Strike Back in the War for the Web: Government Portals 2.0

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post advocating local governments building their own Ning networks. I’m more convinced that ever that social portals are the future for local govs, and I’d like to see San Francisco embrace such an effort around its non-emergency 311 services center and capacity-building initiatives out of the Department of Emergency Management and Office of Administrative Services.
Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites where governments are creating outposts do not fulfill the core service mission of government portals, which will continue to see declining citizen interest at static HTML sites. Commercial, free social networks exist to pull views to targeted ads. Local and regional governments can and should build out their own social portals and replace targeted ads with streamlined access to essential services.
These networks can and should integrate content from all localized news and community blogs and have social badges for placement elsewhere on the Web. In many ways, the escalating war for corporate dominance of the web demands such a move. It’s time for governments to start playing at scale.

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5/6 SF City Hall – Support OpenGov APIs

One of the most promising areas for open government efforts is cross-gov collaboration on standardized APIs, enabling interoperability of civic apps wherever one goes. From San Francisco to Edmonton, AB, city IT leaders and developers have been signing on to a key effort on this front – building out an Open311 API for access to non-emergency city services. It’s an effort that will not only benefit large cities and app builders, but has the potential to jump start digital 311 efforts in smaller cities.
May 6 at 6:30 p.m. in San Francisco City Hall, Twilio is hosting Gov 2.0 thought leaders from government and the private sector in an event benefiting OpenPlans, the nonprofit leading Open311 efforts.
RSVP here.
Speakers include SF CIO Chris Vein, Craig Newmark, Tim O’Reilly, Mitchell Kapor and OpenPlans’ Philip Ashlock.
The event is still open to sponsors and donations directly to OpenPlans. Additionally, Twilio is seeking four volunteers to help with registration and even coordination – if that’s you, e-mail danielle (at) Hope to see you there!

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Twitter Strategy for Agencies and Causes

© Creative Commons

There are as many social media strategies as there are active social media users. This one is mine, for Twitter. Remember that nearly all of the Twitter accounts with huge follow counts reached that status through’s “suggested user list,” which automatically signs new Twitter users up to follows a select groups of accounts.  However, any purposeful Twitter user should be able to quickly target and grow a significant and relevant follower list of hundreds or thousands using these methods. This strategy is comprehensive and parsing it is likely to produce substandard results. There are alternatives to most of the tools explained here, many of which work just as well or better and can be substituted.

Growing followers: There are three proven ways to generate followers: Be famous outside social media; tweet A LOT; and, follow lots of people. We’ll tackle the latter two, especially following targeted users.

If you’ve not already been tweeting regularly, skip down to “Strategic messaging” and make sure you’ve got at least 30 good tweets before you start following anyone. Be sure to put in a photo, a link to your main website, and a complete bio – including the Twitter or full names of everyone responsible for the account.

Following people
Twitter has limits on how many people you can follow in a day, and in total. You may also be suspended as a spammer for randomly following people or for unfollowing too many people at once (“churn”). The strategies outlined here work best over the course of several weeks or months – don’t try to rush them.

Regional campaigns/causes: To identify and follow local tweeps, use LocaFollow and Twellow.

Issue campaigns/causes: To identify tweeps who are likely to be interested in your agency or cause, search keyword tags at Listorious and TweepML. TweepML will save you substantial time by allowing you to follow up to 250 people from a subject matter list with a couple of clicks and a few minutes of processing. You can take lists straight from Twitter and follow the users through TweepML, and you can also create custom TweepML lists using Twitter Search on keywords or hashtags.

Identify key supporters/influencers in your target community and see if they have lists on their Twitter page. You can also find accounts with similar messages to yours and follow the people who follow them.

Pay special attention to locating and following all tweeting journalists who might write about your agency or cause. Remember that even small groups of followers can be very valuable if they are influencers who have blogs, write for newspapers or have their own large social media communities.

Do not follow people randomly unless your only purpose is to generate a large number (sometimes good for traditional campaigns, but generally ill advised). If your intent is to simply amass followers, there are many popular lists on TweepML for reciprocal following.

Unfollowing people
While you should monitor an engage the people you follow with some regularity, for an agency or cause account, you won’t want to follow many, if any, people who do not follow you. Because Twitter discourages unfollowing and has shut down many sites that facilitate mass unfollowings, take care. Unfollow only after you have at least a few hundred followers and limit it to 100-200 a day or 10-20 percent of the people you follow. Use ManageFlitter daily to ratchet down the number of accounts that are not following you back (an alternative with more manual selection is MyTweeple).

