Pew: Search and email are nearly universal among adult Internet users

The results of a new survey from the Pew Internet and Life Project will come as no surprise to most: Internet users: search and email top the list of the things people do online. These two activities have been the most popular since Pew first started tracking online behavior over the last decade. The advent of broadband, mobile devices and social media has not changed that dynamic, though it’s a safe bet that adults under 30 are sending quite a lot of Facemail, IMs and tweets these days too.

That said, Pew did identify a difference. “The most significant change over that time is that both activities have become more habitual,” writes Kristen Purcell. “Today, roughly six in ten online adults engage in each of these activities on a typical day; in 2002, 49% of online adults used email each day, while just 29% used a search engine daily.”

Search and email demographics

According to Pew’s numbers, search is most popular among adult internet users aged age 18-29, 96% of whom use search engines to find information online.

There’s also some evidence of a continuing digital divide based upon education and race. According to Pew, online adults, college-educated, and those in the highest income categories are more likely than others to use email.

“These demographic differences are considerably more pronounced when one looks at email use on a typical day,” writes Purcell. “Moreover, while overall email use is comparable across white, African-American and Hispanic online adults, internet use on any given day is not. White online adults are significantly more likely than both African-American and Hispanic online adults to be email users on a typical day (63% v. 48% v. 53%, respectively).”

This new survey and its findings should be read in the context of last year’s report that citizens are turning to Internet for government data, policy and services and considering in the context of the ongoing federal .gov website review.

If open government is to be citizen-centric, it will clearly need to be search-centric. That means ensuring that government websites are available in search and evaluating how search-centric redesigns at Utah.gov perform over time.

These results also suggest that as exciting as the integration of social media into government may be, officials tasked with public engagement and consultation shouldn’t neglect using email to communicate with citizens, along with Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and the other apps available to them. The difference in demographics usage of social media and email, however, does highlight that social media offers an important complementary channel to reach mobile citizens that access the Internet primarily through their mobile phones.

How many federal open government projects are there? [INFOGRAPHIC]

April 7th, 2010 was Open Government Day in the United States. Many of the key requirements of the Open Government Directive issued by the Obama administration came due. A year later, the people charged with carrying out the plans, policies and projects that came out of that directive are starting to deliver upon some of the digital initiatives. NASA just held its first open source summit. FCC.gov relaunched as an open government platform.
There’s much more going on in the open government movement than new federal websites or revamped software policy, however, than most citizens or even other government workers and officials may realize.

According to the list of federal open government projects compiled by Angie Newell during her doctoral dissertation, there are currently 358 federal open government projects. Y

As Andy Kryzmarzik explained this morning in a post on Govloop, this terrific infographic is the results of a collaboration between Newell, NYC professor Beth Noveck and GOOD. Nancy Scola has aptly called a map of the US open government world. You can explore the graphic below or access a larger version open government infographic as a PDF. If you click on the numbers, you’ll be taken to a subset of projects in the database hosted on Govloop.

Here’s the backstory from Krzmarzick on how the infographic was created:

As serendipity would have it, I met both Beth and Angie Newell at Manor.Govfresh in September, where I learned that Angie was working on a doctoral dissertation and had already completed much of the data collection already…but she couldn’t quite share it yet as she was completing a bit more analysis and adding some additional information. In the meantime, she’s provided some analysis of the project here and here.

Fast forward to a month ago. By now, Beth had departed the White House…and Angie finalized the dataset with all 350+ open government projects. So Beth connected us with the GOOD guys (and I mean that literally – special shout out to Casey Caplowe and Oliver Munday). Our goal was to create a useful visualization that made it easy to find the data and they’re kinda known for their great infographics.

You can browse all of the open government projects in the database below.

Powered by Socrata

This infographic and and database is useful for learning what’s out there in federal open government plans. That said, there’s no clear assessment of the quality of outcomes in that graphic. Understanding what exists, however, is a valuable first step, and I look forward to the analysis of the Govloop community and the larger open government ecosystem as more of these projects are implemented. Not every open government project will result in the creation of a health internet but they’re all important to someone.

