Monday, February 25, 2008

Is It Better to Give or to Receive?

In the mania that is “Web 2.0,” I wonder why no one is talking about message boards?

A recent article about the official who is managing the United Kingdom’s reorganization of government websites got me thinking. At the end of the article, this official mentions that he thinks government should get active on message boards, answering the questions of citizens. You know what? I’d kind of forgotten about message boards.

Many of us tried using message boards/discussion boards fairly early on, in the evolution of our government websites. I ended up taking ours down because – honestly – we just didn’t have the staff to manage them. We learned pretty quickly that you have to have someone – preferably a glib subject matter expert - who can step in to monitor the discussions, keep everyone on course, and correct any misconceptions. Once I took it down, I forgot about the message board capability. But this article got me thinking about it again.

Blogs are a great option for government agencies to deliver information to citizens in an informal way. They let government officials step out of the formal “governmentspeak” and behave like normal human beings. I’ve seen a couple of pretty good government blogs, including Gov Gab and EPA’s Flow of the River. Blogs do offer the opportunity for citizens to comment and respond. But it seems that few do. I wonder if we’ve got it backwards? I wonder if – as that UK official suggests – we should let citizens frame the questions, and government officials can comment or respond?

Maybe it’s time to resurrect that old message board/discussion board technology and see if it might have merit, in this “social” revolution. Maybe those officials who are writing blogs could serve citizens better if they spent that time answering the questions that citizens pose. Maybe we should reconsider our strategy. Maybe in addition to - or instead of – giving out advice, we should receive our cues from the people we serve. Something to consider.


stwidgie said...

Hi Candi,
I think you're spot on. I'm working to set up an internal wiki as a setting for a support group (only half-kidding) of people working on the web in field offices. But what I'd really like is a forum.
At our conference the other week, as we discussed bringing Web 2.0 into play in our agency, I thought it would be great if people could submit to us ideas of what they'd like us to write about. We're so comfortable in geyser mode in the government, but even though we'd like to hear from people about what they need, we feel hamstrung in asking for it. ("Doing an Information Collection Request will take you the rest of your career.") Maybe as we embrace Web 2.0 we can punch some holes in the one-way membrane between government and public.

Coby said...

Since the beginning of the Internet, federal employees have been afraid to allow public comments. They cite as rationale the burden of reading the comments.

Even those agencies that post videos on YouTube choose to disallow comment posting on their YouTube pages.

As I discuss in my post at, feds consistently assume that people will naturally be rude and abusive unless closely controlled.

I doubt the government will ever fully embrace Web 2.0 approaches with a world view like that.