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September 18, 2009

Interview about e-gov ‘n’ stuff

Ulrike Reinhard has posted a video interview she did with me yesterday in preparation for the Reboot_D – Digital Democracy conference in Germany. We talk about e-gov, transparency, and whether the Web is a “third place.”


And, while I’m on the topic of videos, here’s a somewhat more lively one:

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September 1, 2009

Pew on civic engagement

Pew Internet & Life has a new study on the Internet and civic engagement. Here are the four key findings, as put by Lee Rainie, the head of the project:

First, those engaged with civic life online are very similar to those who participate offline from a socio-economic perspective. It turns out that overall the internet is not dramatically diversifying the class of folks who are civically engaged. The well-to-do and well-educated still predominate online, despite some of the early hope and predictions of activists.

Second, generational change in civic engagement is taking place online. Young adults, traditionally a politically inactive group, show less of a deficit in online than in offline political participation.

Third, new kinds of civic engagement are being created in the social mediasphere – on blogs, social network sites, Twitter and the like. Young internet users dominate their elders in those areas and there is tantalizing evidence that socio-economic stratification is not as pronounced among the social media participants who are civically engaged.

Fourth, we find that online tools like email, websites, and instant messaging are now embedded in civic activity as groups of all kinds use them to further civic and political goals.

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July 26, 2009

A tip to the TSA

Here’s an except from a message Gary Stock sent to a mailing list (used with permission):

Works:
http://www.tsa.gov/

Fails:

http://tsa.gov/

Network Timeout
The server at tsa.gov is taking too long to respond.

(Don’t you suppose that’s hundreds of people, or more, every day?)

Presumably, because the underlying address is:

http://tsagov.edgesuite.net/

…which seems awfully damn strange to begin with!

I work in server config only infrequently, but there are at least two
very reliable methods to make “http://tsa.gov” function — some one of
which *should* be invoked. Either add a DNS CNAME record, OR use
.htaccess locally for a 301 redirect. (More obscure DNS record or
server conf alternatives are left as an exercise for the reader ;-)

Anyone at the TSA listening (= ego-surfing) and care to make the change? (PS: The TSA blog continues to be a model. Also, fun.)

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Deval Patrick plummets, and responds with talking points

According to a Boston Globe poll, the popularity of Mass. Gov Deval Patrick has plummeted.

Too bad. I think he’s been doing a good job in an economic and political environment within which success can only be measured by degrees of failure. (Those who worry about one-party control turning into a tyranny have never met Massachusetts Democrats.)

But, I was disappointed to receive an email this morning from Doug Rubin, of the Deval Patrick Committee, containing “talking points” for his supporters, with a form that lets us forward it to ten people. The msg begins:

Friends,

In light of today’s Globe Poll, we know that many of you will be receiving many questions about the Governor and the Commonwealth. Below are some talking points to help with those conversations. We ask that you use these in conversation and distribute them to your friends and family. I’m proud of what we have accomplished, feel confident talking about our work, and I hope you are as well.

Sincerely,
Doug Rubin

Jeez, I really don’t want to be recruited as a spin agent.

Governor Patrick, I know this has to be a sucky day for you. There are lots of us in the Commonwealth who think you’re the right person for the job and that you’re an exceptional person in near impossible circumstances. We want to help. Don’t spin us. Fall back on us. We’ll rise to catch you. Trust us.

One more thing: The email msg and the DevalPatrick.com site it comes from do not explain who Doug Rubin is (Google reports he’s the Governor’s Chief of Staff [NOTE later that day: Doug Rubin says in the comments that he was Patrick’s Chief of Staff but is now part of the Governor’s campaign team] or Deval Patrick’s relationship to the site, other than noting that it is not an official government site. How about a little more transparency than that?

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July 22, 2009

My PDF talk on facts ‘n’ transparency

Link. (The video embeds my slides, but (1) they get more and more out of order in this YouTube; they were in the right order when I actually presented them. 2. My font got lost somewhere in the translations, and so there’s a fair bit of mis-sizing, text overflows, etc.) (I posted about one of the ideas in the talk (transparency as the new objectivity) here.)

