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November 24, 2015

[berkman][liveblog] Robin Chase

Robin Chase is giving a lunchtime talk at the Berkman Center.

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.

There is a totally new organization paradigm that exists next to the Internet, she says. She calls it “Peers, Inc.” It changes how we shape the economy. It’s happening now. Her explanation will be in three parts:


First, platforms for participation that leverage excess capacity. E.g., Facebook, Skype, Meetup, YouTube, MOOCs, open source, Blockchain, etc. For example, Skype is a telecoms company built on the excess capacity of its users systems. Working with excess capacity means sharing.

Bed-sharing (couchsurfing, AirBnB) uses excess beds. “It took four years for AirBnB to have more available beds than the largest hotel chain”It took four years for AirBnB to have more available beds than the largest hotel chain (InterContinental): 650,000. Couchsurfing has more than a couple of million.

We invented big institutions to do things that we can’t do as individuals. E.g., large investments, projects that require intelligence in lots of different areas, standardized contracts. And there are things that individuals do better: customization, specialization, creativity, trust.

These two coexist, and the Net enables them to collaborate. She calls this Peers, Inc. (“Institutions and governments are also Inc’s in this world view.”) The Inc’s provide a platform for participation, and the individual provides creativity and specialization.

Robin “adores excess capacity” because it’s green and efficient. Excess capacity is something that’s already been paid for but contains unused value. How do you harness it? 1. You can slice it so only pay for what they use (e.g., ZipCar); this lets you avoid buying more car than you need. 2. You can aggregate (e.g., AirBnB, Waze). 3. Open up these assets, e.g., and GPS.

The Inc side builds platforms for participation. They organize lots of small parts. “They “Platforms give the power of the large to the small”give the power of the large to the small.” They can scale. She points to a French car-sharing company: BlaBlaCar. Four million people use it every month.

Peers bring diversity. E.g., smartphones and apps. Smartphones are far harder to build than the apps they enable. Over 2M apps have been developed since smartphones were invented in the past seven years. “We’ve seen more innovation than throughout all of human history” because people can build apps that are relevant to their own situations. App creators are free-riders on top of the $600 people spend on their smartphones.

2. Peers Inc give us new powers, which she thinks of as miracles.

“The most depressing thing I know is climate change.” By 2100, we’ll see a 4-6°C increase unless we take dramatic action. What does that feel like? “The last time we were minus 7°F was the last ice age.” Warming the planet that amount transformed the planet. We should expect the same level of change if we boost it another 7°F. By 2060, it will be really awful. So we have to address this.

“Banny Bannerjee says: “You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions.””Banny Bannerjee says: “You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions.”

The “miracles” give her some optimism:

a. “We can defy the laws of physics” by leveraging excess capacity. If she had proposed building 640,000 rooms in four years she would have been told that that’s not possible. But AirBnb did it by leveraging existing excess capacity.

b. “We can tap exponential learning.” Platforms can get millions of iterations in and can do a lot of learning. E.g., learning a language. A semester is 130 hours. Rosetta Stone teaches the same in 54 hours. But it’s expensive. “My new favorite company is DuoLingo.” They do a lot of A/B testing. They now can teach you a semester in 34 hours. They have 90M people using it. A year and a half ago DuoLingo opened up its processes: Russians learning Balinese, etc. Now 45M of the 90M are learning language pairs DuoLingo did not create. (DuoLingo makes money because they have humans translating sentences from organizations that pay them incrementally.)

c. “The right person will appear.” E.g., Obama raised the prospect of normalizing relationships with Cuba. Six months later, AirBnB had 2,000 listings there, thanks to the Net.

Her only hope for climate change is creating platforms that will address climate “at scale, speed, and locally adapated.” E.g., a platform for a house will remember to turn off the light when there’s been no movement. We’ll get smart cities through the Internet of Things. Distributed energy. Autonomous vehicles, which will arrive in force in the next 5-12 years. We’ll only need 10% of the cars because we’ll be sharing them. “Public transportation will be at the cost of a bus but the speed of cars”Public transportation will be at the cost of a bus but the speed of cars, transforming job opportunities. (But the Internet of Things means that everything is tracked.)

All of these miracles only happen because of both sides of Peers Inc.

3. “Everything that can become a platform will become one.” Old-style industrial capitalism put thick boundaries around companies. Today, what’s inside and outside is blurred.

Four reasons Robin is convinced we’re moving into the collaborative economy:

1. Shared networked assets always provide more value than closed assets

2. More networked minds are smarter than fewer proprietary minds.

3. “The benefits of shared open assets are always larger than the problems associated with open assets.” E.g., yes, some people put scratches in ZipCars, but the company nevertheless is doing very well.

4. What I get is great than what I give.

We are in a time of instability. “Peers Inc is the only structure that can experiment, iterate, evolve and adapt at the pace required.”Peers Inc is the only structure that can experiment, iterate, evolve and adapt at the pace required.

So, how can we structure things so we give up the least privacy necessary? “What is the least privacy loss that delivers a habitable climate”


Q: For me it’s not privacy loss but who we’re losing our privacy to. What about platform accountability? Aren’t we pushing out power into more abstract systems that we cannot see or address?

