Web 2.0 Blog – Discovering Innovation Opportunities using Social Media

Archive for February 2009

An electronic privacy wall would allow citizens to collaborate with, get services from, and find relevant information from governments but protect the citizen against intrusion by government.

I would love to have a page which I could go to and look at all of my interactions with governments, federal, state and local.

My my.gov page would have:

A personal section. To let me know if my kids can eat tuna without getting mercury poisoning, the latest science on issues related to my family’s health etc etc, when I495 would have scheduled delays because of Metro construction.

A Must Do section.
Where I could do my taxes, check license requirements, pay federal taxes and local parking tickets.

An events section. I could see what is happening locally at public meetings, town concerts or of a webstream debate on a bill which interests me.

A professional interests section.  Showing legislation and information important to my business and profession, even government grants which might apply to me.

A sound off area. My opinions and concerns could be directed to the right set of ears.

Government is too large and complex to put this together manually.. We would need to rely on a intelligent ‘relevance’ agent or service to bring to us what might be of interest so we can select from it. The relevance agent would need a profile of me so it would know what to look for.

But Wait!

For that to happen, I would have divulge a lot of information about myself, my family, my business. Most people including myself start hesitating when they realize this and would rather put up with the wildly disperse and hard to understand services, requirements, and information offered by the multiple governments each one of us is involved in than give up privacy to government!

So what if we created a privacy wall which on side we could put our information so a ‘relevance agent’ could search for and give us a selection of services to choose from to make my My.gov page.

The privacy wall would essentially act a smart ssl certificate. It would use our OpenID or some central login and create a private profile for us, but it would at the same time prevent the government side on the other side of the wall from seeing what we put in our profile. Some information might be allowed to have 2 way access such as ‘first name’ or even better ‘user name’ when dealing with most agencies, but except for a few select fields and then only if they are directly relevant to the task. So on IRS inquires they could see your tax information for that inquire (personal SSN but not business info during a personal inquiry).

This is similar to how facebook application permissions work except that allowed information for an application is traceable back to a public profile. We would have a more opague wall and while a statistical service which might see most fields, a government agency or agent would be restricted from putting together even a nearly complete profile without our express permission and even then the additional information would only be available for that transaction. It could even allow for anonymous inquiries which would be completely opague in cases such as terrorist tips etc.

The privacy wall would also have a role in making government more transparent. More records could be released about government decision making and services if all transactions automatically were linked to the privacy transaction rather than having, in the record, all specifics talked about during a single transaction.

This is a complex task. But there are some parts which are obvious. A government official doesnt need to see my IP address or track the number of times I use My.gov, so that could be masked. But a statistical analysis should be able to see how many times ‘an entity with some of my profile characteristics’ visited and so it could improve services such as the relevance agent. But no one in the government need know that Ken Fischer has an interest in mercury in the rivers and has done a consulting gig for X company which might be reported on a 1099 filing.
Of course the privacy wall is not only a technical hurdle. It is a legislative and policy hurdle as well. We would have to convince a lot of people who are not immersed in social media of the value of a profile which could be used to improve service immensely to citizens, help improve the accessibility of information by learning what is relevant to citizens of a certain profile type but also a BRICK WALL of privacy safeguarding the citizen from the government becoming overly intrusive.

Not only would this be good for citizens to be able to collaborate with and interact with their government, it would allow government agencies to answer requests and questions without the 5-10min or even multiple day task of re-verifying information every time we interact with a government agency.
So that’s idea for the day…Any thoughts?


Thinking about KIDFAD, Surowiecki’s requirements for successful collaboration. Also his Ted talk where he questioned whether the blogosphere is a good collaboration environment.

Also thinking about communities and communities structures. Get the influencers on board, make them evangelists and you can get a lot of people participating in your social media campaign or effort.

But they are at cross purposes right? Communities offer us a structure to pass information, change standards and behavior which relies on the relationships in the communities compromising the independence of the majority of the audience. While successful collaboration requires independence of thought, decentralization and diversity of opinion.

The influencers seem entrusted by the community to think for them when it comes to certain things such as what clothes are in fashion, what car to buy, some political opinions etc? And according to the New England Journal of Medicine, how much to each and exercise.

Social media strategists prefer to obtain participation by getting communities on board (it’s easier to get a few influencers on board and let them amplify our efforts than it is to talk to everyone right?) . And its hard to imagine how mass social media efforts could work without relying on this community structure and viral spread.

But then how do we separate participation mechanisms from collaboration mechanisms, so that we can have successful collaborations with members of participating communities?

In the DARPA Grand Challenge which was a highly successful contest to create self-driven vehicles, whose 2005 winner now sites in the American History Museum at the Smithsonian, collaborations were done in small teams, whereas participation of the teams is what DARPA acheived. The mechanisms of collaboration were left up to each team.

In the case of @GeoSteph’s LRO
effort which collected 1.5 million names in 3 months to send to the moon, participation was the final goal, so in this corrupting the independence and diversity wouldn’t matter. (In other words, lets assume that the majority of participants were NASA enthusiasts which is perfectly reasonable but does limit the diversity in the group).

But how about if we want to get the public to way in on how to improve the economy, stop foreclosures, how do we invite individuals to collaborate without inviting groups to participate? Or if we invite groups to participate how do we then create a collaborative environment where they are willing to shed some of their group identity for the sake of a successful collaboration?

In James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds he argues that for a collaboration to be successful it must have 6 elements:

Knowledge must exist in the audience
Independence of contributors
Diversity of opinion
Focused on compatible goal
Aggregation of information
Decentralized Process/Local Knowledge

I thought KIDFAD is a good way to remember since there are still people who think that is what social media is.
Not sure if he mentioned the focus on the compatible goal explicitly but I thought it was implicit in his argument. What I mean by compatible is that the individual goal must line up with the purpose of the aggregation. So in prediction markets, the win of the individual is compatible with the market obtaining an accurate prediction, because the determinant of the win is the same as the goal of the market (accurate prediction).

In the case of google mining the behavior of searches, it is reasonable to presume that individual searches want to find what they are looking for quickly and the purpose of the search engine is to provide it.

Anyway it helps me remember, hope it helps you.