Friday, February 06, 2009

bringing change - technological, that is - to the white house

N'Gai Croal, who so graciously took some great photos of the breadpig band during our SpikeTV shoot, recently interviewed me for a piece, All the President's Tweets, about how Obama ought to bring technology to the White House.

If there is a chance to really change, elder statesman Jeff Jarvis and I daydreamed about how technology could help the Obama administration better work for us, since we are after all, its boss.

[...] it's a sentiment echoed even more concretely by Ohanian. "Lots of data comes out of government; we don't all want to have to slog through it, but computers can," he says. "So if they can make that data available in accessible formats—data that belongs to us as taxpaying citizens—that could be great." He cites "Web 2.0 mashups," like Google Maps with housing values or crime statistics overlaid on them, as an example of the kinds of creative ways that government-assembled data could be reused if provided in XML (extensible markup language) formats, which define the content of a document separately from its formatting precisely so that it can be repurposed in other applications.

And if anyone from the White House is reading this, that means no more PDFs, whose contents aren't easily searched or extracted for further use. Says Ohanian: "PDFs are the bane of my existence—they aren't much more of a favor than having a printed document."

Fortunately, every indication we've gotten from the Obama team since they went online for his campaign is that they're absolutely capable and willing to get this kind of technological change done. The task they're facing, and all the obstacles in their way, are largely the result of legacy. It's a shame it has to be backwards-compatible. It's a pity we didn't have all this technology (or some incredible foresight) when the British burnt down the White House, as we could have rebuilt it with this kind of transparency in mind.

The kind that present technology facilitates with ease.

As for Ohanian, what he hopes to see after a four- or eight-year Obama presidency is for to become a useful tool. "I've never had a reason to go to before. So if it becomes a usable tool for citizens, that will be an accomplishment, because it means that the tech has been put to good use." That's a lot to place on a single URL. Let's hope that Obama & Co. are up to the task.

It's true, the closest I'd ever gotten to was when I'd trick friends into visiting (formerly a NSFW site). I look forward to the day when the .gov is a regular destination.