Joho the BlogOctober 2015 - Joho the Blog

October 31, 2015

What the Internet actually is: A reminder for policy-makers

Just in case you’ve confused the Internet with the entities that bring us access to the Internet or with the machines that instantiate the Internet, here’s an actual goddamn definition:

RESOLUTION:

“The Federal Networking Council (FNC) agrees that the following language reflects our definition of the term “Internet”.

“Internet” refers to the global information system that —

(i) is logically linked together by a globally unique address space based on the Internet Protocol (IP) or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons;

(ii) is able to support communications using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons, and/or other IP-compatible protocols; and

(iii) provides, uses or makes accessible, either publicly or privately, high level services layered on the communications and related infrastructure described herein.”

This is from a 1995 report by The Federal Networking Council, which is too old even for the Wayback Machine. According to Wikipdia, the FNC was “was chartered by the US National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Computing, Information and Communications (CCIC) to act as a forum for networking collaborations among US federal agencies…” It was dissolved in 1997. But its words are still good.

More than good. The definition quote above comes recommended by a coupla guys who know something about the topic: Robert E. Kahn and Vinton G. Cerf. In their classic article, What is the Internet?, they refer to it as follows:

The authors believe the best definition currently in existence is that approved by the Federal Networking Council in 1995, http://www.fnc.gov and which is reproduced in the footnote below [xv] for ready reference.

Keep it ready for reference the next time an access provider complains about regulations as if the access providers are or own the Internet. The Internet is bigger than that. And deeper. And ours.

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October 28, 2015

When should your self-driving car kill you?

At Digital Trends I take another look at a question that is now gaining some currency: How should autonomous cars be programmed when all the choices are bad and someone has to die in order to maximize the number of lives that are saved?

The question gets knottier the more you look at it. In two regards especially:

First, it makes sense to look at this through a utilitarian lens, but when you do, you have to be open to the possibility that it’s morally better to kill a 64 year old who’s at the end of his productive career (hey, don’t look at me that way!) vs. a young parent, or a promising scientist or musician. We consider age and health when doing triage for organ replacements. Should our cars do it for us when deciding who dies?

Second, the real question is who gets to decide this? The developers at Google who are programming the cars? And suppose the Google software disagrees with the prioritization of the Tesla self-driving cars? Who wins? Or, do we want to have a cross-manufacturer agreement about whose life to sacrifice if someone has to die in an accident? A global agreement about the value of lives?

Yeah, sure. What could go wrong with that? /s

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[liveblog] International Univ. Lib. conference: Afternoon panel

I’m at the International Conference on University Libraries (Conferencia Internacional sobre Bibliotecas Universitarias) in Mexico City.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

I am often relying on simultaneous translators, so the following is extra-specially unreliable.

Lynn Rudasill, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The process of traditional Business-Based Strategic planning

  • Define the mission

  • Establish measurable goals

  • Implements strategies for those goals

  • Align resources to support these efforts

  • Employ the strategy as a large, iterative formalized process

The IFLA Trend Report reports on regional trends. It was developed by info people, not librarians. It reports on five trends

  • Increasing access to info

  • Online education

  • Privacy and data protection

  • Hyper-connected societies

  • New societies

Another report worth reading: The ALA Center for the Future of the Library Trends.

Her favorite: The Horizon Report series. The reports lay out timelines. The recent one has some topics shared between Higher Ed and Academic Libraries, including maker spaces.

These reports make clear the problems for strategic planning: “”We are no longer hierarchically based. We are networks.””“We are no longer hierarchically based. We are networks.” Not top down.

So we have to move from strategic plans (static, hierarchical) to strategic planning (dynamic, networked). Alternatives:

Strategic Framework: Identifies service objectives and their populations. Locates services that are no longer useful.

Grassroots Strategic Planning: Open engagement by all employees, often beginning with an all-=staff retreat. Ideas are broadly solicited, often anonymously. All ideas a discussed equally. There are brainstorming sessions. Decisions are made by buy-in from all quarters.

SOAR (was SWOT): Strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. It’s an “appreciative inquiry to focus on best possible future.” It’s a much more positive approach.

Agile planning and scrum development: Flexible leadership, and overall leader and facilitator. Crosstraining. Teams focus on specific goals. The product owner is responsible for the final result.

Lourdes Epstein Cal y Mayor

[I missed the beginning. Sorry.] She thinks it important that research labs accept the ethical dimensions of what they’re doing. She quotes a tweet from @JGrobelny: “Libraries need to protect the culture of learning, not just its resources.” We have not done a good job measuring the impact of our work. What’s more important, our resources or our competencies? Even the distinction between hard and soft skills is suspect.

Ranganathan’s 5th Law of Library Science: “The Library is a Growing Organism.” We shouldn’t be surprised that libraries are changing. She cites Michael Gorman’s 1998 update of this.

We should pay attention to the growing number of Open Access scientific journals. This is crucial for libraries.

We need to be learning the lessons of Web 2.0. There is a profound change in the role of the social, in power relations. We need a broad view of what is happening.

The rise of VUCA: Volatility uncertainity, complexity, and ambiguity. We should match it with Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. We need to pay attention to those who we have written off or marginalized.

We should be doing more with predictive analysis to help our users. We need support from our institutions for this. For example, theDASH repository at Harvard (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard). [Yay!] And “why aren’t we creating our own courses?”why aren’t we creating our own courses? We should be organizing info organiccally, with a virtuous circle of data, information and knowledge.

