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Dot-com thinking for D.C.: Expert Labs debuts

The incubator will link up government problems with the developers and scientists who can help solve them, and former Six Apart executive Anil Dash will head up the nonprofit.

NEW YORK--Former Six Apart executive and well-read blogger Anil Dash has a new gig: he announced at the Web 2.0 Expo here on Wednesday that he will be the director of Expert Labs, a new nonprofit that will take the dot-com incubator model and apply it to new digital tools for the federal government.

"Despite what our ego tends to think in the tech industry, the issue is not that we need to have more tweeting from the White House," Dash said onstage. "(We can) help them learn the lessons that we've seen over the past half decade of Web 2.0's ascendence."

Expert Labs, which is a division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that's funded by the MacArthur Foundation, will match digital voids and holes in government and policy with the developers who can fill them, with grant money paying for the work. The organization also hopes to host developer competitions, a similar move to some municipal projects like New York's "Big Apps."

It's not a government agency, but the Expert Labs Web site explains that "we've been privileged enough to connect with agencies and departments across the federal government, from the White House on down." Cutting through bureaucracy, needless to say, will still be a challenge. Dash is unfazed.

"If we tap into the expertise of each community, there's enormous potential," he said. "So we're going to ask policymakers for their expertise in defining the questions that we need answered." Then, Expert Labs plans to hook those projects up with technologists who can build the requisite systems, and then to members of the science and academic communities to help solve the issues at hand.

"No matter how smart the policymakers are in our government...there's always going to be more experts outside the Beltway," Dash said. "The tactics thus far have been a closed-door meeting with a half dozen people for an hour."

He asserted, "The Web has changed the way that works."