Google Public Data Explorer adds Census Bureau data, state government statistics

Last month, the Google Public Data Explorer went public. Today, Google added U.S. Census Bureau and state government finance statistics to the database, allowing everyone to gain new insight into our present.

The numbers may be beautifully displayed but they tell a grim tale when it comes to state budgets. The crisis in state budgets across the country will be the primary driver for the adoption of new approaches to governance and service delivery in 2011. If Gov 2.0 goes local, citizensourcing smarter government couldn’t come at a more timely moment.

Disaster 2.0: UN OCHA releases report on future of information sharing in crisis

The emergence of crisiscamps and subsequent maturation of CrisisCommons into a platform for civic engagement were important developments in 2010. Hearing digital cries for help has never been more important. A year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a new report by a team at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analyzes how the humanitarian, emerging volunteer and technical communities collaborated in the aftermath of the quake. The report recommends ways to improve coordination between these groups in future emergencies. There are 5 specific recommendations to address the considerable challenges inherent in coordinating crisis response:

  1. A neutral forum to surface areas of conflict or agreement between the volunteer/technical community and established humanitarian institutions
  2. An space for innovation where new tools and approaches can be experimented with before a crisis hits
  3. A deployable field team with the mandate to use the best practices and tools established by the community
  4. A research and development group to evaluate the effectiveness of tools and practices
  5. An operational interface that identifies procedures for collaboration before and during crises, including data standards for communication

Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies” was commissioned by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership in collaboration with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). You can find more discussion of the report in a series of posts on disaster relief 2.0 at UNDispatch.com, like this observation from Jen Ziemke:

…a substantial majority of members on the Crisis Mappers Network have held positions in formal disaster response, some for several decades. Volunteers in groups like the Standby Task Force include seasoned practitioners with the UNDP or UN Global Pulse. But what is really needed is a fundamental rethinking of who constitutes the “we” of disaster response, as well as dispensing with current conceptions of: “volunteers”, “crowds,” and “experts.” While distinctions can be endlessly debated, as humans, we are far more the same than we are different.

Whether it’s leveraging social media in a time of need or geospatial mapping, technology empowers us to help one another more than ever. This report offers needed insight about how to do it better.

Beth Noveck on connecting the academy to open government R&D

Earlier this week, the White House convened an open government research and development summit at the National Archives. Columbia statistics professor Victoria Stodden captures some key themes from it at her blog, including smart disclosure of government data and open government at the VA. Stodden also documented the framing questions that federal CTO Aneesh Chopra asked for help answered from the academic community:

1. big data: how strengthen capacity to understand massive data?
2. new products: what constitutes high value data?
3. open platforms: what are the policy implications of enabling 3rd party apps?
4. international collaboration: what models translate to strengthen democracy internationally?
5. digital norms: what works and what doesn’t work in public engagement?

In the video below, former White House deputy CTO for open government, Beth Noveck, reflected on what the outcomes and results from the open government R&D summit at the end of the second day. If you’re interested in a report from one of the organizers, you’d be hard pressed to do any better.

The end of the beginning for open government?

The open government R&D summit has since come under criticism from one of its attendees, Expert Labs’ director of engagement Clay Johnson, for being formulaic, “self congratulatory” and not tackling the hard problems that face the country. He challenged the community to do better:

These events need to solicit public feedback from communities and organizations and we need to start telling the stories of Citizen X asked for Y to happen, we thought about it, produced it and the outcome was Z. This isn’t to say that these events aren’t helpful. It’s good to get the open government crowd together in the same room every once and awhile. But knowing the talents and brilliant minds in the room, and the energy that’s been put behind the Open Government Directive, I know we’re not tackling the problems that we could.

Noveck responded to his critique in a comment where she observed that “Hackathons don’t substitute for inviting researchers — who have never been addressed — to start studying what’s working and what’s not in order to free up people like you (and I hope me, too) to innovate and try great new experiments and to inform our work. But it’s not enough to have just the academics without the practitioners and vice versa.”

