Facebook co-founder Hughes to meet with Obama, push updates to govt. sites


Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who played a large role in the online aspects of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, says government agencies should take cues from companies like Facebook and Google to make their websites and processes more user-friendly to citizens.

Agencies should be making much better use of data and other metrics about how users are interacting with the websites, which pages they spend the most time on and where they drop off of the site.

"There should be a real focus on metrics and analytics," he said. "I don't think there's anything that's been more core to the success of Facebook and the Obama campaign than knowing up front and as quickly as possible what individuals are doing."

At any given moment during the campaign, he said, "we knew how many people were active in any given state or congressional district ... we could see what people were excited about, what stirred them."

Hughes is speaking with Obama and other private-sector and government leaders Thursday to discuss new ways to use technology to make government operations more efficient and improve customer service. It's part of the White House Forum on Modernizing Government, for which Obama has invited executives from Microsoft, Time Warner, Adobe and PepsiCo, among others.

Technology-savvy communities have often said the federal government should operate more like the private sector, where efficiency is key to the bottom line and waste is cut out to stay in business.

"We're talking about the core of what Facebook is about now and trying to figure out how to apply some of these principles to government," said Hughes in a conference call with reporters before heading to the White House.

In the beginning, Facebook started small and built new features slowly to gauge users' interest, Huges said. At first, "there wasn't a wall, there were no photos, not even messaging. It was just people who wanted to share basic information and connect with peope they knew. It's been built piece by piece."

He suggests government websites should take the same approach and build functionality into their sites based on what users want.

Hughes is not involved in the day-to-day aspects of Facebook and is now working with a venture capital firm in Boston. He's not ready to disclose details about his new venture just yet.

He's stayed in touch with White House officials that he worked closely with on the campaign, but this is the first formal discussion he's had with other executives and agency heads about improving government.