Obama holds virtual town hall meeting

Agencies may move at different rates in adoption

President Barack Obama’s vaunted online town hall on March 26 drew 92,000 questions from eager cyber citizens, but to what end? To many observers of social-media tools, it shows that Web 2.0 technologies are firmly in the mainstream now, and that downstream federal agencies will find new ways to use them in the months and years ahead.

“What’s interesting is you usually see innovation in local communities and [then] working its way upward in society,” said Ed Schipul, a social-media expert and chief executive officer of Schipul – The Web Marketing Company. “What is surprising is that we are now seeing innovation from the executive branch going down.”

The Obama administration’s actions and mandates for more transparency will spur agencies to pursue projects similar to the online town hall, said Scott Testa, a marketing professor at Saint Joseph’s University.

Agencies will not embrace Web 2.0 technologies at the same rate, Testa said, but on the whole, he expects to see the use of social-media tools to rise sharply.

“The lead is definitely going to be the president’s office and the administration, and it will filter out to other areas of the government,” Testa said. “Historically, governments have been late adopters, so I think it will be a wait-and-see situation as some of these early initiatives come online.”

Agencies will duplicate the efforts that work and skip the ones that are not successful, he said.

Interest in streaming video at government agencies, for example, has skyrocketed in recent months, said John Bowman, director of federal sales for VBrick Systems.

“Applications for streaming were first embraced by the Defense Department for mission and nonmission video,” Bowman said. “This spread throughout the civilian marketplace very quickly, and we are now working on eight to 10 times the number of enterprise streaming opportunities within the civilian sector than we had even last year.”

The green light given by the Obama administration to use Web 2.0 technology will be a boon for progressive thinkers working for government agencies, Schipul said. Although social-media tools may be popular, agencies will have to figure out how to deal with that popularity.

“We’re not out of the woods yet because we don’t necessarily have a way to respond to 92,000 questions,” Schipul said.

Agencies also have to prepare for a new host of security issues that arise with Web 2.0 tools, said Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness at Core Security Technologies.

Agencies, for example, should test Web applications for security vulnerabilities and their user communities for their susceptibility to client-side application attacks to manage the risks posed by Web 2.0, he said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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