It’s all the rage for ministries and agencies to have a Facebook or even MySpace page these days. Governments are going where their citizens are. So why bother having a web site at all? The idea may seem farfetched. But as officials from Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Netherlands reveal in interviews with FutureGov, government web sites could disappear into the ‘social cloud’ sooner than we think.
“We can’t do community outreach programmes sitting inside Parliament House. The same applies online,” Craig Thomler (pictured), the Online Communications Director for the Australian Department of Health & Ageing, said at the FutureGov Forum Hong Kong this month. “If Facebook is where the audience is, we need to be there too. It’s about engaging sensitively in the right avenues.”
Government operates too many web sites, and most are difficult and expensive to maintain. Consolidating them makes sense, Thomler said. “You need to think carefully about what you’re trying to achieve with a web site, and how you’re trying to engage. There are lots of incidences where you need to engage community with community, and it is difficult for a web site to do this.”
Datuk Arpah bt Abdul Razak is the Director General of Local Government in Malaysia, where Facebook is the most popular social network. “Will Facebook pages replace our web sites? Nothing is impossible,” she told FutureGov. “Our leaders are blogging and using Facebook heavily, gaining friends and supporters. The more social media is used, the more likely it is to replace the traditional means with which government communicates online.”
But government web sites will not disappear altogether, reckons Mark Medwecki, the Superintendent of the Hong Kong Police Force. While popular social platforms (Facebook ranks top in Hong Kong too) are useful for quickly disseminating information on crimes and giving relevant advice for citizens, Hong Kong police has given no consideration to replacing the structured web sites which give access to crime information online. “The use of social media is more likely to be a supplementary online activity, not a replacement,” he said.
The Netherlands is one of Europe’s largest consumers of social media, and the government has been a particularly active user. Matt Poelmans, the Director of Citizenlink at the Dutch Ministry of the Interior, told FutureGov that a new engagement model is emerging which raises new challenges for government.
“The mixed model [using social media pages and official web sites] raises debate on a compelling issue: how to reconcile the requirements of accessibility with the innovative use of social media. Government web sites are strictly regulated. Private websites are not. Should one allow freer access to public information than the other?”
Another big issue concerning what observers are calling the ‘social cloud’ is information security. Security emerged as the overwhelming concern among Hong Kong government officials at the FutureGov Forum, and Sophos research released in February gives officials good reason to worry. Spam and malware on social networking sites increased by 70 per cent in 2009, with Facebook the worst effected site.
In a visit to Ngee Ann Secondary School yesterday (22 July), FutureGov found students deeply ...
The Infocomm Development Authority and Ministry of Education of Singapore have initiated plans to introduce ...
Ngee Ann Secondary School’s students are on a bid to “change the world” with ...