General Motors, The Feds.

In the early days of this blog, I wrote a lot about political issues. Frankly, when I was getting going in the blogging world almost five years ago, it was about the only thing I knew to do. Political blogging was huge and it was about the only kind of blogging that registered on the radar. Over the years, I’ve found my niche and it is clearly what you find here today. However, today I need to address a huge issue facing the American public, small businesses and every aspect of the American fabric of society. I must get this off my chest, because it matters to business in a way that nothing else in our lifetimes has.

As time goes on, I have gone from extreme right wing conservative to moderately progressive and still trend right on some issues. It doesn’t really matter though, because the principles that I believe in are firmly based in a sense of pragmatic, if not downright cruel, reality.

Over the weekend, the Obama administration did something completely unthinkable that will have a longterm negative impact on the enterprising and innovative American markets. The federal government made board level decisions on behalf of a publicly-traded company, General Motors.

It is clear to any objective mind that the General Motors (and to a lesser extent Chrysler) proposal for restructuring in the face of bankruptcy, and to secure taxpayer funds, was less than adequate. In fact, some rumors from within the company suggest that GM essentially sat on their hands as they approached the deadline originally agreed to with the Bush administration. Clearly, this is less than acceptable. Clearly, this mindset believes that they truly are “too big to fail” and that the feds would simply swoop in and rescue them yet again.

Clearly, clearly, clearly. Yet… none of this is clear.

The Obama Administration suggested a change to threatened the GM board of directors that they had to remove CEO Rick Wagoner.

I understand why. If Wagoner was too sluggish in his behavior, or “sat on his hands pending an Obama bailout” then he certainly needed to be removed. All evidence points to only positive results from his removal. However, the federal government directly intervened in the private sector governance of a publicly traded company.

This outrage is enough, but somewhat legal if they own a portion of the stock. IT’s expected that, as shareholders, the government would want a say.

However, here is the part that no one is talking about. In essence, General Motors has become a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the United States of America. While your Orwellian alarms go off, let me rub salt in the wound. The SEC is supposed to regulate GM. That’s right, the Securities and Exchange Commission, a fully functioning independent agency of the U.S., is now tasked with regulating itself.

Can anything good come from this? I think not.

In an ideal world, one filled with unicorns and gryffons and other mythical creatures, the SEC executes their funtion without privilege or bias. In an ideal world, GM adheres to the same regulations put in place by the SEC that governs the market. In an ideal world. Since when has self-policing ever worked? Especially with the SEC.

To make matters worse, in an effort to stimulate company growth and remove government ownership of the company (yeah, right), the Feds are likely to make moves that will help GM, but may undercut the market. For instance, cutting the MSRP of automobiles by a certain percentage to stimulate sales. These kinds of actions are generally regulated by the Justice Department (as well as the Commerce Department) and fall under unfair trading practices.

At what point is a U.S. owned company able to compete on the open market without undercutting market tensions and forces, and at which point does the “adherence to market principles” mean the destruction of the company?

My feeling is that the longterm ramifications of bailing out and direct government intervention into the governance and conduct of a company is a dangerous precedent. Beyond a dangerous precedent, I believe it will only exacerbate the complete destructive collapse of the economy.

There will be some who call me crazy. Who call me a sensationalist. That tell me I am too conspiratorial. Remember this post when my predictions actually come to fruition. Within six months.

The iPhone still is not a Business Phone

Since the launch of the original iPhone almost two years ago, it has been the position of this journalist, that the iPhone is not equipped, nor designed to be a business class phone. Although Apple has done a lot to address the concerns raised by many around the time of the original launch, such as third party apps and 3G speed, there are still inherent (and potentially unsolvable) problems with the phone.

Without a doubt, the iPhone is the sexiest phone on the market. Even with Research in Motion’s Blackberry Storm launch and a variety of other touch screen devices from other manufacturers, nothing meets, much less exceeds, the beauty and elegance of an iPhone. With it’s intuitive scrolling interface, the presence of a real web browser and hours of entertainment value via games from the app store, iPod capability and social networking capability, a la Livingston Communication’s Mobile Manifesto, there is no doubt that the iPhone is the device of choice for the long tail of consumers.

