Have you heard of GovFresh? It, along with Federal Computer Week, GovLoop, Fedscoop, and the many Gov 2.0 leaders on Twitter, are my primary sources of all things Gov 2.0. GovFresh was created last year by Luke Fretwell with the goal of inspiring government-citizen collaboration and build a more engaged democracy and is a great source for all things Gov 2.0. One of the things that I really like about GovFresh is the diversity of features – from highlighting Gov 2.0 at the local level to your Gov 2.0 Heroes series to videos, books, and a whole host of RSS feeds, Luke has created a platform that offers value to anyone involved in Gov 2.0, whether you’re working with Vivek Kundra on data.gov, or trying to get the mayor of a tiny town in Kansas to blog, GovFresh will probably have something that’s highly relevant to what you’re doing.
I wanted to sit down with Luke and get his take on what GovFresh means to him and where we’re likely to see it going in the future.
Like Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop, you’re based outside of the DC metro area as well. How’d you get involved in the Government 2.0 community from 3,000 miles away? Was there a specific moment that you can point to where GovFresh got started?
I grew up, lived and worked in the Washington, DC, area, so I’m familiar with the culture and mechanics of the Beltway and government. I studied political science and international relations at George Mason University and was editor-in-chief of Broadside, the student newspaper. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area right right before the dot-com bust to pursue start-up opportunities. Web design, development, strategy and social media are as much in my blood as C-SPAN, NewsHour and WAMU. When the idea for GovFresh came to me, it was a DC-meets-SF perfect storm.
The first iteration of GovFresh transpired over 3 days. After seeing how government was beginning to use social media, it dawned on me that I could create my own set of aggregated feeds and effectively build my own news site. I thought about how best to execute it quickly. The next day I picked the name and designed a simple interface, most of it while riding BART home from an event. I met with a friend that Friday who helped me set up the site and it launched that afternoon.
What are you trying to accomplish with GovFresh?
I want GovFresh to inspire new ideas and encourage public servants to be more innovative and embrace a sense of openness. I want developers to see the opportunities for them to be part of a new way of governing. I want citizens to see that their government can be more collaborative and forthcoming, especially if they’re willing to let it make mistakes from time to time. The concept of government is faceless, distant and tedious to most people. I hope we can help change that.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, I’d like to see GovFresh evolve into a sustainable business, through sponsorships, partnerships, advertising, consulting, events or all of the above. Building a thriving business that matters and adds honest social value is the real American Dream.
What are the biggest challenges to running GovFresh? You have a day job too, right? How do you fit it all in?
The biggest challenge of any privately-funded start-up venture is finding the right balance. I do Web, marketing and social media consulting (http://lukefretwell.com), but put a lot of effort into GovFresh. I’m very family with the start-up environment. There are moments where you think you’re working on something great and, 5 minutes later, you’re ready to give it all up. It takes a great deal of energy. Also, I can appreciate the financial challenges of original content media. I don’t think people realize the effort it takes or the support it needs.
From a content perspective, the biggest challenge is living so far from Washington, DC, where much of the open gov & Gov 2.0 chatter is centralized. The challenge isn’t in finding content, but more in connecting with people you’ve never met face-to-face, which is still integral in getting the word out about what you’re doing. Even with the Web 2.0 crowd, there’s still very much a 1.0 mindset when it comes to letting outsiders in. The latter is changing. More people are learning about GovFresh and get behind what we’re doing. When I get a random email that says “I’m GovFresh, too!” or “I’m a big fan of GovFresh” and want to help, it re-enforces you’re doing something right.
What do you see as the primary value that GovFresh delivers?
I ask everyone this, because it’s important for me to understand the value to better build on its success. Most people will say, “I know this is cliche, but you bring a fresh perspective to government.” Even though we’re not a social network, I get lot of feedback on the sense of community it brings to the open gov, Gov 2.0 world and the way government is covered. GovFresh also offers public servants and citizens a place to share their ideas in an open way. One great example is what Gov 2.0 prodigy Dustin Haisler is doing at Manor.Govfresh.com, where he’s sharing the City of Manor’s innovation processes. Idealistically speaking, I hope the value is that it inspires public servants to push for a fresh approach to doing their jobs. For citizens, I hope it makes them want to engage in a more creative, collaborative way with their government.
You just launched MilFresh – where do you see that site going, and why launch it as a separate site rather than just as a part of GovFresh?
MilFresh is ‘GovFresh for the military’ and focuses on Gov 2.0 in the military, or ‘Military 2.0.’ I think the dynamics and culture of social media and the military are different than government. They’re different communities. It just felt appropriate to separate the brands and content. There’s still a lot to learn around what’s happening with Mil 2.0, but MilFresh has forced me to be more disciplined in the way I follow it.
It’s January 1, 2011 – in an ideal world, where is GovFresh? Where do you see it going over the next year?
We’re working with more people on guest-blogging and creating serial content, whether it’s from in-the-trenches public servants to government solution providers to citizens with great ideas. I enjoy the GovFreshTV interviews and we’ll expand on that. We’re in the process of creating an event series focused on local open government/Gov 2.0 initiatives too. Frankly, though, much of the direction has been inspired by others. If you asked me six months ago to outline where GovFresh would be today and how it would transpire, I would have been completely off the mark. By January 2011, I hope government and citizens realize there’s a place for them to engage on a new way of working together, and I hope GovFresh plays a big role in that.
What’s the one thing that you’d like the people of the Gov 2.0 community to know about GovFresh?
You can get involved. Whether you guest-blog, send an idea, connect us with someone doing great work or become a business partner, GovFresh is just as much yours as it is mine. Just send me an email at luke (at) govfresh (dot) com.