Tag Archives: transparency

Web 2.0 Expo: Transparency — and how tech can fuel it — a primary theme

I'm one of a group of bloggers attending the Web 2.0 Expo in downtown Francisco this week.  We just sat down for a conversation with Tim O'Reilly, and since I have a particular interest in the topic of transparency — originally for corporations and now for government — I was interested in hearing Tim tell us about his escalating interest in how things work in Washington, DC.

He cited how Carl Malamud turned over what was originally a
non-government project, the SEC EDGAR database, to the SEC after developing
it – and that this was the first of what could be many such
endeavors. Technologists creating solutions and tools for
transparency. Some view this as a disruption, including O'Reilly –
who, of course, believes this is necessary and useful.

This is a nation born in revolution, so disruption is in our DNA.
O'Reilly's interest in this topic – and the prominence given it at
this conference – reflects the mood of the country, when we're not
over-thinking our checkbooks: that we are in need not just of
revolutionary thinking but of deploying specific skill sets to
revolutionary acts. In our case at this conference, it means
considering how best and where to deploy technologists to help our
regulatory infrastructure rewind itself back around the entire
populace – not just the folks who have made it their business to
influence and run our government.

I always bristle a bit at the use of disruption as a description
for change – it sounds negative to me. The introduction of
new ideas and new methods is of course a disruption – but to
position it that way is a bit confrontational – especially when
people are feeling challenged as it is by the inevitable
improvements.

I see this with clients frequently – it's what we used to call
[and I still call] change management. Sometimes even when people
understand and want change, they fight it or challenge it. I'd like
to think that introducing more technology into the way the US
government operates can happen without the fight or the resistance.
But it probably won't.

So let's call it disruption if we must. And let's get comfortable
with it. It's a return to our roots – and I'm all for technology
being the means for this particular revolution.

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Web 2.0 Expo: Adding a track on government

With a BA in government, you might say it's been a lifelong avocation to observe the workings of our republic.  And my academic studies certainly had an influence on my work a few years ago in the area of corporate transparency.  [I was either too early or too late.]

So in one of the notes we bloggers received today from the Web 2.0 Expo team, I was interested to see that they've added a track in government.  Here's the story, from Janetti Chon.

The Government 2.0 track
seeks to help the Web 2.0 community understand how they can bring their
skills and knowledge to bear on this critical problem, whether as
individuals seeking to enable change or companies looking for a new
business opportunity.

A related agenda opportunity is a hackathon sponsored by Sunlight Labs.  Here's that story.

Sunlight Labs is an open source development team that
builds technology to make government more transparent and accountable. Part of
the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, they are one of our favorite
organizations, so we’ve invited them to host a hackathon at Web 2.0 Expo, where
attendees build an application that promotes transparency in government. You
can vote now for the application you want to build (or think needs to
be built). We’ll post an update on Web 2.0 Expo’s blog when the
project is selected. We welcome you to join our on-site hackathon – stop by to
help out for an hour or a day, contribute to rebuilding our democracy, and meet
some great folks!  Open Tuesday 9am-6pm,
Wednesday & Thursday 9am-5pm.

Meanwhile, I'll be announcing a special offer for Web 2.0 Expo in the next few days — stay tuned.

Players: Observations on the bailout

This morning, as I work, I listen to the Senate hearings on the bailout, I check Twitter commentary, I look at a few blogs.  Here's what I think We the People must consider when we put the parameters around the $700 billion bailout.

  1. My experience in providing client service to investment banker types — people with investment bank backgrounds — is that they look out for Number One in ways that most of us would never imagine.  Investment bankers do not follow rules, whether we're talking business practices or good manners.  Investment bankers are animalsAs a group, the only thing that keeps them in line is a big stick.  Congress MUST put strict parameters around these guys we are putting in charge of the $700 billion.  And we MUST go after the executive compensation packages
  2. How did we respond to the Enron mess?  By neutering the accounting profession.  That, folks, was a bone that Wall Street and its cronies in Washington threw to the American public.  And it was a predictor that this mess would happen to us.  The destruction of Arthur Andersen was a major sign that these guys are all about finding a scapegoat to take the hit for their own sloppy, self-serving business practices.  Not changing the way they did business — not learning from the Enron debacle — not interested in hearing from those with expertise that they don't have but that is germane to their activities.  Now, we are left with no watchdogs, either in the private sector or the public, to tell us when the cronies have concocted a risk-laden, byzantine set of financial instruments.  It is unconscionable that not one person in a leadership position in industry, government or academia did not look at this maze and tell us what they're telling us now:  that this confluence of financial instruments was not nor ever was sustainable.
  3. The reason I turned on CNBC in the first place this morning was to wait for a segment on a client that was taped three weeks ago.  Instead, my attention, by necessity, had to be diverted to the dirty job of fixing a problem created by an elite few — most of whom have never invented anything or bought and sold anything you could hold in your hands.  Elitists who never had a summer job on a farm or in a factory, who, with their fancy pedigrees, dictate to the rest of us what is success.  This mess is not only something we must clean up, it is sucking the air out of one of the stars of the American way:  real business, based on real relationships and transactions.  Let's get the mess cleaned up and let's make sure it doesn't deplete us or distract us professionally or emotionally.

Email, call, SHOUT at your representatives in Washington.  Yes, we want transparency.  But we want punishment.  Consequences for bad actions, whether they were intentional or not.  Do we let people off a murder charge just because they didn't intend to do it?  No.  The deviant brains who mixed this cocktail of financial instruments need to go to Man Jail.  Their property confiscated.  Their cash appropriated to the bailout.  I want heads to roll.

Valleywag’s job

A lot of people complain about Valleywag being a muckraking, patently unfair, inaccurate, just plain mean source of behind-the-scenes technology news.  [Which means people are complaining about a mainstream source of entertainment in the industry, particularly here in northern California.] The site is decried as a parasite that would not exist without the success of visionary entrepreneurs, their investors and the people behind the scenes.

That said, Valleywag’s team would have very little to shovel if it weren’t surrounded by excrement.  It’s Valleywag’s chosen role to sift through the waste and report the dark side of the technology culture.  [Calm down, every industry has one.]  And this actually serves a purpose.  We are inundated with hyperbole at impossibly higher levels of absurdity every day.  If we’re not going to tell the truth, somebody should be trying to uncover it.

It’s said that Valleywag draws some outlandish conclusions at times and deliberately puts things in a bad, if not salacious, light.  But as long as there has been a media, there have been players who’ve taken this role and run with it.  So any company that decides to build awareness via the media must accept that there are all kinds of media and devise a way to deal with them.  Not play them, deal with them.

Of course, the best way to manage one’s image is to operate transparently, admitting that errors in judgment and mistakes are part of the drill.  It’s become clear that the biggest obstacle to transparency is human nature.  You can have the most sophisticated branding, public relations and product marketing armies at your beck and call, but unless the honchos check ugly tendencies such as narcissism, arrogance, nepotism and elitism at the front door each morning, you are sunk.  Because when the foibles hit, and they will, you’re going to need an uncluttered perspective to explain them and convince stakeholders — including all those people who bought your stock — that you’re running a business, not a 24/7 funhouse.  Otherwise, all that bravado is only going to convince one person:  the one looking back at you from the mirror.

Unfortunately for companies in any industry with a lot of resources to throw around, financial success does weird things.  When it’s stratospheric success, the beast becomes really unreasonable. 

So, read one of today’s posts from Valleywag.  It’s a case study in comprehending just how wacky you can become when you have nothing to lose but a job you don’t need anymore and a reputation that you think counts only with your kind, dear.