However, the finger typing (as opposed to tactile QWERTY keyboard of other devices, such as Blackberrys) poses a significant architectural barrier to business adoption. From a business standpoint, a mobile device is meant for utility. Email, productivity, and collaboration. That’s what we in business need from our phones, no? We need to be able to ensure connectivity to mission critical offices, and projects.

In Washington, we are a working class. We may not be the working class, as bandied around in political campaigns, but we are a town driven by long hours, massive public-interest footprints and a very east-coast “on the go” mentality. In Washington, Verizon Wireless rules the roost because of solid coverage and underground Metro coverage (granted, other carriers will have expanded coverage by the end of the year and full access by 2012).

During the Inauguration, while those in proximity to me (on the National Mall) lost coverage for all or a portion of the ceremony while using the Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile networks, Verizon Wireless troopered on without so much as a hiccup.

So, let’s review the iPhone. The iPhone is locked into the AT&T network (for now). Therefore, large collections of iPhones all throttle the same towers as opposed to dispersion of traffic across a multitude of networks. FAIL.

The iPhone presents significant usability and utility challenges to the “working” American due to the finger touch system. Additionally, the lack of viable Exchange integration (sorry, the iPhone OS 2.0 upgrade providing ActiveSync is junk), and lack of Group Policy mechanisms that prevent IT Administrators from effectively tying into a Enterprise Active Directory structure and enforcing group policy and security across an infrastructure in the same way they can for Windows Mobile or Blackberry devices, will continue to prevent the iPhone from seeing widespread adoption in enterprise environments.

Advocacy for Professional Consultants

A funny thing happened on the way to an SEO Mecca. The New York Times decided to fold all of the content of the International Herald Tribune into NYTimes.com as an SEO play. Gawker has the full backstory.

If you don’t feel like reading, the New York Times has been asking Google for enhanced SERPs (Search Engine Result Placements) for some time. As Google has refused special treatment, the Times decided to take the step of combining it’s moderately-strong iht.com property into the main NYTimes.com. On paper, this makes sense if they were playing to combine the strengths of both properties to enhance the value of the content in the search engines.

Many people do this, even on small scales. Through special, yet simple, configurations, systems admins can redirect one page to another and pass a code that instructs search engines to find the old content at the new location permanently or temporarily, depending on the use case and purpose. It’s a bit tricky, but also not rocket science. It happens all the time, and in fact, also happens on this site where I’ve deprecated old content pages in favor of new ones.

These are basic steps that are taken, and required, to retain the search engine value of a site. Unfortunately, as the Gawker story points out, the Times botched the process and is redirecting all of the IHT content to a single landing page, nullifying the value of all their content. (Though the argument could be made that if Times engineers jumped on the mistake quick enough, they could salvage the damage before Google updated all the results.

Assuming, however, that that is not the case, the decision to handle this in-house instead of contracting a professional SEO firm or consultant, highlights another bad business practice that is far too common – especially when a company is cash strapped, as the Times is.

Hiring an outside firm or individual to handle this stuff meticulously would have easily cost the Times a number in the five figure range. Easily. Maybe six figures, depending on the firm and the scope and complexity of the problem. Undoubtedly, this is a lot of money and one of the reasons that people try to do jobs on their own.

However, the flip side of this particular problem, understanding of course that I don’t have all the details, is that the advertising revenue being lost as a result of the search traffic that will not come to the site for a long time from Google, is unquestionably going to exceed the money they would have lost to hire a firm or reputed SEO professional.

In the advertising world, though in my opinion it is a flawed concept long-term, the most lucrative advertising for a content property like the New York Times, is CPM. CPM, is the amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay for every thousand impression, or page view.

