MSR Social Computing: Anil Dash, Expert Labs

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So Anil wrote a blog post about how everything would be better if we just had people interested in social media in the White House, and we did!
"The federal government is the most interesting startup of 2009"
Then he realized he had just made this whole "pollyanna" thing up.
So how to make this enthusiasm true?
He talked to people: What does it look like when people use this stuff in the White House?
Unfortunately, being on social networks meant breaking the law, because the law requires logging all comments left on those streams -- even the 2 star ratings on a podcast.
And the Presidential Records Act is a good thing.
But they didn't have an application to scrape all those YouTube comments...hence the law breakage.
The answer: interns! They take screenshots of social network sites and paste them into MS Word to create archives.
Says Anil, "I have to get into this racket."
So you think it'll take a weekend and some caffeine. But the White House has to put it out to bid, and obey equal opportunity laws, and fair bidding, etc and it took a year and $1 million.
So yes, some problems. First, who reads fedbiz.gov? How do you know the White House wants your help? And how do people agree on a solution, especially when an easy answer is to shut it all down. And they can't make it themselves in the White House -- no programmers -- and they certainly can't host it commercially. Nor can ordinary citizens and corporations give tools as gifts to the government. And also, frankly, it's not a really interesting technical problem, so it's hard to find tech people to build it, and VCs don't want to fund it. And really, it's not worth funding because it's not a growth industry. And do you really want VCs incentivized to make a ton of money off the federal government? And unfortunately, even if you got it to work out, you'd have to do exactly the same thing for every single case in the federal government.
And there are 10,000 webmasters in the federal government.
But these problems are the same kinds of problems that all startups face. And you can think of it as a checklist, instead of a list of insuperable obstacles.
They have old buildings in DC -- all they need is new ideas!
The biggest VCs Anil knows looks like record labels -- and record labels have proven to be a shaky model.
What if we avoided the VC model and went for a philanthropic model?
But no one wants to build this stuff? But that's just a question of sexiness, and sexiness can be acquired.
People want to help each other -- they want to be civic.
"The terms of service problem": apps.gov has solved this. They just provide a block of boilerplate to add to terms of service to allow federal employees to legally use it.
Like all EULAs, you're still screwed. But you're screwed differently.
And indeed, we can find some institutions who will encourage people to build those apps...and the federal government is moving into hosting services in the cloud. You don't have to run it for them and they don't need to run it themselves.
So just give the problem to technologists, and let them solve the problem.
You just need to advertise in the right places, and the White House is good at getting attention.
It's just a leap of faith.

thus, Expert Labs, now a member for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which can place experts as independent advisors into federal government
So the name itself is a hack. People want to talk to experts. By using the word, you make it true. And "labs" gives us access to the scientific community. It sounds like we're thinking hard. It sounds like we're doing research. Much of this is about framing things in language that works.

And this is the language the AAAS uses to describe what they do: "With our eyes upon the democracy of the future, we extend our hand forward."
and thanks to Beth Novak
treating the obstacles as a game

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