Inside Cyber Warfare

One year ago, the buzz across the government/technology nexus was focused on a pair of political guessing games. Neophytes mostly engaged in debating over whom the newly-elected President would name to be the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. Grizzled Pentagon veterans and the more sober Silicon Valley types wondered instead who would get the nod as President Obama’s “Cyber Czar.”

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43 Gigabytes of Mobile Data per Day

Here’s a nifty infographic, created by Online Education with several striking statistics about “an average day on the Internet” and the volume of data involved in mobile talk and data, Twitter, blogs, wikis, email, news sites and the like. The numbers are staggering! Continue reading

How the Crowd Reads Crowd-Sourced News

It turns out that we have lessons to learn from Uganda – more specifically, from web coverage of events in Uganda this week.

I’m constantly trying to improve my own ability to follow real-time world events, whether through social media, advanced search technologies, or aggregation of multiple old/new information technologies. About this time last year, as the Georgian-Russian skirmishes were just kicking off, I wrote about keeping up with information on international events (“Using Web 2.0 to Track a Political Crisis“).

In the intervening year, development of real-time tools and techniques has really blossomed. This past week, the onset of violent political unrest in Uganda has served as yet another crucible in which new techniques and web-based technologies can be tested and tweaked.

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A Face in the Crowd

GovFreshGovFresh is a great new web service which aggregates live feeds of official news from U.S. Government Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, RSS feeds, Facebook pages, Flickr photostreams and more, all in one place. It is one of a new class of interactive Government 2.0 services, portals, and tools – many of them just launching in 2009 – which have the potential of revolutionizing the way citizens get and share information about their government.  (I mention several others below.)

At a time when the Iranian people are battling to keep their access open to Twitter, Facebook, and even phone lines in order to mobilize their anti-dictatorial protests, it is heartening that individuals in the United States and many other corners of the world find their governments increasingly willing to share information widely.

Luke Fretwell is GovFresh’s founder, and he’s becoming a welcome new voice in the debates around government technology policy. Luke recently wrote a blog post arguing “Why Gov 2.0 means the U.S. Government must centralize its Web operations.” A heated debate arose in the comments, including my own strenuous disagreement, and yet I became a fast admirer of Luke, his entrepreneurial energy, and the site’s information value.

GovFresh has been running a great series of profile-interviews in its blog section of leading individuals in the “Gov 2.0” movement, and today I was the chosen subject. The article has the unfortunately exaggerated title (in my case): “Gov 2.0 Hero Lewis Shepherd.”  Here’s an excerpt:

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

Can’t tell you because we’re building it in the lab right now, ha! Seriously, the killer app may be something big and powerful, from an enterprise perspective, though I’d put the odds on something less obvious, but more pervasive. Here’s what I mean. I think often about the roots of the original Progressive movement at the dawn of the 20th Century, and their advocacy of direct-vote referendums, championed by Hiram Johnson and the like. Those give the people a direct say over particular issues, but the downside is that “the people” don’t always exercise informed judgment, and popular opinion can be manipulated and swayed by malevolent interests. So I’m looking to Gov 2.0 capabilities that maintain the representative aspect (the elected official, exercising his or her judgment) while incorporating real-time, structured, unfiltered but managed visualizations of popular opinion and advice. I’m intrigued by new services along these lines like www.you2gov.com, www.govfresh.com, www.govtwit.com, and the like, but I’m also a big proponent of semantic computing – called Web 3.0 by some – and that should lead the worlds of crowdsourcing, prediction markets, and open government data movements to unfold in dramatic, previously unexpected ways. We’re working on cool stuff like that.

At the end of the full interview, I observed that “You can’t watch what’s gone on with social software use in Egypt’s Facebook Revolution, our own 2008 campaign, or Iran’s election protests, without feeling that Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have been prolific twitterers with awesome blogs.”

In the spirit of empowering the people, instead of lauding one person, I’d like to thank GovFresh for the Hero honor but share the title with those I have worked with in the past few years, and with everyone else around the world engaged in the Gov 2.0 movement – whether they realize that’s what they’re doing or not.

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Way Ahead and Far Behind

Today’s Washington Post has a story on its front page: “Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages.”

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.”

“What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.”  -Washington Post

Some say that whoever has been responsible for information technology in the White House itself should be fired — but then perhaps the change of Administration just took care of that  🙂 

Overall, this situation is familiar to anyone who has worked in what I call “Big-G  IT” or the information technology of a federal government agency. I’ve argued about its challenges and sub-optimality before: see my previous pieces on “Roadmap for Innovation: From the Center to the Edge,” and more specifically “Puncturing Circles of Bureaucracy.”  In that latter piece back in March of 2008, I wrote about the “the defensive perimeters of overwhelming bureaucratic torpor,” and the frustrating reality within much of Big Government: “Federal employees have an entire complex of bizarrely-incented practices and career motivations, which make progress on technology innovation very difficult, not to mention general business-practice transformation as a whole.”

Here’s the truly frustrating, mind-bending part: it isn’t always true!  Other elements of the White House have cutting-edge, world-class technologies operating day in, day out.

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Bob Gates and the future of defense thinking

Now that Bob Gates is officially going to stay on as Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration, it’s worthwhile to refresh our understanding of his thinking. Continue reading

Google, Microsoft, and Medical Research

Fact: Two stark numbers are published today about Google co-founder Sergey Brin. First, the annual update of the “Forbes 400” wealthiest billionaires reports that Brin’s personal net worth is $15.9 billion (though that’s down some $2.7 billion from last year, due to the decline of Google’s stock price by 40% since last November).  More importantly, Brin himself wrote in his personal blog today that by having genetic research done on himself, “I learned something very important to me — I carry the G2019S mutation… it is clear that I have a markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson’s in my lifetime than the average person. In fact, it is somewhere between 20% to 80% depending on the study and how you measure.”

Analysis: Sergey Brin’s own blog account of his discovery is a remarkably personal and touching piece, dealing with his mother and her own belated diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and the scientific boundaries of current genetic research and the implications one can draw from this immature field of science.

(c) AP Photo, Paul Sakuma

This was only the second post on Sergey’s new blog; the blog’s name is “Too” – and the first post merely stated the rationale for that name (“Welcome to my personal blog. While Google is a play on googol, too is a play on the much smaller number – two. It also means ‘in addition,’ as this blog reflects my life outside of work”). 

If his refreshing honesty and thoughtfulness today are going to be the calibre of his writing, I’m going to be a regular reader. 

His piece reminds me of Steve Jobs’ modern classic, his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.  If you’ve never read that, then stop reading my words right now, and go read that. You’ll find yourself over the weekend thinking about your own approach to life.

But back to Brin and genetic research.  It will be interesting to watch what Google’s research arm is able to do in the area of medical and health research.  To make progress in bioengineering and genetics, “organizing the world’s information” is absolutely paramount and of course that’s Google’s mission statement.

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