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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=””>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.



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] Has the Net helped journalism?

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.

Frank Rich: Yes. But someone is going to have figure out how to pay for it. I suspect it will be figured out. There are always these fears during dislocations.

Karen Tumulty: It’s a terrifying time for traditional newspapers, but there are models that work. E.g., I watch Marcy Wheeler’s thermometer.

Dan Gillmor: I’ll channel Clay Shirky. The cost of experimentation has gone to just about zero. There are thousands of experiments, including in business models. We need even more.

Scott Simon: We need to be open to social media. Journalists tend to get jaded. People are now their own editors. A tweeter in Iran said “Tell all your friends: You are the media.” I think that’s true, but there’s work to be done to recreate the best values of journalism all over again.

Rich: We’re so obsessed with new media. Let 1,000 tweets bloom in Iran, but we forget that people are still repressed. The happiness with Iranian’s use of social media has led us to distort the coverage.

Simon: With social media you can overhear people talking with one another, in a way that is very hard with traditional reporting.

Gillmor: The issue of verification can be pretty slippery. We’re having to relearn media literacy. We have to be skeptical of everything … including the NY Times. But we also have to learn how to be not equally skeptical of everything. I’m not worried about supply but we have pretty crappy demand…people who grew up as passive consumers. It’ll take work on our parts, as former consumers and now users, to figure out what to trust.

Tumulty: You may wobble on line but ultimately you get to what the truth is because so many people demand it.

Rich: The people in this room are obsessed with this stuff. We want to find out what’s really going on. But a lot of people, especially those who aren’t upper middle class, don’t have the time.

Andrew Rasiej: People weren’t waiting for the journalists to get news about Iran. The NYT is old by the time it’s printed, especially since now we can sometimes go to the source of the news. It’s not a business model.

Gillmor: Yes. We’re not going to have gatekeepers like before. We now tell one another story. But this is so new. We need to get reputation combined with this.

Rich: But there’s only so much we can absorb. We saw home radios consolidate. Some conglomerate will want to have a big brand, and they’ll set the brand. I think there will be a consolidation. There will always be a component that seeks out minority views…

Gillmor: I don’t see that. The only conglomerate that worries me the is duopoly of the cable and phone companies.

Rich: We’re saying the same thing.

Gillmor: That’s a different kind of consolidation that we’ve seen…

Rich: With the same effect, and from the same people.

Tumulty: We should worry about the Google consolidation. SEO distorts the way you frame things

Simon: Journalism has to make the case for why it’s its own ism. There are left and right invesetigative journalism sites. A real news org sometimes upsets its audience.

Rich: How do we get people to eat their spinach? A lot of people want only celebrity news. That’s always been true. Does this new structure make it easier to have the masturbatory news that they want?

Gillmor: For the first time it’s easy to go deep. Even if it’s celebrity culture, the act of going deeper is instructive to some percent of that group. If we can increase the small percentage of people who create news, that’ll make a big difference.

Rich: People who watch ESPN are not going to start following Iran. And the paradox of the last decade: The whole growth of the new media occurred during a time when the Prez sent us to war on a fiction. Even though some of the fiction came from the NYT, the Prez got away with it. Even though people had more news sources, they were susceptible to a propaganda campaign.

AR: But Gonzalez might still be the attorney general…

Rich: Small potatoes compared to swallowing the war propaganda.

Gillmor: Traditional media still have enormous sway, and it was moreso 5 yrs ago. This isn’t an overnight transition. You’re right that that was a catastrophe. The traditional media walked in lockstep with deceptive people in DC. It’s going to take some time. It’s also instructive that the Guardian web site became enormously more popular because English-speakers wanted the other sides.

Simon: One of the hopes for new media is that it’s easier to be interested in both sports and politics and crocheting.

Gillmor: Traditional media were about producing, creating, distributing stuff. That’s not what we do online. We create it. We make it available. People come and get it. That’s really different. Viewers of Fox don’t have a link to what the other side says. Right wing blogs have links to the people they’re criticizing. If we can encourage people to click that link, people can see there are multiple facets…

Tumulty: But the people who land on that blog are not open to persuaded. The Net reinforces people in their beliefs.

Rich: People didn’t want to believe that Sadam didn’t have WMDs. We shouldn’t assume we’re automatically in a Renaissance.

Simon: There’s a still lot to be said for people seeking out variety. I think they’re not going to be satisfied with narrowcasting.

[I stood on line to ask a question and thus missed some live bloggage. There was a long discussion about the value of covering live events, for which there still seems to be demand.]

Q: [me] What’s the future of the idea of coverage? Coverage implies a value-free decision that we know is value-full, and it doesn’t scale well. [I had to say this twice because I didn’t put it well]
Rich: We’ll keep providing it so long as people want it.
Me: I’m suggesting it’s going the way of objectivity: a value no longer valued.
Rich: Papers have never pretended to offer full coverage.

[The session ran over; I had to leave before it ended.] [Tags: ]

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[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, 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 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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[pdf09] Todd Herman – A conservative in Oz

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. POSTED WITHOUT BEING REREAD You are warned, people.

