Germany announces 311 solution: einheitliche Behördenrufnummer 115 (Bürgertelefon D-115)

Dezember 26th, 2006

Citizen Relationship Management - at least the contact center aspect of it, has made its way to Europe. The other day I have been in touch with somebody from Sweden which is looking into the matter. Dutch ministries also showed some interest. Apparently, the same is true for Germany. Shortly before christmas Angela Merkel, the German chancelor, announced the “Behoerdennotruf” (could be translated public agency emergency number) while participating in the “1st National IT Summit” between government and IT industry representatives. The N-11 type contact center would be available through the unified number 115 and available 24/7/365, probably realized by 2009/10. It is supposed to be modelled after New York’s 311 solution. The results of a first survey among citizens showed mixed to negative opinions towards the initative. I think the term coined for the initiative is misleading for many people after reviewing some of the discussions on blogs and boards.

A feasibility study is planned to start in March 2007 by the ISPRAT institute, a collaboration between industry and academia (Hertie School of Governance, Frauenhofer, WHU). The institute was founded by Harald Lemke, CIO of the Germany’s federal state Hesse. Industry members include Cisco Systems, CSC, Deutsche Telekom AG, Fujitsu-Siemens-Computer, HP, IBM, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft and SAP. You can find the research proposal here (Unfortunately in German only).

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part I: Yatsushiro City

Dezember 6th, 2006

As I wrote in an earlier entry I am currently in Japan doing research in 2 areas. First, I look at local SNS (social software) and how this could be useful for disaster management. Second, I will do another case study for my research on Citizen Relationship Management.

Yatsushiro is the second largest city of the Kumamoto prefecture and is centrally located about 40 km from the Kyushu west coast, the southernmost of the four Japanese islands. As part of the eGovernment efforts in 2002/03 the city started “Gorotto Yatchiro”. It offered a bulletin board, calendar, link posting and email form functionality. However, it never got quite of the ground with a final community size of 600, 40 truly active users and 10.000 page views per month. Usage decreased over time and since membership offered anonymity some members did not stick to accepted conventions of online behaviour. As for Japanese culture, this keeps a lot of people critical of such initiatives paired with general mistrust in government and public administration in Japan. More than 900 local governments around Japan had set up citizens’ virtual conference rooms by 2004 as part of their eParticipation efforts. Though, most of these projects met the same fate as the one in Yatsushiro city.

Meet Mr. Takao Kobayashi who had/ still has the biggest influence on local government social networking services in Japan with his ideas and “Open Gorotto” platform which is available free as openSource software (click the above link to download the latest version).


In response to the decline of the bulletin board and inspired by bigger and popular social networking platforms such as Mixi, Mr. Takao Kobayashi, a young member of the Yatsushiro IT department, decided to design and program a new version of Gorotto in 2004. Interestingly, he was neither ordered to do so nor did he ask for permission. Within three months the first version of the “Open-Gorotto” SNS using openSource software as Free BSD, PostgreSQL, and PHP was developed. Except being inspired by existing social networking platforms no additional surveys on user needs were conducted. As the platform is hosted on government servers and development was done in work and free-time costs can be considered insignificant. Up to this day there is no additional budget set aside or significant recognition of political or administrative leadership except that that there is no interference.

Mr. Kobayashi mentions four points that motivated him to create the SNS platform: First, citizens are much better at sharing government information, so each citizen’s network serves as a multiplier. Second, the platform helps the community to grow stronger, meaning that people who share mutual interests can get together in a pleasant atmosphere. Third, the platform presents general and government information in a different way. Finally, administrators can interact and learn from citizens. Disaster is missing here but was picked up by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) as a goal. MIC conducted empirical testing of SNS communities in the City of Nagaoka which will be described in LINK and in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in early 2006.

The SNS platform exists parallel toYatsushiro city’s website which links to the former. “Gorotto Yatchiro” functionality includes a blog, networking, personal profile, picture/media library, calendar and newsgroups (see picture below). Its uniqueness compared to sites like Mixi, Gree, MySpace or Xing lies in additional features as GIS/Google maps mash-up, a fire alert or open architecture with allows for integration of other features. Besides that the platform is mobile friendly. Although everybody can use the platform registered users can invite contacts. In order to prevent a development similar to the bulletin board “Open Gorotto” includes the “Alien” or “Grey Person” feature. This automatically scans for swearwords and the like and also sends a quick note to the administrator (Mr. Kobayashi) and another person supporting him with this task.


Since the new version was made available online by end of 2004, member expansion was left to invitations of users only. Mr. Kobayashi thinks that this allows for a healthier online community and avoids the objections citizens might have towards government although it is much slower. Advertising was only done through links on the city website, flyers and ads in the city magazine. Additional public attention came through press articles first in the regional and later in national press which is visible in higher website traffic after key interviews. By now the platform has around 2800 members with 70% being from Yatsushiro. Average age of members is 39 with males tending to be more active than females (ratio: 7:3). 400 users can be counted as truly active in terms of their blog, commenting or in forum behavior. The most used features are the diary followed by the internal email system and forums. 400 users have also subscribed the RSS feature. Smaller forums are managed by citizens; bigger ones are managed by the admins. 100 members of the community belong to the local administration or politics. When asked, Government officials see the local SNS mostly as another communication channel. They are still thinking about further use, especially with regard to disaster though.