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July 2, 2009

The government is the new Google

a href=”http://www.buzzmachine.com/”>Jeff Jarvis led a discussion at PDF among 1,000 people about what government could learn from Google, and, more generally, what a bunch of techies would do to make government better. Jeff’s got this rare cross of skills as a writer, teacher, entertainer and provoker. If you haven’t seen him at work, you should grab the next opportunity. And, yes, Jeff is a friend, so I’m biased. But I’m also right.

So, here’s a way the government is becoming like Google. Remember how a few years ago, Google was grabbing the best and the brightest techies of every stripe? Every time you turned around, someone else you admired had moved there. Now the same thing is happening with the federal government. It’s the glamorous place many of the best and the brightest — including some from Google — want to work. The government is becoming a center of innovation. It may not be as wild as the garages of Silicon Valley and the Charles River, but it’s dreaming big and its heart is pure. These positions are being filled with the diametric opposites of lobbyists. It’s pretty amazing.

Note to self: Re-read The Best and the Brightest to see if there are lessons for the new federal techies.

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July 1, 2009

PDF: The takeway

PDF was an unusually rich conference. Great folks there and an especially good year to be talking about the effect of the Net on politics and governance.

My take-away (although having a single take-away from a conference I just said is rich is rather contradictory, don’t you think?): The Web has won in a bigger way than I’d thought. The people President Obama is appointing to make use of the Web for increased citizen participation and greater democracy (well, at least as access to the Web and the skills required are distributed more evenly) are our best, brightest, and webbiest. And they are doing remarkable things.


Douglas Rushkoff interviewed me for his radio show yesterday or was it the day before? Anyway, here it is. We talked about PDF and about my presentation there, which was about transparency and the changing role of facts.

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June 30, 2009

[pdf09] Mark Pesce on global politics in the hyperconnected universe.

Mark Pesce is talking about the new global power. [I didn’t liveblog Michael Wesch’s talk because it was too hard to. It’s was close to his popular YouTube lecture about YouTube. He got and deserved a standing ovation.]

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 distribution of power has changed but it comes with a loss of control, which means our culture might start hydroplaning. We need to watch the collisions, but remember that people are going to get hurt. We need a political science for the 21st century.

Last month, Wikipedia banned Scientology from editing WP. The Scientologists compared WP to Nazis. Scientology is highly hierarchical. WP is a social agreement to share what we know for the good of all. What happens when they crash? Scientology uses law suits. How does Scientology deal with a social agreement. If Scientology wanted to declare war, it would attack the social agreement, wearing away at the bonds of trust. ckobama,

Mark points to the phenomenon of “communication overload.” E.g., the NY my.barackobama site was overwhelmed by supporters, so O supporters moved elsewhere, using older media. We haven’t yet seen a hybrid beast that can operate hierarchically but interact with the ad hocracy. Project Houdini (tracking who voted) crashed on Election Day, overwhelmed by info. These both were “friendly fire” incidents. We need to learn how to crush the gulf.

“The next decade will be completely hellish” for parties and campaigners.

Hyperempowered communities face a mismatch with the hierarchical mechanisms of the state, even with the best of intentions. But the catastrophes are the first sign of success. So, the state has to radically reform its means of communication, moving out of hierarchies, becoming more chaotic. But this is asking the leopard to change its spots.

We need to watch hyperintelligences emerge and see how governments react. The rules of the game are changing. “The best first step is observation.” The O administration provides the “perfect lab.” This will give us the first snapshot of a political science for the 21st century. Powerful, hyperconnected communities wil sometims struggle against or work with hierarchical institutions. But in each case the hierarchical will have to adapt itself to a new order.

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[pdf09] Alec Ross: 21st Century Statecraft

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.

