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The Gov 2.0 Camp LA Drama: Lessons for Community

Community events have become very common these days. Ever since the days of the first BarCamp – an unconference event that caters mainly to developers and techheads and is organized around attendees picking time slots to speak in on the day of the event – and transitioning to other similar style events,  like PodCamp, WordCamp, and now Gov 2.0 Camp, these events have become a catalyst for grassroots movement in the areas they focus in.

As a WordPress guy, my roots are with the WordCamp events that are held around the country. I just got back from WordCamp NYC 2 and we’ll be announcing details on WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010 around the new year. I’ve been to a ton of these kinds of events. I flew to Boston for PodCamp Boston 2, attended the inaugural PodCamp Philly a few years ago (still the best of its kind, in my opinion) and been involved with a variety of other events like it.

One thing I can say is that through a variety of events, in a variety of communities, with a variety of organizers… the same consistent lessons about community always shine through. If you have a motivated community that is supported by each other and encouraging each other to champion on and grow; if there is a sense of collaboration and alliance; then and only then, the greater community of artists, developers, innovators, business owners, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts can thrive.

To this end, I’m disappointed by the negative turn that has been aroused around the Gov 2.0 Camp LA.

Picture A Day September 13, 2009 - Heaven Community Rules

Mark Drapeau, referred to commonly as @cheeky_geeky, has been the target of many blog posts around the ether including on this blog. He comes out swinging hard at Gov 2.0 Camp LA for no apparent reason that is suitable or conducive to growing community:

My opinion can be briefly summarized as the following: I think it’s thrown together. I think it’s careless. I think it’s Mickey Mouse. I cannot figure out what the objective is beyond getting a bunch of hyped up people together in one place to drink kool-aid, despite seeming to promise the opposite. I see blanket statements and marketing slogans, but very little original thought. I see remarkably little tie-in with the mainstream conversation about what Government 2.0 means philosophically, experimentally, and practically. I don’t believe the word “policy” is even mentioned in the blog post above that describes the event – how can you describe a Gov 2.0 event and not mention policy? When what the conference stands for is dissected, it is difficult to determine how anything will be advanced by it, or how it will truly differ from numerous other mundane events sprouting up around this hot topic.

I understand Mark is passionate about Government 2.0. He wears that mantle very publicly and seems to, after a regression into a fairly normal existence in the greater community, rear his head again to slap down a localized community event suited for the LA government community, not DC.

A major problem here is that community is not built through attack. Through this entire article, he seems to be on the defensive in what can only be described as a territorial fear for the loss of stature. Or perhaps, it’s his affiliation with the O’Reilly Media folks who put on a competing event. Either way, Mark’s position in the Government 2.0 community is perceived to be threatened here. There can be no other explanation for the vitriol that goes into the intentional effort to relegate another Gov 2.0 community event into a vilified event. Is there a blacklist that future events can sign onto in advance?

Instead of attacking, which is apparently the modus operandi in this particular fight, let me offer some constructive criticism from my experience as a community event organizer. Mark, since this will undoubtedly appear in front of your face, let me go on record and say that you have publicly asked for people to respond to your comments and not ad hominem. I cannot do that because I can’t speak with any authority on your comments. I can speak with authority on community and community events, though, and that is what I will do.

  • Local events are local events. Unless there is a foundation or organization of some sort, as is the case with Social Media Club, that dictates formats and expectation, leave the local event to the local organizer.
  • The local organizers know their communities better than you ever will.
  • Local events are meant to be local. Not national. Not international. If you want national or international, throw a full conference, not an unconference.
  • Lead by example. If you want your event to be the model for other events, then make sure the public face on the event is approachable and well-liked. It’s not a popularity contest, but people shy away from polarizing people. Like me, trust me.
  • Yield the floor to any competing views or events. What’s good for the Gov 2 community somewhere is probably good elsewhere. It may not be what we need in DC, but maybe it’s exactly what is needed in LA.
  • Support other organizers. Don’t shoot allies. You may need them at some point.
  • The coworking communities of Independents Hall in Philly, New Work City in NY, Citizen Space in San Francisco and the Beehive in Baltimore all thrive because, as communities, they all recognize that they feed each other and are built in that way. What one person lacks, someone else brings to the table. Innovation and collaboration birthed out of working together.

