Archive for July, 2006

Pennsylvania’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) issued the Keystone Technology Plan to serve as the information technology blueprint through the year 2009. The plan’s phased approach is quite interesting, with the following phases taking center stage:

  • Yesterday: Enterprise Planning and Governance
  • Today :Shared Infrastructure Services
  • Tomorrow: Business Centric Services

BSCoE plays a prominent role in OIT’s vision and is mentioned as a driver of infrastructure today and key player in the creation of business-centric services in the future.

OIT Keystone Technology Plan

Although I was notified of this release through offline communications channels, I also stumbled upon a Technorati link to a Pennsylvania-specific technology blog – PATechSpot. The folks running this blog seem to have a pretty good handle on technology happenings in the Commonwealth. It’s definitely a site worth adding to my blogroll.

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For some time I’ve been giving thought to user-generated content on the Internet. In particular, I’ve been interested in audio and video content. A recent post by Dion Hinchcliffe drove me to put a bit more structure around my ideas and put pen to paper, figuratively speaking.

I’ve been following Dion’s blog for nearly a year now and his writing helped shape my thinking about Web 2.0. Although I strongly agree with his statement that user-generated content is one of the pillars of Web 2.0, it appears that we disagree somewhat with respect to the limits of its potential. I can honestly say that user-generated content on sites such as Amazon.com, Wikipedia, and del.icio.us has added tangible value to my online experience. In many ways, there is no way to even emulate these services in the world outside of the Web. I don’t think, however, that I will ever be able to make a similar assertion about video and YouTube, in its current incarnation.

YouTube User Generated Content

Call it frivolous, but I’d rather spend a couple of dollars to download the latest version of Lost or 24 onto my iPod than watch any number of the best of the best YouTube clips. Creating quality programming usually involves capital expenditures beyond most individuals’ means; casting and directing a team of professionals – be it actors, animators or otherwise; leveraging a professional production staff; and having a mechanism for distributing this programming. YouTube only addresses one facet in the programming production chain – distribution.

The fact that YouTube represents such a radical departure from traditional video content distribution channels has lead many to attribute much more disruptive potential to YouTube than might ever be realized. In my opinion, creating video content that will compel a potential audience to pay to be entertained still requires a talented team and some degree of financial backing. The existing TV networks, their content acquisition pipelines, and advertising revenues continue to be the driving force in enabling the creation of programming with sufficient mass market appeal to justify its creation.

In many cases, the existing networks churn out content of questionable artistic, societal, and intellectual value. In some cases, however, they hit a home run. Will a Seinfeld or 24 ever emerge from YouTube directly? I consider this highly unlikely. In this sense, I believe that the true power of YouTube and its Web 2.0 brethren is the way they can shift the balance of power in the way that quality media is identified and consumed.

The trend towards on-demand and pay-per-view programming is already well underway. Leveraging Internet technologies, YouTube can compound this trend by decoupling us from conventional viewing medium (the television) and making video consumption location independent. It also provides a channel for aspiring actors, directors, and producers to create and distribute content of real artistic, societal, and intellectual value that they might otherwise never have had. This channel could also serve as a feeder for obtaining lucrative financial backing and making a trip to “the big league”.

Most importantly however, is the fact that on-demand, Internet-based video like that provided by YouTube enables an Athenian (some might read Orwellian) type democracy in which the world’s 5 billion viewers can let those responsible for supporting the production of content know what they’d really like to see. The age of the statistically representative U.S. Nielsen family will be gone forever and, for better or worse, the power to generate, identify, and consume content will be put in the hands of the people. Therein lies the true potential of YouTube.

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The first, albeit very rudimentary, version of GeoGlue is now available online at www.geoglue.com. As described in previous posts, this release is really nothing more than a soundseeing mashup with Google maps. The functionality is very basic, allowing the user to browse for soundseeing tours graphically using maps and a menu system or to search for tours using a combination of keywords. All tours are provided via MP3 streaming audio, either from the site that created the tour or from GeoGlue.com directly.

