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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From Bees to G-Men (and Government 2.0)

Mark Drapeau has had, to say the least, a varied and interesting career. A biological scientist by training, Dr. Drapeau has brought his knowledge of the social behavior of fruit flies and bees to the potentials of social networking within government agencies. Formerly an Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University, Dr. Drapeau is now an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and a recognized thought leader in innovation and technology in government.

In anticipation of an upcoming panel discussion on Government 2.0 hosted by the International Consortium on Government Financial Management, we asked Dr. Drapeau ten questions:

Do academics approach social networking in a different way than typical users?
That could be answered a number of ways. Academics often only like to socially network with other academics, so their average social networks are probably more narrowly focused than a typical person's. They also probably approach the study of social networks in a more abstract manner than a typical person, who probably wants practical uses out of their network – how do I use my network to get stuff done that's important to me?

How can social networking improve social capital?
Social networking is to some degree linked to "new marketing" in which proactively putting out positive content like helpful blog posts helps drive eyeballs and customers and fans to brands, businesses, and so forth. Contributing to a community of interest and being generous with your ideas grows your social capital within social networks. This has always been true but social networking tools help you spread your word much further than ever before.

Was musician Joe Walsh right: "What were vices are now habits"?

Sure, it used to be that only the hard-core addicts used things like WordPress and Twitter. Now everybody wants some - everyone has the vice. And people who had the vice a year or two ago have now made blogging and tweeting and other things habits. And we are searching for new vices. Mine is Posterous.com.

What from insect social networks applies to human social networks?
Virtually everything.

How do these virtual social networks merge into the physical world?
It's easy to forget that social networking is not only about a digital existence. We all exist in real life and like to interact with people in real life to some degree or another. Few people can completely exist online - maybe game designers, freelance writers, a few other things. Most people need to get business or other work or play done in real life. So, virtual social networks help you accentuate your real life networks. For example, you meet someone at a conference and you don't see them for 9 months – things like Twitter help you ephemerally stay in touch with them just enough such that when you see them again, it's like it's only been 9 days, not 9 months. I've experienced this a lot.

What lessons can we learn from terrorism networks?
Terrorists and similar groups are agile, and seem pretty good at taking advantage of new technologies to spread information internally and externally for PR. This is a boon to small companies, small groups like NGOs, and to government units that need to be more agile or need better “marketing” to the people about what they're up to.

Do we need to inject a “social gene” into government?
Government employees could be more social. Even if they really don't have time (which I often find to be an excuse) social tools are increasingly mobile and people can "socialize" and let people in on their lives from their cars (safely!), homes, vacations and so forth. Just a little sharing means a lot!

Governments strive for standardization - doesn't social networking provide better service to a select group of citizens?
The digital divide is a complex topic but generally the Web is becoming more accessible to more people every day. True that not everyone has an iPhone or a MacBook, but lots of people have cell phones and access to a computer at least some of the day.

What is the implication of mobile technology on Government 2.0?
Potentially huge and definitely to be determined.

Do different generations interact differently in the Web 2.0 world?
Every generation is capable of using Web 2.0 technologies, but different backgrounds yield different expectations and applications. Lots of people are looking at this issue right now, because it has all kinds of implications; for example, government workforce retention.

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