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Visiting DC’s “Googleplex”

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DC’s Googleplex

Originally uploaded by cdorobek

I told you that last week, I got to moderate a panel featuring the team that created Virtual Alabama.

That event was held at DC’s Googleplex right downtown.

Let me tell you that this is nothing like my office. My favorite, of course, were those big balls that you see at the gym — all in Google colors, of course.

Last month, the WP reported that Google was opening a federal sales office in Reston, VA.

Written by cdorobek

October 13, 2008 at 2:23 PM

DorobekInsider: Check out ‘Virtual Alabama’ Tuesday

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So this year, I have gone on (and on and on … and on…) about the Alabama Department of Homeland Security’s remarkable program Virtual Alabama. Last week, I even had the director of the Alabama Homeland Security Department Jim Walker on Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris last week talking about it. [You can hear that interview here .mp3]

In a moment, why I’m so fascinated by it, but… if you have heard me go on and on and on about it and you haven’t seen Virtual Alabama yet and you are in DC, Tuesday is your chance. Google is sponsoring an event on Tuesday at the DC Googleplex on Tuesday morning — I’ll be moderating. You can get information and register here. (They are going to be in New York later in the week, I believe. I’ll try to get more information and post it for you.)

I’m always somewhat afraid that I’ll over-sell the coolness of Virtual Alabama — that people will see it and so, ‘Well, that’s OK.’ But most of the people who see it come away saying, ‘You know what we could do with that? We could do…’

And that is why am I so fascinated by Virtual Alabama. Because I think it is such a marvelous example of government 2.0 because it empowers people to use tools in ways that people may have never expected. And THEN they find out how inexpensive Virtual Alabama was to build.

If you don’t know much about Virtual Alabama, the program is essentially a mash-up on a Google Earth platform. (An important note: Alabama purchased a enterprise version of Google Earth, so all of the information resides on Alabama servers. Google Earth simply provides the platform, but the company does not have access to any of the data.) A mash-up is the Web 2.0 term for taking data from various sources and overlaying it on a map.

It is easy to forget how powerful it is to see information on a map. It can transform data. Imagine, for example, you see a list of addresses. It may mean something, but it is complex to understand. Put those addresses on a map and –walla! — that data is magically transformed. It becomes much more powerful.

This is essentially what Virtual Alabama does — it puts information at the fingertips of government officials who need to make decisions. In military speak, it is called “situational awareness” — and that describes it, getting awareness of a situation before you get there. So Virtual Alabama allows first responders to get access to information about fire hydrants, properties, neighboring fire departments… and it pulls it all together in one place. Very powerful stuff.

One of the great things about my old job — and my new one — is that I get to see all of these things… and if I’m fascinated by them, I assume you will be too. So FCW put Virtual Alabama on the cover of the magazine earlier this year and, as I mentioned, I have had them on Federal News Radio. (The National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project has a nice write-up on Virtual Alabama.)

And I didn’t even get into the cost of this program — or relative lack there of. Somebody will have to ask about that on Tuesday.

There are some great lessons to learn from Virtual Alabama, I think. We’ll try to tap into some of them on Tuesday as well.

So if you’re interested, come check it out and explore the realm of the possible.

Written by cdorobek

October 5, 2008 at 10:35 AM Google’s Chrome browser

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You’ve heard of Internet Explorer and Firefox. Well, today, search giant Google launched its browser: Chrome. And it’s back to the browser wars.

Windows users can download the Google browser by going to

There were all sorts of stories about Chrome today, including a piece in Government Computer News, and Google offers something of an explainer. The tech site CNet offers complete coverage including a warning to read the fine print on the Chrome terms of service, which allows the company to install updates automatically, among other things. I’m sure government security czars will love that, right?

What it probably will mean is that browsers are going to start getting better and more innovative again — ah, competition!

I have not downloaded Chrome yet because… well, I have a Mac at home and Google doesn’t have a Mac version yet. Given that Microsoft abandoned support for Mac IE a few years ago, I’m stick with Firefox and Safari.

One quick aside: One of the most novel things about Chrome (pun only partially intended): Google announced the release… by comic book, as Good Morning Silicon Valley noted.

Setting aside the notion that only geeks read comic books, here’s why it’s brilliant, not juvenile: It gets the non-geeks curious, and explains the technological underpinnings and goals of Chrome in an accessible manner. It’s much more effective than, say, a bulleted list on PowerPoint. This is important because many people may not bother to download Chrome when they already have IE so conveniently available on their PCs. (Why, it’s right there at their fingertips, imagine that.) If they read the comic book and understand whatGoogle’s trying to do — something pretty cool, I have to admit, even though I am pretty loyal to Firefox — they may feel compelled to give Chrome a try. Also, the comic book makes the Googlers seem so smart yet non-threatening, albeit a little one-dimensional. They’re Supergeeks out to do no evil, honest. And if you just live for all things Google, the comic book gives you a nice memento for your digital collection, and another reason to brag about how cool Google is.

To be honest, I saw the comic strip, but… I moved on, but I probably don’t qualify as a “supergeek.

Written by cdorobek

September 2, 2008 at 9:57 PM

Posted in Technology

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