Category Archives: blog

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog

– Bright Shiny Objects

Bright Shiny (Shifting?) ObjectWhy are human beings and governments so attracted to bright shiny objects such as smart phone apps?

I’m sure there is a psychological malady in here somewhere – perhaps a “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome” (BSOS), which also might explain why some people passionately love geocaching and others are inveterate collectors of stuff and still others become compulsive hoarders. And BSOS may be related to that urban legend(?) about capturing monkeys by putting bright shiny objects (BSOs) into a monkey trap.

Certainly Apple seems to be making a handsome living off BSOS, with over 10 billion downloads from its iPhone Apps store at a 30% cut of the price each.  Apple also receives a percentage from iTunes music downloads, and has capitalized on what I would call “hardware BSO” by being first to market with products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad.  Of course plenty of other companies also cash in on BSO.  A perfect example is all the companies hoping to make money in the forthcoming boom in tablet computers this year.

How does this all relate to government?

Government employees, including senior executives and elected officials, range the gamut from early adopters to tech troglodytes.   And more than a few of them are afflicted with BSO syndrome.   Sometimes that’s harmless, like the employee who has an iPod plus video camera plus digital camera plus iPad and maybe two kinds of Smart Phones.   As long as “he” (they are usually men) uses his desktop computer with Windows XP for work, and operates all those gadgets on his own time, I see no harm in this.

A worse situation is a senior official who directs the government or department he/she leads to adopt the latest gee-whiz gadgets or web applications without connection to either the department’s business strategic plan or a coherent technology plan.  Then that department tries to simultaneously reach constituents – and perhaps obtain input from them – via too many methods, such as:

  • a website (and maybe a variety of website domains such as countyparks.gov and parksforall.com and a domain for each major park)
  • a variety of online services such as payment engines, permit applications, maps etc.
  • blogs (and comments on blogs)
  • tweets (and @replies)
  • many different facebook pages
  • webforms
  • multiple YouTube postings and channels, in addition to the municipal cable TV channel
  • open data
  • smartphone apps
  • e-mail
  • mass-e-mailed newsletters
  • crowdsourcing via a tool such as Google Moderator or Ideascale
  • and probably via other bright-shiny-methods.

Sometimes I almost feel I “resemble these remarks” (i.e. have BSO syndrome myself):    The City of Seattle has a number of web applications and “bright shiny objects” such as Citylink – interconnected blogs at citylink.seattle.gov, multiple tweeting departments, a whole set of interactive services for making payments and obtaining information, a variety of Facebook pages and social media sites, open data at data.seattle.gov, a customizable website at my.seattle.gov, an award-winning municipal TV channel and much more.

So I’ll offer some tips – and this is advice the City of Seattle itself doesn’t always follow – on avoiding BSO syndrome in a world of Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0:

1.  Establish the brand of your website and try not to dilute it.  We have established www.seattle.gov as the definitive site for Seattle’s City government.  We actively resist setting up a whole series of competing domains with City information, e.g. seattlewater.gov or twistandsave.com (for a compact florescent bulb promotion).   We host our own implementation of WordPress, so that even the blogs (citylink.seattle.gov) are really part of the website.
I’ll be honest – this tenet is often hard to follow.   Many departments think they have some unique message which has to be communicated in a unique way with their own domain and website.   Sometimes this is just a new departmental web administrator trying to make a name for him/herself as a cool web designer.   Sometimes it is a legitimate request.  And sometimes it is something else entirely.  As CIO I need the wisdom of Solomon to recognize the difference!

2.   Drive traffic and inquiries back to the website from the other media.   When you tweet, include a link back to information on the website or in a blog.  When posting to the department’s Facebook wall, make the post short and succinct (include a photo or two, if appropriate) and link back to more information or an app on the website.

3.   Try to make the website as consistent as possible in look, feel and operation.  Use consistent headers, footers and navigation, as well as the same look-and-feel throughout the site.  Any government is not a collection of independent departments, but one entity headed by a single elected official with a single elected legislative body.  And try to be consistent in using a single payment engine for online payments, as well as “single sign-on” – one userid and password which provides access to all of the government’s online services.

4.   Be judicious in the proper use of tools.  In other words, use the right tool for the job.  Too often we have a hammer, so everything we see looks like a nail, even if in reality it is a screw or window or thumb.  