Justin Grimes, a Ph.D student who has been engaged in research in this space, was reflective after reading Johnson’s critique. “In the past few years, I’ve seen far more open gov events geared towards citizens, [developers], & industry than toward academics,” he tweeted. “Open gov is a new topic in academia; few people even know it’s out there; lot of potential there but we need more outreach. [The] purpose was to get more academics involved in conversation. Basically, government saying ‘Hey, look at our problems. Do research. Help us.'”

Johnson spoke with me earlier this year about what else he sees as the key trends of Gov 2.0 and open government, including transparency as infrastructure, smarter citizenship and better platforms. Given the focus he has put on doing, vs researching or, say, “blogging about it,” it will be interesting to see what comes out of Johnson and Expert Labs next.

Pew: Open government is tied to higher levels of community satisfaction

The results from a new study from Pew Internet and Life Project found that when citizens believe their governments are sharing more information, they are more likely to feel satisfied with civic life. The study will offer some evidence for elected officials who run on open government platforms or who work for more transparency. Broadband users are more critical of their communities and local institutions.

The study, released by the Pew Research Center, Monitor Institute and Knight Foundation found that citizens who believe that their city hall is more transparency are more likely to have positive feelings about:

  • the overall quality of their community
  • the ability of their community, including media and neighbors, to provide them with information that matters;
  • the overall performance of their local government
  • the performance of civic and journalistic institutions, including public safety, libraries, and media outlets.

The Pew study also found that government transparency was associated with how empowered residents feel. Specifically, those who think government shares information well “are more likely to say that average citizens can have an impact on government.” That said, the authors of the report made sure to caution not to draw too broad a conclusion from these findings:

We did not establish causality here – for instance, that greater government transparency provides benefits to a host of civic organizations or that broadband-adoption initiatives will heighten citizens’ critical thinking about their community or that higher-quality journalism will encourage more people to turn out for town meetings. Yet these possibilities emerge in the answers citizens and their leaders gave.

The degree of open government in a given community isn’t just about how citizens feel about it, however, as transparency advocates have emphasized: it’s  about how well government is actually sharing information, versus how well citizens feel they are. One interesting finding from the survey was that with increased broadband use, citizens become more critical of their communities and institutions.

“This result suggests that those citizens with broadband expect – but don’t always find – information from their governments, schools and other local civic organizations there where they want it when they want it,” noted report author Tony Siesfeld, head of research for the Monitor Institute, in a prepared statement. “It may be that broadband is raising ‘the bar’ on information transparency.”

The Internet is playing a role in the new information ecosystem. According to the survey:

  • 32% of the residents of the towns surved now get local news from social networking sites like Facebook
  • 19% get local news from blogs
  • 12% get it on smartphones and mobile devices like smartphones
  • 7% get local news from Twitter.

“There have been vast changes in the local news and information landscape in recent years,” noted Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project and an author of a report on the findings, in a prepared statement.  “One of the key insights here is that citizens have new ways to assess the performance of city hall. They are paying attention to how transparent their government is. If they feel public agencies are forthcoming, they also feel better about other parts of town. There might be a real civic payoff if governments shared more. ”

There’s much more to dig through in the survey (both the OhMyGov.com and techPresident analyses are worth reading) but one findings is worth highlighting for local government leaders making policy decisions this year:

Each of the 3 communities surveyed (San Jose, CA, Macon, GA, and Philadelphia, PA) have what the report calls an “online portal” for government and civic information. Even so, only a little more than a third of their residents were fully aware of the local government website.. From the report:

Moreover, in the opinion surveys, we found that many who tried to use the internet to get local civic information could not always find what they were seeking. Only a quarter of these residents said that when they did searches for local civic information they always found what they were seeking. Yet even when they found what they were seeking, only 37% said the information presented to them was very clear and easy to understand.

There’s clearly some room for local governments to improve here. The survey results suggested what could be done: “one strong yearning residents expressed was for a central location for civic information that is maintained by the government. More than three-quarters of the respondents in these three communities (78%) said it was ‘very important’ that a government website be set up for this and another 17% said it was ‘somewhat important.'”