A: I was on a panel at the Platform Cooperativism conference. I pointed out that these platforms are incredibly expensive. ““He who finances the platforms creates the rules of engagement.”He who finances the platforms creates the rules of engagement.” “I want these platforms created by a distributed, autonomous us.” We don’t have time to just hope this happens. “I have real anxiety.”

Q: [me] Suppose we build protocol instead platforms…

A: I’ve put all of that into the same bucket.

Q: Shareable cars disrupt ZipCar. There will be user agreements. How do we disrupt that?

A: “He who creates the data owns the data.” Autonomous vehicles have a middle space, e.g., around safety and learning issues. It’s in the deep public interest to have this data. But we need to make the privacy issues understandable and parseable by ordinary users so they can choose.

Q: Isn’t privacy gone already?

A: We can still do some structuring.

Q: Why does trust work over the Web, which is mostly anonymous?

A: Ebay was the first to figure out you need ratings and commentaries. We use other people as our proxies for trust.

Q: iRobot’s Roombas currently don’t upload what they’ve learned about the layout of your house. But Nest knows everything. What should the rules be?

A: That’s what I’m asking you. We have to figure this out.

Q: It’d be great if we had more choice about which pieces of info we give to platforms. Is there any work on standard ways of parceling out pieces of our identity?

A: I know people are working on this. “It comes back to the amount of money, time, and marketing it takes to push great ideas into market.”

Q: What are we doing to educate the younger generation about privacy?

A: Maybe you can push Harvard to do appropriate role modeling. Maybe students here could push for an icon system that tells us what data you’re taking from us, etc.

Q: [me] What would you tell a student about the dangers? And would you consider addressing this by putting restrictions on how the data is used, rather than on its collection?

A: How about doing some pilots to see what works? You have to inform people about the dangers as well regulating the industry.

Q: How will we embed public safety concerns into software for self-driving cars?

A: Self-driving cars will always follow the rules. No speeding. No parking in no-parking zones. All the existing rules will be embedded. So we’ll embed the appropriate behavior for ambulances, etc. No siren required. Also: The auto industry always brings up autonomous cars having to decide which person to kill in an accident. But why would you bring up this stupid case? One in a million trips this might happen? There are more deaths than that now. “Right now, 80% of cars are single occupancy. We need to put a high price on that.”Right now, 80% of cars are single occupancy. We need to put a high price on that.

Q: It sounds like you’re describing a train: get somewhere, not park…Why not public transportation?

A: We’ll see how it plays out. It’ll be a complex ecosystem. It’ll be decided city by city. More important than who owns it are: Will they be electric? Will it be 10x more expensive for single occupancy? Will we have pharmacy cars or liquor cars that deliver their wares without having a storefront? Who will design the software?

Q: Practically, how do you combat zoning for selfishness, e.g., my own one-person gas guzzler?

A: I don’t spend a lot of time on local issues. When I have, logic and data haven’t had much effect.

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October 28, 2015

[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: 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.


  • 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: 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. 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-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 7, 2015

[liveblog] The future of libraries

I’m at a Hubweek event called “Libraries: The Next Generation.” It’s a panel hosted by the Berkman Center with Dan Cohen, the executive director of the DPLA; Andromeda Yelton, a developer who has done work with libraries; and Jeffrey Schnapp of metaLab

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.

Sue Kriegsman of the Center introduces the session by explaining Berkman’s interest in libraries. “We have libraries lurking in every corner…which is fabulous.” Also, Berkman incubated the DPLA. And it has other projects underway.

Dan Cohen speaks first. He says if he were to give a State of the Union Address about libraries, he’d say: “They are as beloved as ever and stand at the center of communities” here and around the world. He cites a recent Pew survey about perspectives on libraries:“ …libraries have the highest approval rating of all American institutions. But, that’s fragile.” libraries have the highest approval rating of all American institutions. But, he warns, that’s fragile. There are many pressures, and libraries are chronically under-funded, which is hard to understand given how beloved they are.

First among the pressures on libraries: the move from print. E-book adoption hasn’t stalled, although the purchase of e-books from the Big Five publishers compared to print has slowed. But Overdrive is lending lots of ebooks. Amazon has 65% of the ebook market, “a scary number,” Dan says. In the Pew survey a couple of weeks ago, 35% said that libraries ought to spend more on ebooks even at the expense of physical books. But 20% thought the opposite. That makes it hard to be the director of a public library.

If you look at the ebook market, there’s more reading go on at places like the DPLA. (He mentions the StackLife browser they use, that came out of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that I used to co-direct.) Many of the ebooks are being provided straight to a platform (mainly Amazon) by the authors.

There are lots of jobs public libraries do that are unrelated to books. E.g., the Boston Public Library is heavily used by the homeless population.

The way forward? Dan stresses working together, collaboration. “DPLA is as much a social, collaborative project as it is a technical project.” It is run by a community that has gotten together to run a common platform.

And digital is important. We don’t want to leave it to Jeff Bezos who “wants to drop anything on you that you want, by drone, in an hour.”