The best example of this is probably Citizens’ Briefing Book.   In January, 2009, President Obama’s transition team used Google moderator to try and crowdsource the major issues facing the nation.  Ideas such as “legalize marijuana”, “legalize online poker” and “revoke the tax status of the Church of Scientology” bubbled to the top.  Citizens’ Briefing Book is a noble effort, but I seriously doubt the tax status of Scientology is one of the most serious issues facing the nation!  Such crowdsourcing tools are more properly applied to single, specific, issues such as “what do we do with this vacant piece of land” rather than broad ones like “what are our budget priorities”.  Broad-based questions can be easily “gamed”.

5.  Dilution of effort.   Some governments or departments are huge, and can devote a lot of people and resources to maintaining a vast variety of social media and web channels for information.  A San Francisco or Seattle can have numerous Facebook pages and twitter accounts.  

But in every case – large or small, governments should start with just a few social media channels tailored to their communities.   Some communities will rarely use twitter, or will rely on traditional sources (TV stations or newspapers) for information.  Others will actively get information from blogs or Facebook postings.   Trying to do too much – too many social media channels – will be difficult to keep operating and only confuse the public or weaken their confidence in government.

6.  Fail fast.   If you try a new social media channel and it doesn’t resonate with constituents, close it down and post a “nothing to see here anymore – see our website” notice on the door.

7.   Assign responsibility.  Most departments will assign their public information staff the duty of updating social media and insuring accuracy.  In Seattle, the Police and Fire and Transportation PIOs will tweet as they speed to an event or incident, and then tweet again as well as blog about what happened at the incident.  The tweets link to the blogs.   With the demise of the traditional media (television, newspapers), the rise of neighborhood blogs and ubiquity of computing devices (computers, tablets, smartphones) in the hands of the public, this approach also is the fastest way to get information to everyone.

Ten years ago, in 2001, the year of “A Space Odessy” and HAL, who could have imagined today’s environment of Facebook and Twitter and blogs and smart phones?  What will the social media and constituent relationship landscape be like in 2021 or even 2016? 

Perhaps, instead of titling this post “Bright Shiny Objects”, the title should be “Bright Shifting Objects” as we continuously roll with the changes in technology.

1 Comment

Filed under blog, egovernment, open data, seattle channel, social media, web 2.0

– Kurmudgeons and Kids

Am I a Mac or a PC or Bill Schrier - click for more

Bill Schrier: Mac or PC?

Oh gee, I think I’ve become a Kurmudgeon. Or maybe a naysayer. Or maybe just a Buttoned-Down Corporate IT Technocrat. Or maybe, and this is most frightening of all, PC – and I don’t mean “politically correct” – but rather the character played by John Hodgman in the “Get a Mac” advertisements

Bill exchanged his draft card for his blog - click to see more

Bill's Draft Card and Blog

But I know I’m anti-establishment, because I marched and protested the Vietnam War. I actually participated in a sit-in demonstration. I crossed a police barricade during an anti-war protest in Madison Wisconsin (ok, so it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was drunk, twenty-three years old, on my way to work, and headed to get a cup of coffee to sober up – I still “crossed the line”, ok?). Gee Whiz, I almost burned by draft card (oh my gosh, am I that old, that I still have a draft card?)  How could a militant activist plebeian, farm-kid like me become the ultimate embodiment of “The Man“?

What happened?

Elections.

Yup, we’ve had a few recently in Seattle.

We have a new Mayor, a new County Executive, a new City Attorney, and two new City Councilpeople.

And they are all younger than me.

Worse yet, their campaign staff – who are now working on their transition teams – are college kids or twenty-and-thirty-something young people who have all these odd and annoying habits.

They use I-Phones. Gee, I can’t even spell I-Phone (correctly).  We corporate IT types use proper BlackBerrys or proper mobile phones that fold out when you want to talk.  (Although I did give my wife an I-Phone for Christmas – does that count?)

They use Macs. Yes, Apple Macintosh computers – (not the Ronald McDonald type of Mac).  We corporate IT types use proper Windows XP computers manufactured by prim and proper corporations like Hewlett Packard with proper advertising campaigns, thank you very much. (My always-suffering wife is a Mac person – does that count?)

