Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Recovery.gov is Web 1.0; Stimuluswatch.org is Web 2.0

The President has signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband access. You can see a brief summary of the bill here.

As we have seen, the Obama administration hopes to use the Internet for transparent, two-way communication with the public. To this end, they have launched the Recovery.gov Web site, which will be continuously updated, telling us "how, when and where" the recovery funds are spent.

As of today, Recovery.gov is definitely a Web 1.0 site -- it summarizes the Recovery Act, requests comments using an email form, and asks us to check back frequently for data on spending. They don't even have RSS feeds.

Contrast that with Stimuluswatch.org, a Web 2.0 site. Stimuluswatch began by importing a database of "shovel ready" projects that was posted by the US Conference of Mayors. Users can search the database by city, keyword and project type, and view the project descriptions and estimated cost and number of jobs created.

But, the main purpose of the project database is to organize user input. Users who are familiar with a particular project can drill down to the project page and:

  • Make neutral, factual changes by editing its wiki page
  • State opinions and debate the value of the project by posting comments
  • Share comments with friends on Facebook
  • Vote on whether or not the project is critical
(Check this video for a more complete description of navigation and user input).

I checked my city, Los Angeles, and the results were sobering. The database includes 321 projects with a total estimated cost of $7.3 billion, creating and estimated 82,341 jobs. Of these, only 11 projects had more yes the project is critical than no votes, and they accounted for only 3% of the cost of all proposed projects. Obviously citizen votes are only one factor to consider in selecting projects, but this indicates that we need to be selective if we are to avoid "porkwatch.org."

It sounds as though the administration plans to use Recovery.gov to let us know what they have done, but Stimuluswatch.org could be used in deciding which projects should be funded. That could be done by extending the database to include requests for Federal grant applications that are actually submitted now that the stimulus package has been approved.

Stimuluswatch.org was conceived of and built in under two months -- the administration should be working with them.