Get Official Texts on Local Emergencies via Twitter

It’s widely acknowledged by emergency preparedness officials that text alerts are an important part of their arsenal. As Twitter gains increasing adoption among both engaged citizens and government agencies, there is a simple outreach mechanism for ensuring that alerts are received broadly: SMS signups for Twitter alerts from official emergency accounts.
While warning claxons, radio alerts and other systems that don’t rely on cellular networks are the backbone of civic emergency programs, all cities that use Twitter in their preparedness toolkit should be actively encouraging the public to sign up for alerts via text on their cell phones. For example, in San Francisco, to receive SMS alerts by cell from the Department of Emergency Management, Twitter users simply need to text “follow SF_Emergency” to 40404. This official account sends out very few tweets (just 12 in the month of October), but when it does update, it’s important information such as road closure updates, details on emergency preparedness drills or details on gas leaks and other emergencies. 
To find out about your local emergency alerts, you can check out the resources on GovLive, and to sign up for Twitter SMS alerts in the U.S. text “follow” and the account name without the @ symbol to 40404.

My CityCampSF: Lessons and Next Steps

I am involved with the Gov 2.0 movement because I believe it will bring important change to calcified and inefficient governmental structures. CityCampSF, an unconference held yesterday in San Francisco, will be a success if real actions stem from the event discussions and connections. I got two action items from the event that I intend to follow up on:

Fighting Blight with Civic Apps
In a great small group discussion with officials from the Department of Public Works and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, I learned more about how the City addresses graffiti tagging. I want to help educate folks how to use Open311 and apps like CitySourced and SeeClickFix to photograph, geotag and report graffiti tags, and to create more efficient structures for empowering volunteers to paint over tags on private property. I learned about current and planned graffiti tagging abatement efforts from DPW’s Greg Crump, and Greg and I plan to create a wiki to document current processes and work on technical and process reforms. I’m also hoping to get on the agenda of the Graffiti Advisory Board next month to talk about civic apps and innovations in graffiti tagging prevention and abatement, with the goal of convening a train-the-trainers session with neighborhood leaders on how to better fight blight in their communities using new technologies.

Mapping and Promoting Civic Treasures
In a session on social media for civic engagement, I learned about, a project by Laurenellen McCann that aims to be a Yelp for art, and Green Map, a global effort to map cultural resources, as I presented on using location-based services to promote public art and open space. There was a lot of synergy around the topic, as we discussed mapping civic resources from temporary art installations from groups like Black Rock City (the Burning Man producers) to community gardens. I hope to use the CityCampSF platform to start soliciting and creating civic maps and to collect and promote those that already exist.
Keep up with ongoing CityCampSF projects by subscribing to the blog. Thanks!

‘Today’ and Tomorrows that Might Be

I’m speaking at Beyond 2010 Edmonton next week, and, stepping out from my usual social media, open data and Gov 2.0 fare, my presentation ties personal childhood passions and forever dreams into a talk called “Sci-fi, Digital Society and the Future of Governance.” Here’s a look at several of the books that figure into this look at ‘today’ and tomorrows that might be (Amazon affiliate links):

The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life (Malone, 2004)

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Lanier, 2010)

Player Piano (Vonnegut, 1952)

Foundation and the Robot Series (Foundation Novels) (Asimov, 1950-1985)

Flickr photo of Zhou Renti and his android by Montauk Beach

Luke Closs: The Innovation Pipeline for Gov

Luke Closs is a Vancouver-based web developer and co-creator of VanTrash, a civic app that notifies residents of local trash pickup schedules and won the “People’s Choice Award” in British Columbia’s “Apps for Climate Action” contest. Luke was recently interviewed on Gov 2.0 Radio, and in this guest post he discusses the benefits of co-creation for government services. 

An “ideas pipeline” is analogous to a sales pipeline – you have a lot of leads, and as you qualify them your pipeline gets smaller but more valuable. This really highlights how open source works well. Open source is great for allowing a lot of ideas emerge, some of them are great, some not so much.
This analogy is useful for people within governmental organizations to understand how they can help cultivate useful apps. At each step of that pipeline there are different actions they can take to help maximize the value coming out. Providing a forum for idea generation and sharing helps grow the inputs to the pipeline. Providing a forum for developers/designers/citizens to connect helps transform ideas into prototypes. Prototypes that are useful or interesting or novel can become projects. Keeping that community in contact and moving forward helps keep up excitement and interest in projects. Projects that prove to be useful become services used by hundreds or thousands of people. Recognizing and supporting these project teams is valuable.
Eventually services may become infrastructure, things that citizens expect to have. At this point, governments may chose to partner with the creators to ensure the infrastructure can be sustainable for all their citizens over the long term.
This really demonstrates the way that governments should leverage open source. They can get a huge amount of innovation around their data by providing support for ideas, teams and projects that prove themselves to be successful.
Contrast this with the traditional, old-school way that governments rolled out services in the past. They paid for all ideas, successful or not.

