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Obama continues 'Google-enabled government' push on transition site

Change.gov embraces looser copyright licensing policy and creates citizen forum

By Heather Havenstein
December 1, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Like his campaign apparatus, President-elect Barack Obama's transition team is embracing what some have called a Google-enabled government by loosening copyright licensing on its Change.gov Web site and by launching a feature that allows citizens to contribute to policy discussions.

Over the weekend, the Change.gov site changed its traditional strict copyright notice to embrace the Attribution 3.0 Unported License, the most liberal license available under the Creative Commons license framework.

The Creative Commons framework was developed by Stanford University professor Larry Lessig to let the creators and owners of content choose how they allow their work to be used.

The updated Change.gov site lets anyone use and "remix" its content as long as they cite the transition project as the original source of the material, noted Nancy Scola, a blogger at TechPresident.com. She described the change as a "major coup" for those hoping that the Obama administration would offer "saner and more sensible" thinking about copyright questions than past federal governments have.

"What's good for the governing is good for the governed," she added. "The new liberal licensing doesn't just apply to the team working behind the scenes on the transition. Whatever bright thinking any of us submit to Change.gov ... binds us to a 'nonexclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world' for that content."

The Obama team, which relied heavily on Web 2.0 tools during the presidential campaign and announced plans last month to keep the campaign social network operating, last week also launched a discussion forum on Change.gov.

"Today we're trying out a new feature on our Web site that will allow us get instant feedback from you about our top priorities," notes the Change.gov site. "We also hope it will allow you to form communities around these issues -- with the best ideas and most interesting discussions floating to the top."

The first post, which asks citizens to list their biggest worries about the country's health care system, has already generated more than 3,500 replies. Using a tool called IntenseDebate, the site lets users rate comments and commenters.

Micah Sifry, a blogger at TechPresident, described the transition team's method of providing citizens with an electronic outlet that has the attention of the president-elect as the beginning of a "rebooting of the American political system."

"The Obama transition [team] is actually enabling a lot of interesting community development to start happening beneath the surface of a threaded discussion," Sifry said. "Users get their own 'commenter profile' on IntenseDebate, along with reputation points, and they can carry those profiles onto other sites that use the same system. Users can also choose to follow other IntenseDebate users, so if someone is really diligent they could start to gather a group or a crowd around them."

While some other government Web sites, like those run by the State Department and the Transportation Security Administration, have their own blogs, comments are usually filtered before they are posted, Sifry added.

"Here, Change.gov appears to be letting comments go straight to the Web unfiltered," he added. "What can I say, other than this is a terrific start on fulfilling Obama's promise to make government more open and participatory."

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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