If you don’t want to lose connection with someone by unfollowing, ask them with an @ message to follow you, and/or add them to a public Twitter list.

Disciplined, consistent following and unfollowing is key for building an influential account.

Autofollowing: You can automatically follow people who follow you using tools like Twollow, although manually screening the people you follow back is a quick process and advisable. Twollow also allows you to autofollow using keywords (though this can also get pretty spammy and is not suggested for official accounts). If you use Twollow’s free trial, note that it automatically bills if you don’t cancel.

Essential engagement
Spending 30-60 minutes a day reading the stream of people you follow and retweeting (RT) or messaging them with authentic responses to what they are talking about is key to building a successful Twitter community. You can also use this time to search for people talking about relevant issues and to engage with them. This is simply not done well by most agency and cause accounts, but you can look at tweeps like @kim (arts community), @MayorSamAdams (Portland Mayor), and @CoryBooker (Mayor of Newark) for examples of highly interactive Twitter practices. Following and engaging with people may get you some interesting responses – often it will lead to positive messaging or even blog posts about your campaign or agency. If it gets a bad reaction, just ignore it and keep going.

It is absolutely essential to respond to relevant replies and direct messages, and in a timely manner.

Strategic messaging
You’re tweeting for an agency or a cause, so you know the message you want to send. Remember that Twitter runs on immediate gratification – many people like to RT or even donate or participate directly in relevant causes. It’s also a busy ecosystem and if you don’t tweet often enough you will not be seen. Three to 5 original tweets a day should be the minimum, plus RTs and replies. Tweet messages and links to interesting and relevant articles. You may need a community before you need a community, so be consistent.

(Note: Tweets that start with @ are parsed by Twitter as replies and are seen only by that user and people following both you and them. @s within a message are seen by all following you.)

Scheduling and managing: Use HootSuite on the web and on your smartphones to schedule tweets in advance and manage multiple accounts or share duties. Avoid repeating the same message more than twice a day or 5 times a week; however, building up to an ask or breaking a message into several tweets spaced by 10-30 minutes is good, too. Alternatives to Hootsuite include CoTweet, TweetDeck and Seesmic.

Automating: You can use Twitterfeed to keep your account going with relevant content, 24-7. Never schedule more than 1-2 messages every half hour, and consider spacing these automatic tweets out even more. Use the feeds to RT as specific user, or users tweeting about a hashtag or keyword (however, the latter can be dangerously random and is not suggested for most accounts). Twitter does not allow you load an RSS feed directly, so you need to create a simple Yahoo Pipe and then run the RSS and paste it into Twitterfeed. You can also link your blog’s RSS to a feed and set up several for an account. Setting up feeds can be a little tricky, so make sure to monitor it for funny business at the outset.

Pipe to RT a user or hashtag (remove your account name to avoid loops). Example: @Govwiki, which RTs messages with the hashtag #gov20 twice every 30 minutes

Linking your Facebook account(s) to update Twitter can also be a good move to keep content fresh, though the reverse is a major faux pas because it generally overloads the news feed of your Facebook friends.

If you’re still working on the basics of Twitter for organizations, check out this helpful guide from Learning Pool.

~ Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and new media strategist. His successful social media projects include Gov 2.0 Radio and Save Natalie.

Conundrum – Managing Party Invites and Informal Events

Is Evite the Myspace of party planning sites? That’s what Amy Mengel opined in response to my complaining about the service. With just about every social network trying steer users towards its own events solution, event planning still seems very wild west in the Web 2.0 world. Evite is well established, but I groan every time I see one of their e-mails in my inbox. Invariably, the invite falls into one of two categories: a mass invite from someone I don’t know or haven’t talked to in years; or, a mass invite from someone I know well and who probably should have picked up the phone or handed me a card if they really wanted me at their wedding. I loathe Evite. But, in the rare case where I do RSVP to an event through Evite, the automatic reminders can be handy. Then again, I could set those up in Google calender as well. has a nice system for event planning, but it’s very tied to that specific community. Facebook also has a nice interface, but if you’re like me – with a lot of activists and organizers in your network – you may also have gone to a default ignore mode to tune out hundreds of spammy invites. (Facebookers, I doubt that everyone in your network is a good fit for your event; maybe take a little time to target those invites?)
Eventbrite seems to be a decent solution with integrated social media, but I still haven’t seen it used in an e-mail setting. And maybe that’s the issue – that some invites should be very non-intrusive, and that others should be very personal. And e-mail is too much for one, not enough for the other.
But that’s me.
What online solutions are working for your events and parties? And which do you respond to?