We live in amazing, amazing times. If we can join in the cycle of the generation of knowledge, we will succeed: user centered, open to society, and library-based…that’s how we create communities and networks of knowledge.

What do we do with information? Technologies of information set the emphasis. [Translation is fading out] Digital natives won’t be able to make sense of information unless we teach them the key competencies. The solutions are not technological. You can’t just hand out iPads.

We have to be mindful of our discourse. We get distracted by shiny tech. We have evolved from manuscripts constrained to the elite. But now with digital objects–not just digital books–there can be mass production of interconnected info, used by prosumers, some of whom may be kids coming up with worthy contributions. How do we assess all of these resources? That’s a major challenge for libraries.

But we’re learning. Bloom’s taxonomy is transforming into verbs: record, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. Now the last step of learning is to create. If I’m not creating, I’m not fully learning. A library that does not understand this will turn into a museum or a warehouse. Creation and collaboration the keywords of our time. Our use of library space should reflect this.

We need to move from:

  • individual to collective

  • Consumer to producuer

  • Resources to rpocessors

  • Institutional to “out-stitution” [does not translate well]

Scott Bennett

Scott is Yale University Librarian Emeritus. His topic is “Library as Learning Space.”

He says there have been leitmotifs today, including the librarians ought to act more as educators. Librarians tell him that they want to build a space for learning, but then can’t say what they want to go on in the space. Scott is going to talk about what learning is.

Libraries have recently faced two revolutions. First, the self-empowerment revolution brought about by the presence of Internet browser. Second, pedagogical changes from the Sage on the Stage to a Guy on the Side. This changes the relationship between learner and teacher, and between novice and expert.

As a consequence of the first much of the print collection has disappeared from prime library space. Because of the second traditional services–reference services–are vanishing. Scott will focus on the second.

Two concepts help understand the revolution in learning. First, from learning about to learning to be. E.g., away “from learning facts of science and toward learning to think like a scientist.”from learning facts of science and toward learning to think like a scientist. Second, learning as a perpetual process of becoming.

We should think of ourselves first as educators. That will help us decide how to shape library space. “We must focus most fundamentally on the voluntary relationship between expert and novice, teacher and learner.”

The first question is: Who owns the learning space of libraries? Second: How do we shape the experience of becoming.

Wh owns library space? “Almost everyone on campus feels ownership. Yet we typically treat students as guests or visitors.”Almost everyone on campus feels ownership. Yet we typically treat students as guests or visitors. We’ve started creating student-owned commons, especially in science buildings. Students own their tutoring space as they occupy it.

“How does our presence shape our relationship with students?” Reference desks announce a relationship in which one person owns the desk and has authoritative knowledge. The desk also is designed for queueing. “”So designed, service desks reinforce a transactional, consumerist vision of what we do.””“So designed, service desks reinforce a transactional, consumerist vision of what we do.” We’ve tried re-designing them, but we rarely think about how we can present ourselves to learners, establish a relationship with them, without using the desk to define who we are and how we work.

Tutoring staff typically do not see themselves as Sages on Stages. This determines how they shape their tutoring spaces, which sends a distinct message to learners that is quite different from that of the typical library space. Librarians think of themselves as learning coaches, but the spaces and services send a very different message. That helps librarians sense of themselves as professionals, but does not engage in the new forms of learning.

To become educators, we have to rethink our presence in library space. Presence involves issues of ownership and pedagogy. Librarians understand themselves primarily in terms of learning and not service delivery. The goal is for us to be in learning spaces without dominating them. Presence in learning is the single most important issue in planning spaces.

Q&A

Q: Libraries are filled with people doing low-quality learning, sitting quietly. But we have spaces that can accommodate more engaged, embodied learning.

Q: What traits must a librarian have to become an educator in this learning speaes?
Scott: The librarian should shift his/her sense of primarily focus from the student to the faculty because that scales better. Mopping up after a bad teacher is not as effective as working with the teacher. “Librarians ought to have their offices with the educators in their disciplines.”Librarians ought to have their offices with the educators in their disciplines. The library building should not be their home.

Q: All organizations ought to have strategic planning.

Lynn: Sometimes we only the measure the things that are easy to measure. We don’t go beyond log analysis to see what the students are learning. Also our planning, we tend to be driven by the advances of techology. But why aren’t we driving technology instead of allowing it to drive us?

Lourdes: We’re moving to new processes but haven’t established ways to measure. Now we can automate much of the measurement. But we also need to carry out qualitative studies. But we also have to ask what we’re going to do with the data. We have done many studies but we do nothing with them. We don’t go to the Dean and ask for backing for new programs.

Q: I agree with Lourdes that the library ought to be seen as a lab. We have to adapt.

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[liveblog] International Conf. of Univ. Libs: Morning talks

I’m at The 13th annual International Conference of University Libraries (Conferencia Internacional sobre Bibliotecas Universitarias) at the Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

I keynoted, and now there is a panel discussion, led by Dr. Saul Hiram Souto of the Universidad de Monterrey.

Mariel Alvarado

The first speaker, Mariel Alvarado, is from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.. [I’m listening to a simultaneous translation, so I will get more wrong than usual. Her topic: “Reinventing the Library: Technology as a Catalyst.”

Human capital is the most important factor for the success of any organization. “Our users often are ahead of us in technology. ”Our users often are ahead of us in technology. Librarians must become better at this, understanding the available tools. We need pedagogical dexterity: educators + librarians. Three steps: 1. Investigate what’s happening and how our users are operating. 2. Develop solutions. 3. Innovate differentiated services suiting our culture’s needs.

