Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Federal CTO Prediction

OK, I'm going out on a limb here about a piece of real Inside the Beltway insider baseball: the name of the new federal chief technology officer. You should care, actually, because if this person reflects the spirit of the Obama presidency, he or she will soon be calling on all of us to help fix what's wrong, improve what's right and come up with what's next for technology in government. I recently opined that it didn't much matter who is named because in many ways, the new CTO will be all of us.

The Obama campaign and the Obama moment and the Obama approach all point to greater openness about the workings of government, more collaboration, more sharing and, finally, a call on Americans to quit shopping and step up to the challenges of reinventing democracy for the 21st century. But hey, no one likes to cede bragging rights, so I dropped a name in at the end of the piece as my prediction: Vivek Kundra. And now, guess what? he's suddenly gone all unavailable to the press. Here in Washington, that usually means either an indictment or an appointment. This guy is simply too busy as Washington, DC's CTO and too young and too clean to have an indictment, so I'm betting on an appointment: federal CTO.

And how cool is that?!? He's only been at the helm in DC since 2007. He's crazy innovative, he's daring and his dad was a high school teacher in the DC public schools for Pete's sake.

Here's my next prediction: procurement pre-solicitation conferences on YouTube.

Remember, you read it here first!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Welcome Pat on the Back

We sole proprietors on the publishing frontier, better known as bloggers, toil in relative obscurity. Having once run a print magazine with a full reporting and editing staff, art department and business operation to handle fulfillment and printing and delivery and promotion and ad sales, I find performing all those functions myself particularly frustrating and sometimes defeating.

There's so very much more I'd like to write about and collaborate on and chew over and attempt. My audience is small (though hugely valued) and I need time to learn how to entice new readers. It would be ever so wonderful to actually be able to make any sort of a living doing this, too.

So as I stumble along alone, it is truly wonderful when someone at a meeting or reception says they subscribe or cites something I've written. It's heart-thumpingly exciting when someone links to one of my posts or includes The Agile Mind in their blog roll. But being recognized by folks in the field, well, that is beyond thrilling. And that's what happened yesterday, when includedThe Agile Mind on its Leaderboard for the week.

What's BeatBlogging? Here's its description: is a project of NewAssignment.Net that examines how journalists can use social networks and other Web tools to improve beat reporting.

Every day we highlight innovative beat reporters on our nominees list. The best of the nominees make our weekly Leaderboard.

We look at the latest trends and how they can help journalists and journalism. We find real-world examples of social media helping journalists improve their beat reporting.

We also have podcasts where we interview journalists who are pushing the practice. We ask them what works and what doesn’t. We are always trying to figure out what is the return on investment for investing time in social media.
This week's list highlights a hardy band of us covering the government beat in new ways. I am very proud that The Agile Mind made the cut, especially given that BeatBlogging describes the Leaderboard as "a list of the most innovative beat reporters in the world." The underlying goal is to give other reporters and news organizations ideas about how to innovate. Humbling thought that my fledgling effort might give someone else ideas!

What's even more humbling is being recognized by a project created by Jay Rosen, the widely respected New York University professor who created PressThink, a prize-winning blog examining journalism in the throes of tectonic shifts. BeatBlogging is among the progeny of, a Rosen-created site for experimental open source collaboration between amateur and professional journalists in reporting the news.

So anyhow, this is a long way of saying thank you from the heart to for the recognition. You probably have an idea how much it means to those of us out here working without a net, but you don't know how much it meant to me specifically. Now you do.

America 2.0

Andrew Sullivan was right last year when he wrote "Good bye to All That: Why Obama Matters." for the December issue of The Atlantic magazine. Sullivan could not have foreseen the role of the financial crisis in sweeping Obama into office. Who saw that coming? But he did predict the sheer importance of being Barak--his unique suitability for this moment, his singular ability to cross over the Vietnam War divide, to overcome the religious wars and to begin closing the racial chasm.

And Sullivan clearly saw the power of Obama as symbol of America. Here's how he put it:
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy. The war on Islamist terror, after all, is two-pronged: a function of both hard power and soft power. We have seen the potential of hard power in removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. We have also seen its inherent weaknesses in Iraq, and its profound limitations in winning a long war against radical Islam. The next president has to create a sophisticated and supple blend of soft and hard power to isolate the enemy, to fight where necessary, but also to create an ideological template that works to the West’s advantage over the long haul. There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
I usually write about virtual government in terms of the immersive Internet, social networking, games for training, and other matters Web 2.0. But today, I am deeply moved by America 2.0, this amazing place where white men and African Americans, and Latinos and young people and millions of brand new voters carried an African American man into our highest office.