According to Compete.com (which is tragically wrong most of the time), the International Herald Tribune website gets approximately 4.6M page views monthly (2M unique visitors * 2.3 average pages per visit). At an extremely conservative rate of $20 CPM, the Times would lose $90,000 a month in advertising revenue. For $50,000, they could have contracted a firm to handle the SEO implications of the IHT switch.

I admit that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass here. Without a doubt, my numbers are way off any semblance of reality. The dollar figures per CPM are higher. The traffic is higher. But, my point is made.

Companies looking to play in the web space, when it’s not their primary business, should utilize contractors as much as possible. The downside of using contractors is the lack of “buy in” to the company mission, however consultants are usually more efficient and professional about getting a job done right the first time (they have other clients) than many in-house teams can do. In a down economy, as well, it’s critically important that companies are able to stay focused on their core missions.

Bonus: Despite the fact that I am making up numbers, the principle behind consultancy remains. But to lighten things up, I’ll toss the naysayers a bone.

Dilbert.com

Pro Photo Rental Brings Gear Rental to those Without Unlimited Amex cards

My main escape in life these days is photography. In a life that consists of networking and running and trying to stay on top of all the latest trends, services and events, shooting my camera and trying to capture the perfect moment in pictures is a true love of mine.

In the past, I’ve handed off some words of wisdom about buying a digital SLR cameras to new photographers. Thousands of photos that I’ve taken are on Flickr, with the best being over at my photoblog. I’ve shot events, buildings, people and even the inauguration.

Last year sometime, my friend Micah Baldwin, introduced me to Jared Kohlmann the founder and curator of ProPhotoRental.com. I’ve been a fan since, and have rented all kinds of equipment from him.

Gear rental is important for me for a few reasons. For one, I simply don’t have a lot of budget to go and buy lenses and the ever-illusive Canon 5D Mark II, a $3000 investment that I am nowhere near able to get yet (Hey, Jared… when are you gonna have a Mark II in stock for me to rent?! :)). Though admittedly, Jared gives me a discount on my rentals, even without those discounts, the prices are cheap.

For instance, at SXSW, I made a 7-day rental of the following equipment:

  • Canon EOS 5D
  • 580 EX-II Speedlight Flash
  • EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS telephoto lens
  • EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens

The cost of this rental for a week (without discount) is a mere $335. Far less than you would spend at Penn Camera, who, by way of example, would charge $20 a day in addition to a $400 deposit just for the flash!

Clearly, it makes sense to rent often if you’re in the market to buy gear and you want to try it out. A lot of photographers recommend investing the most money in lenses as opposed to going out of the way to upgrade a camera body. Either way, with PPR, you can try out the bodies or a variety of lenses in the Canon, Nikon or Olympus variety. (Who uses Olympus?! That’s like suggesting that Kodak is actually a good camera manufacturer! ;-))

Below, some of the shots taken with PPR gear:
Alex Hillman
Canon 5D, 70mm, f/2.8, 1600 ISO, 1/160th sec, Flash fired

The District Superimposed against Washington
Canon 5D, 160mm, f/5, 800 ISO, 1/8000th sec, No flash

Inauguration Day
Canon 5D, 300mm, f/5.6, 200 ISO, 1/320th sec, No Flash

The Pros and Cons of "Going Dark"

When I tell people that I am actually an introvert, it usually surprises people. As someone who is in the public eye, and maintains some kind of brand that is recognizable, most people see me as an outgoing guy who is always trying to be a part of the latest social scene and while that is true, it’s important to note that it is only a portion of who I really am.

This goes for anyone on the internet. With the social web, it is easy for people to feel like they actually know us. They see us as marketers, branders, celebrities. They see us as subject matter experts and they want our time. Clearly, this was on display at SXSW this past weekend where a simple jaunt to lunch that normally take about 5 mins, would take 20-30 mins because of casual conversation assaults in the hallways.

3367053664_4b1c0da51dPHoto by: Jim Storer

Is this a problem? Directly, no. We go to these events to meet people and people are our lifeblood. Without people, we are no one and we have no credibility. Our credibility is wrapped up in our communities, readers, viewers, listeners and those who are influenced by our work. However, the cult of personality as a whole, is a larger problem.