Librarians need to be at the heart of education. They need to be teaching media literacy. They need to be going where the students are so they can consult with librarians at any time. Mariel’s group is building online scheduling of meeting with libraries. Help students decide which journals to publish in. Rural students need to learn how to use the Web to search the university library.

Look at user needs to design services. Her library uses a well-developed methodology that runs from user interviews through wireframes and usability tests of prototypes.

The library is more than books. We should reinvent our spaces, from social spaces to high-tech knowledge commons. Also: exhibitions. But we also need “libraries everywhere.” Libraries can be parts of conferences by being given a small space.

Worldwide trends: Libraries should become part of the syllabus; teach students about the use of libraries. Students need to learn how to use digital information. Libraries also need more competencies because of all the new tools. But libraries also have to radically change. We have to increase attention on data management. We have to better understand and promote Open Access. We should help our students to be creative and innovate in “micro-spaces,” i.e., spaces dedicated to particular topics.

Libraries need to show their influence on their community. Publishing is expensive, leading to more emphasis on Open Access. “Let’s make sure we’re part of this technology.” There’s a decreasing demand for traditional library services. “We need to be involved in the semantic web, linked data, not just the old cataloging.”We need to be involved in the semantic web, linked data, not just the old cataloging.

We have to be respectful of copyright and not facilitate theft. We should help control plagiarism. We need institutional archives that have copies of the publications of all of our faculty.

We need to support accessibility.

How do we measure use? We generate lots of data, which allows us to be strategic, looking for patterns of use. We can do predictive analytics. [She goes through some analytics with charts that I cannot capture.]

Ferndando Ariel Lopez

Fernando is an Argentina scientist and educator. Techno @fernando__lopez.

Where are we in the economic, social, and cultural changes occurring now? The way knowledge, culture, and science are created, distributed, and consumed is changing. Many more of you have seen a movie on the Internet recently than in a theater [as evidenced by a show of hands]. We are sending msgs on WhatsAPP rather than ringing a doorbell.

The adoption rates are accelerating. It took radio 38 years to reach a million users. It took the iPad 80 days. It’s all converging on mobile. In Mexico, the 15-24 year kids are the most connected online: 31%.

Fernando points to evidence of the size of the Net. Lots of YouTubes and Facebook posts every minute. Plus the Internet of Things. But there are privacy implications.

We should be training not on TIC but TAC and TEP [couldn’t read them on the slide]. These technologies empower people.

How to share?“ Identify, normalize, render visible the knowledge that our universities are producing.” Identify, normalize, render visible the knowledge that our universities are producing. Fernando covers the the concept of openness, which he sees as a cultural change. Open Source. Open Hardware. Open Education. Open Data. Open Science. (We just had the 8th worldwide Open Access Week, he reminds us.)

He goes through categories of tools for each.

Presence on social networks is very important. That’s where our users are. We should create Facebook fan pages for our libraries, and we can put our search engines there.

Three sites to know about:

David Schumaker

David Schumaker is at the Catholic University of America. His topic: “The Management of Knowledge Work and Innovation.” “There is a human element that must be present,” which is his focus.

Thesis:

  • Library services have changed

  • The roles and skills of library staff are changing

  • Library management practices must change

Four mgt changes:

  • Library service positions must be re-defined.

  • We need new supervisory practices, based on Peter Drucker‘s ideas.

  • Library assessment must focus on measures of impact and value.

He introduces Christensen’s theory of disruption. Library services has been disrupted by the Net and Web. Libraries are adopting new, higher-value services where the disruptors are not competing.

Some data: In academic libraries, initial circulation is down 44% since 1991 and reference questions are down 69% (source: Association of Research Libraries). These numbers only collapsed around the year 2000, coinciding with the increased use of the Net. “This is classic disruption.” Many librarians resisted and disdained this, but the Net become the first resort for many users.

But the number of attendees at group presentations held by the library has gone up 144%, while the number of those presentations grew 81%. Presumably, many of these were teaching info literacy.

1. “Library service positions must be redefined.” The demand for traditional ref questions is down. “The predominant questions are now directional and technical.” Libraries need to staff up with people who are excellent instructors.

2. “Library knowledge workers ‘cannot be supervised closely or in detail. They can only be helped.'” (Drucker) Effective instruction adopts multiple learning styles. The best instructor is not delivered as a one-shot lecture. Librarians have to establish strong relationships with instructors. Librarians will increasingly work in cross-organizational roles. “How do we manage staff who largely work outside of the library, engaged in knowledge work not measured by our traditional measures?”How do we manage staff who largely work outside of the library, engaged in knowledge work not measured by our traditional measures? Drucker says that managers have to become facilitators.

3. “Library managers must become relationship managers.” Library managers have to establish collaborative relationships with their counterparts in the university.

4. “Library assessment must focus on measures of impact and value.” The old measures measured collection size, budgets, activity counts, etc. New measures: Anecdotes of library contributions to teaching and research, and the impact of info literacy instruction on student success.

Q&A

Q: Should libraries set aside a budget for these changes?

Fernando: That’s always a good idea. But the technology I mentioned is free, although there are training courses. But in my experience, money is not the limiting factor.

Q: How can professional libraries foster a culture of critical thinking about the new tools, e.g., social networks, Google, etc.? Often these companies are not neutral.