GeoGlue

We are planning a follow up release in the near future. This release will make the map-based transitions a bit smoother by using AJAX instead of pure postbacks. We will also be working on increasing the content base, allowing users to suggest new soundseeing torus and rolling out a user provisioning system. Keep your eyes open and, as always, email us at admin@geoglue.com if you have any questions or suggestions.

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Phil Windley’s recent post on e-Government mashups is a great introduction to the topic of citizen-facing Web services. As refreshing as it is to see that progressives in Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are exposing government data to their citizens and opening themselves to the law of unintended consequences, this only scratches the surface of what is possible. As I’m sure Phil knows as a former state CIO, fully open citizen self-service is likely to only go so far. As cool as it is to mashup public highway, crime, and public entity data on a map for the world to see, enabling truly effective government is going to be, to a greater extent, dependent upon empowering government knowledge workers. Imagine if, as an example, a knowledge worker was able to pull together information from their state’s welfare, criminal justice, and revenue (i.e. tax) systems and mash these up in a way that enabled them to uncover hidden relationships between this data and serve the state’s citizens more effectively.

JNET

Behind the scenes, what state governments should be doing is exposing all of their data through services. Then, through the combination of public policy setting and comprehensive identity management frameworks (another thing Phil knows a thing or two about), they can filter through as much of that data as is possible and allowable to each of their discrete stakeholder groups. Those of us working on such monumental tasks recognize that this is truly much easier said than done. However, the rewards of pursuing this route clearly are worth the effort expended. Although I do have a working knowledge of other states’ activities in this area, I can say concretely that Pennsylvania has already begun reaping the rewards of pursuing this approach. Our state’s Justice Network (J-NET) system is allowing for the effective exchange of offender, court, and other criminal justice data between state systems and empowering the knowledge worker. This ranges from high level policy setters who can now integrate criminal justice information into their data analysis and policy setting right down to the police officer making a routine traffic stop who can now more comprehensively assess the situation using data available on his wireless device.

Phil has got it right when he says that the goal should be to “set the data free”, exposing ourselves to the law of unintended consequences. the thought of better informed citizens, empowered knowledge workers, and greater transparency cause those famous words to echo through my head – government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to describe what GeoGlue was. Although, we have a far-reaching strategic vision for GeoGlue, I can describe the functionality in the initial release using two words – “Soundseeing Mashup”. Now both of these words are fairly new additions to the English language. The mashup concept has gained a good deal of traction through all of the Web 2.0 writeups. Soundseeing, on the other hand, was a term that even I had not heard until just a couple of weeks ago.

Soundseeing

Wikipedia, in its very brief description of soundseeing, describes it as an audio tour that uses the ambient sounds and descriptions given by a tour guide to give the listener an accurate depiction of the surroundings. These types of recordings are usually made at tourist points of interest and are commonly distributed through podcasting Soundseeingtours.com provides a collection of links to get you started on understanding soundseeing. The New York Minute Show appears to be a leader in the genre, with a number of podcasts covering popular areas of New York City. The Amateur Traveler is also pretty good, with a diverse geographic focus and a good bit of content collected over the last year or so.

GeoGlue, then, mashes up soundseeing tours with Google Maps. Now I can hear you thinking, “just what the world needs, another Google Maps mashup.” Please bear with us, the mapping component is only one of GeoGlue’s facets. It just happens to be the facet that gets the most visceral reaction from people and is therefore a great feature for our initial release.

In going about assembling some initial content for GeoGlue, what I did discover is that the barriers to entry in soundseeing are fairly low. Not to knock any of the podcasts available out there now but with a small investment of time, anyone could tell a somewhat compelling story or stories about the town they grew up in, work in, or traveled to. We at GeoGlue are counting on this and will be reaching out to you to collect your stories in the not-so-distant future.

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