"But the fate of Data.gov may, ironically, contain the outlines of a model for sustaining digital records. 'We think that startups could take these apps (and the underlying data) that are built and turn them into cloud-based businesses,' says Abhi Nemani, the director of Strategy and Communications for Code for America (CfA), a self-described nonpartisan, nonprofit incubator for doing government differently through technology.

Nemani says the startup accelerator is one of the group’s priorities this year, as is the CfA Brigade, a citizen army of open source 'civic hackers' who help build public service data projects. The brigade launches next month. 'It’s our way to start offloading some of the responsibility from governments onto the community groups that use the applications themselves,' he says.

Taken together, they offer a new approach to sustaining digital-based initiatives that often seem too temporary to be taken seriously. Something important happens as these digital services begin to take on the characteristics of permanence -- including the preservation of content -- and the organizations that create them are continually being remade: Government agencies become less fearful of testing and launching new initiatives.

'We have to recognize that some of this is going to be disposable. Let’s not expect that everything has to succeed,' says Nemani. 'When we talk about the change we are going to bring to government, we have to accept that failure is OK.'"