David: First we have to be critical thinkers. The rise of new technologies has shaken some of the traditional assumptions of many librarians about, for example, the quality of research. RetractionWatch.com allows scholars to become aware of flaws found in scholarly published papers. That kind of capability has upset the traditional mindset of librarians that if it was published in a reputable scholarly journal, it must be ok. “The meaning of critical thinking has changed because of the new tech.”The meaning of critical thinking has changed because of the new tech. Librarians should be leaders in understanding the implications of this. Only then will we be in a position to lead.

Mariel: We need three things: 1. When deciding about tech, we have to ask: what is the goal? 2. What are the alternatives? Open Access, Open Data offer free services. 3. What is our budget?

Fernando: There has to be state policy about technological independent. E.g., some countries mandate the use of open source software, and that Google et al. must keep a copy of their data in the country. Librarians must focus on training people on technological literacy. Also, the young have a poor sense of privacy. They should know that they should keep a copy of their social network data.

Q: [Didn’t get it]

Mariel: Tech is moving to the cloud, which is more convenient. ILS’ will not be eliminated in the short term. In the long term they will be assimilated into other services.

Saul: Library catalogs are no longer the trustworthy source for journal titles that we hold. When I saw what the new discovery services will do, I said that they’ll take our jobs. A lot of what we do will be redundant. Obviously there are other factors in play. Libraries are a compulsory part of universities. We have to take these changes on.

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October 26, 2015

[liveblog][act-tiac] A federal portal in the age of search?

Sarah Crane, Dir., Federal Citizen Information Center, GSA., is going to talk about USA.gov. “In a world where everyone can search and has apps, is a web portal relevant?,” she asks.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.


When the US web portal (first.gov [archival copy]) was launched in 2000, it had an important role in aggregating and centralizing content. Now people arrive through search.


USA.gov is a platform that offers a full suite of bilingual products, built around a single structured API: information, contacts, social media, etc. All is built around a single API. The presentation layer is independent of the content. Thanks to the API, all the different outputs use the same consistent content.


It’s designed to integrate with other agency content. In fact, they don’t want to be writing any of the content; it should come from other agencies. Also, it’s built to so its modules and content can be reused. And it’s built to scale. It can support expansion or consolidation. E.g., if an initiative loses steam, its content can be pulled in and be kept available.


How people use govt services: They look online, they ask their friends, and they expect it to be easy. People are surprised when it’s complex. Some people prefer in-person help.


So, how does the portal remain relevant?


Customer experience is a core tenant. They recently launched a Customer Experience division. Constant measurement of performance. Fixing what doesn’t work. Clear lines of reporting up to the senior management. The lines of reporting also reach all the way to the devs.


Last year they re-did their personas, based on four different behaviors: 1. Someone who knows exactly what s/he’s looking for. 2. Someone has a general idea, but not informed enough to search. 3. Someone wants to complete a transaction. 4. Someone who wants to contact an elected official. They analyzed the experiences, and did “journey maps”: how someone gets to what she wants. These journeys often include travels into other agencies, which they also mapped.


What’s next for them now that info is cheap and easy to find? Sarah likes Mint.com‘s model:


  • Aggregated, personalized content collected from multiple agencies.

  • Pre-emptive service – alert, etc.

  • Relevant updates as you are in the task.

For further info, see Blog.USA.gov, and USA.gov/Explore


Q&A

Q: [me] Are people building on top of your API?


A: Some aspects, yes. Heavily used: the A-Z agency index – the only complete listing of every agency and their contact info. There’s a submission to build a machine-readable org chart of the govt that will build on top of our platform. [OMG! That would be incredible! And what is happening to me that I’m excited about a machine-readable org chart?]


Also if you use bit.ly to shorten a gov’t url, it creates one.usa.gov which you can use to track twitter activity, etc.


Certain aspects of the API are being used heavily, primarily the ones that show a larger perspective.


Q: Won’t people find personal notifications from the govt creepy, even though they like it when it’s Mint or Amazon?


A: The band-aid solution is to make it opt-in. Also being transparent about the data, where it’s stored, etc. This can never be mandatory. The UK’s e-verify effort aims at making the top 20 services digital through a single ID. We’d have to study that carefully We’d have to engage with the privacy groups (eg., EPIC) early on.


Q: Suppose it was a hybrid of automated and manual? E.g., I tell the site I’m turning 62 and then it gives me the relevant info, as opposed to it noting from its data that I’m turning 62.


Q: We’re losing some of the personal contact. And who are you leaving behind?


A: Yes, some people want to talk in person. Our agency actually started in 1972 supplying human-staffed kiosks where people could ask questions. Zappos is a model: You can shop fully online, but people call their customer service because it’s so much fun. We’re thinking about prompting people if they want to chat with a live person.


The earliest adopters are likely to be the millennials, and they’re not the ones who need the services generally. But they talk with their parents.

 


 

I briefly interviewed Sarah afterwards. Among other things, I learned:



  • The platform was launched in July


  • They are finding awesome benefits to the API approach as an internal architecture: consistent and efficiently-created content deployed across multiple sites and devices; freedom to innovate at both the front and back end; a far more resilient system that will allow them to swap in a new CMS with barely a hiccup.


  • I mentioned NPR’s experience with moving to an API architecture, and she jumped in with  COPE (create once, publish everywhere) and has been talking with Dan Jacobson, among others. (I wrote about that here.)


  • She’s certainly aware of the “government as platform” approach, but says that that phrase and model is more direclty influential over at 18F


  • Sarah is awesome.

