World Government Summit on Open Source (keynote file)


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This is the keynote file for my talk at the Acquia World Government Summit on Open Source. I talked about the role of open source in the internet, and the role it can play in government.

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  • 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.\n\nI’m here to talk about lessons from the technology industry that can be applied to 21st Century government. We’re applying these lessons at \nCode for America, a non-profit that works with cities to help make government work better for everyone.\n
  • Let’s start with what you might call the paradox of government. It’s too big...\n
  • Jennifer Pahlka, the founder and executive director of Code for America, has one simple answer to this paradox. “What if...?” \n\nI suspect that, like Apple customers, we’d be happy to pay our taxes, because we love the product we’re getting.\n
  • Code for America runs a service year program that brings talented web developers and designers to work with cities\nfor a year. Last year, fellow Scott Silverman, who had previously worked at Apple, explained why he had applied to the program.\nHe said...\n
  • So lesson 1 is from Apple, by way of Code for America:\n\nWhat if government set out, like Code for America does, to reinvent the citizen experience, to make interfaces\nto government be simple, beautiful, and easy to use? What if we made government so wonderful that people were happy\nto pay their taxes?\n
  • Here’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 hard it 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 up leaving people still wondering what schools their children were eligible to attend.\n
  • Fortunately, 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 address and whether you already have other children in a particular school\n
  • and get back a map showing what schools your children are eligible for, which ones are in your “walk zone” and so on.\n
  • and 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 official said 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, part time. This has a huge effect in raising the bar on what’s possible.\n
  • Or consider another Code for America project, BlightStatus, developed for the City of New Orleans. The goal of this project was to unite disparate databases showing information about the status of blighted properties in New Orleans into a single interface, available both to government officials and to citizens. No one had a unified view of this data. Now simply type in an address\n
  • and you get up to date status information\n
  • that 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 often do developers of government software get greeted with hugs?\n
  • There’s a second important lesson of the consumer internet. Use data to make better decisions. Companies like Google crunch enormous amounts\nof data to figure out what results to show, and what advertisements to pair with those results. Their success at helping people\nget right to the answers they need has changed our world.\n\nBut under the skin, it’s important to realize that Google is a great model for a 21st century regulatory system. \n\nI know that “regulation” has become a dirty word in Washington, and that\neveryone likes to talk about making markets work better without explaining how to do that. \n\nWell, I’m not going to back down. One of the things that makes markets\nwork better is the right kind of regulation. Your car’s carburetor or fuel injection system is a regulatory system. The autopilot\nof an airplane is a regulatory system, and Google’s system for surfacing the best content and not showing you spam is a \nregulatory system, using algorithms (i.e. rules) and feedback loops to keep on course.\n
  • 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.\n
  • These are the design principles that Bracken and his team articulated. Anyone building for government should study these principles.\n
  • Code for America has applied these same principles to a redesign of the Honolulu web site. The original site is like a lot of other government websites - it talks about the city and what it has to offer. But it doesn’t necessarily start with what citizens want to know.\n
  • Here’s what Code for America built with the city of Honolulu.\n
  • What the Code for America team working with the City of Honolulu did seems obvious to those of us in Silicon Valley: they mined the visitor\nlogs of the existing site and the city’s call center to find out what people are really looking for.\n
  • This whole model of using data to decide what works is at the heart of one of the most powerful methodologies to hit Silicon Valley. The Lean Startup model isn’t about running cheap startups, it’s about figuring out “the minimal viable product” that you can 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.\n
  • Here are some of the key lean startup principles. For more info,\n
  • Lesson 3 from technology is to create what I call “an architecture of participation.”\n\nWhat’s so wonderful about the Web is that, like “the market”, it doesn’t prescribe what people should do. It creates a space\nin which people can create and participate, adds some regulatory mechanisms to keep out bad actors like spammers, then\nlets the best stuff float to the stop.\n
  • Now, when I use the word “participation”, you might be tempted to think of government participating in social media, like Facebook\n
  • or Twitter\n
  • Or fantastic sites like the White House’s We the People site (the code for which has been released as open source.)\n\nBut great as these things are, participation has to mean more than better mechanisms for people to have their voices heard. \n