Andromeda: She says she’s going to talk about “libraries beyond Thunderdome,” echoing a phrase from Sue Kriegman’s opening comments. “My real concern is with the skills of the people surrounding our crashed Boeing.” Libraries need better skills to evaluate and build the software they need. She gives some exxamples of places where we see a tensions between library values and code.

1. The tension between access and privacy. Physical books leave no traces. With ebooks the reading is generally tracked. Overdrive did a deal so that library patrons who access ebooks get notices from Amazon when their loan period is almost up. Adobe does rights management, with reports coming page by page about what people are reading. “Unencrypted over the Internet,” she adds. “You need a fair bit of technical knowledge to see that this is happening,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be this way.” “It’s the DRM and the technology that have these privacy issues built in.”

She points to the NYPL Library Simplified program that makes it far easier for non-techie users. It includes access to Project Gutenberg. Libraries have an incentive to build open architectures that support privacy. But they need the funding and the technical resources.

She cites the Library Freedom Project that teaches librarians about anti-surveillance technologies. They let library users browse the Internet through TOR, preventing (or at least greatly inhibit) tracking. They set up the first library TOR node in New Hampshire. Homeland Security quickly suggested that they stop. But there was picketing against this, and the library turned it back on. “That makes me happy.”

2. Metadata. She has us do an image search for “beautiful woman” at Google. They’re basically all white. Metadata is sometimes political. She goes through the 200s of the Dewey Decimal system: 90% Christian. “This isn’t representative of human knowledge. It’s representative of what Melvil Dewey thought maps to human knowledge.” Libraries make certain viewpoints more computationally accessible than others.“ Our ability to write new apps is only as good as the metadata under them.” Our ability to write new apps is only as good as the metadata under them. “As we go on to a more computational library world — which is awesome — we’re going to fossilize all these old prejudices. That’s my fear.”

“My hope is that we’ll have the support, conviction and empathy to write software, and to demand software, that makes our libraries better, and more fair.”

Jeffrey: He says his peculiar interest is in how we use space to build libraries as architectures of knowledge. “Libraries are one of our most ancient institutions.” “Libraries have constantly undergone change,” from mausoleums, to cloisters, to warehouses, places of curatorial practice, and civic spaces. “The legacy of that history…has traces of all of those historical identities.” We’ve always faced the question “What is a library?” What are it’s services? How does it serve its customers? Architects and designers have responded to this, assuming a set of social needs, opportunities, fantasies, and the practices by which knowledge is created, refined, shared. “These are all abiding questions.”

Contemporary architects and designers are often excited by library projects because it crystallizes one of the most central questions of the day: “How do you weave together information and space?” We’re often not very good at that. The default for libraries has been: build a black box.

We have tended to associate libraries with collections. “If you ask what is a library?, the first answer you get is: a collection.” But libraries have also always been about the making of connections, i.e., how the collections are brought alive. E.g., the Alexandrian Librarywas a performance space. “What does this connection space look like today?” In his book with Matthew Battles, they argue that while we’ve thought of libraries as being a single institution, in fact today there are now many different types of libraries. E.g., the research library as an information space seems to be collapsing; the researchers don’t need reading rooms, etc. But civic libraries are expanding their physical practices.

We need to be talking about many different types of libraries, each with their own services and needs. The Library as an institution is on the wane. We need to proliferate and multiply the libraries to serve their communities and to take advantage of the new tools and services. “We need spaces for learning,” but the stack is just one model.


Dan: Mike O’Malley says that our image of reading is in a salon with a glass of port, but in grad school we’re taught to read a book the way a sous chef guts a fish. A study says that of academic ebooks, 75% of scholars read less than 50 pages of them. [I may have gotten that slightly wrong. Sorry.] Assuming a proliferation of forms, what can we do to address them?

Jeffrey: The presuppositions about how we package knowledge are all up for grabs now. “There’s a vast proliferation of channels. ‘And that’s a design opportunity.’”There’s a vast proliferation of channels. “And that’s a design opportunity.” How can we create audiences that would never have been part of the traditional distribution models? “I’m really excited about getting scholars and creative practitioners involved in short-form knowledge and the spectrum of ways you can intersect” the different ways we use these different forms. “That includes print.” There’s “an extraordinary explosion of innovation around print.”

Andromeda: “Reading is a shorthand. Library is really about transforming people and one another by providing access to information.” Reading is not the only way of doing this. E.g., in maker spaces people learn by using their hands. “How can you support reading as a mode of knowledge construction?” Ten years ago she toured Olin College library, which was just starting. The library had chairs and whiteboards on castors. “This is how engineers think”: they want to be able to configure a space on the fly, and have toys for fidgeting. E.g., her eight year old has to be standing and moving if she’s asked a hard question. “We need to think of reading as something broader than dealing with a text in front of you.”

Jeffrey: The DPLA has a location in the name — America &#8212. The French National Library wants to collect “the French Internet.” But what does that mean? The Net seems to be beyond locality. What role does place play?