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[liveblog][act-tiac] The nation's front door

Sarah Crane, Dir., Federal Citizen Information Center, GSA., is going to talk about USA.gov. “In a world where everyone can search and has apps, is a web portal relevant?,” she asks.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

When the US web portal (first.gov [archival copy]) was launched in 2000, it had an important role in aggregating and centralizing content. Now people arrive through search.

USA.gov is a platform that offers a full suite of bilingual products, built around a single structured API: information, contacts, social media, etc. All is built around a single API. The presentation layer is independent of the content. Thanks to the API, all the different outputs use the same consistent content.

It’s designed to integrate with other agency content. In fact, they don’t want to be writing any of the content; it should come from other agencies. Also, it’s built to so its modules and content can be reused. And it’s built to scale. It can support expansion or consolidation. E.g., if an initiative loses steam, its content can be pulled in and be kept available.

How people use govt services: They look online, they ask their friends, and they expect it to be easy. People are surprised when it’s complex. Some people prefer in-person help.

So, how does the portal remain relevant?

Customer experience is a core tenant. They recently launched a Customer Experience division. Constant measurement of performance. Fixing what doesn’t work. Clear lines of reporting up to the senior management. The lines of reporting also reach all the way to the devs.

Last year they re-did their personas, based on four different behaviors: 1. Someone who knows exactly what s/he’s looking for. 2. Someone has a general idea, but not informed enough to search. 3. Someone wants to complete a transaction. 4. Someone who wants to contact an elected official. They analyzed the experiences, and did “journey maps”: how someone gets to what she wants. These journeys often include travels into other agencies, which they also mapped.

What’s next for them now that info is cheap and easy to find? Sarah likes Mint.com‘s model:

  • Aggregated, personalized content collected from multiple agencies.

  • Pre-emptive service – alert, etc.

  • Relevant updates as you are in the task.

See Blog.USA.gov, and USA.gov/Explore

Q&A

Q: [me] Are people building on top of your API?

A: Some aspects, yes. Heavily used: the A-Z agency index – the only complete listing of every agency and their contact info. There’s a submission to build a machine-readable org chart of the govt that will build on top of our platform. [OMG! That would be incredible! And what is happening to me that I’m excited about a machine-readable org chart?]

Also if you use bit.ly to shorten a gov’t url, it creates one.usa.gov which you can use to track twitter activity, etc.

Certain aspects of the API are being used heavily, primarily the ones that show a larger perspective.

Q: Won’t people find personal notifications from the govt creepy, even though they like it when it’s Mint or Amazon?

A: The band-aid solution is to make it opt-in. Also being transparent about the data, where it’s stored, etc. This can never be mandatory. The UK’s e-verify effort aims at making the top 20 services digital through a single ID. We’d have to study that carefully We’d have to engage with the privacy groups (eg., EPIC) early on.

Q: Suppose it was a hybrid of automated and manual? E.g., I tell the site I’m turning 62 and then it gives me the relevant info, as opposed to it noting from its data that I’m turning 62.

Q: We’re losing some of the personal contact. And who are you leaving behind?

A: Yes, some people want to talk in person. Our agency actually started in 1972 supplying human-staffed kiosks where people could ask questions. Zappos is a model: You can shop fully online, but people call their customer service because it’s so much fun. We’re thinking about prompting people if they want to chat with a live person.

The earliest adopters are likely to be the millennials, and they’re not the ones who need the services generally. But they talk with their parents.

 


 

I briefly interviewed Sarah afterwards. Among other things, I learned:

  • The platform was launched in July.

  • The platform software is open source.

  • They are finding awesome benefits to the API approach as an internal architecture: consistent and efficiently-created content deployed across multiple sites and devices; freedom to innovate at both the front and back end; a far more resilient system that will allow them to swap in a new CMS with barely a hiccup.

  • I mentioned NPR’s experience with moving to an API architecture, and she jumped in with COPE (create once, publish everywhere) and has been talking with Dan Jacobson, among others. (I wrote about that here.)

  • She’s certainly aware of the “government as platform” approach, but says that that phrase and model is more directly influential over at 18F

  • Sarah is awesome. The people in government service these days!

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[liveblog][act-iac] Innovation in govt

Brian Nordmann (Senior Advisor, Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at U.S. Department of State) begins with the standard disclaimer that he’s not speaking for the Dept. of State. And here’s mine:

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Brian reminds us that “innovation” has become a tired term. There was a govt flurry to innovate, but no one said exactly what “innovation” means. The State Dept. built a structure so there could be quarterly reports on innovation. “If you want to guarantee that you don’t do anything innovative, create a structure for writing reports.” He says this was a shame because in the basement there was already the perfect place for innovation: The Foggy Bottom Cafe — Starbucks, ice cream parlor, etc.. Sect’y Colin Powell went down there every day because he knew in 45 minutes he’d get twenty-five innovative ideas. People sit there and share ideas. “This is how you get innovation done in the gov’t”: Give people the freedom to talk, and the freedom to fail.

A couple of years ago his group started doing public challenges. In the first one, they got 150 entries. They awarded $5K for ideas they would have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for. But then the lawyers discovered they were doing this and wrote a EULA for the site — 28 pages, with buttons strewn throughout that you have to press. Twenty-seven people applied to that year’s challenge.

Brian’s job is simple: Get rid of all nuclear weapons in the world. His office’s job is to come up with ways to verify agreements. In the 1960s, the sensors were physically large: big, expensive, fragile, and now replacement parts don’t exist. A radar installation in the Aleutian Islands looking for nuclear missile launches uses vacuum tubes.