Todd Herman is a conservative who wants his team to be using the new tools better. Conservatives need to understand the rules of engagement better. The ecosystem favors Obama. How is that working and how can Conservatives work it? “Chairman Steele said ‘Take the lid off.” What would you do if you were me?” E.g., he’s excited by Vivek Kundra’s announcement and wants to bring the data to his site where Republicans can comb it for info. But how open should a political be? How open can it be? “Can a political party really be open?” “Can we be as open as Twitter? I would love it if we could.”

He points to a 1997 Republican site: A virtual town. Very 1997-cool. USAToday rated it as more fun than the Disney site. The Republicans “have been here before. There’s nothing genetically stopping us from using them.” He shouts out to

Q: How do you envision this change in tech with the underlying philosophical approaches changing the Rep party?
A: I love that our elected leaders can have pretty direct communication with the voters. I think it’s changing that way. But we need to change the rules of engagement, e.g., away from gotcha.

Q: [jay rosen] Cognitive dissonance while listening to you: You seem to address us as if you didn’t know that the Bush admin had an opacity agenda. E.g., Ashcroft’s 2001 memo saying err on the side of not honoring FOIA requests. So, I’d think the Reps should be asking why it was in favor of opacity.
A: It’s a long conversation. Todd points to some instances of the Obama admin’s lack of transparency. “I’d gladly buy you dinner to have a long conversation about it…”
Jay: Good enough! Where are we going?

You picked on DemocraticUnderground, but missed FreeRepublic. But you asked us socratically what we would do if we were you. What would you do if you were us and saw the way the REpublicans manipulated voter roles?
A: I don’t accept the premise, but my question goes both way.

[Great to have a conservative speaking. IMO, it’d would have been better if he hadn’t used it as a way to address his political grievances, and instead solely focused on the issues of tech, politics, governance where we genuinely share interests. But, that’s just me.]

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[pdf09] Bech Noveck on White House office of openness

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. POSTED WITHOUT REREADING. You are warned, people.

Beth Noveck talks about the project that aims at opening up egov policy development to citizen participation. Beth is the White House person responsible for bringing open government to the fed gov’t. The Open project asked for ideas about open gov’t policy. Now it’s in the winnowing phase.

Micah asks if this is open source policy making and where it ends. Beth gives some examples. E.g., the opening up of the patent policy.

The Open project uses IdeaScale software because it has community self-moderation. People can propose ideas (4,205 so far) and rank them (367,000 votes so far). The tag cloud’s largest tag is “birth certificate.” These are people who want to see Obama’s birth certificate. (“Again,” Beth says.) Micah asks if this is a feature or a bug. “Are people freaking out because it’s on a gov’t web site?” Beth: “We gave a platform for people who have a cause.” People flagged and rated comments, “taking back the forum.” In any online community, you see the griefers as part of the lifecycle, she says (wisely).

Micah looks at the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog, which takes public comments. “We have the most wonderful conversations,” she says. “The community itself was able to come in and say that these comments are off topic.” They’ve moved off topic comments to another page; they’re still there. The crucial institutional innovation is the recognition that we don’t have all the expertise. We will make better decisions if we can engage others. She says that the scale of participants is small — hundreds, not thousands — but that’s ok if the quality of the conversation is good.

These online tools are not the only ways to participate, she says. They want to make sure that those who are not as digitally literate are also able to take part. These new ways “supplement and augment” the traditional ways of federal rule making.

We’re now heading into the third phase of the project, using MixedInk, a collaborative writing tool. This lets people suggest language for the policy. This helps drafting, but it also helps educate people about how hard it is to draft policy. MixedInk lets people vote on different drafts, so it’s not a “last one to write wins.”

She says they’re getting suggestions that no small group in the White House could have come up with on their own. They’re hearing impacts on people’s real lives. They’re learning about cool tools. They’re getting amazing suggestions for dealing with the Paperwork Reduction Act.

They’re going to distill and filter, and then put the results back out for public discussion.

[I actually choked up a bit listening to Beth, which I find embarrassing, but what the heck.]

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June 29, 2009

[pdf09] Blair Levin on the Broadband Initiative

Blair Levin heads the national broadband initiative.

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 says he can’t tell us what will be in the initiative because he doesn’t know. He’s been working on the process, which will be “open and public.” The process will be transparent, inclusive, participatory, and citizens are “Priority Number One.”

The process will be data-driven, rather than starting from the conclusions.

He asks whether 40% is larger than 108%. He says a telco says 40% is larger, pointing to a chart that shows that investment went up 40% after deregulation, but missing the data on the very same chart that shows it went up 108% after regulation. This, Blair says, violates a fundamental law of lobbying: Don’t show data that contradicts your point on the very same chart. He says we need to look at the whole broadband ecology, not at how a single sector does. He says that his team is going to take the task very seriously. And, he says, he’s sure they’ll say some dumb things and make some mistakes. He asks for leeway (as per Jeff Jarvis) to make some mistakes.

The result will be a plan, not a report. Recommendations. The policy decisions will be made by the FCC, not by Blair’s group.

He asks for our help. 1. Study the law requesting the broadband plan. 2. Attend the July 2nd FCC meeting. 3. Go to (It’s not up yet.) 4. Participate in the foming events and workshops. 5. Give them your best ideas.

[Great to hear this sort of clear commitment and clear talk. Now there’s a panel, which I’m not going to try to liveblog…]

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