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PDF of slides and notes from my keynote at Acquia's World Government Summit on Open Source in Washington DC October 11, 2012. I talk about how open source enabled the internet as a platform, and how it can enable government as a platform. I talk about examples from the internet and from Code for America's work with cities. I crib shamelessly from some of Jen Pahlka's talks about Code for America, and some of the lessons that can be taken from her work.
Technology and 21st Century Government Tim O’Reilly O’Reilly Media @timoreilly World Government Summit on Open Source October 11, 2012 @codeforamericaThursday, October 11, 12 I’m the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, a company that focuses on changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. We have been deeply involved in open source software and the development of the internet. I spend a lot of my time evangelizing big ideas with impact and urging people to work on stuff that matters. I’m here to talk about lessons from the technology industry that can be applied to 21st Century government. We’re applying these lessons at Code for America, a non-proﬁt that works with cities to help make government work better for everyone.
The paradox of government It’s too big, and it costs too much yet... There are problems that the private sector alone can’t solveThursday, October 11, 12Let’s start with what you might call the paradox of government. It’s too big...
“What if we felt about government the way we feel about our iPhones?” - Jennifer Pahlka,Thursday, October 11, 12Jennifer Pahlka, the founder and executive director of Code for America, has one simple answer to this paradox. “What if...?”I suspect that, like Apple customers, we’d be happy to pay our taxes, because we love the product we’re getting.
“I believe that interfaces to government can be simple, beautiful, and easy to use.” - Scott Silverman 2011 Code for America FellowThursday, October 11, 12Code for America runs a service year program that brings talented web developers and designers to work with citiesfor a year. Last year, fellow Scott Silverman, who had previously worked at Apple, explained why he had applied to the program.He said...
Lesson 1: Get people excited about government! Reinvent the “citizen experience”Thursday, October 11, 12So lesson 1 is from Apple, by way of Code for America:What if government set out, like Code for America does, to reinvent the citizen experience, to make interfacesto government be simple, beautiful, and easy to use? What if we made government so wonderful that people were happyto pay their taxes?
Thursday, October 11, 12Here’s an example from Code for America’s work in Boston last year. There was a bit of a PR crisis as the Boston Globe had just run an article criticizing how hardit was for families to choose a school for their children. The current “interface” was a 28-page brochure in tiny type that explained all about the rules but ended upleaving people still wondering what schools their children were eligible to attend.
Thursday, October 11, 12Fortunately, there was a Code for America team on hand. They quickly whipped up an application that helped to solve the problem. Simply type in your addressand whether you already have other children in a particular school
Thursday, October 11, 12and get back a map showing what schools your children are eligible for, which ones are in your “walk zone” and so on.
Thursday, October 11, 12and an interface for ﬁnding out more about the school. Nothing special in the consumer internet, but a revolution in government software. A city of Boston ofﬁcialsaid that this application run through normal channels would have taken two years and cost $2 million. It took the Code for America team about 10 weeks, parttime. This has a huge effect in raising the bar on what’s possible.
Thursday, October 11, 12Or consider another Code for America project, BlightStatus, developed for the City of New Orleans. The goal of this project was to unite disparate databasesshowing information about the status of blighted properties in New Orleans into a single interface, available both to government ofﬁcials and to citizens. No onehad a uniﬁed view of this data. Now simply type in an address
Thursday, October 11, 12and you get up to date status information
Thursday, October 11, 12that you can also see on a map. When this interface was shown at a community group meeting, people were coming up to give the developer a hug. How oftendo developers of government software get greeted with hugs?
Lesson 2: Use Data to Drive DecisionsThursday, October 11, 12There’s a second important lesson of the consumer internet. Use data to make better decisions. Companies like Google crunchenormous amountsof data to ﬁgure out what results to show, and what advertisements to pair with those results. Their success at helping peopleget right to the answers they need has changed our world.But under the skin, it’s important to realize that Google is a great model for a 21st century regulatory system.I know that “regulation” has become a dirty word in Washington, and thateveryone likes to talk about making markets work better without explaining how to do that.Well, I’m not going to back down. One of the things that makes marketswork better is the right kind of regulation. Your car’s carburetor or fuel injection system is a regulatory system. The autopilotof an airplane is a regulatory system, and Google’s system for surfacing the best content and not showing you spam is aregulatory system, using algorithms (i.e. rules) and feedback loops to keep on course.