Now their challenge is to explore arms control in the information age. What can we learn from YouTube, Facebook, etc.? But the lawyers say that’s a privacy violation. So, instead they’re investigating the Internet of Things. People don’t mean the same thing by that phrase. Brian means by it: networks with sensors.

Are there things we can do to get the public involved in arms control? It’s a complex issue, but you can simplify it to: What can we do to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Brian holds up a small spectrometer that feeds into a laptop. It’s used to analyze water quality. Another instrument is a rolled-up piece of cardboard that attaches to your phone. And smartphones’ accelerometers can sense earthquakes…and nuclear explosions. They could alert agencies that they need to look at the explosion more closely.

Researchers in Hawaii bought 12 iPhone6’s to explore this, which tripped an alarm at Apple. Apple contacted the researchers. The researchers told Apple that their phones could be used as seismic detectors, and that the iPhone6 degraded that capability. The researchers are trying to broaden Apple’s sense that its phones can be used for more than app delivery.

For innovation, you want to talk to new people, not the same people all the time. By bringing in new people, you’ll get a lot of junk, but also some ideas worth exploring. Hobbyists and startups are generally better to talk with than large companies. Brian spoke with Tom Dolby, ex of MTV, who has a media lab at Johns Hopkins that is working with Baltimore youth. Brian works with a California group teaching Latino kids how to program. Imagine putting them together, along with people from around the world, and create a Teen Summit. Imagine they see what they have in common and what they do not.

Q: How are you communicating to device manufacturers that they are platforms for innovation?

A: People respond to a title that ends with “US Dept. of State.”

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[liveblog] ACT-IAC opening session

I’m at an ACT-IAC conference. (I’m the dinner speaker.) The opening session is a discussion with seven government IT and industry leaders.

  • Case Coleman, Unisys

  • Mary Davie, GSA

  • Annie Rung, OMB

  • Lisa Schlosserl e-gov office of OMB

  • Kathleen Turco, Veterans Health Admin

  • Renee Wynn, NASA CIO

  • Margie Graces, DHS (moderator)

Yes, all women. I know from the organizers that this was not done on purpose. Unfortunately, there are no name signs or labels on the screen I’m looking at—I’m all the way on the margin of a wide breakfast room with maybe 1,500 people in it, so I can’t tell who is who, so this will be unattributed except where the speaker indicates where she’s from.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

– The moderator asks how the Internet of Things is affecting them.

– The person from NASA points out that this now includes devices beyond our solar system.

– The growth of the Net into the physical world brings challenges. E.g., drones.

– NASA: We have to bring together all sorts of info, for example in a disaster. That includes drone info but also about physical infrastructure, health care records,etc. We have to integrate the stove pipes. “One single stream of info won’t give you the whole picture.” She gives as an example the fact that she sometimes takes off her FitBit, so it does not give a complete picture.

– Also for intel assessments.

– This requires a progressive view of what’s going on in computing.

– We need to be able to embrace the cloud, scale up and down, embrace the new environment.

– “The privacy side terrifies me.” There’s been progress made in the “sprint” to modernize IT, to change the conversation. But it’s a marathon. The effort has support from the top. It’s a consistent part of the agenda. We need to measure, measure, measure.

– NASA: Cybersecurity has to change. Moats and castles are no longer adequate defenses. When the human body gets a splinter, it sends antibodies right to that splinter so you won’t get infected. “Are we going towards an injection into our network and then quickly sending the right bots to isolate and report back so we can decide what’s the best way to proceed? We have to evolve.”

– DHS [I think]: We’re doing the band-aids we need to do now. But we know we have to evolve, both in the private and public sectors. There are no edges any more. We’re piloting some of this different thinking in our R&D efforts. You’ll see more about this in the very near future.

– Part of this is predictive analysis, so we can “skate to the puck,” as they say.

– We need to create environments where people can do their best work. We’re no longer in an industrial age where everyone does the same thing in a repetitive fashion. Info workers each bring a unique intellectual contribution.

– We’re all trying to adopt the “servant leadership” model, getting obstacles out of the way.

– NASA: We have to raise the next generation of leaders. I talk to my 23 yr old son — “parenting by text”—sound familiar to any of you? — and there’s no sensitivity to privacy, and, distressingly, little consideration of cyber. E.g., the next gen will have to think about how to have a workforce that’s human and robotic. How do we prepare them for the next big change?

– Moderator: How do we get our message out so we can hire better?

– DHS: We brought together 30 student leaders and had them engage on this. It was amazing.

– Mod: There’s a lot more circulation through employers. That’s enriching for the organizations. Then there’s FITARA, which empowers agency-level CIOs.

– Some CFOs are scared of it, but I welcome it. We need the CIOs and the acquisition folks to be at the table. There need to be joint decisions across the agencies and departments.

– FITARA calls for IT cadres [?]. We kicked off our first class for acquisition professionals. Six month hands-on training. We want to train them going from the 90 page specification document to much more compact, ourcome-focused descriptions, smaller work modules, etc.

– We’ve got to do problem solving in every corner of the room, whiteboarding, brainstorming, move on from the problem to the solution quickly. When the acquisition and finance sides of the equation start to support that, we’re getting some of the old obstacles out of the way.

– We’re all in agreement that we need to do things differently in the federal market, moving to rapid info sharing. Currently we spend a couple of years to get the requisition out, then a year to make a decision, and then the tech is out of date. Now the contracting community has to know the org charts for every agency so they can gather info. “You shouldn’t have to know the org chart of the agency to get the info you need.”You shouldn’t have to know the org chart of the agency to get the info you need. We’re now starting to provide the right tools for info sharing and collaboration.

