Emerging Tech


Buying Facebook Ads Could be a Bad Call for Agencies

By Joseph Marks // April 22, 2014

Joerg Koch/AP File Photo

Buying Facebook advertising to reach a broader audience may be a bad bet for government agencies -- even if the money’s available and outreach is the mission, according to a new blog post from the General Services Administration’s digital government team.

The blog post from GSA’s social media lead Justin Herman is titled “Government Social Media Isn’t Lagging, It’s Different: And That’s Good.” It focuses on three new toolkits the team is developing to make government social media more effective, accessible and measurable, all of which are due out in the next three months.

A recurring theme in the post, however, is the updated Facebook algorithm, which makes it increasingly difficult for federal agencies and other organizations to receive public notice if they don’t purchase Facebook advertising to raise their visibility.

One division of the Veterans Affairs Department has spent at least $3 million on Facebook ads to gain popularity among veterans who may be missing out on VA benefits. A State Department bureau spent $630,000 on a similar campaign that proved unpopular among State employees, according to an inspector general’s report.

Here’s one representative paragraph from Tuesday’s blog post ...

Government-Run Competitions Should Be About Markets, Not Prizes

By Joseph Marks // April 10, 2014


Running a prize competition in government or industry is about “understanding where the market’s going in 10 years and trying to make it go there in three years,” Christopher Frangione, vice president for prize development at the X Prize Foundation, told members of Congress on Wednesday.

That means government agencies running prize competitions authorized through the America Competes Act should know the market they want to stimulate inside and out but leave flexibility for competitors to reach a goal in innovative ways, Frangione and other panelists told members of the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology.

That flexibility may include not forcing entrants to turn over their intellectual property to the government as a condition of winning. That way they’ll be competing for position in a multi-million or multi-billion dollar market rather than competing for a single prize of a few million dollars, panelists said.

It could also mean designing competitions so that entrants are completely freed of standard government contracting procedures, panelists said.

The hearing webcast is available here.

(Image via kentoh/Shutterstock.com)

How Technology Failed to Fix Kenya’s Election

By Joseph Marks // April 7, 2014

A Kenyan voter holds a presidential ballot at a polling station in 2013.
A Kenyan voter holds a presidential ballot at a polling station in 2013. // Jerome Delay/AP file photo

It’s perhaps the most common story in all of government technology: A challenge arises; new technology seems to offer the perfect solution; but something happens between concept and execution that makes that technology seem more like a culprit than a savior and that leads people to complain the old analog solution might have worked better.

That interference could come from a delayed procurement, miscommunication between different vendors, a lack of testing or training before launch or a host of other factors.

This December 2013 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development describes more than a dozen such interferences that foiled the international community’s attempts to use technology to improve outcomes in Kenya’s March 2013 elections.

The international community was deeply concerned those elections would spark a return to the mass protests and ethnic violence that gripped Kenya following its disputed presidential election in 2007. That violence did not materialize despite allegations of voter fraud and a result that second-place finisher Raila Odinga challenged before Kenya’s Supreme Court.

The technological interventions aimed at securing that peaceful outcome were largely a mess, however, as outlined by the report titled USAID Support for Kenya’s 2013 Elections ...

In the Future, Internet Privacy Will Be a Luxury for Those Who Can Afford it

By Joseph Marks // March 11, 2014

Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com

The Internet of 2025 will be less noticeable but more pervasive, something like electricity is today, according to the sentiment of more than 2,000 experts questioned by the Pew Research Center on the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web.

The report describes a “global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.”

Experts predict primarily positive benefits from this ambient Internet as more data is automatically available to inform human decisions about health, education and entertainment and more digitally-enabled personal relationships begin to flower across political and geographic boundaries.

The experts even predict more peaceful uprisings against authority as repressive leaders become incapable of controlling public information and as social media enables more mass movements.

There may be a dark side too, though. People are likely to increasingly trade privacy for convenience, the experts predict, and privacy will increasingly become a luxury good for those who can afford it. Stalking, abuse and bullying may also continue to move from the physical world to the digital one. And, perhaps most importantly, the increasingly digital ...

Feds Won't Release Emails Alleging First Responder Network Impropriety

By Joseph Marks // March 10, 2014


The federal government is seeking to bar the release of emails from an Iowa sheriff alleging improprieties among members of the governing board for a nationwide first responders’ wireless network, The Des Moines Register reports.

Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald has claimed some members of the governing board for the $7 billion federal emergency communications effort known as the First Responder Network, or FirstNet, were too cozy with wireless providers, while the communications needs of police and fire departments didn't receive enough attention, according to The Register.

Numerous groups have made public information requests for copies of Fitzgerald’s emails describing the improprieties, including The Register. Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes has said he’s obliged to release the emails but the federal government has halted the release, saying Fitzgerald’s work for the committee was done in a federal capacity and that the emails cannot be released because of security concerns.

From the Register’s story:

Fitzgerald’s criticism led to a special federal review committee that last year deemed that none of the authority’s board members broke laws or public purchasing requirements. Fitzgerald also shared information about his concerns with the Office of Inspector General, whose ...