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Firms Take to The Tweetable Business Model

"Next time, we'll conduct the meeting entirely in tweets," Bellamkonda said.

It may be a short meeting.

Rediscovering the Internet

The crusade for government transparency and open data -- two of the biggest buzzwords in Washington since President Obama put them on his agenda -- has gained momentum over the past week.

Vivek Kundra, the District's chief technology officer, was officially named as the federal chief information officer Thursday, ending months of speculation about what the brand-new job entails and what it means for how government agencies use technology.

While the answers to those questions are still unclear, the announcement prompted a collective cheer from some local developers. As an example of what Kundra may do with federal technology projects, many of them point to the contest he held last year called Apps for Democracy, which challenged independent Web developers to come up with interesting ways to use government data.

District-based Development Seed, a Web consulting group, mashed together government data and other online resources to create DC Bikes, a site with information about bike thefts, popular bike trails and other information for local bike enthusiasts.

To Ian Cairns, project manger at Development Seed, the experiment highlights the benefits of making government data, which often lies dormant on a basement server, accessible to the general public. Using open-source tools, which allows a number of developers to collaborate and build on existing code, is usually free and allows a greater amount of innovation, he said.

He helped organize last week's DrupalCon, a conference for developers of Drupal, an open-source Web platform that's been used for some government projects, including Recovery.gov, the Web site built by the Obama administration that tracks stimulus spending.

Techies and open-government advocates discussed similar projects at TransparencyCamp, a gathering that took place last weekend at George Washington University. Recovery.gov was seen as an indication the federal government may begin to take advantage of more open-source technology to save money and include citizen input. Other projects, such as OpenCongress.org, showed off its new features, including a lawmaker wiki and videos of congressional sessions.

TransparencyCamp, which was referred to as an "unconference" because of its loose structure (the official schedule was composed of scraps of paper taped to a white board), was attended by bloggers such as Nick O'Neill, author of SocialTimes, as well as transparency advocates such as Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation. Craiglist founder Craig Newmark and O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly, who is known for his popular line of software books, were also there.

Andrew Raisej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, a discussion about politics and technology, summed up one of the main points of the camp when he said, "One government can't solve problems for 300 million people, but 300 million people can solve problems for one government."

Kim Hart writes about the Washington technology scene every Monday. Contact her at hartk@washpost.com.


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