When Mike Arrington was in Europe earlier this year, someone who felt like they knew him (in a negative way) assaulted him with spit to the face. When Kathy Sierra had vicious threats directed at her, she disappeared out of the public eye for some time. Jeremiah Owyang also recently disappeared for different reasons.

We are not wired to be the center of attention. In some sick and twisted way, we love every second of it. Our egos are stroked when adoring fans adore, but we are doused with harsh reality when that attention turns a different direction.

In the past few days, I’ve given a lot of thought to “going dark” – that is, disappearing from public view for a period of time. I still may do that, simply because, my own “celebrity” is beginning to hinder me. As those of us who enjoy immense attention grow into those roles, inevitably we begin to resent it. We hate it. We want to be “normal” whatever “normal” means. We want our lives back.

But at what cost?

In some ways, going dark can be therapeutic. It allows us time to re-examine our priorities, understand our motives and, in general, do soul searching. If done right, we come out the other side with a fresh perspective on life and our livelihoods.

In a negative sense, going dark can have tremendous effect on our social equity. In a “what have you done for me lately” industry, disappearing for some time can completely remove a person and their ability to influence. In some cases, our businesses and careers depend on our presence in the social space.

I don’t have the answers, as I have not “gone dark” at any point. If I do, I’m sure I’ll find my experience will teach me something about the process. It strikes me that a successful sabbatical requires some kind of balance so as not to lose social equity, yet still take enough time to recharge and re-energize.

Recap of SXSW Interactive 2009

As I sit here in a daze induced by 4 crazy days of interacting with geeks the world over, sleeping little and attending party after party after party, I find myself nostalgically looking back at SXSW 2009.

It wasn’t as good as previous years, in my opinion. Maybe it was the huge number of noobs. There are always newbies, but this year it seemed to be more than ever. And that’s not a bad thing. I am happy when new groups and segments of the internet community are introduced to the wiles of SXSW, however this year seemed to be extravagantly more than normal. And it did affect the way the festival went off.

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

Interestingly, over 7000 people registered for the Interactive festival, up some 25% from last year if I recall. However, the actual attendance seemed to be down. In the context of conversations, I think I realized what was really at play. Despite no one mentioning it out right, it was clear that the economy had people in funky moods. Last year at this time, we were discussing venture capital, web startups and Facebook’s expansion, as an example. This year, however, the tone and look on peoples faces was a little more stark. It was a very interesting dynamic.

Of course, that didn’t mean people were in sour moods. They weren’t. The parties flowed. The long lunches happened. People laughed and talked. In some cases, we sang.

Alex Hillman at Cogaoke
Alex Hillman, IndyHall

Sorry, if you missed me perform Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” at Cogaoke. I did not win the karaoke competition but at least I had fun trying.

SXSW always is a must attend for me because it represents, much like Facebook does for my real life, a confluence of all of the circles of my geek life.

For instance, my Boulder peeps were there:
Jeremy Tanner
Jeremy Tanner

My Silicon Valley peeps were there:
Rick Klau
Rick Klau, Google/Blogger

And, of course, a very large (largest in SXSW history, maybe?) DC representation:
DC Peeps at SXSW

I am hardly impressed by celebrity and most of the “celebrities” that were there are not people that are anything more than friends for me. For instance, Chris Pirillo and Loic Lemeur were there. Friends doing great things, like Gnomedex and Seesmic

Chris Pirillo and Loic Lemeur

My only really true geek boy moment was meeting Drew Curtis of Fark, a guy who built his company the old fashioned way (without VC money) and is not prone to jump on technology bandwagons just because everyone says they are cool.

Finally, as a bonus, I give you Julia Allison, the woman that so many love to hate but geek guys fawn over anyway, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg, the Facebook Director of Market Development, and the sister to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Julia Allison, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg

Events on the Web: Why Do They Suck?