Dan: From the beginning we’ve partnered with Europeana. We reused Europeana’s metadata standard, enabling us to share items. E.g., Europeana’s 100th anniversary of the Great War web site was able to seamlessly pull in content from the DPLA via our API, and from other countries. “The DPLA has materials in over 400 languages,” and actively partners with other international libraries.

Dan points to Amy Ryan (the DPLA chairperson, who is in the audience) and points to the construction of glass walls to see into the Boston Public Library. This increases “permeability.” When she was head of the BPL, she lowered the stacks on the second floor so now you can see across the entire floor. Permeability “is a very smart architecture” for both physical and digital spaces.

Jeff: Rendering visible a lot of the invisible stuff that libraries do is “super-rich,” assuming the privacy concerns are addressed.

Andromeda: Is there scope in the DPLA metadata for users to address the inevitable imbalances in the metadata?

Dan: We collect data from 1,600 different sources. We normalize the data, which is essential if you want to enable it for collaboration. Our Metdata Application Profile v. 4 adds a field for annotation. Because we’re only a dozen people, we haven’t created a crowd-sourcing tool, but all our data is CC0 (public domain) so anyone who wants to can create a tool for metadata enhancement. If people do enhance it, though, we’ll have to figure out if we import that data into the DPLA.

Jeffrey: The politics of metadata and taxonomy has a long history. The Enlightenment fantasy is for a universal metadata school. What does the future look like on this issue?

Andromeda: “You can have extremely crowdsourced metadata, but then you’re subject to astroturfing”You can have extremely crowdsourced metadata, but then you’re subject to astroturfing and popularity boosting results for bad reasons. There isn’t a great solution except insofar as you provide frameworks for data that enable many points of view and actively solicit people to express themselves. But I don’t have a solution.

Dan: E.g., at DPLA there are lots of ways entering dates. We don’t want to force a scheme down anyone’s throat. But the tension between crowdsourced and more professional curation is real. The Indianapolis Museum of Art allowed freeform tagging and compared the crowdsourced tags vs. professional. Crowdsourced: “sea” and “orange” were big, which curators generally don’t use.


Q: People structure knowledge differently. My son has ADHD. Or Nepal, where I visited recently.

A: Dan: It’s great that the digital can be reformatted for devices but also for other cultural views. “That’s one of the miraculous things about the digital.” E.g., digital book shelves like StackLife can reorder themselves depending on the query.

Jeff: Yes, these differences can be profound. “Designing for that is a challenge but really exciting.”

Andromeda: This is a why it’s so important to talk with lots of people and to enable them collaborate.

me: Linked data seems to resolve some of these problems with metadata.

Dan: Linked Data provides a common reference for entities. Allows harmonizing data. The DPLA has a slot for such IDs (which are URIs). We’re getting there, but it’s not our immediate priority. [Blogger’s perogative: By having many references for an item linked via “sameAs” relationships can help get past the prejudice that can manifest itself when there’s a single canonical reference link. But mainly I mean that because Linked Data doesn’t have a single record for each item, new relationships can be added relatively easily.]

Q; How do business and industry influence libraries? E.g., Google has images for every place in the world. They have scanned books. “I can see a triangulation happening. Virtual libraries? Virtual spaces?

Andromeda: (1) Virtual tech is written outside of libraries, almost entirely. So it depends on what libraries are able to demand and influence. (2) Commercial tech sets expectations for what users experiences should be like, which libraries may not be able to support. (3) “People say “Why do we need libraries? It’s all online and I can pay for it.” No, it’s not, and no, not everyone can.”People say “Why do we need libraries? It’s all online and I can pay for it.” No, it’s not, and no, not everyone can. Libraries should up their tech game, but there’s an existential threat.

Jeffrey: People use other spaces to connect to knowledge, e.g. coffee houses, which are now being incorporated into libraries. Some people are anxious about that loss of boundary. Being able to eat, drink, and talk is a strong “vision statement” but for some it breaks down the world of contemplative knowledge they want from a library.

Q: The National Science and Technology Library in China last week said they have the right to preserve all electronic resources. How can we do that?

Dan: Libraries have long been sites for preservation. In the 21st century we’re so focused on getting access now now now, we lose sight that we may be buying into commercial systems that may not be able to preserve this. This is the main problem with DRM. Libraries are in the forever business, but we don’t know where Amazon will be. We don’t know if we’ll be able to read today’s books on tomorrow devices. E.g., “I had a subscription to Oyster ebook service, but they just went out of business. There go all my books. ”I had a subscription to Oyster ebook service, but they just went out of business. There go all my books. Open Access advocacy is going to play a critical role. Sure, Google is a $300B business and they’ll stick around, but they drop services. They don’t have a commitment like libraries and nonprofits and universities do to being in the forever business.

Jeff: It’s a huge question. It’s really important to remember that the oldest digital documents we have are 50 yrs old which isn’t even a drop in the bucket. There’s far from universal agreement about the preservation formats. Old web sites, old projects, chunks of knowledge, of mine have disappeared. What does it mean to preserve a virtual world? We need open standards, and practices [missed the word] “Digital stuff is inherently fragile.”

Andromeda: There are some good things going on in this space. The Rapid Response Social Media project is archiving (e.g., #Ferguson). Preserving software is hard: you need the software system, the hardware, etc.

