Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Governing Principle

A new Pew study on Government Online indicates that the audience has been steadily growing for government-related content.

Government agencies have begun to open up their data to the public, and a surprisingly large number of citizens are showing interest. Some 40% of adult internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities. This includes anyone who has done at least one of the following: look online to see how federal stimulus money is being spent (23% of internet users have done this); read or download the text of legislation (22%); visit a site such as that provides access to government data (16%); or look online to see who is contributing to the campaigns of their elected officials (14%).

It's useful, however, have the interpretive analysis presented in "Government Use of Social Media - 'In Addition to' not 'In Lieu of,'" which argues that it is important to realize that the Pew data also shows that most of the interaction with e-government is oriented around a desire for efficient transactions not social networking, and the fact that "two in five Americans believe that the use of social media is a waste of government resources" shouldn't be overlooked in a time when the "Gov 2.0 community" should be "focusing a LOT less on getting more Facebook fans and Twitter followers."

While plenty of Americans are are going online to contact their government – 82% of internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website in the twelve months preceding the survey -the total proportion of Americans who prefer online communications has actually remained the same since this survey was last conducted back in 2003. For these internet users, government websites/Twitter accounts/Facebook fan pages/blogs/podcasts have become critical supplements – not replacements – for more traditional forms of communication. The majority of online government users interact with government agencies using multiple channels, both online and off.

It wasn't the concern of the Pew researchers, but I might have liked to have seen more rhetorical analysis of the data. Understanding the ethos of the state and the online behaviors that enhance it -- as well as the online behaviors that undermine it -- can be important. Given that so many Internet users also got their information about the government and participated in political discussions off the platform of government domains, it seems like there were also some interesting questions about credibility that weren't asked in an otherwise rich and engaging study.

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