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ArchiveSocial: Why I Code for America

This post is part of a series to about the Code for America Accelerator companies.

It’s fascinating to think about the lifespan of a conversation. We have dozens of conversations every day. Some of these conversations find a home in our long-term memory, but most drift away and are lost forever. And what about the written conversations we have online? After all, we now live in a world where combining the words “social” and “networking” in a sentence automatically implies electronic communication. Surely our tweets, Facebook comments, Instagram’d photos, and Pinteresting articles are stored somewhere for us to access when we need them (whenever that might be).

So why is it that the streams of our social communications seem to drift away like our other lost memories? And what happens if we – or the people we are in conversation with – simply click delete?

A few years ago, these questions arose inside of me. I realized that vast amounts of knowledge were simultaneously being created and lost via social media. I felt there’d be value in somehow saving the stream, and as an aspiring entrepreneur, was eager to create a service that people could rely on. The only problem was that I didn’t know who would want such a service, and more importantly, who would pay for it. And then I learned about regulatory compliance and business record keeping requirements. In 2011, with a few years of experience working with social media APIs and big data technology under my belt, I founded ArchiveSocial.

**“Product – Public Sector” Fit

** Over the course of the next two years something unexpected happened. Code that was originally written for compliance needs in the private sector was starting to play a role in one of the core fabrics of our society — the government.

To understand how ArchiveSocial is relevant to the public sector, it is helpful to reflect on the role of social media.

For perhaps the first time in history, government can engage in an ongoing two-way dialogue with its citizens regardless of physical proximity or barriers. And since more than half of America is active on social media, a government that is also active on social media can better serve its constituents. Important government communications ranging from economic development to emergency management are shifting to social channels at an undeniable pace. It makes sense that we hold on to records of those communications.

In fact, we have to. Public entities are obligated to retain records of their communications to comply with public records laws such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This obligation exists regardless of whether information is communicated via a tweet, email, or paper document. And herein lies the problem.

Most public entities don’t know how to feasibly capture and maintain records of social media like they’ve been able to do with paper and email. Hence, many restrict their social media usage or avoid social media altogether. It is an unfortunate paradox; a government transparency requirement (i.e. public records) is impeding a critical channel for Open Government (i.e. social media).

**Transforming records into long-term value

** We at ArchiveSocial see an opportunity that expands far beyond compliance and data storage. We see an opportunity to eliminate policy barriers that are preventing governments from more effectively serving their citizens. We see a need to help preserve the dialogue of today’s society for future generations. And we see an obligation to elevate government transparency. This greater mission has changed the way we operate as a company. It is the reason why we are launching initiatives like partnering with the State of North Carolina to create the world’s first open, interactive archive of social media records. It is also the reason why we are in San Francisco this week.

This week marks the beginning of our journey in the Code for America Accelerator. I am joined by two core members of my team, Adam Tury and Robin Withall, who are as eager as I am to disrupt the state of technology in the public sector. Our society is creating too much knowledge, insight, and history to let it stream past our collective memory. We can prevent it. We’re coding for America to make a lasting impact.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up at @codeforamerica.