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Let’s Do It San Francisco – Next Steps

The Let’s Do It movement is inherently grassroots and requires a massive volunteer effort. Since I publicly floated the idea on Thursday, the response has been positive, with support from the director of the SF Neighborhood Empowerment Network, line-level SF city employees, Craig Newmark, and, very importantly, Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix (a Web, phone and mobile app that allows citizens to track and report blight and municipal infrastructure issues), just to name a few. Ben and his co-founders are going to be in town in mid-April, and it makes sense to have an initial volunteer team meeting at that time.

The volunteers who kicked of Let’s Do It in Estonia started with a team of 20 that grew to more than 600, with tens of thousands taking part in the culminating day of action. My first goal is to have at least 20 of us at an initial meeting mid-month.

To clean graffiti, we’re looking at a couple big issues. Some of the worst of it is on state-owned and private property. That means getting permissions from the property owners to remove it. And we’ll need ladders, not just paint and paint supplies. I think the permission part is pretty easily dealt with as we create an opt-in for property owners, who will greatly benefit from this effort (they are legally responsible for removing graffiti on their property). We need muralists on board for hot spots, a trash transport plan, and, as we pick up steam, there may be opportunity to address other blight as well.

There already are commercial paint matching apps, and we’ll want to work to tie them into the mapping system as well as seek partnerships with paint companies that can provide mobile paint matching services for the day of action.

Alissa has pointed out that we can tap SF’s 311 system to identify outstanding complaints before the day of action (thinking about at September or October for the date, perhaps the weekend of 10/10/10).

I’ve created a Twitter account and hashtag for LetsDoItSF, and we should also agree on an open shared space for online collaboration: Google docs, Wave, GovLoop, here?


To get more insight on what we’re diving into, check out the Let’s Do it World action manual. What we are doing here will not only dramatically improve blight in San Francisco and show the power of collective civic action, it is also critical infrastructure building in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions.

The technologies for pulling this off have only advanced since 2008 and Estonia. Let’s do it!

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Space is the Place – NASA on Gov 2.0 Radio

If you’re looking for a glimpse into how earthpeople and their governments are evolving, what better way then to check into NASA’s two April appearances on Gov 2.0 Radio. This month, we’ll go coast to coast with conversation with Beth Beck about NASA’s social media initiatives, and Gretchen Curtis on the space agency’s pioneering cloud computing project, Nebula.

April 4, 9 p.m. ET from DC: NASA isn’t just an early adopter of social media, they go BIG. First their astronauts were relaying tweets from space, then they were tweeting live from orbit. NASA has also holds space-themed tweetups for their fans. Tune in for a chat with Beth Beck, NASA’s space operations outreach manager.

April 11, 9 p.m. ET from SF: How does NASA match good government and massive computational needs? By launching the federal governments most aggressive cloud computing pilot project, of course. Join us as we talk with Gretchen Curtis, NASA Nebula’s communications director about infrastructure-as-a-service and the future of public sector cloud.

cross posted from Gov 2.0 Radio

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Cleaning Up All Dumping and Graffiti in SF in One Day

You may have heard the story of how on May 3, 2008, 40,000 volunteers picked up all the trash in the country of Estonia. Since then, similar “Let’s Do It” actions have been organized from Bangalore to New Dehli.

In the U.S., there’s been a lot of action around technology and government, and conferences with tag lines like, “Private Sector Solutions Meet Government Challenges.” Two major points of energy in what’s called the Gov 2.0 or Open Government movement have been transparency, pushed by organizations like the Sunlight Foundation, and the “open data” movement, harnessing governments’ propensity for statistics to create handy mobile programs for organizing and accessing useful information on parking, recycling, available taxis and neighborhood crime data.

But I’ve always seen Gov 2.0’s greatest potential as unleashing projects like Let’s Do It, harnessing collective energy and talent to overcome big civic challenges. Could San Francisco create a Let’s Do It project to collectively map all of the dumping and graffiti in the city and take it on in a massive day of volunteer action involving muralists, City workers, business sponsors, neighbors and volunteers from around the Bay?

I think so.


~ Adriel Hampton, cross posted from OpenSF

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