Q: Distintermediation has stripped out too much value. What are your thoughts on the future of curation?

Jeffrey: There’s a high level of anxiety in the librarian community about their future roles. But I think their role comes away as reinforced. It requires new skills, though.

Andromeda: In one pottery class the assignment was to make one pot. In another, it was to make 50 pots. The best pots came out of the latter. When lots of people can author lots of stuff, it’s great. That makes curation all the more critical.

Dan: the DPLA has a Curation Core: librarians helping us organize our ebook collection for kids, which we’re about to launch with President Obama. Also: Given the growth in authorship, yes, a lot of it is Sexy Vampires, but even with that aside, we’ll need librarians to sort through that.

Q: How will Digital Rights Management and copyright issues affect ebooks and libraries? How do you negotiate that or reform that?

Dan: It’s hard to accession a lot of things now. For many ebooks there’s no way to extract them from their DRM and they won’t move into the public domain for well over 100 years. To preserve things like that you have to break the law — some scholars have asked the Library of Congress for exemptions to the DMCA to archive films before they decay.

Q: Lightning round: How do you get people and the culture engaged with public libraries?

Andromeda: Ask yourself: Who’s not here?

Jeffrey: Politicians.

Dan: Evangelism

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September 11, 2015

[liveblog] Bringing Silicon Valley to Government

I’m at an event sponsored by the Shorenstein Center and Ash Center and the Center for Public Leadership on “Bringing Silicon Valley to Government?” (#HKSgovtech). Panelists are:

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.

Van Dyck, Sinai, and Martin
Van Dyck, Sinai, and Martin

Maria Martin begins. She had founded a company and worked there for ten years, but then applied to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow, thinking she stood no chance. (She lightly recommends sending in a resume printed on colored paper.) She got in, and moved to DC for six months, or so she thought. Then she was asked to be a senior advisor in the White House. One day her boss, Todd Park [former federal CTO], couldn’t make a meeting at the Veterans Administration. She went and fell in love with the problem because it affected veterans and because it seemed solvable through software. The other people around the room were policy folks and didn’t know how to use software that way. She was told by her friends it’d be frustrating, but you can learn how to get things done in government. She was 28 years old when she became CTO of the VA.

Nick introduces Tim O’Reilly as “the godfather of tech.” Tim begins by denying that. “The thing I’ve done most of my career is to watch interesting people and say, ‘Wow, there’s something there!’.” “I’m kind of like a talent scout.” The person who first inspired him about gov’t is Carl Malamud. “He was the first person to put any govt agency on the Internet.” Carl went to Eric Schmidt who at the time was CTO of Sun and licensed data from the SEC. After two years Carl said he was going to shut it down unless the govt took it over. (See Public Resource.)

Then Tim saw Adrian Holovaty‘s mash up of crime data with Google Maps and said, “Wow, techies are beginning to pay attention to govt.” This inspired Tim to want to get more govt stuff into his Web 2.0 conference. He realized that government as a platform had created great value. E.g., opening up GPS. “So much of govt has been focused on, ‘We have to build it or else it won’t exist.’ … My idea was that if you open data, entrepreneuers can build on it.” Not open data for transparency so much as open data for building things. Todd Park, who was at Health & Human Services at the time, “totally got it.” When Amazon launched its Web Services, it found the people illegally hacking on its data. Tim’s company was one of them, to get book data. So Amazon brought in the hackers and built the services they need. HHS did this too. There are now hundreds or possibly thousands of apps using the HHS data.

Haley Van Dyck was on track in 2008 to move to Beijing to work for CNN on Olympics coverage. She was at a dinner where speakers talked about the need to do more for race relations in the US. Obama was running, so she went to work for him in Chicago. When they won, they were asked to connect citizens to government. She started at the FCC building the first new media team to fix their interface to the public. [Wow, they had a terrible UI. Thanks for helping to fix it, Haley!] She thanks Tim for helping to build a like-minded tech community in building. She now leads the US Digital Service.

Nick Sinai went to business school, worked for Lehman, and then pivoted to go to work for Pres. Obama, at the FCC for 1.5 yrs and in the White House for four years.

Haley: USDS is a team embedded in the White House and distributed dedicated to transform the most important citizen-facing services. It was started after the rescue effort. “Let’s bring in a couple of hyper-talented engineers” and add them to the hundreds of consultants in order to change the environment tasked with fixing the site that the President’s most important initiative rested upon. “At any moment, there were only 5-6 people working on” and they were able to fix it. The President asked that this method be used more broadly, so the USDS was founded.

The USDS theory of change is that the best way to create change is to deliver results and to do it where it’s most needed. There’s a team at the VA and a Homeland Security working on immigration services. The immigration process is currently entirely paper-based. To apply you have to send in avery long paper docket that humans then look out. It’s difficult to put this together. The paper file get sents around to immigration centers. By the end (6-9 months) it will have traveled the distance equivalent to going around the world six times. The postal costs alone are $300M/year.

