When Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama announced his innovation agenda on Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus early last week, one paragraph in particular jumped out at Andrew Updegrove. In his Standards Blog at ConsortiumInfo.org, Updegrove quotes this "handful of words":
...[W]e have to use technology to open up our democracy. It's no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to sunlight. As President, I'll change that. I'll put government data online in universally accessible formats.
It's interesting, Updegrove says, that references to open standards even make it into a presidential campaign speech. He wonders whether Obama's staff came to its own conclusion that such standards are important or whether they were responding to the lobbying efforts of one particular vendor or another. If the former, he says, they should be commended for taking the risk given the hot debate surrounding such standards in recent years. If the latter, he wonders what "universally acceptable standards" really means:
Does that phrase indicate formats that implement vendor neutral open standards, or formats that are accessible to those with disabilities, or both? And if it means the former, what criteria would qualify a format as being "universally accessible?" Adoption by a consortium? Adoption by ISO/IEC JTC1? Widespread market adoption? All of the above?
No doubt Updegrove will be watching and listening to determine what Obama's commitment to "openness" in government information really means. Regardless of the outcome, he says Obama should be "applauded" for addressing IT's role in government.