This astonishing act of hope and belief and love of all that is good about the country overshadows all the YouTubes, MySpaces, Facebooks, wikis, Twitters, -pedias, synthetic worlds, serious games, multitouch screens, blogs and artificially intelligent agents that usually excite me so. The mere fact of President Obama opens lines of communications, opportunities for collaboration and most of all minds and hearts in ways none of that can.

Yes, day-after euphoria over what we have achieved will give way to the cold, brutish clanging and clashing of governance. But consider what Noah Schactman over at Wired's Danger Room blog already found out about the meaning of Obama.

In January, Shachtman sat next to a flag-level U.S. military officer at a conference about U.S. information operations. The officer, a Christian conservative and warrior in what he sees as a religious war against terrorism, praised Obama. Shachtman explains:
You see, this officer oversaw special operations work around the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Sensitive stuff, that requires delicate negotiations. And already, just as one among many candidates for president, Obama was making this officer's job easier. Officials in other governments were more willing to provide his troops access to their countries. Foreign intelligence services were more willing to share information.
Just as a President Obama forces change in the way black Americans view this country and white Americans, he also bleeds away the hypocrisy that has so damaged us abroad.

What is this new place we live in, where crowds gather in cities, horns blare and we shout a new president's name from our porches into the night? What might we become after choosing a man who lauds the struggles of women and gay people while accepting such a heavy mantle? Have we finally left our agonizing teenage years of rebellion and contentiousness to enter a national adulthood?

In June, I wrote: "With Barack Obama clinching the Democratic nomination today, comes a rare return to the feeling that anything is possible here in Washington. It likely won't last long, but it's stirring and wonderful, like the fresh breeze after one of our sudden, thunderous storms washes the stale, humid air of summer." Now, in the crisp orange and auburn of autumn, the wind has come. It blows clean the trees and streets, chills the shorter days and longer nights, augurs the icy winter, but also the spring, when all becomes possible again.

Monday, November 3, 2008

NASA World

It's one small step in the realm of virtual worlds and online games, but one large step for government into that world: NASA has selected three teams to present proposals for creating a massively multiplayer online world to carry the space agency brand. NASA hopes its virtual world will attract young people to careers in science, technology,
engineering and mathematics (STEM) and thereby help build its future workforce. The request for proposals for the MMO project went out at the beginning of the year. Long a user of simulations for training within, NASA now hopes to employ them outside the agency to draw support. According to the RFP:
MMO games can help players develop and exercise a skill set closely matching the thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills increasingly in demand by employers. These skills include strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, team-building and cooperation, and adaptation to rapid change. Today’s students have grown up with digital technology and video games and are poised to take advantage of the MMO communications and community building tools to collaborate on complex projects.
The screenshot above comes from the virtual world Entropia Universe, which is one of the options NASA will consider as a host for its world. Entropia is run by Mindark, a Swedish company. Saber Astronautics, six-engineer firm in Denver that hopes to set up a satellite repair shop in space, heads the second team. Members include Australian IT and gaming shop, Nocturnal Entertainment (video of their Flowerworks game below) and another Aussie company, Big World, which makes the middleware to create multiplayer online role-playing games.

The third team pairs North Carolina game-maker Virtual Heroes with Manitoba, Canada-based Project Whitecard. In August, the team won a contract from the Canadian Space Agency to create an online immersive game. According to the Project Whitecard press release:
The product will be designed to teach mathematics at the elementary and high school levels, featuring the famous Canadarm2 and Dextre robots. Canadian astronaut Julie Payette's role as the robotics lead on upcoming space shuttle mission STS 127 will be featured as students are immersed in the space robotics environment, take control of the virtual robotics systems, learn and apply age-appropriate math concepts and complete a series of robotics tasks similar to those assigned to Ms. Payette.
Virtual Heroes was among the original game firms involved in creating the Army's online recruiting game, America's Army. Serious games-maker Project Whitecard has created and won funding for an online interactive recreation of the Apollo Moon mission called Project Moonwalk.

The three teams will deliver line presentations on Nov. 7 at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Huge hat tip to Virtual Worlds News!