.
In the meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, things are also changing. The Russian president Medvedev has also opened his website to comments, but in the meantime only in the Russian version (RU). I couldn’t spend much time on the site, but from what I saw the comments are more on the topic. Of course the space is moderated (RU) and on the face of it there are more and clearer restrictions than on change.gov (here). At the end of the day, however, I don’t think we have many chances to actually know what comments are not getting published on both websites.
So, these were my few observations for the moment. Now back to work!
P.S. By the time I finished writing this post, there were already 33 comments on that post. They got traffic!
P.P.S. An update. Actually, on kremlin.ru the discussion is also split. They actually provide a split of the main themes of the comments. So, in the latest post (RU) 785 comments were left on the topic (development of mass/public sport) and 396, the second largest category, were about the management of the comment space. The admins of the website have even published stats for the period between Jan.12 and Jan. 19 (may be still available here in RU):
- 7558 – Activated users
- 961 – People who have not confirmed their email addresses
- 230 – Blocked users
- 2354 – Comments published
- 982 – Blocked comments
- 396 – Comments being reviewed
According to them, comments that were not published, contained personal complains or specific requests that needed an individual answer (that is not allowed according to their comment policy). They say however that in all(?) those comments no contact information was provided, so they will not be able to take care of those complains and requests.