  • The notion that we just need better ways to make our voices heard is rooted in a notion I call “Vending Machine Government” \nWe put in taxes and get out services, and when we don’t like what we get\n\nThe term was introduced by Donald Kettl in his book _The Next Government of the United States_. He meant it in a different\nway than I do - that one of the roles of government is precisely to create predictable services, like a vending machine. \n
  • we shake the vending machine.\n\nThe use of social media by government is just giving us another way to shake the vending machine. It doesn’t fundamentally transform our relationship to government.\n
  • It’s easy to forget what a transformation in our information landscape Google brought to us. But this New Yorker cartoon says it all.\n
  • Here’s a far better example of participation: the web itself. Just take a look at a page of Google search results: \nthose results are crowdsourced\nfrom the best work of millions of voices. Google doesn’t just take us to one site.\n
  • Jen Pahlka said this well. In her TED talk, she asked, “Are we...\n\n\n
  • And that’s also what Code for America took into account when designing Honolulu Answers. \nRather than having the city staff, or the Code for America fellows, write\nthe answers, they convened a gathering of citizens to suggest new questions and write the answers in plain English. Both citizens and government staffers worked together at this weekend “writeathon”\n
  • That’s how you got from this - a page that gives all kinds of irrelevant information about driver’s licenses -\n
  • To this: a plain language version of what citizens really want to know.\n
  • Jen Pahlka said something else very important in her TED talk. She said “We don’t want...”\n\nWhen government works like the internet, it lays down standards and infrastructure that the market can build on to deliver\nnew value for society. Government is not the provider of last resort, it should be the framer of rules and the builder of foundations.\n
  • Another way of saying this is that government is a platform.\n\nThe Internet is a good example of government acting to create something that the private sector can then build on.\n\nBut 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, \nand that enable the private sector. National highways, space travel, satellites, are good examples.\n\n\n
  • Consider Global positioning satellites. A huge project with uncertain return, started in 1973 and now showing enormous fruit in the 21st century, with huge value add from the commercial sector. Everything from maps and directions on your phone to\nfuture self-driving cars spring from this platform investment, and the key policy decision to open the data and \nmake it available for commercial use. We’re seeing similar platform policy decisions from the Obama administration \nfor healthcare and financial data today.\n
  • My notion of government as a platform is rooted in the notion that government is, at bottom, \na mechanism for collective action, a means for doing things that are best done together. So\nI was delighted recently to discover that Abraham Lincoln had said much the same thing 150 years ago. But this notion\nalso suggests a level of restraint. The best government programs enable the private sector; they don’t compete with it.\nI hope that government follows this lead, that it enables, and to use Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s notion, *nudges* the market \nin the right direction to produce socially beneficial outcomes, but that it does so with a light hand. As the Chinese philosopher\nLao Tzu said three thousand years ago, “When the best leader leads, the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’”\n\n****\n\nBelow, just for reference:\n\nLincoln 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.”\n
  • \n
  • Apple showed us the power of this kind of transformation when they turned the smartphone into a platform with the introduction of the iPhone app store.\n
  • The old model looked a lot like government procurement. Get some vendors in a backroom, decide what to offer, and you’re done. But this model clearly doesn’t produce the same kind of unexpected results and cornucopia of value creation offered by an open platform. \n\nApple’s model should be comforting to government, since it’s not as wide open as the internet, but still open enough to fire up the platform dynamics of unexpected innovation.\n
  • With the lessons of the iPhone and other platforms, why do governments still do single-source procurements and deals where government data is licensed to a single player. This problem from 2009, in which San Francisco licensed its transit data to one provider, who then tried to shut out other transit apps, was resolved in favor of open systems, but the problem persists in many other areas of government.\n
  • 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.\n\nFor example, a data standard called Open311 allows web applications to seamlessly interact with 311 systems across the nation. \n(311 is the number you call to report problems like potholes or graffiti. It’s like 911 but for non-emergencies.) \n\nHaving a data standard allows outside organizations like SeeClickFix and Code for America to build third party applications \nthat provide new services both to cities and to citizens. Here’s CfA’s 311 Labs application, The Daily Brief, which shows the\npulse of the city according to 311.\n
  • When we look at the projects being done by the White House Innovation Fellows, they are all about building a 21st century data platform. MyGov is about reinventing the web paradigm from one centered on government to one centered on citizens (more on that later), the Open Data effort is about identifying key data and partners who can use it. The Blue Button initiative is about downloadable health records. And RFP-EZ is about simplifying government contracting so more small businesses and entrepreneurs can participate in the ecosystem.\n