If you’ve ever wanted to easily find out what events are happening in your area, you know what an impossible a task it is. I usually have to check 4 or 5 sites, plus Facebook and Twitter before I feel up-to-date. To make matters worse, none of these services freely exchange information. An event listing on Upcoming, for example, has no correlation with the same listing on Facebook.

Adding insult to injury, duplicate events with differing times and dates often arise, cluttering up an otherwise decent experience with this:

Sun 05:00 PM Caribbean Night with the Marbali Steel Drum Band

(eventful: Inn at East Hill Farm)

Sun 05:25 PM Caribbean Night

(upcoming: The Inn at Hill Farms)

Which time is correct? Is the venue called East Hill Farm, or Hill Farms? The good news is problems like this can be avoided if these services just talk to each other.

From my experience with the APIs of the big players in the event listing market (Upcoming, Zvents, Eventful, TicketMaster, etc.), it is evident there is no standard format being used to exchange event information behind the scenes. If you’ve ever seen an event listing with redundant date, time and location information in its description, it’s because a proper event listing standard has yet to be widely adopted.

Each API arbitrarily assigns its own naming scheme, date formats and data structure. At Localist, we’ve picked up the slack a bit by developing customized parsers to retrieve and standardize the information, but cleaned up information isn’t truly useful until the format is adopted by a wider audience.

What about hCalendar?

While hCalendar is a great microformat for standardizing the presentation and “scrapability” of event listings (making the search engine the API), it inherently requires that all data related to the event be visible to the user. In practice, this has forced most event listing sites to intentionally limit the amount of parsable data available, restricting additional useful information to be entered in the free-text description field, where no standard is defined.

Also, providing relational information between events and performers is not reliably possible using hCalendar. For example, if there are 5 recurring instances of “Trivia Night” at “Joeʼs Bar,” it is not possible to attach photos or other useful data to “Trivia Night,” only the specific date instance. This results in isolated information that is quickly lost as time goes on.

What needs to be done?

The first step is to get everyone, not just the big event listing services, to adopt a simple standard that has already been widely adopted. The best candidate so far is iCalendar, or ICS. Every calendar on the Web should be available in the ICS standard without requiring any modification by an external service or parser. Once this happens, event data can be collected consistently.

Then, we step it up. The ICS format ensures all event information revolves around the event time only, when really, it should revolve around time and space. A consistent way to add information on top of the ICS standard is easy to implement; the challenge is, again, reaching a critical mass.

Where can I see an example?

Services like FuseCal are diligently combing the Web looking for calendars of all shapes and sizes, then parsing them into a (somewhat) accurate iCal format.

People like Jon Udell are working hard to get everyone to adopt ICS as their standard and has demonstrated how powerful this standardized information can be when leveraging services like Delicious. Localist, Calagator and other event listing services are discussing what a good event listing standard should look like once the dust settles from mass ICS adoption.

What can I do?

If you have a calendar available on your site, make sure there’s a visible link to an ICS format somewhere on the page.

Read up on Jon Udell’s efforts to promote mass iCal adoption.

Join the discussion at the ELF Wiki.

E-mail me (Mykel Nahorniak) at Localist if you have any questions or contributions regarding anything mentioned above.

It won’t be long now…

The overall goal isn’t to destroy and replace hCalendar or ICS, it’s to co-exist with it, enriching it when possible.

In the end, keeping tabs on local events will be just as easy as staying up-to-date with your friends’ tweets.

It's Really Simple; Be Valuable and You Will Be Valued

Despite the crazy title of this post, it is not about personal brand. That’s a conversation that is happening elsewhere in the blogosphere and, though I’ve talked about it on this blog, it is not relevant to this post.

What is relevant is value. Actual value versus “perceived” value.

Late last night, around 2am, I was plugging away on a client project. Blinded by blurry eyes caused by hours of intense concentration, and creeping exhaustion, I switched over to check on an email that had just rolled in. It was from an editor at a well known financial publication. He was working on a story that asked the question, “What would I do if I lost my job today?” and he was soliciting feedback on a portion of the article dedicated to Twitter.