– VA: Funding isn’t going to increase. We’ve got tto find savings in the system: collaboration, governance, and do new things in acquisition.

– An example: Someone [couldn’t get who] is narrowing bidders down to five and asking each to do a quick prototype.

– Category management: divide the things that agencies acquire into categories and bring in a category expert who may not be a procurement expert. The supplier piece is crucial. it means figuring out what your customers need. Category mgt began in the retail industry. They developed customer profiles. We need that approach.

VA: We’re at last beginning to treat our veterans as customers, putting them and their experience first. They’re not happy but we’re getting better. Same for employees. Too many hoops to hire someone new. We need to speed that up.

– We’ve never asked industry how agencies do in acquisitions. Now we’re doing 360s on specific IT acquisitions. The first set of data comes in in Nov. We’re going to identify best practices and where we’re not doing so well. Was there an adequate debrief? Were you given enough time to respond? We’ve never asked these questions before.

– Within your zone of trust in govt you don’t realize that people outside of it have so much trouble getting info.

– We should be using all of our authority to make progress in acquisitions. There’s lots we can do.

– Our contracting officers are recognizing that the more conversations we have about the actual challenges we’re facing within IT, we can brainstorm things before we even get to the table. There are many mechanisms for doing that, including prototyping, etc.

– We have to move away from the rules based approach, to focusing on the outcomes. [applause] “Yeah, break the rules! Nah, I’m not saying that. Take responsible risks :) ”Yeah, break the rules! [clearly joking] Nah, I’m not saying that. Take responsible risks.

-It’s a huge challenge to let your appropriators know that we have to move forward

– Mod: This is more like a revolution than an evolution. It’s a groundswell. We’re not going to let up. There’s a lot of education to do. A consistent message coming from IT, acquisitions and finance sectors, it’ll get through.

[Not a single mention that this was an all-woman panel, which makes me even happier.]

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October 23, 2015

Does the networking of meaning destroy meaning?

Donatella Della Ratta, at Copenhangen University and a Berkman fellow, has posted a remarkable essay and linked to another.

The link is to a Wired article by Andy Greenberg about the New Palmyra Project, an effort to reconstruct the ancient monuments ISIS is destroying, and a plea for action to free the project’s creator, Bassel Khartabil, from a Syrian prison.

The second is Donatella’s article in CyberOrient that considers efforts that, like the New Palmyra Project, reconstruct sites destroyed by war, but not with that project’s historical purpose. In the article she brings to light some of the profound and disturbing ways the Net is changing how meaning works.

Her focus is on what she calls “expanded places,” physical places that have been physically destroyed, but that “have been re-animated through multiple mediated versions circulating and re-circulating on the networks.” As she says in the article’s abstract:

Thriving on the techno-human infrastructure of the networks, and relying on the endless proliferation of images resulting from the loss of control of image-makers over their own production, expanded places are aggregators of new communities that add novel layers of signification to the empirical world, and create their own multiple realities and histories.

Her primary example is Damescene Village, a theme park on the outskirts of Damascus where she conducted ethnographic research in 2010. The brief story of the role that theme park played in Syrian“the multiple layers of unreality that it attracted itself is mind-blowing” popular media, and the multiple layers of unreality that it attracted itself is mind-blowing: “a physical replica of the historic 1920s rebel stronghold conceived as a TV set for a reenactment drama of that very struggle; which, historically speaking, took place exactly in the location where the fictional copy had been rebuilt for the sake of media consumption.” To complete the media hall of mirrors, in the recent conflict each side shot “video accounts narrating the seizure of the theme park using themes, symbols and characters borrowed from the TV series.”

Eventually the Damascene Village was destroyed; yet, the self-shot videos, once uploaded onto YouTube, continued to fuel the spread of clashing narratives and contradictory understandings of national resistance, which turned a physical site hosting a staged representation of a conflict into a conflict zone itself, endlessly reproduced through social networking sites.

The complexity of this place as real, symbolic, organic, and manipulated is mirrored in the nature of the platform. She argues that the Internet’s “circulation, reflexivity, anonymity, and decentralized authorship” lead to a type of violence against meaning: “…the endless circulation of messages that are shared, manipulated, and repeated over and over again in a loop where any possible meaning is lost.” Citing Jodi Dean, Donatella says: “…the uncontrollable speed and spread of contributions over the networks help prevent the formation of any sort of signification,” generating not “a plurality of visions” but “…a feeling of ‘constituent anxiety.'” This process is, she says “inherent to the networks.”

A novel space has been created by the entanglement of warfare and technology, where lines are blurred between the physical, lived experiences of war and their media representations, which have gained a new existence by virtue of the endless circulation of the layering of times, spaces, and people enabled by the networks.

This new environment, defined around what I call “expanded places,” re-establishes the relationship between violence and visibility, and broadens the very idea of conflict. Here, mediated and symbolic languages are employed to perform and legitimize the violence perpetrated in physical spaces. At the same time, the large scale production and reproduction of this very violence through networked forms and formats serves to actualize and rationalize it, its viral circulation being endlessly nurtured and boosted by the techno-human structure of the networks.

