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Tim O’Reilly had a simple message for the tech community earlier this week at the Emerging Technology conference: Support Obama! Wait, isn’t the campaign over? It may be, but the next presidential contest is already around the corner, and O’Reilly believes that there’s only a short window of opportunity to actually innovate in Washington. That’s why he wants to get tech folks involved now. I sat down with him yesterday to hear more about his plans to help the new administration.
“We have this wonderful opportunity with this new president who is saying he wants to make government more transparent, more collaborative, more responsive,”O’Reilly told me, adding: “We know how to build systems like that.” One of his favored examples is Carl Malamud, who launched the first free and public EDGAR server for SEC filings without any government help back in 1993, only to donate it to the SEC shortly after. “This idea of public-private partnership is fairly central to my thinking,”O’Reilly told me. “One of the opportunities for people on the outside is to shoulder more of the burden and build services that government has a hard time building itself,” O’Reilly said.
Of course, building such databases is a lot easier when you have a federal administration that committed to publishing government data online. “It is very clear that the Obama administration understands startup culture,” O’Reilly says. However, there are still lots and lots of people within and close to the government that view making data public with suspicion. Said O’Reilly: “Many people in these organizations are threatened by the idea that some young developer could say, ‘I can build for $5,000 or in six weeks something that you are gonna say takes six years and $50 million.’ ”
So, how do you convince official agencies to trust that young developer, and how do you get that developer to start toying with government data? First of all, by getting them to talk. O’Reilly Media is holding a Gov 2.0 Summit this September in Washington with the goal to showcase innovation inside and outside of the government. (Wired launched an “Open Up Government Data” wiki earlier this week, as well.)
And then, there’s always money. The new administration loves technology partly because it’s cheaper, O’Reilly speculated. “A lot of it is: How do we get more bang for our buck?,” he said. However, it’s not just about spending less: “Reinventing our sources and distribution systems for energy, reinventing our educational system, reinventing our communications infrastructure are all very powerful stimuluses for new economic activity.”
In other words: Supporting the new administration could turn out to be the Valley’s very own stimulus plan.