They don’t use anti-virus software.  Anathema! Heresy!   My Chief Information Security Officer is writhing on the floor. There ARE viruses which affect Macs, he says.  And how about all those I-Phone (I still can’t spell it right) apps which are written by hackers and can be downloaded?  Oh wait, I-Phone hackers aren’t trying to create bot armies, they’re just trying to modify the software in the phone and bend it to their will.  Gee, does that make Apple Engineers and Programmers and Executives Buttoned-Down corporate IT types like me?

These kids – they tweet and twitter and blog and facebook (is that a verb?) and post video they take with their danged I-Phones to YouTube and create legends for their innovative use of cell phones to collect last minute ballots on election night. 

Where is my defense from all this anarchy?   Where is my official City of Seattle Information Security policy when I need it?   Where are my guidelines for the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter and Blogs (oh my)?  Where is that holy grail of all Chief Information Officers and Buttoned Down corporate IT types – “standards“? 

At least I can take comfort and wrap myself in my reduced budget (Macs and I-Phones cost more to buy and manage) and my economic development (gee, Microsoft DOES employ 40,000 people in the Seattle area and it DOES, after all, make software for Macs, too).

They are challenging my policies, these kids. They are challenging my assumptions. They don’t care for my technology standards. They have taught me how to spell iPhone.

They are challenging my very identity as the Chief Technology Officer for the City Government of Seattle.

And I love it.

4 Comments

Filed under BlackBerry, blog, budget, iPhone

– Politics and Technology

Mayor Greg Nickels

Mayor Greg Nickels

On Friday August 21st, Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle conceded defeat in our 2009 primary election. In an eight-way race for Mayor, he came in third. Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn, both running their first races for elected office, received more votes than Greg in the August 18th primary.  The general election is November 3rd.  Come January 1st 2010, there will be a new Mayor in Seattle.  As CIO and a Department Director, I work directly for the Mayor.  On January 1st, either I’ll have a new boss, or Seattle will have a new CTO/CIO and I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands.

“Technology is driven by the business need.”   That’s a mantra for CIOs everywhere, whether we work in government , the private sector or at a non-profit.  As a CIO you can work in banking or manufacturing or a federal government agency or in a foundation or at a hospital.  In every case, the primary purpose of your business is not technology, but rather creating a product or delivering a service.  You, as CIO, use technology to make the organization more effective and efficient at its business, to give it a competitive edge.  It’s a wonderful job, CIO. You get learn and understand the business.  In my case, that’s permitting and utilities, emergency management and firefighting, entertainment (Seattle Center, parks) and policing, transportation and land use – all the products and services of the City government of Seattle.

And, as CIO, you are deeply involved in technology, which is full of innovation and constant change as IT moves ever forward.  And the CIO gets to marry the two, bringing the wonders of technology to the business of governing. 

Leaders change everywhere, and often suddenly.  Companies are bought and sold.  Non-profits expand and contract.  Businesses are born and die.  But only in government are your leaders elected, and do you get to watch the fascinating process of political campaigns, the ebb and flow of debates and public forums, the expose’ of news stories and endless mudslinging and chanting of blogs and newspapers and websites.  I have to admit that the vigorous debate and entertainment value of the political process is a significant portion the compensation I receive as Chief Technology Officer in Seattle. 

As Seattle’s CTO/CIO, I’ve not been one who believes technology and politics are separate.  I do NOT believe technology is “above” or “outside” politics.  As a private citizen, outside my job and away from my official duties, I’ve been involved in that political process.  I’ve engaged with candidates for many different offices, exploring a bit of their philosophies about the intersections of politics and governing and technology. 

The march of day-to-day business of Seattle’s City government and the use of technology in government will continue unchanged through this transition between Mayors.  The e-mail will keep flowing, the Seattle Channel will keep broadcasting.  The customer service systems will churn out utility bills and the financial management systems will process receipts and payments and general ledger entries.  We’ll continue stringing fiber optic cable and expanding the intelligent transportation system.  The service desk will answer calls for tech help and there will be dial tone when employees pick up their telephone sets.  The IVR (interactive voice response) will still process phone calls for help from constituents and the website www.seattle.gov will continue to expand and grow with services and information.  

