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Taking A Second Look at Arlington National Cemetery and Online Records

Every 10 year old in America knows where our nation’s heroes find their final resting place-the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Just outside of Washington, the National Cemetery contains the gravesites of some of our countries most revered and honors those who have served in our name.

imageHowever, in early 2010 the Cemetery came under fire from the U.S Department of Defense for a large number of mismanagement issues, including but not limited to mislabeling of graves, multiple bodies in single graves, and mismanagement of cremated remains. After a year-long series of articles and an in-depth investigation by the Washington Post, the national dream of Arlington as a pristine and well-run temple to our nation’s sacrifices.

A recent article by the L.A Times piqued my interest on this subject, and when I decided to take a look at their website, I was stunned. One of the main problems found by the Department of Defense is that Arlington National Cemetery is actually run by so many different groups that they couldn’t make any serious reform decisions-and it looks like none of these groups found time to fix up the online presence of the Cemetery.

Take a look for yourself at a screen capture of http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/, the official site of Arlington National Cemetery.

This post could go on for thousands of words on the problems with this site; beyond it’s extremely outdated look, the fact that it doesn’t even fit the full browser window, and the Contact Us page being composed of a phone number and mailing address, the site is rife with areas for improvement. This is not only an example of how a large institution can lose track of managing its online presence-this is in fact a disservice to the families and loved ones of our nation’s most honored.

The counterpoint to correcting these problems is sheer bureaucracy; the Cemetery holds thousands of graves, has continuously updated news, events and has split leadership which has shown it’s inability to react positively to change. However, the actions of an enterprising 17 year old have shown that a more beneficial online presence for the Arlington National Cemetery can be built easily and effectively.

imageAs profiled by the Los Angeles Times in late April, Ricky Gilleland is the one person who has decided to do something about this. The 17 year old from Stafford, VA heard about the Cemetery’s paper record system and decided he could fix it. What he came up with is preserveandhonor.com, a site that aims to “Honor America’s heroes buried in Arlington Cemetery who served their country in support of the Global War on Terror”.

The site contains records of each and every lost life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are entombed in Arlington. By searching the database, you can view the grave number, name, rank, military branch, birth and death dates, and Awards, and link to their official obituary. By contrast, on the official site, there is no database search capability. Perhaps the most important element of this site is the photos of the graves themselves. Now, family members, loved ones and inquiring minds from all over the country and the world can view every single grave stone from the 21st century wars. This single addition makes this archive head and shoulders above anything put together so far by the actual government system behind Arlington. And for that, the nation is grateful.

Visit preserveandhonor.com to experience the true cost of war in this century, and next time you see a government website underperforming, just think of how you much change one person can make.

It Takes A Website of Millions: Popvox and the Modern Congress

Do you want to see change in your community?

PrintCommon knowledge tells us the action to take when we’ve got a bone to pick; grab the phone and call your senator or congress person. Or, even older wisdom: write them a letter. These methods might have been sold to us wholesale as schoolchildren, but in the 21st century we all know the sharp disconnect between the average American and the government. Currently, congress receives over 300 million e-mails every year. Imagine sorting through that inbox.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to benefit the democratic process. This year’s SXSW festival ushered in a new entrant to the Online Civic Engagement space, with PopVox emerging the winner of the SXSW Accelator award in Social Media and Social Networking Service. PopVox aims to be the most direct way of helping constituents support the bills that matter to them, as well as serve as a portal for organizations to publicly support or oppose bills that are currently active in Congress.

Using data from GovTrack, Popvox shows the average user bills with recent activity, highlighted bills tailored to your interest, and even what bills are trending in activity. Netflix-like longtail recommendation allows for Popvox to show users the bills that involve their interests or are related to previous bills they supported, opposed, or commented on. This in-depth functionality allows for bills that may have previously flown under the radar to get the attention and public scrutiny that they deserve.

For organizations, Popvox offers even more usability. Currently boasting involvement by 500 different organizations, Popvox serves as a platform for organizations to organize, publicize, and coordinate their advocacy campaigns. After completing an approval process, organizations can create a profile with contact info and a mission statement. They can also use the downloadable widgets to display their stance on bills directly on their own sites. This is where the true strength behind Popvox lies; not only in providing the ability for citizens and concerned organizations to voice their opinions directly, but in enabling the sharing capabilities and meme-tastic viral potential of the internet to grasp something actually important.

So the benefits are myriad for the average constituent. How, you might think, can this actually impact our Congress though? Take a quick spin through one of the bills on Popvox, and you’ll see how direct interaction can occur. The congressperson, sitting in a tony Washington office and torn by guilt over which way to vote on an important bill, can instantly see through data visualization, opposing and supporting comments, and the sponsor of the bill, how to make their decision.

