How To Avoid A $600mm Writeoff At Taxpayers' Expense

My partner Brad has a fun post on the Union Square Ventures weblog talking about the $600mm failure of the Census Bureau’s effort to build a handheld census collection device. He suggests that they should think about leveraging the open source hardware and software movement the next time they think about something like this.

Brad says:

This is more than a technology problem. It’s a colossal screw up. But there is an underlying technology problem. There is no easy way to create a purpose built device and integrate it into a new or existing process

That’s what we are hoping to change with our investment in Bug Labs. The consumer electronics business works at scale for things like phones, music players, etc, but not very well for niche applications. We think the open source movement can help solve that problem.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. ErikSchwartz

    It goes well with the FBI screw up in the digital information space.They just walked away from that system too.I love thinking about how they spend my tax dollars in mid April.

  2. Chris Dodge

    Sorry, I have to disagree with you here. I think the next generation of Mobile Internet Devices (read iPhone, Samsung Instinct) will be opening up a lot of application possibilities for specific veritcals and niches.

  3. Andy Freeman

    Bug Labs, while wonderful, is technology.Govt technology projects, like other technology projects, rarely fail because of technology. They fail because of social problems.Social problems are rarely solved by better technology.

    1. Jeremy Toeman

      I think your generalization here is off. I 100% agree with you regarding social problems and technology, but in this case it’s not the point. The government spent the money trying to build the tech, NOT exploring solving the problem through any means. In this instance, Bug was a perfect fit to lower the investment.I’ve seen company after company throw money in the toilet chasing social problems with technology solutions. When we built the first-generation Slingbox we ran into a situation we had to solve: what if someone was at home controlling the TiVo while someone on the road tried to do the same thing? how could we communicate this? what “remote control blockers” should we build?? The answer we came up with was: two people who share a household should be able to communicate with each other and mutually pick a show to watch.Disclosure: I do marketing for Bug Labs.

    2. andyswan

      Government technology projects, like other government projects, rarely fail because of technology. They fail because of government.

      1. charlie crystle

        the bush government.

  4. Berislav Lopac

    Actually, this problem has nothing to do with the technology — it’s almost completely a project management problem. All the technology required already exists, and most of it is not that expensive. There is no need to invent any new handheld device, all they needed to do was to decide on the hardware and software platforms and to write the software.

  5. Mac

    Open source hardware is still pretty much a fantasy, If I recall correctly, Bug Labs is only open source on the software side, correct? And where is the real value? In the hardware… Once you move away from the handful of high-exposure open source software products (only a few of which seem to be broadly relevant to the census exercise; mySQL, Apache and the like), it is my experience that open source software tends to vary wildly in quality, features, degree of completion and reliability, and other critical factors. SourceForge is primarily a repository for abandoned projects that mostly seem to be about 30% complete…

    1. fredwilson

      Bug is 100pcnt open source – hardware and softwareCheck it out. I think you might like what they are doingFred