Now that I have criticized (hopefully constructively) Mark’s reaction, it is only fair that I make some (hopefully constructive) observations about the Gov 2.0 Camp LA effort. First, they do seem to take the approach that G2CLA is the same event as G2CDC and that it is just “going on the road”. This is not the case. They are two different events. Fix this and remove any question. The LA event is the LA event. The DC event is the DC event.

Secondly, stop posturing against G2CDC. As mentioned above, the two events are connected in that they are both catering to government professionals and contractors as well as vendors and others looking to revolutionize the government interaction with citizens. This should not be toned in an us and them (LA vs DC) framework. LA should take what makes sense from DC and put their own spin on it. Leave what doesn’t make sense.

If I were the LA organizers, I’d keep the whole event tightly focused on state and local politics – specifically California and southern California. Additionally, with no offense intended toward whoever designed the official site, it needs work including schedule, sessions, etc. We will not go live with WordCamp Mid-Atlantic’s new site until we’re good and ready for it.

Community is only as good as the participants in it. Pissing on fire hydrants and shelling people based on personalities? Not so much.

Photo taken by Matt High

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Ethical Questions over Apps.gov

It’s been no secret since the Obama administration took office, that a key technological interest for the administrations tech policy would involve Cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) initiatives. To that end, contractors and providers have been jockeying to provide cloud service to the federal government.

One of these contractors, notable for their size and breadth within the government I.T. contracting ecosystem, is Computer Sciences Corporation [CSC], who has partnered with Microsoft [MSFT] to provide a specialized product offering for the government.

Interestingly this week, the federal government jumped on the the “app store” movement, made sexy by Apple [AAPL] and expounded on by BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion [RIMM] and Palm [PALM] and now Google [GOOG] with their Android phones.

Incidentally, I’m including stock symbols for a reason. Follow the money and see where it goes. Thats your homework for the day, kids.

Screen shot 2009-09-17 at 1.52.02 PMThe new government offering, Apps.gov is a new “app store” for the federal government. Unlike other app store offerings that are geared toward mobile computing, this app store, an initiative of the GSA seeks to be a clearing house for cloud/SaaS services for the federal government. I’d be lying if I told you I thought this wouldn’t work in driving adoption by other federal agencies of these services.

The App store is divided into four sections: Business Apps, Cloud IT Services, Productivity Apps and Social Media Apps. Most of the applications found in Apps.gov are for-pay services and they are only available for purchase with a government purchasing card. These pay-services include a variety of products from Force.com, creator of the highly popular (if onerously annoying) Salesforce, and a variety of Google Apps products (all paid).

Interestingly, there are free products as well, and this is where I have ethics questions. Many of the products that are free, mostly in the Social Media section, are tools that are used everyday in social media, blogging, and web culture. Many of these apps we take for granted and talk about everyday. Applications like Slideshare and DISQUS have been used on this blog absolutely free of charge.

However, in the government, there always needs to be a tradeoff. You do something, you get something. Even Freedom of Information Act provisions make getting information a freely available right, but it doesn’t make it free. Most requests must be paid for.

Even when working with Lijit, I spent weeks and months trying to get one of the campaigns to adopt the product, but we couldn’t get it done as a free product without it being considered a campaign contribution. Granted, campaigns are not government, but you see where I’m going with this.

Daniel Ha, the CEO of DISQUS commented that they work with a variety of government agencies but that the GSA requires agreements to keep things official and on the up and up. This does not surprise me. It seems to be necessary. Ha did indicate that he was not aware of Apps.gov though, which seems to indicate that the app store was simply populated with providers who the GSA has a record of. It seems to me there’s some kind of missing piece here and I can’t put my finger on what it is.

When browsing around Apps.gov, it is not immediately known how providers get listed in the store. This is where my ethics questions come up. Companies listed in the store gain an implicit endorsement by the government, and probably immediate adoption in other agencies struggling to identify which services should be allowed and which services should not. This is not a transparent process of product selection or offering that I would have hoped for, though on the surface, it is certainly a good step in the right direction.

The major missing piece here is a transparent statement that informs the public on how apps are selected, if there is money changing hands (pay per play), how companies can get their own apps listed, etc.

This is the same problem Apple [AAPL] has had with the iTunes App store and arbitrary selection. It is such a problem that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into it. It also sets up a possibilty of an FTC investigation of the GSA for anti-competitive practice, though I’m not entirely sure if that is logistically or legally possible.

My point is that GSA is doing the right thing here, mostly. They just need to tweak and get rid of any shadow of wrongdoing or ethics questions.

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