Thursday, October 11, 12 A great example of a data driven site built by government is the new look of the UK government site. Mike Bracken and his team there have re-engineered the official website, to get away from one based on government departments trumpeting information about themselves to instead base one on what people are really looking for. They mined the search logs and put together a site that is focused on citizens and their questions.
Thursday, October 11, 12These are the design principles that Bracken and his team articulated. Anyone building for government should study theseprinciples.
Thursday, October 11, 12Code for America has applied these same principles to a redesign of the Honolulu web site. The original site is like a lot ofother government websites - it talks about the city and what it has to offer. But it doesn’t necessarily start with what citizenswant to know.
Thursday, October 11, 12 Here’s what Code for America built with the city of Honolulu.
18Thursday, October 11, 12What the Code for America team working with the City of Honolulu did seems obvious to those of us in Silicon Valley: they minedthe visitorlogs of the existing site and the city’s call center to ﬁnd out what people are really looking for.
The Lean Startup The goal of a Lean Startup is to move through the build-measure-learn feedback loop as quickly as possible.Thursday, October 11, 12This whole model of using data to decide what works is at the heart of one of the most powerful methodologies to hit SiliconValley. The Lean Startup model isn’t about running cheap startups, it’s about ﬁguring out “the minimal viable product” that youcan build that will give you validated learning about the market. You measure and test, and use that data to reﬁne your ideas,and improve your offering incrementally to perfect it as quickly and cheaply as possible, with as little wasted cost and effort.
Key Lean Startup Principles § Minimum Viable Product § Continuous Deployment § A/B Testing § Actionable Metrics (vs Vanity Metrics) § PivotThursday, October 11, 12Here are some of the key lean startup principles. For more info, http://leanstartup.com
Lesson 3: Create an architecture of participationThursday, October 11, 12Lesson 3 from technology is to create what I call “an architecture of participation.”What’s so wonderful about the Web is that, like “the market”, it doesn’t prescribe what people should do. It creates a spacein which people can create and participate, adds some regulatory mechanisms to keep out bad actors like spammers, thenlets the best stuff ﬂoat to the stop.
Thursday, October 11, 12 Now, when I use the word “participation”, you might be tempted to think of government participating in social media, like Facebook
Thursday, October 11, 12Or fantastic sites like the White House’s We the People site (the code for which has been released as open source.)But great as these things are, participation has to mean more than better mechanisms for people to have their voices heard.
Vending Machine Government Vending Machine Gov concept from Donald Kettl: The Next Government of the United StatesThursday, October 11, 12The notion that we just need better ways to make our voices heard is rooted in a notion I call “Vending Machine Government”We put in taxes and get out services, and when we don’t like what we getThe term was introduced by Donald Kettl in his book _The Next Government of the United States_. He meant it in a differentway than I do - that one of the roles of government is precisely to create predictable services, like a vending machine.
We Need to Do More Than Shake the Vending Machine! http://image06.webshots.com/6/2/57/50/190125750NgQXwu_ph.jpgThursday, October 11, 12we shake the vending machine.The use of social media by government is just giving us another way to shake the vending machine. It doesn’t fundamentallytransform our relationship to government.
“Are we just going to be a crowd of voices, or are we going to be a crowd of hands?” - Jennifer Pahlka, Code for AmericaThursday, October 11, 12 Jen Pahlka said this well. In her TED talk, she asked, “Are we...
28Thursday, October 11, 12And that’s also what Code for America took into account when designing Honolulu Answers. Rather than having the city staﬀ, or the Code for America fellows, writethe answers, they convened a gathering of ciBzens to suggest new quesBons and write the answers in plain English. Both ciBzens and government staﬀers worked together at this weekend “writeathon”
Thursday, October 11, 12That’s how you got from this - a page that gives all kinds of irrelevant information about driver’s licenses -
Thursday, October 11, 12To this: a plain language version of what citizens really want to know.
