Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Tech President's to do list

By Maggie Shiels
Technology Reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Obama's address on YouTube

The internet and technology are credited with helping Barack Obama win the presidency.

From social networking sites to blogs and from iPhone applications to text messaging, President elect Obama used the power of these hi-tech tools to get his message out, raise money, galvanise voters and get him elected.

Now some in the industry think it could be "pay-back time" as they looks to the country's first tech savvy President to do his bit to push technology into a new era.

"He is the first real president who seems to understand technology and the needs of the industry," said Tim O'Reilly, the man credited with coining the term 'web 2.0' and who is generally regarded as one of the industry's visionaries.

"The guy's my age," said commentator and founder of Wired magazine John Battelle.

"This guy grew up knowing what an apple is besides the thing you eat, and using e-mail and Twitter. He understands what Facebook is and he has young kids that are completely digital.

"I think there is a general sense that he and the people he will employ totally get the web."

"Of the people"

Silicon Valley's wish list and the President-elect's to do list are not all that different.

They have both touted green energy, improved broadband connectivity and accessibility, investment in the sciences, advancing biomedical and stem cell research, creating the workforce of tomorrow, and open and transparent government and investment in research and development and education as common aims.

Change.gov
The transition team's website claims to be an example of open government

While both might prioritise the list differently, the government-to-be seems to put openness and transparency front and centre.

It is an approach that is applauded by Jennifer Pahlka of TechWeb, a business technology media company.

"The web is at the centre of the economy. It's the innovative engine of the economy.

"The principles of Web 2.0 like transparency and openness are really the cure for what ails us socially, politically, economically and culturally." she told BBC News.

To some degree however that commitment to openness is being called into question as President-elect Obama has been told he may have to give up using e-mail and his cherished BlackBerry. The reason is because e-mails can be subpoenaed by Congress or later end up in the Presidential library.

"Is it a serious pledge to shake up Washington, to apply sunlight to the often shadowy depths of the executive branch or is it merely a very good marketing campaign?" asked Christopher Soghoian of Harvard University's Berkman Centre for Internet & Society.

"The willingness of the next president to use e-mail and even a smart phone, even with the knowledge his messages might later be subpoenaed will be the best way for him to demonstrate his belief in the importance of sunlight," he said.

iPhone app for Obama 08
It's hoped the way Barack Obama reached out to voters will continue

At the same time, the President-elect's desire for the electorate to play a contributing role just as it did during the campaign is seen as crucial to the integrity of the future government.

"Of the People, By the People," is the call to arms that has been made on the transition team's own website as it has urged people to give "ideas and be part of the change you're looking for."

"Change.gov is a good start, but far from enough," claimed Mr O'Reilly.

"[President-elect Obama] needs to build tools that harvest the best ideas from people who care, that give them a platform for independent action as he did during the campaign, and that encourage a real dialogue between those inside the government and those whom it is meant to serve."

Green energy

While Silicon Valley grapples with the economic fallout like the rest of the country, some organisations have focused on green energy as a priority and a way to counter the rising tide of job losses.

The tech blog TechCrunch has already estimated that recent lay off announcements amount to over 50,000.

wind farm
Alternative forms of energy are being pushed by Silicon Valley

"Clean tech has a clear innovation component to it as well as an infrastructure one and one of jobs development," said Jim Hock of TechNet, a bipartisan group of chief and senior executives.

"Investing in green energy and using the internet to breed efficiency allows you to create the next wave of innovation jobs. This is critically important right now when unemployment is going up and many companies around the country are being hit hard," he told BBC News.

The green energy agenda has become something of a bandwagon for Silicon Valley with venture capital companies investing heavily and household names such as Google pushing for a "smart grid" to power the nation.

Its charitable arm Google.org has committed over $100m in grants and investments in projects such as renewable energy, solar power and plug-in vehicles.

And Google board member and former Vice President Al Gore, who spoke at a recent Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco, challenged President-elect Obama to set a national goal of "getting 100% of our electricity from renewable and non-carbon sources within 10 years."

A centrepiece of the Obama campaign was a proposal to invest $150bn over the next decade to generate five million new jobs.

Tech Czar

While there does not seem to be much to separate the needs and desires of Silicon Valley from that of the President-elect, the one aspect not taken into consideration is that of politics.

In the real world of political horse-trading, some aims and objectives may be dropped or changed. One person who might help Silicon Valley prevent that from happening could be the nation's first chief technology officer.

Obama twitter page
Barack Obama's use of web 2.0 applications changed politics

The number one sport in the hi-tech world is speculating who President-elect Obama might appoint.

The gamut ranges from Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who has publicly said no three or four times, to Tim O'Reilly who said he "doesn't have the patience to deal with large organisations."

Mr O'Reilly however favours Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, as "a deep thinker, passionately committed to doing the right thing."

Other names making the rounds include Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and former co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy.

And if the future chief technology officer is struggling with what the number one issue he or she should tackle, there is always a new website to help out.

In the few days it has been running, obamacto.org has fielded thousands of suggestions ranging from an accessible and neutral internet to repealing the Patriot act and from starting a green collar jobs programme to running the government on 100% free software.

Whoever turns out to be chosen for this first time position, there are certain qualities vital for the job according to Jim Hock at TechNet.

"He or she must have a fundamental understanding of technology and the power of technology across a variety of sectors. They have to understand policy, Washington and the players. And finally they have to have the ear of the President."

One thing Mr Hock failed to mention was the fact they will almost certainly have to take a serious pay cut working for the government.

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