Throughout United States and elsewere in the world, there are more examples of technology-fueled open government, where citizensourcing is part of the set of tools officials deploy. If local governments keep using technology to deliver smarter government, there’s reason to be hopeful that new online hubs fueled by open government data will play an important role in the information needs of citizens.

New recommendations for improving local open government and creating online hubs

Today, the Aspen Institute hosted a roundtable on government transparency and online hubs in Washington, DC. You can watch the archived webcast below.

The roundtable focused on the release of two new white papers. The first, “Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action,” by Adam Thierer, discusses scenarios where community leaders, citizens, media, technologists and — critically, local government — can work together” to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities.” Creating such high-quality online information hubs was one of the 15 key recommendations of Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. “Just as communities depend on maps of physical space, they should create maps of information flow that enable members of the public to connect to the data and information they want,” said the Knight Commission. (Download PDF or Read Online)

“Governments need to get more information out and make it more accessible, said Thierer today. “This shouldn’t be controversial.” Thierer said that government can do well to catalyze and support this development simply by doing a better job of making such information easily available in easy to use formats. While open government data stores have grown, Thierer noted that this has not trickled down. He cited the example of Manor, Texas as one example of where one local champion (former CIO Dustin Haisler) got help from Stanford and other external resources to get the local open data repository online.

Broadly, Thierer described three models for online hubs:

  • Hubs focused on community government information. Example: Texas Tribune
  • Community connections: local forums and community email listservs. Example: e-democracy.org
  • Community news and commentary. Example: Universal Hub

Thierer focused on the important role that libraries and local or state universities can play in this new ecosystem, by connected offline and online worlds. These universities could create “code toolboxes” that local communities can use, as Stanford did for Manor. He hoped that that model could be replicated nationally.

Government transparency

Download PDF or Read Online)

There are three basic issues here, according to Turner-Lee:

  • Do people get it?
  • Do they have the resources they need?
  • Can they do transparency with those resources?

“All of us who have been in this debate have seen a conflict between these three factors, said Turner-Lee. The question, she said Turner-Lee, is how we empower state and local government. The challenge is that in most open data effort, “We are still in a one-way world, where data is pushed down to the public, not in a reciprocal ecosystem.”

It’s one thing to say citizens who should be involved, said Turner-Lee, but more needs to be done. “As an organizer, I can speak to that. It’s hard to get people to a block meeting,” much less meeting online, she said. There’s also a persistent issue of the digital divide that has to be addressed in this context. “We cannot proclaim government transparency” where millions of people don’t have online access, said Turner-Lee.

There are many examples of where open data is being put to use on the behalf of citizens now. Turner cited apps driven by transit data in Chicago, heritage trees in Portland or the use of 311 by SeeClickFix in the District of Columbia.

Jon Grant focused on a major pain point for government at all levels for tapping into the innovation economy: procurement issues, which civic entrepreneurs run into in cities, statehouses and Washington. “It is time to look at these procurement rules more closely,” he said, and promote higher levels of innovation. “There are a lot of ideas are happening but a lot of rules restrict vendors from interacting in government,” said Grant. Turner-Lee observed that traditional procurement laws may also not be flexible enough to bring more mobile apps into government.

Fundamentally, empowering more government transparency through the Internet will require both creating a climate for the actions, said Turner-Lee, but also through structural changes, specifically, through the release of spectrum and Universal Service Fund (USF) reform.

It will also require that state and local government officials are part of the conversation, “It they aren’t at the table, we’re going to be pretty much talking to ourselves,” said Turner-Lee.

Former San Francisco CIO Chris Vein, now the new White House deputy CTO for government innovation, agreed. biggest challenge of all is that we like to think there are templates. to a certain extent, they can be. fundamentally, all politics is local. To make this work in government, a community “needs someone who takes risks, who goes out there and makes it happen regardlesss of the cost.”

All stakeholder at the panel acknowledged the crucial importance of community institutions, nonprofits and libraries in addressing issues of the digital divide and creating a bridge between online hubs and local citizens. Turner Lee noted that billions of people over the course of years have come into libraries for assistance, particularly the homeless and low-income citizens. “What better way to get people into the system by enabling libraries to be a conduit of information?” she asked.

