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Former Facebooker Josh Miller is heading to the White House

Miller has been hired as Director of Product, to enhance the government's communication tools

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
September 1, 2015
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/3fde

Last week, less than two years after joining Facebook following the acquisition of social sharing service Branch Media, product manager Josh Miller announced he was leaving the company. 

The revelation was sudden and it did not give any indication as to what would be next for Miller. And now we know: he is going to a bigger and better place than Facebook.

Miller is becoming the first ever first director of product for the White House, he revealed in a blog post on Tuesday.

His job will be, essentially, to help the White House create products that allow it to better connect with citizens, giving it better tools to effectively communicate its goals. His goal is to make it so that if someone wants to communicate with the government, it doesn't feel like they are talking to, frankly, nobody. That sounds like a pretty worthy goal, if you ask me. 

Miller is no stranger to politics. His involvement started with voting for President Obama the first time Miller was eligible to vote, and then working as an intern for a United States Senator. There, he said, he saw how behind the times the U.S. government was when it came to technology.

"I’m not sure what it’s like these days, but in 2009 it didn’t feel like Congress was at the forefront of the technological revolution that had delivered the iPhone a year earlier. While answering phone calls and opening mail that summer, the stuff internships are made of, I wasn’t exactly encouraged by how elected officials interacted with their constituents," said Miller.

"When people would reach out with passionate perspectives and genuine calls for help, they were generally met with canned responses. The culprit wasn’t a lack of care, though; it was a lack of tools."

In the interviening years, Miller founded Branch in 2011, which offered two separate services: Branch, a platform for hosting, and publishing, invite-only conversations; and Potluck, a Web and mobile app that was “designed for friends to talk about cool things they find online.”

The concept, said Miller, actually came from his time working in Washington D.C.

"Our hunch was that if Branch could enable people to see different perspectives clash and collide it would lead to greater understanding. A concept inspired in part by my time on Capitol Hill," he said.

And now he says he will finally be able to bring that knowledge he gained to the place where it all started.

"I’m as giddy, wide-eyed, and determined as ever. The White House has many digital products – from WhiteHouse.gov to the We the People Petition site. It’s a dream to be able to add to and improve this portfolio," he wrote.

I don't think that anyone can accuse Capital Hill of having been on the forefront of technology. After all, this is a place where one Senator, in 2006, famously described the Internet as "a series of tubes." It's also the place that allowed the disasterous Healthcare.gov rollout to happen. 

Things have been getting better, though, and in recent years there has been a growing intersection between politics and technology, with many people crisscrossing between the two sectors. Miller is just the latest tech person to become part of the political machine.

Earlier this year Stephanie Hannon, Google's director of product management for civic innovation and social impact, was tapped by the Hillary Clinton campaign to be its new chief technology office. 

Megan Smith, the currently Chief Technology Officer of the United States, who assumed office in 2014, was also previously an executive at Google, where she had been vice president of Google[x], and was vice president of business development at Google for nine years before that. She was also the former CEO of Planet Out.

On the other side of the equation, we have seen tech companies, especially those with high media relations problems, bringing in those whose job it has been to sell politicians to the American peopke.

Uber hired David Plouffe as its new Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy, it was announced on Tuesday. Plouffe, of course, is famous for being Barack Obama's campaign manager in 2008 and a Senior Advisor to the President when he got to the White House.

Plouffe's job was to manage all global policy and political activities, communications, and Uber branding efforts. Essentially to build up Uber's brand in the same way he did for Obama, to get out ahead of the taxi industry, and to get both customer and regulators on Uber's side. In May, Plouffe stepped back from that role, but remains an advisor to the company. 

In September of last year, Snapchat hired Jill Hazelbaker, who had also been Senior Director of Communications and Government Relations at Google, to be its new Vice President of Communications and Public Policy.

Hazelbaker had previously worked as a political consultant for a number of Republican candidates, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She also worked as National Communications Director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. 

Maybe this kind of intersection shows that the U.S. government is finally ready to come into the 21st century, when it comes to technology at least.

(Image source: joshm.co/whitehouse)


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