Web 2.0 Government

On January 25, I attended a conference at Library and Archives Canada called “Resource Discovery Day: Finding Stuff, Getting Stuff and Sharing Stuff.” The main focus was how the federal government uses Web 2.0 technology. Most of my current knowledge of Web 2.0 usage in libraries is related to public libraries, and to a lesser extent academic, so I was curious to see what the federal government is doing, especially since I am currently working in a government library.


The first speaker was Peter Morville, an information architect who studies ambient findability: “the ability to find anyone or anything from anywhere at any time.” Morville began by discussing information architecture, “the structural design of shared information environments.” Morville stressed the importance of creating multiple access points, since different methods work best for different users. In order to make sure a website in user friendly, it is important to conduct usability testing. It is also worth considering whether users can find your website as well as how easily they can navigate it once they get there.

Morville also discussed the need to make searching easy for the user and not to blame “those stupid users” for not understanding how a site works. The search interface is important, but the results display must also be easy to understand. Design patterns such as auto-complete can help making searching easier. For example, Google will try to “guess” the word you are typing as you begin entering the first few letters. In addition to using search engines such as Google, where the most trusted sites are typically the ones on top, people are using social media tools such as Flickr to find information. Flickr rates photos on “interestingness,” which includes number of comments, number of tags, and number of times a photo has been marked as a “favourite.” Tagging allows users to apply their own vocabulary to an item rather than rely on a controlled vocabulary.

In terms of emerging technology, Morville discussed the Cisco Wireless Location Appliance, which can be used to tag and track other wireless devices (http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps6386/index.html). He also briefly mentioned Amazon Remembers (http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000291661) and Google Goggles (http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/#text), which are mobile apps that analyze photos users take with their phones and then try to find information about the item. Pretty incredible!

Web 2.0 and the Government

The second session was a panel on the federal government’s use of Web 2.0. The panelists were Marj Akerley of the Treasury Board, Peter Cowan of Natural Resources Canada and Julie Rancourt of Justice Canada. One thing I learned from the panel discussion is that the deputy ministers have actually been mandated by the Clerk of the Privy Council to use Web 2.0 technology. I know that I get e-mails at work about new postings on the departmental blog, but I didn’t know these blogs were mandatory.

The government culture is often averse to Web 2.0 because of the security and privacy risks involved. However, as Ms. Akerley pointed out, federal employees may wish to share their work with their colleagues across departments. There is also concern that public servants will waste too much time on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. As Akerley wisely pointed out, if they aren’t on Facebook, they will find other ways to waste time if they want to, such as the good old-fashioned water cooler. Social media can actually help federal employees share their knowledge with colleagues within their department and across the government. It is important to have clear mandates of how these tools should be used in order to prevent abuse. Additionally, employees can post content to GCPedia, a wiki for posting non-sensitive government information. One advantage of having such a wiki is that when an employee leaves, his or her knowledge in preserved in the wiki for the benefit of his or her colleagues. Peter Cowman mentioned that NRCan is working on integrating GCPedia into their catalogue and then sharing it with other departments. NRCan also has an “integrated knowledge base” that combines data sources such as NRTube, the department’s version of a YouTube channel, as well as the library catalogue.

Finally, Julie Rancourt spoke about open data, the practice of making information easily accessible for use, re-use, and re-purposing. As Rancourt pointed out, information must be presented in a format that allows users to modify it and change it to other formats. No PDFs allowed! Many governments, such as Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, have licenses for use of open government data. Municipalities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Vancouver are also working on open data initiatives (http://www.toronto.ca/open/).

Overall, I found the conference quite interesting. I didn’t know about GCPedia or the government’s plans for Open Data. Next week, I am going to NRCan’s library to get a better look at how a government library can use Web 2.0 technology.



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