Anil Dash announced today at the Web 2.0 Expo New York that he's leaving publishing software company SixApart and will head a new technology incubator called Expert Labs. Expert Labs will be dedicated to connecting technology innovators ready to build tools with government officials who can put those tools to use in the public interest. It's a vision that differs from what some other technologists are focused on with regards to the government.Long-time blogger and tech executive
Dash is best known as a blogger for his articles like this 2007 explanation of LOLCat grammatical structure and this 2009 explanation of the real-time web. Can the man who's explained so much to the rest of us help the US government adopt new online technology? That's quite a task.
The organization's website reads in part as follows:
Expert Labs is non-profit and non-partisan but we're moving with the speed and passion of true believers. We're providing funding and resources to help create some of the coolest new technology on the web, and as part of the largest general scientific society in the world, we have access to the smartest minds around. Put those together with your help, and we'll be making our country better in no time.
Expert Labs will be a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and funded by the MacArthur Foundation, Caroline McCarthy reports at Cnet.
Dash wrote this Summer that "I think the most promising new startup of 2009 is one of the least likely: The executive branch of the federal government of the United States." We've been far more critical here at ReadWriteWeb of the Obama Administration's efforts. The much anticipated Data.gov, for example, was so unexciting in its implementation that watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation launched a competitor to it.
The web changes very fast and government tends to change very, very slowly.
Dash's Vision Appears Different From Tim O'Reilly's
The organization will aim to facilitate production of applications to serve government. Those apps will be cloud-based. This is a different kind of approach, I'd say, than the one that Web 2.0 Expo founder Tim O'Reilly is taking in trying to build a "government as a platform."
Expert Labs says it has "a mandate to help policy makers in the U.S. Federal Government tap into the expertise of their fellow citizens."
O'Reilly, on the other hand, advocates a "government as platform" that would supply raw digital data and other forms of support for private sector innovators to build on top of. "How do you think like a platform provider?" O'Reilly asked in an interview with us this Summer.
"We've moved our government from a lean vehicle for collective action, and over the last 200 years it has become so strong that it's now 40% of GDP. I want to go back to the original vision of the role of government: a convener of things that we as individuals and companies can't do alone. Standard setting, pilot programs; government providing enabling technologies for citizens to serve themselves."
Dash's incubator will help technologists help the government; O'Reilly's vision is to help the government help technologists. These two visions may be complimentary, but they certainly seem different. Which will be more effective at changing the world? Government can be a slow enough mover that it's hard to say. Both are thought provoking, but neither vision will be easy to make real.