HUD Meets Google Maps

We’ve reported on the intersection of government and Web 2.0 technologies before on this blog. It’s an important and shifting landscape and nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than in Washington D.C.

Most of the applications are born in the private sector. Wikipedia, for example, became widely used well before Intellipedia, the intelligence service’s equivalent information sharing website.

“Web 2.0 applications are being created on the private side of things,” Ramesh Ramakrishnan, division director at Citizant, a Chantilly-based government solutions provider, said. “We then look at how a particular tool can be applied to a variety of federal agencies.”

“So much of the federal government information is stacked in individual silos. But wikis are getting more popular from the standpoint of collaboration,” Ramakrishnan says, pointing out that the greatest benefit is that a wiki can turn a Web site into a knowledge repository, allowing interdepartmental collaboration.

Mashups, an application using data from more than one source, are among the best examples of government’s adoption of ‘Gov 2.0’. Citizant recently worked to develop enterprise mashups to create a National Housing Locator system for Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Using the Google Maps API and the NHL database, an information data sharing tool was born. (see picture).

NHL Screen Grab

“HUD was looking at all the services it provides within its program areas and identified an office that did a lot of geocoding [assigning geographic identifiers],” Ramakrishnan said. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel of geocoding. What better way than to take the geocoding already done from one office and use it as a service within all of HUD.

Essentially other users can leverage the existing program and applications by using it as service across the board, and so now, in this case, the geocoder becomes a service center of sorts and the housing locator platform is able to combine its data with an already existing map.

To be sure, there’s a menu of government-specific constraints with Web 2.0 applications. For example, on gov’t wikis, deciding who can and cannot edit or view a page could potentially be a matter of national security. Issues also abound with privacy issues and determining moderators, especially with social networking sites.

“Full cross pollination from private to gov’t is a long way off,” Ramakrishnan said. Citizant is currently working with employees in various gov't agencies to establish an integrated platform model for Gov 2.0 solutions.
For more on this, check out our recent interview with Sean Dennehy, Chief of Intellipedia Development.

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