Mr. Kobayashi is currently promoting the idea of having local interconnected SNS in all of Japan’s municipalities that also mirror each other in case of a failure/disruption like a disaster. Modifications of “Open Gorotto” are already used by other local SNS throughout Japan. However, many times Mixi is able to attract more people from the same area as the local SNS. This relates very much to questions raised by Ines Mergel regarding individual social networking platform online behavior.

In any case, the actions of Mr. Kobayashi are unique. It is proof of an individual’s impact on a smaller and ultimately broader scale. I could not find similar projects of government SNS in the world with regard to eDemocracy or disaster management. Hence, “Open Gorotto” is an innovation for local government worthwhile spending more time thinking about.

Social Networking Services and disaster management in Japan

Oktober 6th, 2006

Apparently, the government in Japan is promoting the use of Social Networking Services (SNS) as they are hoping to take advantage of this for consultation and during a crisis like a disaster. As I will take a look at the attempts in my case studies of Yatsushiro-city, Kumamoto prefecture and Nagaoka-city, Niigata prefecture I will keep you updated in the upcoming weeks.


Let’s take a look at one of the big social networking platforms in Japan the meantime. Its called Mixi and has some of the following features:
- Invitation only
- It includes a sort of diary or blog which can be shared only with the people directly connected.
- Users review goods and services
- Miximusic / iTunes integration
- You can see who visited your profile
- Anonymous profiles mostly.
- Groups. Mixi has up to a million groups that users have created
- Heavily mobile-based / friendly. Japanese people spend a lot of time commuting on the train so there is plenty of time to take advantage of the 3G network and advanced phone features like chat, mms or GPS.

I begin to wonder when we will move into the mobile SNS world. Imagine when vast ammounts people start tagging their environment with the integrated GPS or connect with their direct or in case of dating, interested “peers”. This will also allow for new types of government citizen interactions with regard to disasters and everyday management.

Mai 10th, 2006

The UK government has moved on from “electronic government” to “transformational government” (Cabinet Office, November 2005). “Customer-centric” public services and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are seen as key elements of the new agenda. However, CRM originated in the private sector as a technology to support customer acquisition, retention and extension (cross-selling). The appropriateness of this technology to organisations striving to meet complex goals such as improving the quality of life for vulnerable people is open to question. Results of recent UK electronic government CRM programmes show that the focus for many local authorities has so far been systems integration, CRM-enabling call centres and the provision of routine transactions online. More advanced authorities are planning to use CRM to help them understand their citizens better. But more can be done. To this end, an alternative model of CRM progress is proposed which moves beyond transactions and customer insight and encourages citizens to co-produce the public services they consume.


An outline of this paper can be found here. The presentation is availabe on the Program on Networked Government Website.

Follow up: Google bombs and the autonomy of search engine vendors

Januar 30th, 2006

In my entry on Google bombs on 11/19/2005 I raised the following question:

“How will governments react to such movements of altering the search results in an unfavorable way in the future as knowledge becomes more important? How will search engine providers react? The easiest way to approach this would be to influence or enforce rules on search engine vendors. Hence, we could ask whether search engine providers need to be kept as autonomous as central banks with respect to knowledge?”

Well, as of 1/25/2006 we got an answer to this when reports on Google’s self-censored search engine for China came out. However, as a other reports show, censorship also exists in other countries like Germany or France for certain terms. So in fact there is a need to watch developments in this regard carefully…What do you think or propose?

Related articles:
Harvard Law School, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
NY Times on Google and China search engine version
Wired on Google and their geolocations on searches
NY Times on Google and Privavcy
Newscientist on China and Google search
Washington Post on Geolocator

What do we really see? - The deep and the surface web

Januar 10th, 2006

The crawlers of Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engine providers are automatically indexing the web. All of the web? No not all of it, just the surface which consists of billions of documents like HTML pages or directly linked file of any kind (i.e. mp3, PDF, doc, zip…). If we use complex search strings we are also able to plunge a little into the grey matter below the surface web (SW). Many documents are not directly linked but are still indexed.

The deep Web (DW), is web data that resides in databases and is only dynamically available in response to queries (i.e. you do a search on a specific website, login or load a website). It is supposedly much bigger and provides more valuable data than the surface web.

Bergman (2001) estimates that the DW contains 7,500 tb of data compared to 19 terabytes of data in the SW. Current Link analysis and crawler activity does not help to tap into those sources. It is much more complex and labor intensive and would probably exceed storage capabilities currently available to Google. A market exists as organisations such as the CIA, FBI or private companies have interests in using those additional (high quality)resources.