A seven year long procurement for $1.2B was begun about ten years ago [I think] which resulted in a process that was even longer. The Obama administration decided to fix this. A $1.4B procurement process put it into the same hands as the first time. “We can’t build an application process the way we build battleships.” (Tim quotes Clay Shirky that the traditional waterfall sw dev process is “a commitment by everyone not to learn anything while doing the work.”) Instead, the digital team — five people — released the first sw update four months later.

Nick: Traditionally, we spend years developing the procurement. Then years writing the requirements. Then years building the system. Then in year 7 or 10 sw would actually launch. We’ll spend billion of dollars on a single sw enterprise system and then it fails because sw changes, and the requirements are wrong because no one tested them. But instead sw developers rapidly deploy, test what’s working, iterate.

Tim: There’s a real cultural change. If you’re a supplier charging the govt a billion for something that only costs a million, you don’t have incentive to shrink your profts a thousand-fold. The contractors say the project is massive like a moon landing, but Silicon Valley people look at it and say, “Actually, it’s in the range of a mid-size dating site.”

Haley: The five people on the team couldn’t have done it on their own. They worked with the contractors who were there. It’s a tight partnership.

Nick: We spend $80B/year in IT in govt, not including intelligence. (HHS has $11B budget for IT.) But we’re not getting the value.

Marina: The VA has 330,000 employees and 8,000 IT managers. It took a year and a half to get the first hire of the new team in. She had to document that she couldn’t hire through the usual pipeline…which itself took a year. She had to show the value of hiring another 75 people.

A VA example: The President was going to announce a site where you could put in the number of years of service and see how many “GI dollars” [? – couldn’t hear] you have. The contractor spent $1M building this simple page and it wouldn’t even load on the Internet. Marina asked one of the PIFs [Presidential Innovation Fellows]to look at the page. S/he called three hours later it and had fixed it.

[Audience member:] The culture, based on the annual budgets of the agencies, is more complex than you’re saying. SW companies selling to the govt have to include complexities to meet the culture and requirements. [Not sure I’m getting this.]

Marina: You change culture by celebrating vendors who do it in new ways.

Nick: The Administration has a program to educate the contracting officers across all the agencies who do the negotiations.

Marina: There are 1000+ websites at the VA and maybe a dozen IDs for each veteran. 942 toll-free numbers. So, how do you change the veteran’s experience. I could argue the need for this for 20 years, but instead we exposed it to the veterans. We didn’t close down the 1000 websites, but instead created one website that lets you get to what you need. How do we get info to the people who support veterans? To the community? The answer to our most-asked question takes 17 clicks to get to, and that answer is “Call your RO” without telling you what “RO” means (regional office) or how to call it.

The VA also built its own Electronic Health Records system many many years ago; we’re going to launch a new, open source EHR platform. And it’s building the first apps to make sure it works.

Third, the VA team is working on the appeals backlog. You have to process them in chronological order so there’s no low-hanging fruit. One of the boxes you can check is “Do you want a local hearing?” That’s very attractive to users, but it doesn’t tell them that that means a judge will be flown into their city in 2019. Giving users more info would help.

Nick: You’re engaging in user-centered design. The shift is massive. How do you hide the complexity of govt?

Tim: You should all read The UK Digital Govt Design Principles. The message is: Users first. The big difference between govt and the Valley is that in the Valley if you don’t please your customers, you’re out of business. But in govt you can go on for years getting funded. “The feedback loop is fundamentally broken.” In Silicon Valley you test, you work on it incrementally, you add new features.

Tim also recommends Jake Solomon’s “People, not Data” about food stamps in San Francisco. Why is there so much churn in the system? People apply and then drop out. One big reason: Applicants receive incomprehensible letters. “That was just the first step in debugging the system for users.” Govt administrators should be required to use this systems. (This was addressed by Code for America, which was a model for PIFs, started by Jen Pahlka (Tim’s wife.)

Haley: We’re working on a big project for the President. His advisors had a feature they really really really wanted included in the project. We were running an agile dev project, and added the feature. But in testing it turned out that the users weren’t clicking on that feature, preferring to use the search engine instead. But one of the advisors was incredibly upset that the feature he wanted wasn’t included in the launch version. We explained why. “We saw their minds just shift.” The advisor said, “You’re not building it because users don’t want it! We shouldn’t just build sw this way. We ought to build policy that way as well.'” “I left the West Wing wanting to cry [with joy].”

Tim: “If you can build something and show it works, you can change minds” about policy.

Nick: How do we turn those feedback cycles into weeks or months…?

Haley: Here’s the second half of the story. We decided to release all of the data to the partners in a private beta. It turns out that the feature the advisors wanted has been implemented by a third party as a separate standalone product.” You can achieve so much more by opening up data than by doing it all yourself.

Nick: Regulators sometimes fight innovation…

Tim: See my “Open Data and Algorithmic Regulation.” Lots of people hate regulation, but we want, for example, credit card companies to monitor usage to prevent fraud. This is a type of regulation. The credit card companies regulate in real-time and adaptively. Maybe govt regulation should look this way. The Fed does this, because we’re judged by the outcomes, not by our adherence to policy rules like “Interest rates shall be set at X.” They continuously adjust the knobs and levers. Nick Grossman has raised this recently about the debates about Uber and AirBnb. He says that they ought to open up their data to govt regulators so we can figure out the actual impact. Is Uber increasing or decreasing congestion?

