Standards for Mobile Transparency

The rapid communication achieved through text messaging and twittering has made citizens impatient for the government to go interactive.

The rapid communication achieved through text messaging and twittering has made citizens impatient for the government to go interactive.

But instant transparency may actually undermine citizen communications, says Kevin Novak, co-chair of an e-government workgroup at the World Wide Web Consortium, a world-renowned organization that encourages standardized and improved Web programming language.

"We're not going to have all this openness and transparency tomorrow," he said. The government -- first -- should craft standards for interactivity between applications, Novak added.

"I'm a big open government and transparency proponent, but there has to be a recognition of the policy and [laws] that exist that might not allow things to be turned on tomorrow," said Novak, who is speaking Friday at the OASIS eGov Washington Workshop.

Don't tell that to open government activists agitating in anticipation of the May 21 deadline for recommendations on a directive that will instruct agencies to upload their activities and decisions.

President Obama called for the recommendations on Jan. 21 in his "Transparency and Open Government" memorandum." With about a month left for feds to respond to the memo, transparency advocates are still waiting for their chance to put in two cents - preferably online.

"I'm all behind the movement . . .but people do need to have a little bit of patience," said Novak, who also serves as a vice president at the American Institute of Architects.

"If you're using standards in creating a database or developing an application, you're allowing yourself a platform that's going to make it more easy to do things in the future," he added.

It took nine months of behind-the-scenes work to hammer out a licensing agreement, before the Library of Congress was able to collaborate with photo-sharing site Flickr in January 2008. Novak was the Library's director of Web services at the time.

Novak has since set his sights higher: government transparency and participation on all mobile devices, including phones and digital music players. From the bus stop, Americans would be able to comment on laws or tell the Library that the unidentified person in a Flickr photo is their great-great-great grandfather.