Related links:
Search engine trends, marketing
The Deep Web: Surfacing Hidden Value by Bergman (2001, U Michigan)
Search for the invisible web by Sherman (2001, The Guardian)
Index Structure for querying the Deep Web by Qiu/Shao/Zatsman/Shanmugasundaram (2003, Cornell U)
Accessing the Deep Web: A Survey by He/Patel/Zhang/Chen-Chuan Chang (2004, U Urbana-Champaign)
Deep Web Search engine
Introduction to the deep web by Laura Cohen (2005, SUNY Alabany)
Finding unpublished research by Mathews (2004, ACRL)

Virtual Stock Markets - Proving the Powerlaw?

Dezember 22nd, 2005

Social relations between individuals can be complex systems. How the structure of social networks impacts the behaviour of a system has been researched recently. These are i.e. power grids, neural networks, the World Wide Web or stock markets. Although different in the underlying interaction dynamics or micro-physics, all these networks have shown a tendency to self-organize in structures that share common features. In particular, the number of connections, for each element, or node, of the network follow a power law distribution. Networks that fulfill this property are referred to as scale-free (SF) networks M. Bartolozzi, D. B. Leinweber1, A. W. Thomas. (2005).

I would like to draw your attention to 2 projects which are using the power law in a direct and indirect way. First, there is the use of virtual stock markets to improve market research. Second, a recent project concerning blogs and virtual stock markets (VSMs) tries to proove the existence of powerlaw.

VSMs aven been applied in the form of a political stock market to predict the outcome of US presidential election in 1988 at the University of Iowa. The results of these studies demonstrate that the predictions outperform opinion polls in terms of forecast accuracy. Furthermore, the results of political stock markets show that VSMs can perform well even if their participants are not a representative sample. The reason is that VSMs elicit the participants’ assessments of the market outcome and a rational participant should not trade according to individual preferences, but according to the prediction of the market outcome based on the overall preferences of market participants. Thus, the decision is based on the most common features an individual anticipates in the market (powerlaw). More virtual stock market research is in this area is currently underway by an international research team (Martin Spann (U Passau), Gerrit van Bruggen (EU Rotterdam), Ely Dahan (UCLA) and Gary Lilien (U Penn)). Although it is more focused on business and market research some outcomes might be useful in other research areas.

BlogShares is the exploration of an emerging social network. Blogs are valued by their incoming links from other blogs. A blog is defined as a company and links become the main source of value in the VSM. Players speculate on thousands of blogs by buying and selling shares or rather the shifts of attention within the network. Blogshares claims to have proven the powerlaw which is in this case that 20% of the blogs contain 80% of all incoming links.

Google bombs - Voice option and collective action

November 11th, 2005

Typing in “Failure” as a keyword and regardless of pressing “Search” or “I am feeling lucky” this links directly to the biography of US President George Bush. Some time ago the same happened when someone typed in “weapons of mass destruction”. This is a “google bomb“. Furthermore, it is indirectly an example of global network building and collective action of website owners and bloggers based on a common idea or opinion.

What is a google bomb?
The term “Google bomb” basically describes a misapplication of knowledge on the Google’s search algorithms and results. Let’s take the example of “failure”. The US President’s biography website is neither about failure nor is the word failure used in the content. However, other websites linked the word failure to his website so it is not a political expression by google or its employees. Without going into much detail this mainly relates to some basic principles of the Google search logic and page ranking:

1. Links are essential to determine the rank/importance of a page
2. The page weight/importance (i.e. a university > personal website)
3. Topicality (How often a website is updated)
4. Other aspects related to web or blog content

Voice Option and Collective Action
Blogs and their links seem to play an increasingly important role as they are acting as millions of voters on webcontent or on various real world issues and events. In the desrcibed case this is a worldwide opposition on the policies of US President George Bush, probably mostly related to the war and occupation of Iraq. Drawing on Hirschman’s (1970) work on exit, voice and loyality we can indeed identify this as a new and emerging form of use of the voice option. Furthermore, the movement itself is an example of collective action and social network building. “Google bombs” also strengthen Wellmans (1996) argument that computer networks help forming social networks. Links, comments and emails could replace Feinberg&Johnson’s (1977, 1988, 1990) physical (”milling”) form of consensus building among crowds. However, this has yet to be proven. The question remains how people globally agreed on the term and adding the link to their website/blog. Was it supported by media reports? Pitcher et al (1978) , McAdam (1983) argued that protest activity first catches regimes off guard, and thus diffuses because of its success, and then is brought under control by social and other control mechanisms.

This raises some interesting questions: What can the internet community achieve with this form of voice? How will governments react to such movements of altering the search results in an unfavorable way in the future as knowledge becomes more important? How will search engine providers react? The easiest way to approach this would be to influence or enforce rules on search engine vendors. Hence, we could ask whether search engine providers need to be kept as autonomous as central banks with respect to knowledge? Further questions on “Deconstructing Google bombs: A breach of symbolic power or just a goofy prank” are raised by Clifford Tautum.

Knowledge is one of the key challenges of the 21st century. Knowledge creation and knowledge transfer will become one of the key questions to resolve. Thus, I would like to raise the attention of researchers to this emerging trend.