But is Damescene Village is too good an example? It came onto the Net with so many layers of contested meta-meta-meaning that perhaps its online life is atypical. Donatella confronts this question, “ the Net not only continues the alienation of images of violence … but adds a participatory level”arguing that the Net not only continues the alienation of images of violence from their actuality and from ethical responses, as noted by Susan Sontag in the 1970s, but adds a participatory level to this: the images of violence are hyperlinked and recirculated by the viewers themselves. This borderless remixing and recirculation “have all contributed to the expansion of the place formerly known as the Damascene Village.”

But what to make of this expansion? Here again I worry that Donatella’s example is too good:

As shown by the story of the Damascene Village, the same symbolic and visual reference (Bab al hara) can be employed simultaneously by opposing factions (the Syrian army and the armed rebels) to produce contrasting narratives of resistance, and clashing ideas of nationhood. It can both serve to evoke a seemingly inclusive multiculturalism promoted under al Asad’s leadership; and, at the same time, to remind us that an entire nation is being besieged, not by occupying foreign forces but by the Syrian regime.

She takes this as a type of fictionality, as described by Jacques Rancière: a rearrangement of something real into new political and aesthetic formats without regard to the truth of that something, blurring “the logic of facts and the logic of fiction” in multiple layers of meaning. She invokes Baudrillard, saying that “The story of the Damascene Village proves that it does not really matter” whether the various factions’ fantasies correspond to historical truth. Rather:

what it is important to reflect upon is that this very fantasy has been used to generate and reproduce violence from opposite armed factions, both of which have employed mediated and networked languages to claim legitimacy over their own idea of homeland and national resistance.

But hasn’t that statement been true of every intra-cultural conflict? The truth of historians has never much mattered to factions trying to rouse support for their side. Donatella uses Rancière’s thought to find the difference between how this worked “the Net is in important ways moving us back to a simpler relation between image and reality through the posting of cellphone videos of police attacks, ”before and after the Net. I have not read him (I know, I know) but am not fully convinced by the ideas she cites. In the modern era, “technology is not understood as a mere technique of reproduction and transmission.” Yes, but that’s hardly new to the Internet. Not only has it been well understood at least since the 1960s, but one could argue that the Net is in important ways moving us back to a simpler relation between image and reality through the posting of cellphone videos of police attacks, the proliferation of video surveillance, and the new insistence that the police wear video cameras. Also: Russian dash cams.

She cites Rancière further to make the case that the anonymity of Net postings and the ability to record just about everything “has given rise a new understanding of history as a continuous process of assigning meanings to material realities, of connecting signs and symbols in unprecedented ways. In this sense we can define history as a ‘new form of fiction’…”

I have a complex reaction to this. (This is one of the reasons I so like Donatella’s writing.)

1. Yes, this is exactly what’s happening.

2. It is what happens when we all have access to the materials of history, and the decisions about what counts as history are not made by handfuls of people who control the media, which includes highly qualified historians, the editorial staffs of (sometimes scurrilous) newspapers, and self-interested political leaders.

3. If we substitute “current events” for “history,” the situation seems somewhat less novel. The word “history” carries with it a weight that “current events” does not. (a) We do not yet know what history (as practiced by that discipline) will say about current events. It may become far more settled than the fracturing of interpretations of current events now suggests, which depends to a large degree on how education and authority evolves over the years. (b) History of course always is fractured along the lines that divide people; one side in the United States Civil War still sometimes insists slavery was not the issue the war was fought over.

I am not disagreeing with the dangerousness of the fragmenting of interpretations engendered by the Net. I find illuminating and helpful Donatella’s brilliant exposition of the way in which these are not shards so much as multiply reflecting mirrors in which meanings cannot be separated from the act of meaning, and that act “meanings cannot be separated from the act of meaning, and that act of meaning is a performance that gets reflected, reappropriated, and reenacted without end ”of meaning is a performance that gets reflected, reappropriated, and reenacted without end and without the ability to see its source either in the actual world or in its initial expression — “the rise of the anonymous subject and decentralized authorship nurtured by virtue of the circularity and reflexivity of the networks.” Rancière says this creates “‘uncertain communities'” politically questioning “‘the distribution of roles, territories, and languages’.” That’s an important point, although these images also sometimes create powerful political communities, as was the case with images from Ferguson.

Donatella is admirably focused on what this means when the stakes are high:

…in expanded places that have been destroyed by violence and warfare, then have been re-born through a networked after-life, this process goes much further. Here, challenging the distribution of the sensible [Rancière’s term] is not only a matter of contentious politics, but of generating and regenerating violence and destruction through the endless circulation of formats of violence boosted by the inner techno-human structure of the networks.

Her presentation of the ways in which the Net leads to not just a fracturing of meaning but of an impossibly self-reflective entanglement of meaning is brilliant. Her drawing our attention to the direness of this when it comes to the most dire of human situations is crucial. Her concept of “expanded spaces” seems to me to be worth holding on to and exploring. In fact, it’s powerful enough that I don’t think it should be confined to places that have been destroyed, much less destroyed by war. It applies more broadly than that. Her discussion of places destroyed by violence seems to me to point to a case where the stakes are higher, but where the game is essentially the same.

 


 

I recognize I have not resolved the question posed in my title. You can thank Donatella for that :)

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October 20, 2015

How the Berkman Fellows program works

The Ford Foundation was wondering what it could learn from the success of the Berkman fellows program, and Berkman asked me to write it. It’s titled “Fifteen Lessons from the Berkman Fellows Program,” and it’s just been posted [pdf].

And, yes, as someone on the Berkman mailing list pointed out, we should have done this in listicle form, adding “And #6 will change your life!”

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