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New U.S. Digital Registry authenticates official public service accounts

Originally posted on Medium by Justin Herman, U.S. Social Media lead at DigitalGov.

Whether for voter registration, health services, or questions about taxes, trusting what and who you engage with online is critical. We’d like to introduce to you a new API-generating repository for official third-party sites, social media platforms, and mobile apps in the federal government that can help you do that and remove bureaucratic and technological barriers between users and digital public services.

It’s called the U.S. Digital Registry, and we hope you’ll join us in using it to develop a new generation of services that:

  • Delivers authenticated information to users across platforms, languages, and topics
  • Supports cyber-security by deterring fake accounts that spread misinformation and steal personal data
  • Improves performance reporting, data analysis, and accessibility of public services

Official government websites are easy to recognize because they end in domain names like .gov and .mil. Increasingly, however, citizens choose to access their services, ask questions, and participate through third-party platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and GitHub.

While some of those platforms authenticate public services in order to maintain trust between their users and the information they rely on, it’s not enough. We know there is a long way to go down a road that is ever changing.

The rise of third-party platforms in delivering modern public services required us to rise beside them with greater means of maintaining accountability over official government accounts, and make it as easy to follow all public services as it was to find one.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Government agencies, including members of the collaborative inter-agency SocialGov and MobileGov communities, use OMB Max to authenticate users of the U.S. Digital Registry and add their official accounts by:
    • Name of the account
    • Agency
    • Platform
    • URL
    • Short Description, including mission focus
    • Long Description, including links to Comment Policy, Terms of Service, or other resources
    • Collaborative Tagging (here’s where the magic is)
  2. Anyone can use that data to curate and conduct analysis across platforms, languages, or by tags.

  3. Every week we continue to collect feedback from news organizations, companies, or public services on how future iterations of the U.S. Digital Registry can improve and expand.

Let’s say you want to create a new Emergency Broadcast System for the digital age that delivers only authentic, official disaster relief information regardless of what agency or sub-agency it comes from without having to hunt across platforms — in Spanish?

Or how about curating an inventory of open source code?

What could an analytics.usa.gov for all our digital engagement look like?

What if you have a question on your veteran health benefits or federal student loans, but the account you’re engaging with doesn’t have that “little blue check mark”?

Citizens shouldn’t have to hunt for the critical information they need across bureaucratic silos and emerging platforms, or second guess if the person who is engaging with them on the other side of the connection is who they say they are. The U.S. Digital Registry provides the data foundation you can use in order to help make these problems a thing of the past.

Agencies are currently engaged in a verification sprint to increase the number of accounts in the U.S. Digital Registry from almost 3,000 to more than 6,000 by Leap Day.

Hundreds of managers across government are authenticating their profiles and enriching the data for each individual account by March 31.

We’ll continue adding new platforms and capabilities to the registry based on your feedback — including recommendations for collaborative tags and UX testing of the API.

In the meantime, we encourage state, local, and international public services bodies to share in the open source code of the U.S. Digital Registry and create your own repositories so we can explore new fields of integrated, location-based services.

Mashups with this would be awesome. For the people.

We also encourage all third-party platforms with Terms of Service with the government to use the registry to conclusively authenticate public service accounts. Not all platforms are in the registry in this first iteration, but we’ll get there.

The new U.S. Digital Registry combines the former Federal Social Media Registry and Mobile Apps Registry with a path forward to further expand the scope and provides a seachange in open data capabilities. We’re already meeting with organizations ready to use the registry API, and we’re determined to develop it into an expanding and evolving service that combines an easy-to-use tool with the active participation of hundreds of government technologists, innovative private-sector developers, news organizations, researchers, and anyone who wants reliable access to the public information they need.

So if you could make any public service easier to access with it, where would you start?

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