The portion of the article I read was very good, except that it missed something. It missed, what I call, the “secret sauce”. It described how Twitter worked, how to get followers and made the connection between number of followers and the ability to get a job.

My response to him was that he needed to include the secret sauce in the ingredients. Clearly, the secret sauce wouldn’t be secret if I told the world, so instead, I’ll share it with you as long as you only tell someone else if you find value in it. ;-)

The secret sauce is this: Be valuable.

Recently, as the economy has soured even more, and layoffs continue to happen around us, many people who have benefited from great jobs have found themselves looking for work. Folks who have cultivated massive numbers of followers on Twitter are on the street looking for work and finding it hard to drum up anything. They’ve discovered that despite their social media popularity, they are not necessarily valuable to employers.

Employers are looking for the people that stand up above the crowd. They stick out, not obnoxiously so, but in a smart and efficient way. They are not looking for marketers or personal brand evangelists. They are not looking for celebrities. Indeed, these people might cost them too much anyway.

They are looking for the people who don’t just talk about Health 2.0, for instance, but who clearly demonstrate through their own conversations, writings and actions, that they are valuable!

Marks of value are demonstrated when someone shares their knowledge with someone else who is asking questions. Value can be shown in the ongoing conversation around a topic (It is obvious when someone is simply repeating talking points, and when they know their field). Value is on display in quiet genius, not simply frequency (or loudness) of messages. Someone is clearly valuable when the content they are discussing, respectfully (as a key identifier), is put into action through their careers, thought leadership and social interaction.

Clearly, value is not simply being a subject matter expert, but it is also in the conversational and socially interactive approach that the person assumes. Identifying a valuable person is much easier when they are in their own element and not looking for work or otherwise performing. How they behave among their peers and the respect and authority bestowed on him by his peers is a clear indicator of value, not in a celebrity way, but in an influencer kind of way.

The principles behind the secret sauce on Twitter are the same principles that apply in real life. When former HP CEO Carly Fiorina was forced to resign, the HP Board didn’t put out a job requisition for a new CEO. They identified Mark Hurd, the then CEO of NCR who demonstrated amazing ability in turning NCR around, as the guy they wanted to run Hewlett Packard. It wasn’t because Mark had the right salary requirements, or was out there cultivating his brand on NCRs dollar. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. He was demonstrating his value to NCR so HP went after him.

Value is one of those things that is subjective and hard to achieve. But understanding of the community, the social aspects of people and cultivating a subject matter expertise does begin a person down the road to being valuable. Certainly, there is more that can be said, but probably enough to chew on for now. :)

Missional Government 2.0

It’s only a matter of time before Tim O’Reilly tells the world that Web 2.0 Expo is going to be hosted in Washington, D.C. I mean, I don’t know anything for a fact, but all the sex appeal of Web 2.0 is descending on Washington. I certainly appreciate the fact that the Silicon Valley bubble is seeing that there are real things happening here in Washington, but I continue to ask the questions about motive and clarity of thought. Are they (we) missing the forest through the trees?

Tangentially, but still related, the web technology space has clearly been usurped by marketing and communications. When folks refer to a “tech community”, what they really are referring to is the social web community which is now dominated less by actual technology folks and increasingly, and somewhat disturbingly, by marcom folks.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just not “tech”. It’s community. It’s marketing. It’s public affairs. It’s public relations. It’s brand. It’s reputation management. It’s rarely tech.

And so, the conundrum. What Washington outsiders suggest is “Government 2.0″ is really a marketing campaign. Is that really beneficial? Or even new?

Peter Corbett wrote a great post here the other day suggesting that governmental change and “Web 2.0″ adoption, to paraphrase, can be delivered by building appropriate technology and applications to meet the needs of the government.