Nick: What are the career paths like?

Marina: I didn’t think there was any way I could be in govt. There are many routes in.



Haley: Just do it.

Tim: You can do a lot from the outside. We all have a call to public service. We need a fundamental rebirth of civic mindedness, that govt something we do together. We need govt, unlike the conservatives and Silicon Valley believe.

Haley: We don’t know how algorithic regulation works or how far it should go into the delivery of services. This is something we all need to work on.

Nick: Engineering and Design programs should be working on these sorts of issues.


Q: Traditionally govt was not a top option for grads. Now it’s becoming more attractive. There’s more of a sense in the Valley that it’s their duty to fix things rather than just complaining.

Q: What steps are you taking beyond getting shit done to address some of the fundamental issues around procurement,agile dev, hiring quickly…?

Haley: We began with hiring. We’re done from 9 months to 4 wks to hire someone, which make us competitive with the private sector. (We use Schedule A Hiring Authority. “This is super wonky.”) The procurement process: crucial. We need to enable the right kind of companies to do the work. First, we’re working on building better buyers by bringing in technologists. In 1.5 months we’re launching an agile procurement process. We’re starting to train contracting officers with a five month course to understand how to procure digital in a way that makes sense. We’working with 18f on a pilot to reduce the barriers. We’d love to rebuild Schedule 70 .

Nick: It takes about 9 months to get on that schedule. GSA has a goal of getting this down to 21 days. There are ideas about raising the threshold for purchasing. Right now it’s an 80-90 PDF you have fill out. There’s so much friction in the system and you end up with people’s core competency is navigating the bureaucracy of the system.

Tim: As part of the new process, you’re given a data set available through a public API and you’re given a working app within a week. One of the largest IT companies couldn’t do it so they failed the agile certification process.

Nick: It’s about show, not tell.

Tim: It used to be that you had to provide a working model to get a patent. Think about all the junk sw patents. A working prototype ought to be a requirement.

Marina: And it’s not just about building apps. It’s about understanding the users and getting the incentives right.

Q: Everyone has a different definition of “agile.”

Tim: There’s always more than one way to do it, to cite the PERL slogan. There’s a family of things you can call “agile” : iterative, small pieces, feedback loops. Any version of agile is better than any version of waterfall development.

Nick: If it delivers in weeks, then I don’t care what we call it.

Q: You’re competing with Silicon Valley for people. Have you thought about offering H1 B visas for USDS?

A: That’s very interesting to us.

Q: How about the politics involved? There are forces that have spent decades dismantling in place systems that let Congressfolk know what they’re doing, etc. What are you doing to make sure that USDS is robust?

A: I’ve been surprised at how easy it’s been to identify the common causes you share whether you’re a Dem or Repub. No one wants veterans to have bad service from the VA. TBD is how the contracting community will respond. We’ve tried to be clear that this is not about taking away business from contractors. We’re not on a witch hunt against them. We want to make them more efficient. In many instances they’re delivering the systems we asked for but we got the requirements wrong.

Q: What skills should students develop to be attractive to USDS, etc.? Especially for Kennedy School students?

Marina: I hired a Kennedy School grad who’s been amazing. He has good dev skills,but more important he’s able to understand and ask questions and navigate through problems.

Haley: Show results.

Tim: It’s not about being a rockstar coder. Rather, solve user problems, and have a fundamental facility with tech that lets you say, “Oh yeah, that’s easy to do. Here’s the tool you use. The consumerization of IT means that you often don’t need to go to someone else to get something done.” “Tools like GitHub should be in your reportoire.” Young people can come into govt and help it see what things are easy so we spend money on what’s hard.

Nick: Go to a hackathon and work on some project together.

Q: As a designer and architect, how much of it is govt interacting with architects, city planners, and people who care about design? Lawyers often implement laws without regard to design.

Haley: We hire product designers, visual designers, user researchers. We’re in desperate need of more of them.

Tim: Code for America uses a lot of designers as well. And designed should be tested and iterated on as well. “It’d be awesome to have the equivalent of agile dev in city design.”

Nick: You could argue that The Constitution is a design document.

Q: I haven’t heard much from you about saving money.

Marina: I have to lead with the impact on veterans’ lives. Cost-savings is important but it isn’t enough of a driver of change. Even if we save $2B of the $80B, it barely dings the chart.

Haley: It’s an amazing secondary outcome of building better services for users. Also, cost-cutting inadvertently puts you in adversarial stance with some of the folks there. It’s easier to focus on who we are serving.

Q: What are you doing to create a sense of urgency?

Marina: We’re not going to be around forever.

Haley: We are living in a services delivery crisis. Veterans are dying because of that.

Nick: “Practice radical empathy.” You can’t just drop in as a hot shit technologist. You have to have empathy not just for veterans but for the person who’s been in this job for thirty years. You have to ask how you can make them the hero.

