Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Crowd-Sourced Accountant

Vivek Kundra may not be a household name, but here at Virtualpolitik we're try to follow the work of the country's new "Chief Information Officer," as he tries to manage the information headaches of the federal government. Last month at "Vivek Kundra Takes Your Questions," where he debuted the IT Dashboard.

Like the Executive Branch Management Scorecard created during the Bush administration, the site uses a familiar red, yellow, and green schema to indicate to Internet users where particular federal programs may be in trouble. But this system gets away from report card metaphors to embrace the dashboard metaphors of the Internet age (and the metaphors of car culture that they borrow from). I chose the beleaguered Department of Transportation that has stumbled in recent weeks with its web services, particularly at, where server overloads and confusing click-through user agreements have plagued the "cash for clunkers" program.

Like many other federal websites, much of the information visualization takes the form of standard pie charts and bar graphs, which are staples of office imagery in the PowerPoint era. What makes the site distinctive, however, is how its widget-based architecture allows users to actually embed content into their own web pages, potentially to raise consciousness about underperforming federal agencies on the IT front.

In the video below, you can hear Kundra using the language of collective intelligence and crowd-sourcing as he argues that constituents can become "watchdogs, auditors, and innovators" as they mine these data sets.

What's also remarkable about this video is that unlike many other YouTube videos from federal agencies, it allows comments, including those that attack Kundra's reputation or recommend alternative sites like the UFO-hunting site with the transparency-oriented name But one form of transparency is obviously missing in conjunction with the posted videos: where are the transcripts that would allow users to quickly find the information that they are most interested in and the text that would be indexed by Internet searches.

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