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FCW Insider: Web 2.0 concerns discussed in Web 2.0

There is a fascinating discussion going on over in the FCW.com Forum blog, where we asked the question: Web 2.0: Worth the risk?

We created the FCW Forum to put issues out there and let you discuss them. So we've been to a lot of Web 2.0 discussions in recent months, and there always is acontrarian in the audience (thank goodness!).

What problems do you see arising when agencies allow employees to use blogs, wikis and other social-networking applications?

During the past several months, several government officials have raised concerns about the management and security risks associated with Web 2.0 applications. Here are some examples:

  • At an April 3 AFFIRM meeting, Ed Meagher, the outgoing deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department, questioned the value of allowing low-ranking government employees to submit and edit articles on a wiki.

  • On May 28, a NASA Johnson Space Flight Center contractor violated the Hatch Act by soliciting campaign donations through e-mail messages and blog postings while at work. A reader of a Federal Computer Week Web story on the violation complained that a mention of the word “blogging” in the headline may persuade some leaders to shy away from adopting blogs at their agencies.

  • At a June 3 forum on collaborative government hosted by Deloitte and the National Academy of Public Administration, a State Department employee expressed concern about potentially false reports of threats posted on social media sites.  She explained that intelligence agencies may end up wasting resources by following false tips from employees who might be insider threats.

And, in fact, at the panel I was on down at Management of Change, the security question was raised, specifically about Virtual Alabama. Doesn't putting all this information out there, don't the bad guys have access to it too?

As often is true with blogs, some of the most valuable information is in the comments. The comments so far cover the range of opinions. There are some who say, 'Ban it all. It's a waste of time and money.' -- these people must not use these tools?

But there are also more nuanced discussions.

I think a lot of the trouble here starts with the way that social media, "2.0," whatever-etc., gets sort of set apart in what I think is an overly dramatic way. Granted, the changes these technologies can bring can be dramatic, but in a lot of ways, it's just like any other evolving industry: People think of new ways to do things, there are growing pains, kinks, and problems, and out of all that comes a better product, process, etc.

And then, over on my Facebook page, there has been a discussion about the role of blogging CIOs.

Here are a few of those comments.

I worry about the technology overcoming the inherent equality of the Federal Register process that places equal value on each citizen's comment. You see I have several user ids (I bet you do too) from around the internet. If I was inclined to press my opinion and I understood that frequency of comment matter when the fed evaluated public comments then I would use multiple id's to make essentially the same comment.

How do you think this might be prevented in using web 2.0 technologies to formulate policy?

And then this question/comment:

I thought about this all day - it nagged me really. Are Linda's comments (I hasten to add it matters not that it is NASA, EPA or NGA) official or personal? If you identify her as a federal CIO then her comments can be attributed to her as an official representing all citizens. If they are her own opinion then you might consider her posting as that of a federal CIO versus her using a personal user id on another web presence (to be pristine I think her musings are not policy). Don't get me wrong - I endorse Web 2.0. However (always a but isn't there?), will folks understand the difference between a role as CIO and citizen?

Imagine the FBI Director using a blog to communicate with folks. Would it be official policy or personal opinion? The answer to that question is relevant if the topic was something that pertained to you! For instance - the IRS Commissioner talks about catching scofflaws! Does the population really understand AMT?

And these links:

In general, my take is that there aren't easy answers here. The days when you had two choices -- black or white -- are gone. Instead, we are going to be constantly challenged to determine the right color of gray.

The fact of the matter is that these technologies are becoming the way that people do business -- in and out of the enterprise. But we have already seen technology being driven from the home, not work. People are able to do more from their home then they are from the work, in many cases. And when they run into roadblocks at work, there are tools that let them find a work-around. (We know of stories where work limits the number of e-mail messages, so employees merely forward them to a Gmail account, which offers virtually unlimited capacity and better searchability.

The fascinating question to me is the one about whether a CIO is an "official" blogger for the agency. It is a question that I also will ponder.

The National Academy of Public Administration's Collaboration Project is going to be holding a session focusing on policy issues. I'm am trying to let me attend precisely because I find these issues so interesting... and challenging.

I do not think that 'just block it' is an answer.

Your thoughts? What are the big challenges?

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Jun 12, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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