When you think of challenges to moving government towards more collaboration, openness and direct democracy, you may think of issues like institutionalized resistance to interagency sharing, legacy laws blocking Gov 2.0 uptake, or some other roadblock to adoption. I don’t think those barriers are as big as we think. But three features already institutionalized in Web culture are big problems for mainstream acceptance and growing use of 2.0 applications by government agencies: simply, pride, recklessness, and anonymity.
By pride I mean the ornery behavior of so many webheads (myself no exception on bad days) of thinking this is all about me. Social networkers who want everyone to follow them, regardless of any meaningful connection or plan for collaboration, are the biggest example of this. Some have called it the “look at me” phenomenon. This is the “open networker” of LinkedIn, the Twitter user who keeps bragging or whining about their number of followers or the number of people who’ve stopped following (they usually blame Twitter, even when hundreds of their followers were spam accounts); and the random friend request on Facebook with no note of introduction. Simply, all of this is a waste, and impresses not the real doers, movers and shakers of society.
Recklessness is a range – on its extreme end, the absurd behavior otherwise sane people adopt online, from drunk party pictures to blue language. On the less foolish but just as damaging end is the Web 1.0 thinking of just throwing content out with no thought about its purpose. That means creating groups and networks, new sites and user names without any thought of what purpose they serve, or any research into what’s already come before. This reckless practice dilutes content to the point where finding information and building meaningful collaboration is a needle-in-the-haystack exercise. It ruins communities and pollutes the Web.
Anonymity is the problem of people with weird and inconsistent user names not linked clearly to a real person thinking anyone is taking them seriously (unless perhaps it’s someone else with similar delusions). The serious folks who run our society just shake their heads at this sort of madness. And any Web 2.0 application (you listening, Twitter, SFGate.com?) that thinks this kind of culture is acceptable isn’t worthy of the 2.0 name. This raving exhibitionism of the id has been around since the genesis of AOL, and look where AOL is now.
If we are to have Government 2.0, we must guard – fight, even – against these three ills of the system. When they are dealt with and we show the revolutionary value of 2.0, its other challenges will seem small.
Later: How to fight back.