What Obama’s digital strategy pulled from Facebook

In our last blog post about Obama’s new digital strategy,  we touched upon some of the overarching themes of the ambitious directive.  This week we dive a bit deeper into the strategic principles of the strategy and draw

some uncanny parallels to another successful project on the web called Facebook…. You may have heard of it.

The first principle outlined is  an “Information-Centric” approach which moves us from managing “documents” to managing discrete pieces of open data and content which can be tagged, shared, secured, mashed up and presented in the way that is most useful for the consumer of that information.     This sounds a lot like how data is managed on Facebook.    Its not about uploading huge amounts of data anymore, but making sure every snippet, character, phrase and face and be tagged, liked and normalized across close to a billion people.    Essentially “making every byte count”,   or perhaps “no byte left behind” is an appropriate tagline.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

The second principle is  leveraging a “Shared Platform” approach—Helps us work together, both within and across agencies, to reduce costs, streamline development, apply consistent standards, and ensure consistency in how we create and deliver information.   Mark Zuckerberg has been touting this since he wore his first hoodie (or so it seems).    One of his memorable Facebook quotes is “Our goal is not to build a platform–it’s to be across all of them” and essentially this is what Obama’s digital strategy is trying to stress.  The approach and dissemination of data must be platform agnostic at its core.    The design of any service or application must adhere to a basic philosophy that it can be shared.

The third principle is A “Customer-Centric” approach— which influences how we create, manage, and present data through websites, mobile applications, raw data sets, and other modes of delivery, and allows customers to shape, share and consume information, whenever and however they want it.    Customer-Centric and Self-Service really go hand in hand when you are talking about the scale of the US Government or Facebook.  In Facebook’s case,  they created a development platform early on (FBML) that has now morphed into “Facebook Platform” and boasts 9 millions sites and apps and terabytes of data that can be mined.   Facebook was able to foster any army of app-creating developers by using the “Keep it Simple, Stupid” or KISS method when it came to implementation.    Facebook created API’s for everything from user data to payment processing and everything in-between and clearly documented and “tutorialized” everything under the sun.  Similarly, they created a very strong community where developers could collaborate and build high quality polished apps.  This ultimately benefited the customer.   In this case the 900 million Facebook users who experience high quality interactions and are able to seamlessly add apps and plug-ins with a few clicks.

The fourth and last principle is platform of “Security and Privacy”—Ensures this innovation happens in a way that ensures the safe and secure delivery and use of digital services to protect information and privacy.     On the surface,  this seems to be an issue for Facebook with the privacy and security issues that make the media rounds every few months on new Facebook features that raise eyebrows.  In reality however,  Facebook does a great job in tip-toeing the line between open information and privacy invasion and it shows in their user retention.    Despite all the negative press,  how many of your friends and acquaintances have completely abandoned Facebook?   As a percentage of your total Facebook friends,  I would venture a guess that it is less than 1%.    Had they followed the strict demands of every advocacy group that uses Facebook,   it would not evolved to the platform it is today.  In fact, it’s growth probably would have stalled and reversed years ago.  But they pushed the security and privacy envelope in favor of adoption, and so far that gamble has paid off.    In the federal space, as agencies implement the digital strategy, they won’t be able to tiptoe that line between open data and privacy,  they will need to stay a safe distance from the edge.  The key however is they move quickly to establish what that distance is and give the developers, integrators and consumers clear direction on the guidelines.    If there is ambiguity in guidelines, government mobility efforts will be dead on arrival.

That takes us to one well-publicized mantra of Facebook that the government should adopt at some level.

“Move fast and break things.”

As Facebook states,  “Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. However, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they’re more afraid of making mistakes than they are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly.”    While counterintuitive,  agencies will be able to push the boundaries on innovation if they are given latitude to break a few things along the way.

Until next time,

RD Gupta

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