Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Facebook and the civil servants

Michael Geist had an interesting column this week on the hugely popular social networking site Facebook. He provides a bit of a history of Facebook (hard to believe it's only been open to the Internet at large since September 2006!) and some insight into how users are connecting and why it's so popular. Geist notes, "Statistics Canada estimates that there are approximately 17 million Canadian Internet users, suggesting that in the span of nine months the site has grown to the point that roughly one in 10 Canadian Internet users now has a page on the site."

Responding to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's recent statement that Facebook offers little value to public servants, Dr. Geist observes, "Is there really no benefit to having government policymakers access and participate in the hundreds of groups discussing Ontario health care issues? Would it be so bad for elected officials to actually engage with their constituents in a social network environment?"

On his blog, Dr Geist adds the following opinion: "Attempts to block such activity are not only bound to fail, but they ultimately cut off decision makers, school officials, and community leaders from their communities. The answer does not lie in banning Facebook or the other emerging social media sites, but rather in facing up to Facebook fears and learning to use these new tools to engage and educate."

We don't have access to Facebook here, either, but that's because our Agency's net-nanny filters it as a "personals and dating" site.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The government doesn't like miscellany

Boing Boing posted a review yesterday of a new book by philosopher, technologist and Web commentator David Weinberger, best known for his book and Web site called The Cluetrain Manifesto. His latest book, subject of the Boing Boing review, is called Everything is Miscellaneous, which looks like required reading for anybody interested in the sociological effects of social media.

According to the review, "Weinberger's thesis is this: historically, we've divided the world into categories, topics, and hierarchies because physical objects need to be in one place or another, they can't be in all the places they might belong. Computers and the Internet turn this on its head: because a computer can "put things" in as many categories as they need to be in, because individuals can classify knowledge, tasks, and objects idiosyncratically, the hierarchy is revealed for what it always was, a convenient expedient masquerading as the True Shape of the Universe."

It's the next part of the review that I found so relevant to our considerations of government in the face of social media and Web 2.0. It says, "It's a powerful idea: from org charts to science, from music to retail theory, from government to education, every field of human endeavor is tinged with hierarchy, and every hierarchy is under assault from the Internet."

Yet more evidence to support the idea that we need to subvert our traditional top-down command and control models when considering the bureacracy in a socially-networked world.