Social Media: Putting a Human Face on Government

At a couple of recent presentations on social media for local government, I asked the audiences of IT professionals which tools they were already using. At least 90 percent indicated they were using Twitter or Facebook, usually both. The battle for social media adoption has been won.

However, adoption is just the first step, and it was clear that many of these accomplished webmasters were far from sure how to implement robust social media strategies and programs in their agencies. In consideration of this, I’ve been blogging more on the basics of social media implementation for local governments, resurrecting and re-editing many of my older posts in the process (see the new page tabs at One question that many governmental units struggle with is control over social media. IT or public affairs staffs may struggle with putting the social media genie back in the lamp after learning of unofficial “official” accounts, or insist on a centralized processes and approval hierarchies for any new accounts.
Tight control of agency social media may work from a traditional PR perspective, but it’s a recipe for public outreach failure in the cultures created by Facebook and Twitter. The best social media is human, peer-to-peer, and casual. And there is very little preventing government agencies and officials from flourishing in this environment, once they make the choice to let go of traditional bureaucratic processes. The best social media is informal, passionate and personal. It’s the hopeful mayor, the committed public works official, the tweeting library exhibit.
The best government social media efforts are also diverse. City of San Francisco has more than three dozen active Twitter accounts for programs, agencies and City officials and many more Facebook accounts. The U.S. State Department has hundreds of Facebook and Twitter accounts, for Embassies, programs, and individual officials. The best control is a proactive strategy that emphasizes training, best practices and strategic goals, wrapping the “don’ts” into existing employee conduct policies. 
A tweeting City seal is fine, but a tweeting City Manager is even better (and make sure she or he has a great avatar picture). A tweeting City seal AND a tweeting City Manager is even better. Add a tweeting Rec and Parks staff member and a tweeting council member and you’re even better off. Share, repeat and accentuate messaging across account and platforms. Be professional, but be human. Be real, and be helpful. Your most personable accounts are invariably going to have the most influence and recognition on social media channels. And if you’re not doing social media to make a difference, it’s probably not worth doing.
A couple practical tips: if an elected official is tweeting and wants to do it in official capacity, consider one account for the office and one account for the individual that can also be used for campaign purposes without creating a dilemma for staff; increase transparency and accountability by identifying responsible staff for any “City seal” accounts by including their names or Twitter IDs in the bio, then use initials if needed in individual messages.

Upcoming on Gov 2.0 Radio: IT professionals weigh in Gov 2.0; Apps for Climate Action Winners

Tune in to Gov 2.0 Radio on Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern for a look at how government IT professionals are defining and adopting Gov 2.0 in their agencies. We’ll be talking to Christina Morrison about the findings of a recent HP survey of 103 state, local and federal employees, responding to the question ‘What is Gov 2.0?‘ and more. Last year, we heard Gov 2.0 evangelists, from Gov 2.0 Radio producer Adriel Hampton to Craigslist founder Craig Newmark define Gov 2.0, now HP has gone to the front lines to find out where agencies are in the adoption curve, and what emerging tech tools are supporting their customer-service missions. You can check out the full survey results here.
Also this Sunday, we’ll be talking with Luke Closs, one of the winners of B.C.’s Apps for Climate Action contest. You can read more the contest here, and see a video interview between David Eaves and Closs here. Also, check out our July Gov 2.0 Radio podcast previewing the province-wide contest.

Sourcing a Tweet

By nature, occupation and State of California licensing, I am an investigator. It’s one of the things that endears me to social networking, as I find the web of information endlessly fascinating. When I read a tweet, I’m looking not just at the 140 characters and the author’s name or ID, but also at the time and source of the message.
If you’re looking to maximize strategic use of Twitter, you can learn a lot by doing the same. On standard Twitter, the message source is at the bottom right of each tweet – in the roll out of new Twitter, it appears again at the lower right after you click on a tweet and it pops up in the right-hand pane. So why does this matter?
  • If the message source is always an automated source like Twitterfeed or a custom app, it can help tell you if you’re dealing with a bot (see @govwiki, @redscarebot). If so, probably no need to reply, thank, or try to spark up a conversation (although I do monitor tweets back to @govwiki – and I have nothing to do with the clever McCarthy bot). All Twitterfeed, it’s a bot;
  • It lets you know if the person who’s tweeting is there or not. A good number of highly active folks mix scheduled tweets with their live bon mots, so if you’re trying to catch them live, look for “web” as the source, or look for interaction and not just presence;
  • It tells you if someone is mobile. Look for a source like “Seesmic for Android”;
  • It can explain why someone appears to be up in the middle of the night 🙂
  • It can help identify a spammer before you follow back. “API” as the source is generally an unregistered app, and a decent signal that that prolific new follower might not be as engaging as they look.