Governments are understandably skittish about utilizing social networking sites and other Web 2.0 tools--Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and open-source wiki documents. But some adventurous officials are forging ahead, acknowledging the risks but emphasizing their potential for transforming government processes.

Perhaps no city has embraced Web 2.0 tools as wholeheartedly as San Francisco. Chris Vein, the head of telecommunications and information services for the city, spoke candidly. "We are in a horrible crisis. I think the only way we're going to get out of it is by doing creative things and taking risks."

The city has adopted what Vein called an "open gov" policy: "Sure, let's use YouTube. Let's use Flickr. Let's use Facebook." The city is adapting those already available Web 2.0 tools to meet its challenges. In some cases, the city works to tailor the service to fit the city's needs. For example, when Mayor Gavin Newsom wanted to use YouTube as the platform for his 2009 State of the City address--which clocked in at more than six hours long--Vein worked with YouTube to get special dispensation for the city to upload such a lengthy video.

The dividends can be impressive. San Francisco now allows residents to use Twitter to send service requests to the city's 311 center, and plans to enable users to send photos via Twitter to document and illustrate their service needs. The city's Facebook page helps provide information to city officials. For example, within minutes of Mayor Newsom's Facebook posting of his response to a major California Supreme Court decision, 250 citizens wrote in to respond. "That kind of immediate feedback, for a politician, is priceless," said Vein. "It wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been using Facebook."