Alec Ross is the Innovation Advisor to Hillary Clinton. He’s bringing Net tools, esp. social media, to the State Dept. He begins by saying that alog of what we’re talking about today is power. E.g., the Roman Catholic Church held power because thye power over the texts. Gutenberg’s press shifted power to nation states. “That has held until now when it’s beginning to fray because of the power of our networks.” [BTW, I missed Randi Zuckerberg’s interview. Sorry.]

Diplomacy has largely been a matter of white guys in white shirts and red ties talking with other white guys in white shirts and red ties, he says. Now we need citizen engagement in foreign policy. Alec segments this into gov’t to people, people to people, and people to gov’t.

Gov’t to people: E.g., Obama’s video on the Iranian new year posted straight to the Net, for Iranians. E.g., Obama’s speech pushed onto mobile phones.

People to gov’t: “We’re now looking at the potential of people to push gov’ts.” Here the US gov ‘t may not be the primary actor. E.g., the Moldova “twitter rev.” E.g., the No Mas Farc movement (a Facebook action) that has no charismatic leader but that mobilized 10M to march. “If Paul Revere were a modern day citizen, he wouldn’t have ridden down Main St. He would have just tweeted. And we wouldn’t have known his name. Everyone in our society has the power to be a new Paul Revere.” How can we engage the American public move our foreign policy forward?

People to people statecraft. “We’re just beginning to experiment with this in the State Dept.” E.g., they were about to write a check for $110M for relief in NW Pakistan. A jr staff person suggested making an SMS shortcode that would send $5 to the UN PakistabnRelif agency. She had the idea on Thurs morning, Thurs afternoon Clinton heard about it [which probably means that Alec told her about it], and a few days later it was announced from the White House.

He says that Hillary Clinton has been pushing on this hard, and recognizes that it’s a messy space in which there’s need for room for failure.

Micah: How does this related to hard power?
AR: Over the past 8 yrs, defense has been far too much the way we engage around he world. We need to reaffirm the centrality of the other two pillars: development and diplomacy.

Q: What is the role of the US gov’t is supporting digital activists around the world?
AR: This admin recognizes there are digital activists. We can’t just thrust them into war zones. Sect’y Clinton is supporting grassroots civil society orgs around the world so that they can integrate digital tools into their work.
RF: Officials around the world are on Facebook, not always because they like openness, but because it lets people become fans.

Q: How do you weed out hate speech?
RF: Our terms of service pretty clearly define what hate speech is — it incites violence — and those groups come down pretty quickly as we hear of them. Controversial groups who are not inciting hate and bviolence are left up.

Q: To the extent that there are flashmobs, are there any that you need to be tapped down?
AR: We aren’t always going to agree with the actions that are taken. Sometimes our enemies are going to do things we don’t like. That’s what happens on a participatory, open network. [Tags: ]

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[pdf09] Sunlight Foundation announcement

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.

Ellen Miller, founder of The Sunlight Foundation, says that after this morning’s sessions at PDF (Vivek Kundra’s announcement, Beth Noveck) “We feel pretty good.”

Sunlight Labs has a staff of 14 and a community of about a thousand. Clay Johnson talks the problem that the government data isn’t always in computable form. Now there’s TransparencyCorps.org, a task queuing service for people who want to help. It’s beginning with three tasks: Earmark reading task, photo uploading task, and find the twitter accounts of your local reps task. E.g., the earmarks are in PDF files which are not easily computer-processible. E.g., “Wal-Mart” may be expressed as “walmart,” Wal Mart,” etc. You get points for doing tasks to level up. Highest level: Transparency Overlord.

TransparencyCorps is open source so you can run your own on your own site. “We ask you not to call it TransparencyCorps because that would be a jerk thing to do.” :)

David Moore with OpenCongress.org announces a complete redesign. “We’re building a social network of actions around Congress.” “Users tracking this bill are also tracking…”

Q: [tim carr of FreePress] Can orgs like mine plug into these?
A: Yes. At OpenCongress, you can use the social info, and you can get at the data via API.

Q: How about for state govt’s?
Clay: We’re working on it. 18-24 months, maybe.

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