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An Awesome Interview with the Founder of GovLoop, Steve Ressler

September 28, 2009

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Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

As announced this morning, GovLoop, the premier social network for the government community, has joined forces with GovDelivery, the world’s leading provider of government-to-citizen communications solutions.  Steve Ressler, the founder of GovLoop, will be leaving his day job with the Department of Homeland Security, and will now focus 100% of his time on leading leading the further development and management of GovLoop, now an operating division within GovDelivery.

Within the Gov 2.0 community, this is a monster merger – one that brings together not only two of the most successful Gov 2.0 initiatives, but also two of our best leaders, Ressler and Scott Burns, CEO of GovDelivery.  When Steve told me about this news last night, I was thrilled for him because he now gets an opportunity to do what we all want to do – get paid to do what we love to do.  And while I think the entire GovLoop community will ultimately benefit from this partnership, I also wanted to talk with Steve about how the partnership came about, how this impacts both GovLoop and GovDelivery, how it effects the members of the GovLoop community, and what GovLoop will look like in the future.

Here’s the full Q&A –

Why make such a huge change to a site that is, by all accounts, already one of the most successful Gov 2.0 initiatives?   What will be the short-term and long-term impact to GovLoop’s 18,000+ users?

The short answer was that the community was unsustainable.  As the site grew (now actually at 18,500+ members), the community needed more gardening.  Like any yard or dinner party, it needs care and feeding and I just wasn’t able to do it working another full-time job.  I like your quote on working a 9-5 and a 5-9.  GovLoop has been my 5-9 plus weekends for 18 months now and I needed to find a way to turn my passion – connecting government to improve government – into a job.

Why did you choose to partner with GovDelivery?  What does this partnership give you that you couldn’t get by maintaining the site independently? GovDelivery

I’ve been looking for a home for GovLoop for awhile and my criteria was finding a place that 1) Got Gov 2.0, 2) Had Good Values, 3) Had the resources to grow and better the community.  I met Scott Burns, the CEO of GovDelivery, at Gov 2.0 Camp so that was a good start and right away I just got a good vibe.  He “got it” plus he’s from Minnesota so he’s got the same Midwestern values as I do.  And finally, the more he told me about GovDelivery, the more I got excited.

Basically, GovDelivery is the #1 Government to citizen collaboration platform – think email, text messages, those cool gov’t widgets, etc.  It is used by over 300 government agencies at fed/state/local level with a ton of the big names like CDC, EPA, etc.  The more important thing for GovLoop is that they’ve been finding that 15-30% of the over 10 million people signing up to receive government alerts are actual other government employees.  Think the guy from City of Cincinnati Public Health signing up for CDC H1N1 alerts.  And they had been wondering how to provide places for these government people to move from push communication to a real collaborative space to work together.  And that’s what GovLoop does….

GovLoop has always held a unique position in the world of government and government contractors – it was for everyone because it wasn’t “owned” by anyone.  Now that GovLoop is part of a commercial organization, is there any risk that it will fall out of favor with government employees because they don’t want to be seen as “endorsing” a commercial product?

GovLoop has always been about the community and will continue to be.  I think of GovLoop as a platform – a place for government employees and contractors to connect on any topic – whether it is acquisitions, cycling, technology, or HR.  The community makes it and I’m passionate about working with the community to act on their ideas to do more good to improve government.  Government people always need homes to collaborate and there are a ton where great dialogue occur already from associations to events to government-specific magazines.  I think GovLoop will be another complimentary home (specifically a knowledge network) for people to collaborate.

And finally…if you know me, I’m passionate about public service (3rd generation fed) and care first about government.  If I do anything that starts not being awesome, let me know…

Can you describe how your role will change now that you can dedicate 100% of your focus to GovLoop?
First off, I probably should start cooking more as I owe my girlfriend countless meals for putting up with me.  Second, I get to put all my energy behind GovLoop.  So I hope to be a better customer service rep for GovLoop on your question (Craig Newmark-style), I hope to be even more active online both at GovLoop and other spaces, I hope to continue to speak and connect with the community at various events and associations.

But the biggest difference you will probably see is that I’ll be building a team to work on making GovLoop even more awesome.  Better community moderation, taking discussions into actionable events, building more best practice repositories, launching new features, and just general more awesomeness.

Do you think there is any risk that you will become too out-of-touch from the day-to-day work of government now that you’re not a government employee?

I got that gov blood in my veins so I think I should be good.  All my friends and families are govies plus all I do is hang out at government events/meetups so I don’t think I’ll lose touch.  But if I ever do, you can smack me around and tell me whats up…

At a high level, what does GovLoop look like in five years?
I think the opportunity for GovLoop is to move further to become a knowledge network connecting hundreds of thousands of government employees at all levels (Fed, state, local, international).  I want it to be the home to help you do your government job better – solve more government problems and solve them faster.    Right now, GovLoop solves 5-10 real government problems a day (someone looking for help on a new hiring program and boom..they get an answer).  I’d love for that number to be 500-1,000 real government problems solved a day in five years.

I’ve studied formal and informal network and written a paper as a part of the Wikinomics series on Gov 2.0 and I think there is a great value for informal networks.  GovLoop is an informal network…it is not behind the firewall and is not the place to do top-secret intelligence work – that place is Intellipedia. But I do think GovLoop can full a void in what I call soft collaboration where people working on a topic whether it is section 508, learning to implement SharePoint, or figuring out how to move to a government executive – can connect, collaborate, and share ideas.  Let’s not reinvent the wheel – gov’t folks are not competitors and we should learn from each other.

You mentioned doing more charity work, especially with the GovLoop Kiva group.  What charities are you particularly passionate about, and how do you plan to help them?

I’m particularly interested in businesses like Tom’s Shoes and Honest Tea that are social enterprises and have a focus on doing good and giving back.  GovLoop will be like that and I have a ton of charity ideas. But at the heart I want them to be government focused – I’d love to give scholarships to GovLoop members who can’t afford to go back to school for a degree.  I’d love to give training scholarships so those govies who want to advance their career can get the training they need.  Or the GovLoop members in need – maybe they got laid off from their city government and are having a hard time getting their bills paid.  I’d love to help out with that.

Last question – if someone is interested in doing more to help GovLoop succeed, what’s the best way for them to do that?
First thing, join GovLoop if you haven’t already.  Takes two seconds.  And it’s free…gratis…

Second, join the conversation.  You only get what you put into it.  So I suggest you join some GovLoop groups, comment on blogs, ask questions, and find your passion.

Third, tell your friends.  It’s not invite-only.  You don’t only have a +1.  Bring the whole crew and let’s jam….

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