Web 2.0 'flood gates to open' with GSA's agreements

Thursday - 3/26/2009, 12:12pm EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

Agency sets sights on next set of standard terms of service with providers

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

Federal officials expressed excitement about the General Services Administration's agreements with several commercial social media tools.

Linda Cureton, NASA Goddard's chief information officer, says the terms and conditions template GSA signed with YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo and blip.tv is a great thing.

"I've often said that these amazing Web 2.0 capabilities that are out here represent a 'Jurassic Park' of opportunities: some things are scary ...some things are miracles of nature," says Cureton, one of a growing number of federal CIOs who blog and use other Web 2.0 tools.

Without the leadership that GSA displayed in harnessing this capability for federal agencies, we all would be left out here on our own trying to figure out how to survive. This reduces a significant barrier to entry and will help government do business in a transparent way.

Other agency technology officials were unaware GSA finalized the agreements, but once they found out, they say were pleased.

The agreements with these four social media providers standardize terms and conditions and resolve legal issues such as liability limits, endorsements, freedom of information and governing law.

"The current Terms of Service agreements were not good enough," says Mike Ettner, an attorney in GSA's office of the general counsel. "These new agreements or memorandums of understanding are an effort to make clear the expectations of the parties. These are no fee agreements."

GSA started with YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo and blip.tv, but already is working with FaceBook, MySpace and Ning, a site that lets users create their own social network, on MOUs.

Martha Dorris, GSA's acting associate administrator in the Office of Citizen Services, adds that her office also worked with Twitter. Government attorneys determined that the micro-blogging site's terms and conditions met the government's needs and could be agreed to immediately by agencies.

"In the future, we will look at any site people are flocking too," says Teresa Nasif, GSA's director of the Federal Citizen Information Center. "This was a collaborative effort with more than 12 agencies, a coalition of Web managers, cybersecurity people and attorneys from both the government and industry taking part."

Dorris says about 17 agencies already say they want to use the new standards template.

"This is part of our progression to reach out to the public," Dorris says. "These are templates for others to use. Each agency will have to sign its own terms of service agreement and should start by running it through their Web managers and general counsels."

Nasif says most agencies will have a director of new media appointed, and having these agreements in place will give these officials a starting point to meet their agency's mission with these tools.

Dorris says that agencies with existing agreements do not necessarily have to move to the new templates. But Ettner says GSA's templates put agencies on a more "defensible footing."

"We included language to say these new agreements supersede all other ones," he says. "An agency can sign one master agreement and flow it down to the rest of the bureaus and offices."

GSA also is looking at several other ways to bring content together on these sites. Dorris says one thing her office is considering is to bring all federal videos on YouTube into one place. She adds that agencies also control the information boxes around the videos they post.

"These legal agreements give more freedom to make the flood gates open for Web 2.0," says Sheila Campbell, GSA's Manager, USA.gov and Web best practices. "Agencies need a business case to use these tools, but now they have the legal footing to use them."

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - GSA, Google close on final 'terms of use' policy

FederalNewsRadio - GSA signs agreement to let agencies use YouTube, Flickr, other Web 2.0 sites

GSA - Guide to Managing U.S. Government Websites

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