So now that the people in charge can use tools such as Popvox and no longer have to wade through swaths of e-mails and deflect snail mail and endless calls, will we actually see pro-active, open source change? Only time can tell. Until then, make your voice heard.

Science! Space! And NASA Tweetups

With the spread of social media into the every lives of today’s young people – it’s no surprise that NASA is reaching out and spreading the word about their missions, research, and discoveries. The government agency has launched a wildly popular series of NASA Tweeups, wherein bloggers and social media influencers from across the nation meet up to learn more about that the agency is going and live-tweet the event to their followers.

A week and a half ago, I attended a tweetup held at NASA’s DC Headquarters. The keynote speaker was Astronaut Doug Wheelock – @Astro_Wheels – who not only live-tweeted from space, but was the first person to check in on Foursquare from the International Space Station. NASA’s partnership with Foursquare yielded a custom ‘space shuttle’ badge, while also cementing the federal agency’s place as a cutting edge and tech-savvy place to work and research. Most importantly, Doug Wheelock’s picture uploads and tweets helped get an entirely new generation of youth excited about math, science, space, and astronomy.

Bellow is a short video from the event featuring Astronaut Wheelock speaking about an unplanned walk to repair the International Space Station, as well as his social networking efforts while in space.

To learn more about the NASA public affairs and social media outreach, check out:

Governing a Technologically Uncertain Future: A Conference put on by Future Tense

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a conference titled "Here Be Dragons: Governing a Technologically Uncertain Future." It was put together by the Future Tense, a partnership of the New America Foundation, Slate, and Arizona State University.  The speakers and panels focused on how innovations within synthetic biology and the internet are helping shape US public policy and regulation of the private sector. While these are not topics we normally cover here at the Bivings Report, I think the intersection of tech innovation, business, and government regulation is a fascinating topic.

This one and a half day conference looked at the emergence of Synthetic Biology and proliferation of the internet as two case studies for the challenges associated with (government) regulation of the private sector. Mobile computing and the state of the social web was used as the more ‘mature’ of the two examples – with #SynBio being the nascent science. Consumers are affected daily by ecommerce on a daily basis, but currently,  very little government regulation stands in the way of monopolies consumer fraud online. This is not to mention the alphabet soup of federal agencies that watch over incredibly small portions of the internet (such as the FCC, FTC, DHS, DOJ, and NTI  – just to name a few).

Some of the most notable panels and videos of the conference included:

  • Groping for the Online Master Switch: The Elusive Quest to Govern the Internet [Video]
  • Can Technology Policy be Democratic? [Video]
  • Can Washington Keep Up With the Next Big Thing? [Video]
  • as well as  The Dragons Online: The Internet’s Coming Surprises [Video]

You can watch the highlights and steam of the conference proceedings in the video below:



Video streaming by Ustream

DC, MD, VA: Govt Snow 2.0 Resources

As most of the east coast is bracing for another snow-pocalypse / thunde-snow / sleet mess this evening we want to highlight the efforts of some of our local governments use new media tools to communicate with the public. While everyone knows that @CoryBooker is the king of Twitter when it comes to local elected officials and snow removal,  what happens when Mr. Booker is no longer mayor? In this respect we think the focus should be on best practices for local communities to carryon regardless of whose in charge at the moment.

Of course, if you have an example or know of a good local resource please let us know!

In Washington D.C.

DC Department of Transportation:

DDOT Twitter: @DDOTDC and Facebook

D.C. Department of Public Works

DPW’s Twitter: @DCDPW and Facebook

Virginia

The Virginia Department of Transportation @VADOT actually has Twitter accounts for each region of the state as well as major highways!

Northern VA: @511northernva

Fairfax County
Twitter  @fairfaxcounty and Facebook 

Arlington County
Twitter:  @arlingtonva and Facebook

Maryland

State Highway Administration: Twitter @MDSHA and RSS Feeds.

I was unable to locate and MD state government Facebook resources listed on their website.

Montgomery County
Looking over the country’s  desperately in need of a re-design website, I couldn’t find any link to or mention of Twitter of Facebook accounts, which is silly to say the least. From searching Twitter I did find @montgomerycomd but strictly speaking, who knows if that’s really official? They do however have a decent online map.

Prince George’s County
Another hideous website, but at least it has social media links front and center.  However it takes 3 more clicks to actually get off site. What’s going on Maryland?

Prince Georges Twitter: @PrinceGeorgesMD and  Facebook