“We don’t want government to work like a Silicon Valley startup, we want it to work like the internet itself.” - Jennifer Pahlka, Code for AmericaThursday, October 11, 12Jen Pahlka said something else very important in her TED talk. She said “We don’t want...”When government works like the internet, it lays down standards and infrastructure that the market can build on to delivernew value for society. Government is not the provider of last resort, it should be the framer of rules and the builder offoundations.
Lesson 4 Government should be a platformThursday, October 11, 12Another way of saying this is that government is a platform.The Internet is a good example of government acting to create something that the private sector can then build on.But it’s not the only one. Government is in a unique position to do things that are hard, and big, that no one else can do,and that enable the private sector. National highways, space travel, satellites, are good examples.
GPS: A 21st century platform launched in 1973Thursday, October 11, 12Consider Global positioning satellites. A huge project with uncertain return, started in 1973 and now showing enormous fruit inthe 21st century, with huge value add from the commercial sector. Everything from maps and directions on your phone tofuture self-driving cars spring from this platform investment, and the key policy decision to open the data andmake it available for commercial use. We’re seeing similar platform policy decisions from the Obama administrationfor healthcare and ﬁnancial data today.
“The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln, July 1, 1854Thursday, October 11, 12 My notion of government as a platform is rooted in the notion that government is, at bottom, a mechanism for collective action, a means for doing things that are best done together. So I was delighted recently to discover that Abraham Lincoln had said much the same thing 150 years ago. But this notion also suggests a level of restraint. The best government programs enable the private sector; they don’t compete with it. I hope that government follows this lead, that it enables, and to use Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s notion, *nudges* the market in the right direction to produce socially beneﬁcial outcomes, but that it does so with a light hand. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said three thousand years ago, “When the best leader leads, the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’” **** Below, just for reference: Lincoln elsewhere pointed out: “The desirable things which the individuals of a people cannot do or cannot well do for themselves fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an inﬁnite variety of subdivisions. The ﬁrst that in relation to wrongs embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and non performance of contracts. The other embraces all which in its nature and without wrong requires combined action as public roads and highways public schools charities pauperism orphanage estates of the deceased and the machinery of government itself.”
Government as a platform means an end to the design of only complete, closed “applications.” Instead the government should provide fundamental services on which we, the people, (also known as “the market”) build applications.Thursday, October 11, 12
What happens when you throw open the doors to partners More than 50,000 iPhone applications in less than a year! Now at 688,000Thursday, October 11, 12Apple showed us the power of this kind of transformation when they turned the smartphone into a platform with theintroduction of the iPhone app store.
The old way: Preferred application partners § A few apps developed in advance by the phone companyThursday, October 11, 12The old model looked a lot like government procurement. Get some vendors in a backroom, decide what to offer, and you’redone. But this model clearly doesn’t produce the same kind of unexpected results and cornucopia of value creation offered by anopen platform.Apple’s model should be comforting to government, since it’s not as wide open as the internet, but still open enough to ﬁre upthe platform dynamics of unexpected innovation.
So why do governments still make deals like these? § No bid contracts § Preferred providers § Earmarks § Sole source licensing of government data to single-source providersThursday, October 11, 12With the lessons of the iPhone and other platforms, why do governments still do single-source procurements and deals wheregovernment data is licensed to a single player. This problem from 2009, in which San Francisco licensed its transit data to oneprovider, who then tried to shut out other transit apps, was resolved in favor of open systems, but the problem persists in manyother areas of government.
Open311 - the Pulse of the CityThursday, October 11, 12 Data is the platform for the 21st century, and government acting as a platform provider means opening up data services that feed third party applications, just like Apple opened up the iPhone to third parties to create a vibrant new ecosystem. For example, a data standard called Open311 allows web applications to seamlessly interact with 311 systems across the nation. (311 is the number you call to report problems like potholes or graffiti. It’s like 911 but for non-emergencies.) Having a data standard allows outside organizations like SeeClickFix and Code for America to build third party applications that provide new services both to cities and to citizens. Here’s CfA’s 311 Labs application, The Daily Brief, which shows the pulse of the city according to 311.