Tim: When immigration reform was on the table, that created urgency to get ahead of the topic so that there would’t be another sort of meltdown. And people want to be remembered for doing something good. Listen to what they’re trying to accomplish and how you can help them. There’s a human element.

Q: How to bring the human voice into policy circles? USDS asked me to report on what it’s like to get an immigrant visa. They sent me to the Dominican Republic where I talked with people about their experience, and shadowed them when they went to the local immigration office while they waited for 5 hours for their 10-min interview. The deliverable was a memo to the President. Having a background in policy was helpful in writing that in a way that made user needs and experience understandable to policy makers.

Haley: It coupled the policy discussion with implementation suggests. That’s rare and can be transformative.

[What a fantastic panel. And a completely awesome set of people — more examples of what true patriotism can look like.]

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August 10, 2015

[2b2k] Sharing the credit when knowledge gets big

The Wall Street Journal has run an article by Robert Lee Hotz that gently ridicules scientists for including thousands of people as co-authors of some scientific publications. Sure, a list of 2,000 co-authors is risible. But the article misses some of the reasons why it’s not.

As Robert Lee points out, “experiments have gotten more complicated.” But not just by a little. How many people did it take to find the Higgs Boson particle? In fact, as Michael Nielsen (author of the excellent Reinventing Discovery) says, how many people does it take to know that it’s been found? That knowledge depends on deep knowledge in multiple fields, spread across many institutions and countries.

In 2012 I liveblogged a fantastic talk by Peter Galison on this topic. He pointed to an additional reason: it used to be that engineers were looked upon as mere technicians, an attitude mirrored in The Big Bang (the comedy show, not the creation of the universe—so easy to get those two confused!). Over time, the role of engineers has been increasingly appreciated. They are now often listed as co-authors.

In an age in which knowledge quite visibly is too big to be known by individuals, sharing credit widely more accurate reflects its structure.

In fact, it becomes an interesting challenge to figure out how to structure metadata about co-authors so that it captures more than name and institution and does so in ways that make it interoperable. This is something that my friend Amy Brand has been working on. Amy, recently named head of the MIT University Press is going to be a Berkman Fellow this year, so I hope this topic will be a subject of discussion at the Center.

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June 3, 2015

[liveblog] Walter Bender

Walter Bender of SugarLabs begins by saying “What I’m all about is tools.” “The character of tools shapes what you can do.” He’s an advocate of “software libre” that lets the user be the shaper. That brings responsibility, which Walter wants to celebrate.

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.

He’s going to talk about

He goes back to Papert and Cynthia Solomon who in the late 1960s invented Logo. Fifty years ago. Then Jobs and Gates gave us babysitting: sw was there to be used, not an environment for creating ideas. You have to be given the tools and the knowledge.

In 1971, Papert and Solomon wrote “Twenty things you can do with software.” Walter today is going to give us a sense of the breadth of things you can do with software:

  • Using Turtle Blocks to draw interesting shapes, or create a paint program or paint with noise or attach pen size to time. “Once it belongs to you, you’re responsible for it it. And then it has to be cool, because who wants to be responsible for something that’s not cool?”

  • Challenges and puzzles

  • Add sensors, cameras, etc., create aa burglar alarm that photos the burglar

  • measure gravitational acceleration

  • Continent game written by a third grader

  • Build a robot

  • Model math

  • Collaborate across the network in a multimedia chat program

You can even extend the language. You can export your program into another programming language. A child wrote an extension to the language to download maps.

Turtle Blocks tries to make the learning visible to the learner — statistics about what the learner is doing, etc.

It’s got to be easy enough that you’ll try it, but it has to be hard if you’re going to learn. Many tools have low floors to enable easy entry but they also have low ceilings.

“Debugging is the greatest oppportunity for learning in the 21st century.” (Walter ties this idea to Cynthia Solomon.)

What motivates people: autonomy, a sense of mastery, and having a sense of purpose.

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[liveblog] Ronen Sofer from Intel

Ronen Sofer from Intel shows a video that is in favor of education.

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. Listening through a translator. You are warned, people.

How do we connect tech and people? [He gives a post-ironic spiel, mocking typical industry pitches.] But the real challenge in “going beyond the screen.”

So far, the screen has been an interactive text book. Very structured. Visually rich. How to get closer to personal tutoring.

Barriers: 1. Sensing, recognizing and understanding me; 2. Reacting and reasoning

What Intel can offer:

  • Perceptual computing

  • RealSense enable detection of faces, expressions, sentiment, etc.

  • PerC Avatars: avatars that mimic your expressions

  • Physical activity context – fitbit-ish

  • understanding of time: when is the optimal time for studying

  • Makerspace stuff

  • Natural language, cognitive computing, connected classroom, KNO content management for ed

  • RealSense + Scratch (RealScratch)

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[liveblog] Yoram Yaacovi on Hololens

Yoram Yaacovi from Microsoft talks about Hololens and shows an awesome video. Maybe this one.

Imagine, he says, being at home but seeing the people next to you in the classroom. Also: collaboratie prototyping. Interactive whiteboards. Expanded user interfaces. Design for Reparability.

He shows a supercool video of an educational use.

He doesn’t know when it will be available.

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