Think about this… How can we have Government 2.0, when the government consists of so many divergent niches, industries and missions? On the federal level, there is Congress, Labor, Commerce, Defense, Intelligence, Health, International Development, and the list goes on. On the state and local level, there are Motor Vehicles, taxation agencies, police departments, fire departments, schools. That only constitutes government proper and says nothing for government related organizations like political action committees, lobby groups, NGOs and grassroots political organizations. Again, that’s only in the federal sector.

You can’t apply one solution to the entire government. Understanding of the missional nature of sectors of the government is critical. We should be talking about Commerce 2.0 or Intelligence 2.0, not Government 2.0. And we should certainly not be applying a one size fits all solution that works effectively in the private sector to the public sector without understanding that mission.

Our taxpayer dollars are the sole funding sources for most of these government groups. In a time when taxpayer money is being printed to fund things that can only be funded by taxpayer dollars, the last thing we want is those dollars going to ineffective solutions that don’t extend the mission of the agency, simply to say, for instance, that the Department of Labor is on Twitter.

Why?

Does it fit their mission? Is it effective in protecting the taxpayer interests and extending the mission of Labor?

The Department of Labor fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.

This is an example, of course. I don’t mean to single out the fine public servants over at Labor and, in fact, I cannot speak to anything they are doing with the social web.

Folks, listen up. People have to take a step back and stop trying to apply the same stuff that works out here to what is going on in there. It might work. But then, it might not. Understanding those core missional requirements can help the real experts bring real solutions to the table.

In fact, in many cases, building technology that doesn’t already exist to meet the misssional requirements of agencies that we may never see is not sexy in an era of web celebrity and achievement. In fact, people may never see some of the technology that comes to bear because they simply think that common social networks or blogs are the solution.

If you want to be in this space, you need to protect taxpayer dollars by bringing appropriate solutions to the table, whether public, well known services (if they meet the need) or building apps that make sense to the mission and may never be used outside of that organization.

These are the keys.

Added: Geoff Livingston spoke to the National Park Service and made my point for me. Clearly, he understands the mission and scope of the NPS and is encouraging the proper modes of social media that are compatible to their mission.

In Washington They Ask, "What Can We Actually Use?"

As many of you know, I’ve spent the better part of the last three months looking for sustainable employment. Historically (in the past two years), I have focused on technology startups outside of my geographical region, but, as time has gone on I have seen increasing value in planting roots with a local firm.

In this process, I have interviewed with agencies, political action comittees, social cause organization, activist groups, development shops and even the occasional PR firm. However, by and large, most of these organizations are connected to the Washington government machine in some way.

A question that comes up frequently in interviews, specifically because I have a unique position as “power player” in the web space, is “What is out there that is new that we can use?”

This question has been answered in a variety of ways, being refined for each organization and group. Different folks, different strokes, different spokes.

As an early adopter of most new web technologies, I recognize this question. It is a question that generally stems from the desire to “be relevant” but often doesn’t consider the mission and constituency. So, in an admittedly generic and assumptive way, I’ll answer this question, and leave you scratching your head as to why I get hired for my social media strategery… There is nothing new out there that you can use.

Nothing. Absolutely Zero.

The principles of communication are really simple and have remained consistent over 10,000 years of recorded history… Talk to people the way you would want to be talked to. Give people information the way they want to consume information. If that’s a YouTube video, make a YouTube video (Bonus points if you can articulate a surefire way to make a viral YouTube video! ;-) ). If you have a thousand attorneys on a email newsletter, then communicate with compelling email newsletters (and talk to my buddy, Greg Cangialosi, over at Blue Sky Factory about their solutions). If your constituency wants a “pull” aggregator of interesting related content, give them a Delicious feed. If you are dealing with foreign wars, try to communicate with photography. If you’re dealing with climate change, work with a Google Maps mashup (build one!) showing the effect of rising sea levels and deforestation.

In other words, communications principles always remain the same: communicate with people on their level with respect. The execution of such principles varies according to organization.

Putting aside the “best tool” question, the real question becomes: How will you use the tools available to execute on mission, not simply be sexy?

Answers?