Thursday, October 11, 12When we look at the projects being done by the White House Innovation Fellows, they are all about building a 21st century dataplatform. MyGov is about reinventing the web paradigm from one centered on government to one centered on citizens (more onthat later), the Open Data effort is about identifying key data and partners who can use it. The Blue Button initiative is aboutdownloadable health records. And RFP-EZ is about simplifying government contracting so more small businesses andentrepreneurs can participate in the ecosystem.
Thursday, October 11, 12The Blue Button initiative started at the VA, but has now spread to many other health institutions. More than one million peoplehave now downloaded their health records.And this means that they can be the basis for applications that the government didn’t develop or provide.
Thursday, October 11, 12There’s now a similar “Green Button” initiative for utilities, for consumers to download their energy data, and a Gold button forﬁnancial data, and another for school records.
Open data is a great start, but it’s only part of the storyThursday, October 11, 12 My purpose in this talk is to show how open source, platforms, and open government go hand in hand, and how lessons from the software world can help us remake government for the 21st century.
Why open source mattersThursday, October 11, 12 In particular, I now want to focus on why open source matters.
It’s one of the most powerful models for an architecture of participationThursday, October 11, 12
“I couldn’t have written a new kernel for Windows even if I had access to the source code. The architecture just didn’t support it.” -Linus TorvaldsThursday, October 11, 12I ﬁrst focused on this idea ﬁfteen years or so ago in a conversation with Linus Torvalds. He observed...That term “architecture” stuck in my head, and I realized how true it was of all the most successful open source projects - that itwas far more than a matter of just releasing source code. It was designing systems in such a way that someone could bite off amanageable chunk and modify, replace, or extend it.
“The book is perhaps most valuable for its exposition of the Unix philosophy of small cooperating tools with standardized inputs and outputs, a philosophy that also shaped the end-to-end philosophy of the Internet. It is this philosophy, and the architecture based on it, that has allowed open source projects to be assembled into larger systems such as Linux, without explicit coordination between developers.”Thursday, October 11, 12I thought about my own experience with Unix, the system that Linux emulated. It wasn’t itself open source by today’s standardsof licensing, but it had an architecture that allowed it to be developed collaboratively by a community of loosely connecteddevelopers. It was the architecture that mattered. In writing an entry for this classic book on Wikipedia, I wrote...
The internet would not exist without open source softwareThursday, October 11, 12 And that’s not just because the initial implementations of TCP/IP and so forth were open source. It’s not just because the services we all take for granted are built on top of an open source foundation. It’s because the very architecture of the internet and the www are shaped by open source.
Thursday, October 11, 12Tim Berners-Lee put the web into the public domain, and that was a profound act of open source software. But the softwarethat Tim wrote is long gone, subsumed by other software that built on the architecture, communication protocols, and markuplanguage that he designed. An even deeper contribution was the fundamental architecture of the web, which allowed anyone toput up a site without permission from anyone - all they had to do was speak the same language and communication protocol.
Thursday, October 11, 12By 2008, the web had reached ONE TRILLION unique URLs. I don’t know how big it’s grown since then, but everything that grewfrom the Web of 1990 was implicit in the participatory design that Tim B-L ﬁrst came up with. Architecture matters.
Thursday, October 11, 12You also see this architectural element in the success of the Apache web server. I remember back in the mid 90s, when therewas this media hysteria that Apache wasn’t keeping up, because it wasn’t adding features as fast as Netscape’s web server orMicrosoft IIS. The folks at Apache were clear: We’re an HTTP server. We have an extension layer (read “we are a platform”) thatallows other people to add new features. Fifteen years later, Apache is still the dominant web server, and Netscape and IIS arefootnotes in history.
Thursday, October 11, 12And of course this same architectural design is also true of Drupal, the software that powers whitehouse.gov, the department ofenergy, and many other government sites at the federal, state, and local level. Drupal has an architecture that allows anyone toadd new modules that extend its functionality. That’s why Drupal has become such a powerful platform for web development.Like Apple with its App Store, Drupal created a platform, and the market went to work adding new features.
