2Do.Over

What if 2.0 were an authentic chance to revisit and do over what came in 1.0? Maybe, just maybe, we'd get it right this time.

Enterprise - Government - Web - School - Work - HR - PR - Publishing - Food
Management - Market Research - Sales - Learning - Library - Video - Media -
Education - Surveillance - Electricity - Community.

What do they have in common? These terms have gained surges in interest from having “2.0” carved in their history.

The purpose of this software-inspired insignia, however, varies from instance to instance. It usually implies some allegiance with Web 2.0, the “social Web.” I heard repeatedly at the recent Gov 2.0 Summit, hosted by O'Reilly that “Govt 2.0 should be a platform to design programs that support citizens and agencies creating more than any one of us could do alone.” Even conference host Tim O'Reilly noted that the meaning varies. At the Enterprise 2.0 conference this past June, the Two-dot-0 meant more transparency and tools supporting distributed modular work. Both assert an operating system for society is at hand. Neither easily garner enthusiasm from those not attending the event, and sometimes is even scoffed at by those who are staking their careers on a belief in 2.0-magic.

The “2.0” appended to so many terms is shorthand at best, distracting jargon at worst.

The ideals behind 2.0 initiatives are applaudable, but not always laudable. When they sidestep the context of today to paint a glossy picture of tomorrow I'm left wondering how they'll engage those back at the office. Their politically correct language leaves me thinking they're not going far enough.

Perhaps I'm jaded by this sort of versioning because I joined the software industry full-time prior to the release of DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.0. Those were true revisions of all that came before them. If you're a Mac user who insists nothing really changes on a PC, then consider parallels of those times: Apple ][ and Macintosh SE. Or consider what gaming consoles were like before audio connected players across continents.

A new major release number (or Snow Leopard-esqe name) should signify the arrival of something wholly different. Not just that we're ready for something new. Not just putting all data into a machine readable format and online. Or with the ability to tag a document and put it into the cloud. Or even with the capacity to share big ideas a few dozen characters at a time. Simple, clear, searchable, easy, online, user-friendly, dummy-proof, gradient, rounded, collaborative, many2many. Woohoo, but enough?

Erick Taft (@ericktaft) said via the very 2.0 Twitter: "Maybe 2.0 should denote something that requires vastly different skills than were required in the past." This involves more than training and learning. Departments, especially but not limited to IT, ought to be willing to hire people with radically different skill sets.

The “2.0” tagged onto an industry or skillset calls us to look deeply at previous practices and admit it's time for what my teenage-self called a "Do-over." Grant a mulligan on broken work practices and outmoded institutions. Don't just play along, marketing the old as the re-new, now with a different name but essentially the same old ____.

Use “2.0” as a call to action.

Andrew McAfee (@amcafee), who coined the term Enterprise 2.0 and has an eponymous book coming out shortly said, "This is not in addition to other things we are doing. This is a replacement for what we used to do."

No more dinking around the edges. Start rocking the boat. Until the cooler falls over, it's hard to see what floats.

Why now? As VISA founder Dee Hock said a decade ago, "It's far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism."

"Throw up your hands if you choose, ignore the conversation if you choose. The facts still remain, it’s not working. Mindlessly doing the same thing and expecting different results is… well, you know how the story goes." adds Paula Thornton (@rotkapchen).

Where do we begin to do over? First, stop honoring sacred cows for their endurance. I know no organization or individual better off today than they were four years ago but that doesn't mean I believe preserving the old ways will be our salvation.

Next, no matter your industry's "1.0," take a close look at what needs to change. Study the postmortems. Dig through the bug reports. Observe the man in the mirror. Examine it as if you are about to be given the world's greatest gift: a chance to create something worthwhile.

Third, get out of your fish bowl. Interview people on the street about their perceptions. Talk with your customers, your citizens, your students, whomever you serve. Also ask your mother or your Uncle Albert for their thoughts. Then ask a five-year-old and a fifteen-year-old: they seem to know everything, though one has to apply the filter of experience to their insights. [I think people get too much credit for constantly rediscovering the wheel under different names]. Their feedback won't jerk you wildly off course. It will help illuminate your insider's perspective with natural light.

Then start where you are. Work to create something worthwhile, not for its market valuation or ability to get you votes. Back in 2006, Mitch Ratcliffe (@godsdog) pointed out, "If we get caught up about the name of the thing we're building, we're just wasting time." Identify yourself with the idea and join with others who share uncommon visions about what the world needs now. They may call it “2.0” or they may be too busy pursuing the work to call it anything.

Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop.com describes his vision this way:

Government 2.0 is about defining the next generation of government. It's a change of how government solves problems and delivers services. A change in:

Culture - Move from top-down one-way to collaborative and two-way.

Participants - Move from gov and gov contractors to include non-profits, citizens, social entrepreneurs, startups, and more.

Human capital - Move from legacy generation of government baby boomers to digital natives and Gen C.

Speed - Move from big, large, long-term projects to a culture of speed, pilot, and beta.

Collaboration - Move from agency silos to working across Fed/State/Local lines and departments.

Some people will always seem to prefer what writer and activist Micah Sifry (@MIsif) refers to as version "0.2, or even less than that,” a way of denoting how far something has to go to achieve the status of a full release rather than an incremental improvement. It's your job to show them tangible proof there is now something more. The difference between major release numbers and versioning (the little changes we note) is that with the latter, when you mess up you can easily get back to a previous working version. Well folks, there aren't many working versions worth returning to.<

Someday any numbering scheme will have lost its raison d'etre. As Ari Herzog, an online media strategist, said to me over lunch 2.0 at the Summit, "It's just government."

And one more thing: Calling everything "2.0" gives credit for all change to the current generation. Many institutions are on far more than their second rev. Publishing, for instance, is on its sixth or ninth rev, not its second. There are innumerable versions of things. It's simplistic, silly, and conceited to call everything "2.0." It's taking credit before credit is due.

Let's at least use this moment in time to acknowledge we now have the tools to make change. Let's not see this most clearly with 2.0-2.0 hindsight.

[Image: Flickr user OpenSourceWay]

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