  • \n
  • \n
  • \n
  • The Blue Button initiative started at the VA, but has now spread to many other health institutions. More than one million people have now downloaded their health records.\n\nAnd this means that they can be the basis for applications that the government didn’t develop or provide.\n
  • There’s now a similar “Green Button” initiative for utilities, for consumers to download their energy data, and a Gold button for financial data, and another for school records.\n
  • 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.\n
  • In particular, I now want to focus on why open source matters.\n
  • \n
  • That leads me back to one of the most important lessons from the web and from open source software: Create an architecture of participation.\n
  • I first focused on this idea fifteen years or so ago in a conversation with Linus Torvalds. He observed...\n\nThat term “architecture” stuck in my head, and I realized how true it was of all the most successful open source projects - that it was far more than a matter of just releasing source code. It was designing systems in such a way that someone could bite off a manageable chunk and modify, replace, or extend it.\n
  • I thought about my own experience with Unix, the system that Linux emulated. It wasn’t itself open source by today’s standards of licensing, but it had an architecture that allowed it to be developed collaboratively by a community of loosely connected developers. It was the architecture that mattered. In writing an entry for this classic book on Wikipedia, I wrote...\n
  • 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.\n
  • Tim Berners-Lee put the web into the public domain, and that was a profound act of open source software. But the software that Tim wrote is long gone, subsumed by other software that built on the architecture, communication protocols, and markup language that he designed. An even deeper contribution was the fundamental architecture of the web, which allowed anyone to put up a site without permission from anyone - all they had to do was speak the same language and communication protocol.\n
  • By 2008, the web had reached ONE TRILLION unique URLs. I don’t know how big it’s grown since then, but everything that grew from the Web of 1990 was implicit in the participatory design that Tim B-L first came up with. Architecture matters.\n
  • You also see this architectural element in the success of the Apache web server. I remember back in the mid 90s, when there was this media hysteria that Apache wasn’t keeping up, because it wasn’t adding features as fast as Netscape’s web server or Microsoft IIS. The folks at Apache were clear: We’re an HTTP server. We have an extension layer (read “we are a platform”) that allows other people to add new features. Fifteen years later, Apache is still the dominant web server, and Netscape and IIS are footnotes in history. \n
  • And of course this same architectural design is also true of Drupal, the software that powers, the department of energy, and many other government sites at the federal, state, and local level. Drupal has an architecture that allows anyone to add 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.\n
  • \n
  • In his TEDGlobal talk, Clay Shirky discussed this notion of how the architecture of open source and the internet have implications for government. This is a really important talk, and I urge all of you to watch it.\n
  • 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.\n
  • Clay argues that previous source code control systems reflect a kind of “feudal” architecture, with centralized control.\n
  • \n
  • By contrast, Git allows for everyone to have access to all the code all the time. This supports true, decentralized, internet-style social coding. Government needs to figure out how to enable this same kind of decentralized contribution and innovation.\n
  • And that’s how Linus has managed to create the world’s largest collaborative software project, the Linux kernel, with more than 8000 developers\n
  • producing 15 million lines of code.\n
  • 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.\n
  • When the first Code for America fellows showed up in Boston in February of 2011, they ended up in the middle of what was called “snowpocalypse” - a massive blizzard. One of the fellows, Erik Michaels-Ober, saw a fire hydrant buried in snow, and heard tales of how this was a problem for the fire department. When responding to a fire, they first have to find and dig out the fire hydrant.\n
  • Erik’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, it was 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 fire hydrant near them.\n
  • Erik put his code on Github, a site that lets people see each other’s Git repositories, take their code, and repurpose it.\n\n\n
  • All 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 for other purposes. It could even be stood up as a single cloud app that supports multiple cities, though no one has done that yet.\n
  • But volunteers from the Code for America Brigade (think volunteer fire brigade, but for coders and other civic volunteers) have already stood the app up in other cities, liberating the necessary data and adapting the app. One volunteer developer from Lexington...\n
  • But the most interesting re-use case came from Honolulu, a place with no snow! Forest Frizzel, the deputy IT director of Honolulu, 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 the batteries, and there are other maintenance problems.)\n
  • So there you have it. Soon after, Honolulu had Adopt A Siren. Other implementations include Adopt a Storm Drain and Adopt a Sidewalk. This app can be used for citizen engagement around maintenance of any public asset.\n