If anything, our challenge continues to be the $72.5 million dollar general fund budget deficit.  Our water and electric utilities face financial challenges as great as the generally funded departments.  The Department of Information Technology will be smaller next year in both budget and staffing.  In developing that budget, I’ve tried to preserve core services plus a little staffing and funding for harnessing the ever-changing landscape of technology for the City’s use. 

Leadership – political leadership from Mayors and Governors and Presidents – does make a difference.  From a technology perspective, we are seeing that in Washington DC today, with a massive thrust towards transparency and accountability via the Internet and web.  We have a President who embraces change by using a BlackBerry and pushing his government to use Web 2.0 tools, blogs and online policy forums.

 Very recently, Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, laid out a vision for embracing similar change in Seattle.   In Seattle, our website www.seattle.gov has twice won “top municipal web portal” (2001, 2006), our municipal TV channel 21 has twice received top honors for municipal television programming for a City our size (2007, 2008) and regularly receives Emmy awards.  We’ve embraced blogs, with an announcement this week of CityLink, multiple blogs on City department sites, linked together into a blog roll-up.  We have police and fire and other departments tweeting the latest news.   We are on the verge of municipal broadband (Mayor Nickels was NATOA’s Broadband 2008 Broadband Hero of the Year).   We have mashups showing Fire 911 calls, transportation traveler’s information and My Neighborhood Map.   We are wrapping up a ten-year, $20 million replacement of Law-Safety-Justice technology systems which has and brought new computer-aided-dispatch systems, computers and cameras to police and fire vehicles, and an integrated police-law-court system.   This year we will finish a wholesale upgrade of the entire City government to Microsoft’s Office 2007, Active Directory and the latest version of Exchange/Outlook.  There are many other accomplishments I could mention.   They are the direct result of having smart city employees, good managers, and enlightened leadership in our departments.

But these investments are also the result of having a City Council and a Mayor who see the value of technology and support its application to the business of government.   It does make a difference who is elected.   Those who want to see government more efficient and effective, and who want to apply technology to improve government, and to make it more accountable and transparent, need to be involved in the political process of electing leaders who will make that happen. 

In Seattle, over the next 50 days, that’s what I’ll be doing.

1 Comment

Filed under blog, elections, management of technology, seattle channel, web 2.0

– Dead Dead-Tree News Arggh!

The Logo of the Seattle P-I

The Logo of the Seattle P-I

I’m saddened today, to hear of the potential demise of the Post-Intelligencer, one of the two daily dead-tree newspapers here in Seattle, and a paper which first published in 1863, six years before Seattle incorporated as a City. The PI’s owner, Hearst Corporation, plans to put it up for sale. If it is not sold, Hearst can close it down under terms of a joint operating agreement between the PI and the Times.

I’ve blogged in the past about how neighborhood blogs like our own West Seattle Blog may very well displace dead-tree papers simply because they have a massive reporter and photographer base – virtually anyone, anywhere with a cell phone, digital camera and Internet connection – and can report news and events in an “up front” rapid way unmatched by the traditional media.

I enjoy blogging and twittering (see http://twitter.com/billschrier) and social networking via Facebook. I’m helping to drive the City of Seattle to use such new technologies into making City government more efficient and effective – see our latest deployment, a vastly revamped version of “My Neighborhood Map”, just unveiled today.

But I mourn the end of old-style newsprint papers such as the PI.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older than the median age of a Seattlite (although still younger than the AARP median age). Maybe it is a “generation thing”, and “younger folks” get their news and information from Twitter and RSS and the Internet. I don’t think that’s true – there are many twenty-somethings vastly more conservative and less tech saavy than I.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always longed to be a journalist, hence my interest in writing this blog. That might stem from my college English professor, Father Daniel Rogers of Loras College, who said “I think you might be a writer someday”.

I’ve often told my wife, I’d love to own a small-town newspaper and attend/report upon/photograph events in a close-knit small City. She – an award-winning journalism teacher – laughs at that, knowing small-town newspapers are 80 hour weeks for a pittance of salary. And I, in my brain (not my heart), know that “beat reporting” such as the City Hall beat or the Boeing beat is probably a thing of the past.