Thursday, October 11, 12In his TEDGlobal talk, Clay Shirky discussed this notion of how the architecture of open source and the internet have implicationsfor government. This is a really important talk, and I urge all of you to watch it.
“When you adopt a tool, you also adopt the management philosophy embedded in that tool”Thursday, October 11, 12 Clay talked about version control, and the fact that Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, eventually wrote Git, a version control tool that supports the fundamental architecture of open source software. It isn’t just the architecture of the systems themselves that matters, but the architecture of the tools that we use to manage and develop them.
Source Code Access with Centralized ControlThursday, October 11, 12Clay argues that previous source code control systems reﬂect a kind of “feudal” architecture, with centralized control.
The social graph of contributors to the Ruby languageThursday, October 11, 12By contrast, Git allows for everyone to have access to all the code all the time. This supports true, decentralized, internet-stylesocial coding. Government needs to ﬁgure out how to enable this same kind of decentralized contribution and innovation.
Thursday, October 11, 12And that’s how Linus has managed to create the world’s largest collaborative software project, the Linux kernel, with more than8000 developers
Thursday, October 11, 12producing 15 million lines of code.
That magic happens for simple projects as wellThursday, October 11, 12 Now I want to return to the notion of how open source helps that magic happen, and highlight its importance for simple projects as well. I want to tell the story of how a single Code for America application has spread.
A Boston fire hydrant in winterThursday, October 11, 12When the ﬁrst Code for America fellows showed up in Boston in February of 2011, they ended up in the middle of what wascalled “snowpocalypse” - a massive blizzard. One of the fellows, Erik Michaels-Ober, saw a ﬁre hydrant buried in snow, andheard tales of how this was a problem for the ﬁre department. When responding to a ﬁre, they ﬁrst have to ﬁnd and dig out theﬁre hydrant.
Thursday, October 11, 12Erik’s solution was to come up with an application that lets citizens “adopt” a ﬁre hydrant, agreeing to dig it out after a blizzard.This was a simple app that he wrote in a weekend. It has game dynamics to encourage people to participate, but basically, itwas a matter of ﬁnding the data for the location of the ﬁre hydrants, putting it on a map, and letting people sign up for the ﬁrehydrant near them.
Thursday, October 11, 12Erik put his code on Github, a site that lets people see each other’s Git repositories, take their code, and repurpose it.
Thursday, October 11, 12All the Code for America projects are open source, and anyone can take the code and stand it up in a new city or modify it forother purposes. It could even be stood up as a single cloud app that supports multiple cities, though no one has done that yet.
Community is a large part of the magic A volunteer developer from Lexington KY deploys Adopt A Hydrant for Syracuse NY, Providence, RI, and Banff, Alberta... “because that’s where the snow is”Thursday, October 11, 12But volunteers from the Code for America Brigade (think volunteer ﬁre brigade, but for coders and other civic volunteers) havealready stood the app up in other cities, liberating the necessary data and adapting the app. One volunteer developer fromLexington...
Adopt A SirenThursday, October 11, 12But the most interesting re-use case came from Honolulu, a place with no snow! Forest Frizzel, the deputy IT director ofHonolulu, was browsing the CfA github repository, and thought how the app could be adapted to track Hawaii’s Tsunami Sirens.They test them every week, and need citizens to report whether or not they heard the siren. (Homeless people steal thebatteries, and there are other maintenance problems.)
TextThursday, October 11, 12So there you have it. Soon after, Honolulu had Adopt A Siren. Other implementations include Adopt a Storm Drain and Adopt aSidewalk. This app can be used for citizen engagement around maintenance of any public asset.
§ Open source encourages re-use § Simple solutions to simple problems § SerendipityThursday, October 11, 12Larry Wall, the creator of the Perl programming language, once said that Perl was designed to “make easy things easy and hardthings possible.” You all know how government software and procurement processes sometimes seem to make easy thingshard, and hard things impossible. But these examples show how open source software can indeed make easy things easy, andhard things possible. I want that to be the thing you take away from this talk.
