Want to friend the feds?

The U.S. General Services Administration last week launched a government-wide YouTube channel to provide one central location for citizens to view video clips created by 25 federal agencies. The U.S. Government Channel -- which was viewed 82,000 times in its first week -- is the latest effort by the feds to embrace social media.

Martha Dorris, acting associate administrator for GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Communications, called the YouTube channel a "way for the public to be able to find all of the official U.S. government videos in one place."

Over the last year, GSA has signed legal agreements with Facebook, MySpace and seven other popular Web sites that allow individual agencies to interact directly with hundreds of millions of citizens. Many individual agencies also are engaged with Twitter, sending their news feeds and other official announcements over this real-time communications channel.

"We're taking our information to where the citizens go to get that information and not relying on the citizens coming to government Web sites all the time," Dorris says. "We're doing a lot of viral marketing with our Facebook page, our Twitter accounts as well as our YouTube channel."

Dorris says GSA hopes to sign similar agreements with iTunes and LinkedIn.

"The Obama Administration's objective of creating transparent, open and participatory government -- this technology really lends itself to that, whether we're sharing videos on YouTube and allowing the public to comment on them, or opening up public dialogue on certain issues," Dorris says. "The government needs to be providing services and information the way citizens want it."

Here's a list of the Web sites where you can interact with federal agencies:

1. YouTube

The U.S. government channel on YouTube features hundreds of videos created by individual agencies such as the White House, NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You can find YouTube channels operated by individual agencies such as the Social Security Administration, or you can view videos by topic such as health and nutrition, or money and taxes. One video posted May 20 entitled "New Media Across Government" features Macon Phillips, White House director of new media, summarizing the federal government's new media efforts. You also can find Spanish language videos. "Creating short, compelling, entertaining videos that are going to resonate with users on YouTube -- that's an area where we see huge potential," says Sheila Campbell, manager of Web best practices at GSA.

2. Facebook

When the GSA signed a terms of service agreement with Facebook in April, it highlighted the Web site's 200 million active users. The Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA are now engaging with citizens on Facebook. The National Park Service has invited citizens to share their stories and photos from trips to U.S. national parks.  The State Department's Facebook page features a discussion board where citizens can comment on issues related to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

3. MySpace

GSA also signed an agreement with MySpace in April, pointing out that the site is "a leading social portal for connecting people, content and culture." Currently, GSA is providing a list of available jobs at MySpace Jobs. The White House's MySpace page features live video streaming of important announcements such as the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court, along with photos and profiles for President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

4. Flickr

The Flickr photo sharing site was among the first crop of social media sites embraced by the GSA back in March, when it announced what it called "landmark agreements" with popular new media providers. One of the most active participants on Flickr is the Library of Congress, which has a Flickr stream that showcases its many collections of historical black-and-white images.

5. Vimeo

GSA signed a deal with video sharing site Vimeo in March, citing the site's "high volume and innovation on the Web." So far, Vimeo hasn't gotten nearly the traction of YouTube in terms of having federal agencies post videos. One agency that is using Vimeo is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is showing videos of marine debris and its earth-observing satellites.  

6. Blip.tv

GSA's deal with blip.tv, also signed in March, hasn't generated as much buzz as its arrangement with YouTube. But the site does feature videos from NASA, such as the Discovery launch  and life on the space station.  

7. Blist

Blist is a Web site that allows government agencies to publish databases online in a format that can be easily shared with the public. The Web site's goal is to promote citizen engagement around data that can be easily processed, visualized and analyzed. Among the public datasets available on Blist are American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Job Creation by Congressional District and Average Fuel Efficiency of U.S. Passenger Cars.  

8. Slideshare

Slideshare is a free Web site that allows Federal agencies to share presentations with citizens. You can use the site to embed slideshows on your own Web site, or you can share them publicly. Among the federal slideshows posted on this site are a presentation about federal identity management efforts made by an official with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and an explanation of the federal knowledge management initiative given by the head of a related working group.  

9. AddThis

AddThis is a social bookmarking tool that is used by Web publishers and bloggers to spread their content across the Internet. When its deal with the GSA was announced in April, AddThis said it was already being utilized on federal Web sites run by the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security and USA.gov.  

10. Twitter

GSA hasn't signed a terms-of-service agreement with Twitter, but many agencies are actively pushing information out to citizens using 140-character Tweets. GSA has been active on Twitter since December 2008 and now has more than 6,000 followers for its Usa.gov Twitterstream. The State Department is issuing warnings to travelers on Twitter, and the Center for Disease Control is providing the latest news about Swine Flu. 

"What's really exciting about Twitter to agencies is that they realize the power of this tool to communicate with people very, very quickly, especially in times of emergencies," Campbell says.

This story, "Want to friend the feds?" was originally published by Network World.

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