Big idea: To apply the lessons of Web 2.0 to government, through his new D.C.-based incubator, Expert Labs. “The great Web 2.0 businesses are really data engines built on info generated by purchasing, searching, posting, tweeting.” Dash’s goal is to exploit the massive amount of data that the government has and creates. Government “can be as great a platform as the iPhone.” But policy makers aren’t tapping citizens’ brainpower right now, so Expert Labs will help: “In our private lives, we’d call this crowdsourcing.” The incubator, launched with input from White House staff, is officially part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and funded by a MacArthur Foundation grant. Dash aims to send policy proposals to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy this spring. “We’re moving as fast as we can, but D.C. is not used to working at startup speed.”
Credentials: Dash was the first employee at software company SixApart, whose Movable Type and TypePad are the premier blogging platforms, used by everyone from Kenneth Cole to Britney Spears to the Obama campaign — and Dash himself. He blogs at dashes.com.
BlackBerry or iPhone? Android. Dash has “become a little militant about openness. I like the hackability of the Android.”
Tech idol: Dan Bricklin, cocreator of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for PCs. “He’s been tremendously innovative. He helped us lay the groundwork for blogging, and he has always made himself available.”
First job: As a kid in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Dash helped build a computerized grading system for a neighbor who was a community-college professor.
Favorite blog: Kottke.org. Jason Kottke “is probably the best at the art of blogging. He’s a craftsman — and I think the craft is undervalued.”
Iconic company: Microsoft. “Underrated for their innovation, especially for how they structured their business.” They’ve become a favored punching bag, “but people forget how much good they’ve done. Google now is where Microsoft was when they released Windows ’95 — they think they’re untouchable. But Microsoft has been humbled.”
Inspiration: New York, for its surprising stimuli. Example: “I went to the Met, to the music hall, where they have one of the first pianos. You look at it and realize, Somebody had to come up with this idea. Some guy probably spent his whole life convincing someone else that it wasn’t crazy. That’s inspiring.” (For the record, that guy was Bartolomeo Cristofori, an instrument curator for the Medicis.)
Own or rent? Rent. “Proudly! I totally question the conventional wisdom of the American dream. Why would I want to own?”
If I weren’t doing this, I’d be … “in the music industry. I love music. I just don’t like the record business. I was just listening to the new Alicia Keys, which I love.”
Offline hobby: “Is playing Mario video games offline?”
Bookshelf: Dash just read chef David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. He plans to reread Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, about New York urban planner Robert Moses. “It shows how one person can get a lot done if you know how to hack the system. We also see the danger of not knowing how government works — or not caring. Some of our brightest tech minds behave as if government doesn’t exist. It’s myopia and arrogance. But it’s not only important — it’s a huge opportunity.”
Correction: The original article incorrectly stated Anil Dash’s position at SixApart.