And I also fear that true investigative reporting may end. Perhaps this sounds odd, coming from a government official. I’m proud of Seattle’s City government and I’m proud of public service. But I know there are the Richard Nixons and Dick Cheneys of government. We owe a lot to newspapers and reporters who dug deep inside issues and stories to expose Watergate, for example, as well as hundreds of other serious issues – just look at the Pulitzer Prize finalists/winners for great examples of such reporting.

Without newspapers to fund and support such long-term, labor-intensive investigative journalism, who will do it?

Pardon me, but I’m heading down to the Pike Place Market to get a copy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I hope I can continue to do that … that copies of the P-I will continue to be there …

3 Comments

Filed under blog, newspaper

– Everything Important is “Local”

West Seattle Blog

West Seattle Blog

Tip O’Neill, late and former speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, famously said “All politics is local”. He meant, of course, that no politician was ever elected or re-elected unless they listened to their local constituency and “delivered the goods” – that is, adequately reflected their voters’ views, opinions and needs*. Even if you are running for governor or President, you still need “feet on the street” in local neighborhoods to carry your message and translate it for voters – real people – neighborhood-by-neighborhood, block-by-block**.

Two relatively recent technology innovations underscore that more than “politics” is local: so are news, information, and government in general. And by “local”, here’s what I mean: certainly events like the Iraq war and the downturn in the economy are important and newsworthy and worthy of politician’s attention. But ordinary people don’t feel they have control over such monumental events. They feel they can control what happens in their neighborhood or on their block – building permits, helping the elderly, crime, condition of streets, what moves into their neighborhood (e.g. jails or halfway houses). Yet, while the Iraq war (or Georgian War) or the national housing slump grab the headlines, ordinary people often don’t have access to information about what is happening in their very own neighborhood – right down the block.

Here are a couple of developments which are, however, changing this paradigm:

The first development is the impending death of the paper newspaper. (Gosh I hope I’m wrong here, as I love getting ink on my fingers as I get information into my brain). Or rather than “death”, I mean the probable replacement of the paper-paper by the online-paper, the blog, and the Web.

The West Seattle Blog is a premier example of this. For almost a hundred years, the weekly West Seattle Herald has been the paper-paper for our neighborhood of about 40,000 people. Recently, the Blog is stealing the readers. Why? Because anyone can (and does) contribute news and information to the Blog. Sometimes the Blog reflects a bit of the ambulance-chasing and sensational-crime-reporting found in TV news or the paper-paper. But it also posts a ton of “come to the festival” and “photos of the parade” and “little league team wins” stories about neighborhoods. And Editor Tracy Record posts it almost immediately – morning, noon and night. It is timely, has a lot more information than the paper-paper (because it exists in cyberspace), and – more importantly – it is local – news about your neighborhood and even your block.

The Seattle Times – circulation 210,000 – and other urban newspapers face similar issues – see article here.

A second development is “Everyblock“. This is a fascinating mashup of publicly-available information. Information customized to within a few blocks of your home! In Seattle, at seattle.everyblock.com you can see 911 calls to the fire department, building permits and even restaurant inspections (I’ll never order from that Chinese food place five blocks from my house again!). In Chicago, where information on crimes is publicly available, you can even see a compendium of specific crimes committed in your neighborhood. The ultimate police blotter! “My Neighborhood Map” on the City of Seattle’s website has some similar information set up on a map.

Now, suddenly, the ordinary citizen has a ton of news and information available about their neighborhood and even their block. They can contribute to it (just ask Tracy Record) and will have better tools to shape their individual and neighborhood future.

Gives a whole new, and still developing, meaning to “all politics is local”, doesn’t it?

* Although sometimes a politician must also be a leader – taking people into the future – to where the nation or community must go, even if a majority of people don’t want to go there, e.g. the civil rights movement.
**These folks are called Precinct Committee Officers or PCOs, and they are elected officials themselves – at the most basic or lowest level of jurisdiction – elected for each party in each precinct.

2 Comments

Filed under blog, newspaper, Uncategorized, web 2.0

– BTB (Back to Blogging)

Bill's broken arm before Surgury

Bill's broken arm before Surgury

Original post:  12 July 2008

I’ve taken an hiatus from blogging after splintering my right arm while bicycle commuting. The full story with x-rays and a couple photos (“parental guidance advised”) is here, along with an update as of 12 July. Now it’s time to get Back to Blogging (BTB). New entries above …

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycling, blog