  • Larry Wall, the creator of the Perl programming language, once said that Perl was designed to “make easy things easy and hard things possible.” You all know how government software and procurement processes sometimes seem to make easy things hard, and hard things impossible. But these examples show how open source software can indeed make easy things easy, and hard things possible. I want that to be the thing you take away from this talk. \n
  • In short, Git allows cooperation without tight coordination.\n
  • Technology-enabled cooperation can be very simple, as with a wiki. Here’s for example, is the initial wikipedia page for the great earthquake that hit Japan last year.\n
  • Within a short time, through thousands of edits by thousands of interested individuals, it turned into a full-featured encyclopedic account of the earthquake and its aftermath. Let’s watch that in action.\n
  • What’s important to realize is the human element in these applications. A community of hundreds of million humans linking to documents makes Google possible. At its deepest level, the web is social. It’s not just overtly social applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.\n\nMichael Nielsen has written a wonderful book about how collective intelligence can be applied to problems of science. He takes lessons from the consumer internet and applies them to much more challenging intellectual activities. He emphasizes, in his discussion of Wikipedia, that it is not just a collection of documents, but the product of a community. He says [quote above]\n
  • Now I want to switch tracks a bit, and talk about the hidden economic benefit of open source software.\n\nIn 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.\n
  • \n
  • I started thinking about this recently when I met with Hari Ravichandran of Endurance International Group. EIG owns Bluehost and a number of other web hosting companies. As we talked I was reminded that, at bottom, web hosting and domain name registration services are really subscription business models for free software - the DNS, web server, email, and so on. Hari said to me\n
  • \n
  • In the course of our conversation, I remembered this great piece about alternative energy that I read back in 1975 in \nThe CoEvolution Quarterly, Stewart Brand’s successor to The Whole Earth Catalog. It’s called The Clothesline Paradox, \nand it made the point that ... It struck me that open source is a lot like sunshine. It disappears from our economic \naccounting.\n
  • \n
  • We look at the financial success of explicit open source companies like Red Hat or MySQL or Acquia, and while we’re proud of \nit, it’s relatively small relative to the success of proprietary companies.\n
  • It’s a bit like the energy pie charts that Steve Baer talks about in The Clothesline Paradox, where solar\nenergy shows up as this tiny slice, even though it’s really the wellspring of absolutely everything else\nin the energy pie!\n
  • Because of course the companies whose logos appear on this slide (and many more) were built on a foundation of \nopen source software, and wouldn’t exist without the generosity of those who created the internet and the world wide web, \nLinux, and the cornucopia of open source tools and languages that made the fertile soup from which today’s tech innovation sprang.\n\nAccording to McKinsey, the internet is now responsible for more than 3% of GDP. That’s downstream value created\n(but not captured) by open source communities.\n
  • Talking with Hari, I realized that we also need to give credit to open source for the internet service provider market. \nWhat does an ISP provide but subscription access to open source software, and to the vast, generative creativity of the\nsharing economy of social media and the web? Sure, they provide infrastructure, but without that software and without that\nfree content, no one would give a rats ass about using their infrastructure.\n
  • And that’s \n
  • But perhaps the most interesting thing that Hari pointed me to was a McKinsey report on the net’s overall impact on\ngrowth, jobs, and prosperity. One of the things that caught our attention was the assertion that having a web site\nincreases the productivity of small businesses by 10%.\n
  • So that’s where the economic value created by open source ultimately gets captured: by people who may not even know \nwhat open source is, but benefit from it nonetheless.\n
  • More than 70% of the 1 million bluehost customers were SMBs. Applying the survey data they provided to the \nraw data set, we made this extrapolation of their revenues. It’s a total of $124 billion. Given that we estimate that\n Bluehost represents 10-12% of`the hosting market, that means we’re talking about a $1.3 trillion market.\n\nIt’s hard to quantify how much of this value to attribute to open source and the web, but it’s meaningful. McKinsey said 10%. \n\n
  • In conclusion, I simply want to say that open source as platform enabled the internet as platform. Open source in government can enable government as a platform, and government as a platform can unleash enormous benefits to our society and our economy. Let’s make it so!\n
  • World Government Summit on Open Source (keynote file)

    1. Technology and 21st Century Government Tim O’Reilly O’Reilly Media @timoreilly World Government Summit on Open Source October 11, 2012@codeforameri
    2. The paradox of governmentIt’s too big, and it costs too muchyet...There are problems that the private sector alone can’tsolve
    3. “What if we felt aboutgovernment the way we feelabout our iPhones?” - Jennifer Pahlka,
    4. “I believe that interfaces to governmentcan be simple, beautiful, and easy touse.” - Scott Silverman 2011 Code for America Fellow
    5. Lesson 1:Get people excited about government! Reinvent the “citizen experience”
    6. Lesson 2:Use Data to Drive Decisions
    7. 18
    8. The Lean Startup The goal of a Lean Startup is to move through the build-measure-learn feedback loop as quickly as possible.