The hidden economic benefit of open sourceThursday, October 11, 12 Now I want to switch tracks a bit, and talk about the hidden economic beneﬁt of open source software. In particular I want to remind you that open source isn’t a fringe thing. It’s totally mainstream, and anyone who isn’t using it is behind the curve. But I’m going to show how pervasive it is by talking about laundry.
Open Source and the Clothesline ParadoxThursday, October 11, 12
There are all kinds of unexpected beneficiaries “I built my business on open source software, and I want to give something back.” - Hari Ravichandran Endurance International GroupThursday, October 11, 12I started thinking about this recently when I met with Hari Ravichandran of Endurance International Group. EIG owns Bluehostand a number of other web hosting companies. As we talked I was reminded that, at bottom, web hosting and domain nameregistration services are really subscription business models for free software - the DNS, web server, email, and so on. Hari saidto me
The Clothesline Paradox If you put your clothes in the dryer, the energy you use is measured and counted, but if you hang them on the clothesline to be dried by the sun, the energy saved disappears from our accounting!Thursday, October 11, 12In the course of our conversation, I remembered this great piece about alternative energy that I read back in 1975 inThe CoEvolution Quarterly, Stewart Brand’s successor to The Whole Earth Catalog. It’s called The Clothesline Paradox,and it made the point that ... It struck me that open source is a lot like sunshine. It disappears from our economicaccounting.
WordPressThursday, October 11, 12We look at the ﬁnancial success of explicit open source companies like Red Hat or MySQL or Acquia, and while we’re proud ofit, it’s relatively small relative to the success of proprietary companies.
Thursday, October 11, 12It’s a bit like the energy pie charts that Steve Baer talks about in The Clothesline Paradox, where solarenergy shows up as this tiny slice, even though it’s really the wellspring of absolutely everything elsein the energy pie!
Thursday, October 11, 12Because of course the companies whose logos appear on this slide (and many more) were built on a foundation ofopen source software, and wouldn’t exist without the generosity of those who created the internet and the world wide web,Linux, and the cornucopia of open source tools and languages that made the fertile soup from which today’s tech innovationsprang.According to McKinsey, the internet is now responsible for more than 3% of GDP. That’s downstream value created(but not captured) by open source communities.
ISP Services - a $79 Billion market in the US alone Web hosting and domain name registration - a $5 Billion marketThursday, October 11, 12Talking with Hari, I realized that we also need to give credit to open source for the internet service provider market.What does an ISP provide but subscription access to open source software, and to the vast, generative creativity of thesharing economy of social media and the web? Sure, they provide infrastructure, but without that software and without thatfree content, no one would give a rats ass about using their infrastructure.
Having a web site increases the productivity of small businesses by 10%Thursday, October 11, 12But perhaps the most interesting thing that Hari pointed me to was a McKinsey report on the net’s overall impact ongrowth, jobs, and prosperity. One of the things that caught our attention was the assertion that having a web siteincreases the productivity of small businesses by 10%.
So that’s where the value gets captured - by everyone!Thursday, October 11, 12So that’s where the economic value created by open source ultimately gets captured: by people who may not even knowwhat open source is, but beneﬁt from it nonetheless.
We worked with EIG’s Bluehost unit on a study to show the benefits of open source software in the SMB market http://oreilly.com/opensource/radarreports/economic-impact-of-open-source.cspThursday, October 11, 12http://oreilly.com/opensource/radarreports/economic-impact-of-open-source.csp
Of the 700,000 SMBs in the Bluehost data...Thursday, October 11, 12More than 70% of the 1 million bluehost customers were SMBs. Applying the survey data they provided to theraw data set, we made this extrapolation of their revenues. It’s a total of $124 billion. Given that we estimate that Bluehost represents 10-12% of`the hosting market, that means we’re talking about a $1.3 trillion market.It’s hard to quantify how much of this value to attribute to open source and the web, but it’s meaningful. McKinsey said 10%.
Open source as a platform enabled the internet as platform Open source in government can enable government as a platformThursday, October 11, 12In conclusion, I simply want to say that open source as platform enabled the internet as platform. Open source in governmentcan enable government as a platform, and government as a platform can unleash enormous beneﬁts to our society and oureconomy. Let’s make it so!