“Public information belongs to the public, and the public’s business should be done in public,” said Turner. That said, local citizens also don’t want data for the sake of data. “Consumption of this data would be inconsistent if the data doesn’t provide quality of life,” she said.

ExpertNet: What is the future of the open government platform?

The President has lunch with Sen. Bob Casey at the Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia
The President has lunch with Sen. Bob Casey at the Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Citizen engagement platforms grew in 2010. There will be more such platforms coming from top, through open government, and from the bottom, as civic developers create, host and use their own communities. The opportunity for citizens to participate in the co-creation of the most high profile open government platforms for citizen consultation, ExpertNet, will close on January 23rd, when the White House’s Request for Information will end.

The White House has been taking public feedback on designing democracy with this citizen consultation platform for weeks. In a number of respects, the discussion on ExpertNet.wikispaces.com has resembled an unconference, where the participants themselves drive the process.

So what’s interesting here? “It is the idea that the public will be (directly) shaping policy that is intriguing, and is a critical component to bridging the gap, both the economic gap as well as the digital gap, as the average citizen is the real stakeholder, and before now has had no forum for influencing change so directly,” said Megan Eskey, OpenGov Lead at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Or put it another way, as Anil Dash did earlier today: how should a White House Quora work?

The White House is looking to build a web community to get its questions answered, sort of their own Quora, and they’re trying to do it the right way. They’re asking those who would participate to help shape how the community itself works. They’re not trying to create a network from scratch, but instead trying to connect to networks that already exist. And they’re not just making a community for the hell of it — they’re trying to build one with purpose.

But they’ve asked for our help, from those of us who build, and know, and love web communities. We’re being asked to share our expertise in what does, and doesn’t work on successful web communities. Our deadline for participating is on Monday. Giving them insights into our hard-earned lessons will only take 15 minutes of your time this weekend, and will keep us from having to wonder, “Why wasn’t I consulted?

Many lively discussion threads have emerged, including suggestion for moderation, voting, ownership of intellectual property and more, including:

“It’s not so much the idea of a wiki or whatever platform ExpertNet rolls out, but rather the format they are looking at of matching experts with those seeking to solve immense problems,” said Eskey. “Whether it is a wiki or a social site or some other crowdsourcing tool like delib’s dialogue app, that feedback loop is critical, especially if the digital divide is to be bridged via new bills that are introduced into Congress, although at this time the project is envisioned for executive agencies and departments only,” she said. Eskey noted that any ideas for using ExpertNet within the legislative branch should be directed to elected representative(s) in Congress.

For those interested in the future of open government and citizen consultation, there’s no time like the present to weigh in. Tim Bonnemann of Intellitics has also posed six questions for ExpertNet for further consideration.

Fuel for debate at the State of the Net: The Social Side of the Internet

Social Network by Luc Legay
My Social Network by Luc Legay

A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and Life Project sheds new light on the social side of the Internet.The results offer new insight into the differences between the connected and the disconnected.

The survey found that:

  • 75% of all American adults are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization and internet users are more likely than others to be active
  • 80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users. Moreover, social media users are even more likely to be active
  • 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants.

For stats junkies, the full report offers many more numbers on how people organize, find groups and use the Internet to participate. Or not, as the case may be. The disconnected are not, by definition, participants in virtual civic discourse or affinity groups. There are many shades to the digital divide. “It is important to note that 25% of American adults are not active in any of the groups we addressed,” wrote Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at Pew Internet and co-author of the report. “They often report they are time-stressed or have health or other issues that limit their ability to be involved. And about a fifth of them say that lack of access to the internet is a hindrance. Even in its absence, the internet seems to be a factor in the reality of how groups perform in the digital age.”

The results of the survey will provide grist for the mill, so to speak, at a panel discussion at the State of the Net conference tomorrow, where this correspondent will join Jerry Berman, Andrew Keen, Lee Rainie and Clay Shirky to talk about social media and the role of the Internet on civic life. If you have questions or comments, please share them in the comments. (And for those in NYC, keep on eye out for the new Meetup.)