    9. Key Lean Startup Principles Minimum Viable Product Continuous Deployment A/B Testing Actionable Metrics (vs Vanity Metrics) Pivot
    10. Lesson 3:Create an architecture of participation
    11. Vending Machine Government Vending Machine Gov concept from Donald Kettl: The Next Government of the United States
    12. We Need to Do More Than Shake the Vending Machine!
    13. “Are we just going to be a crowd of voices, or are we going to be a crowd of hands?” - Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America
    14. 28
    15. “We don’t want government towork like a Silicon Valley startup,we want it to work like theinternet itself.” - Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America
    16. Lesson 4Government should be a platform
    17. GPS: A 21st century platform launched in 1973
    18. “The legitimate object of governmentis to do for the people what needs tobe done, but which they cannot, byindividual effort, do at all, or do sowell, for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln, July 1, 1854
    19. Government as a platform means an end to thedesign of only complete, closed “applications.”Instead the government should providefundamental services on which we, the people,(also known as “the market”) build applications.
    20. What happens when you throw open the doors to partners More than 50,000 iPhone applications in less than a year! Now at 688,000
    21. The old way: Preferred application partners A few apps developed in advance by the phone company
    22. So why do governments still make deals like these?  No bid contracts  Preferred providers  Earmarks  Sole source licensing of government data to single-source providers
    23. Open311 - the Pulse of the City
    24. Open data is a great start,but it’s only part of the story
    25. Why open source matters
    26. It’s one of the most powerful models for an architecture of participation
    27. “I couldn’t have written a new kernelfor Windows even if I had access to thesource code. The architecture justdidn’t support it.” -Linus Torvalds
    28. “The book is perhaps mostvaluable for its exposition of theUnix philosophy of smallcooperating tools withstandardized inputs and outputs,a philosophy that also shaped theend-to-end philosophy of theInternet. It is this philosophy, andthe architecture based on it, thathas allowed open source projectsto be assembled into largersystems such as Linux, withoutexplicit coordination betweendevelopers.”
    29. The internet would not existwithout open source software
    30. “When you adopt a tool, you also adopt themanagement philosophy embedded in that tool”
    31. Source Code Access with Centralized Control
    32. The social graph of contributors to the Ruby language
    33. That magic happens for simple projects as well
    34. A Boston fire hydrant in winter
    35. 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”
    36. Adopt A Siren
    37. Text
    38.  Open source encourages re-use Simple solutions to simple problems Serendipity
    39. The hidden economic benefit of open source
    40. Open Source and the Clothesline Paradox
    41. 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 Group
    42. 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!
    43. WordPress
    44. ISP Services - a $79 Billionmarket in the US aloneWeb hosting and domainname registration - a $5Billion market
    45. Having a web siteincreases theproductivity of smallbusinesses by 10%
    46. So that’s where the value gets captured - by everyone!
    47. We worked with EIG’s Bluehost unit on a study to show the benefits of open source software in the SMB market
    48. Of the 700,000 SMBs in the Bluehost data...
    49. Open source as a platform enabled the internet as platformOpen source in government can enable government as a platform