EDITOR'S DESK—Commentary

The evolving reader forum

One of the intriguing aspects of publishing a magazine in its expanded form online these days is the nearly instant feedback that the Internet and various applications facilitate.

Web analytics tools make it easy to identify which stories people are widely reading — and which they aren’t. Similarly, the opportunity for readers to post comments about the stories we publish makes it easier to provide a public forum surrounding a story in ways that weren’t possible back when “Letters to the Editor” were something more than the quaint relics they’ve now become.

That has certainly been the case with a commentary article by Michael Daconta that GCN published in our August 10 issue. Daconta, whose work as metadata program manager for the Homeland Security Department earned him a Federal 100 award in 2006 from Federal Computer Week, is a regular contributor to GCN.

Daconta’s column asserted that government information technology managers need to be wary of six technologies, and it generated lots of buzz. Specifically, he suggested:

  • Cloud computing is a waste of government time until standards are set.
  • Web 2.0 and crowd-sourcing have their limitations.
  • Agile development suits developers better than government IT managers.
  • Data standards for government users cannot be market driven.
  • Service-oriented architecture still hasn’t addressed legacy applications.
  • Web application development is “still a kludge.”

Although a number of readers clearly saw his comments as a cautionary note for government IT managers, a number of our online readers — many from the developer community — ripped into Daconta’s premise that government should play it safe. That kind of thinking perpetuates the status quo that has hobbled government IT projects in the first place, they said.

Others took issue with Daconta’s notion of agile development. As one reader put it: Although you wouldn’t want to build the next space shuttle with agile development, “not everything is a space shuttle.”

Some faulted Daconta for the article’s lack of evidence — and even for spelling out XUL. That was our doing, not his: We confined the article to about 650 words and spelled out the acronyms for readers outside GCN’s core audience.

The upshot is Daconta and his critics are both right to a degree. Developers are correct in challenging the plodding nature of government. But so is Daconta in cautioning government IT managers to be wary of technology solutions that might well work in the commercial world but fail to hold up under the weight of government procurement and security statutes. And whether the discussion takes place in our comments section, Twitter, Facebook or other forums, our readers are better off for having had the debate.

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