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February 4, 2012

[2b2k] Moi moi moi

Steve Cottle has done a great job live-blogging my wrap-up talk at the Tech@State event. Thanks, Steve!

I was the guest on Tummelvision a couple of nights ago, which is podcast tumble-tumult of persons and ideas. It doesn’t get much more fun than that. Thanks, Heather, Kevin, and Deb!

The Berkman Center has posted the video of my book talk. Look on the bottom left to find the player and the links.

KMWorld’s Hugh McKellar has posted his interview with me.

And NYTECH has just posted a video of my talk there on Jan 25. The talk is about 45 mins and then there’s a lively Q&A. Thanks NY TECH!

Brandeins has posted an interview with Doc Searls and me about Cluetrain. (They translated it into German.)

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February 3, 2012

[tech@state][2b2k] Real-time awareness

At the Tech@State conf, a panel is starting up. Participants: Linton Wells (National Defense U), Robert Bectel (CTO, Office of Energy Efficiency), Robert Kirkpatrick (Dir., UN Global Pulse), Ahmed Al Omran (NPR and Suadi blogger), and Clark Freifield (

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.

Robert Bectel brought in [I use NetVibes as my morning newspaper.] to bring real-time into to his group’s desktop. It’s customized to who they are and what they do. They use Netvibes as their portal. They bring in streaming content, including YouTube and Twitter. What happens when people get too much info? So, they’re building analytics so people get info summarized in bar charts, etc. Even video analytics, analyzing video content. They asked what people wanted and built a food cart tracker. Or the shuttle bus. Widgets bring functionality within the window. They’re working on single sign-on. There’s some gamification. They plan on adding doc mgt, SharePpoint access, links to Federal Social Network.

Even better, he says, is that the public now can get access to the “wicked science” the DOE does. Make the data available. Go to IMBY, put in your zip code, and it will tell you what your solar resource potential is and the tax breaks you’ll get. “We’re going to put that in your phone. “We’re creating leads for solar installers.” And geothermal heat pumps.

Robert Kirkpatrick works in the UN Sect’y Gen’ls office, called Global Pulse, which is an R&D lab trying to learn to take advantage of Big Data to improve human welfare. Now “We’re swimming in an ocean of real time data.” This data is generated passively and acively. If you look at what people say to one another and what people actually do, “we have the opportunity to look at these as sensor networks.” Businesses have been doing this for a long time. Can we begin to look at the patterns of data when people lose their job, get sick, pull their kids out of school to make ends meet? What patterns appear when our programs are working? Global pulse is working with the private sector as well. Robert hopes that big data and real-time awareness will enable them to move from waterfall development (staged, slow) to agile (interative, fast).

Ahmed Al Omram says last year was a moment he and so many in the Middle East had been hoping for. He started blogging (SaudiJeans) seven years, even though the gov’t tried to silence him. “I wasn’t afraid because I knew I wasn’t alone.” He was part of a network of activists. Arab Spring did not happen overnight. “Activists and bloggers had been working together for ten years to make it happen.” “There’s no question in my mind that the Internet and social media played a huge role in what happened.” But there is much debate. E.g., Malcolm Gladwell argued that these revolutions would have happened anyway. But no one debates whether the Net changed how journalists covered the story. E.g., Andy Carvin live-tweeted the revolutions (aggregating and disseminating). Others, too. On Feb. 2 2010, Andy tweeted 1,400 times over 20 hours.

So, do we call this journalism? Probably. It’s a real-time news gathering operation happening in an open source newsroom. “The people who follow us are not our audience. They are part of an open newsroom. They are potential sources and fact-checkers.” E.g., the media carried a story during the war in Libya that the Libyan forces were using Israeli weapons. Andy and his followers debunked that in real time.

There is still a lot of work to do, he says.

Clark Friefield is a cofounder of healthmap, doing real time infectious disease tracking. He shows a chart of the stock price of a Chinese pharma that makes a product that’s believed to have antiviral properties. In Jan 2003, there was an uptick because of the beginning of SARS, which as not identified until Feb 2003. In traditional public health reporting, there’s a hierarchy. In the new model, the connections are much flatter. And there are many more sources of info, from tweets that are fast but tend to have more noise, and slower but more validated sources.

To organize the info better, in 2006 they reated a real-time mapping dashboard (free and open to the public). They collect 2000 reports a day, geotagged to 10,000 locations. They use named entity extractin to find disesases and locations. A bayesian filtering system are categorized with 91% accuracy. They assign significance to each event. The ones that make it through this filter make it to the map. Humans help to train the system.

During the H1N1 outbreak, they decided to create participatory epidemiology. They launched an iphone app called “Outbreaks Near Me” which let people submit reports as well as get alerts, which beame the #1 health and fitness app. They found that the rate of submissions tracked well with the CDC’s info. Also

Linton Wells now moderates a discussion:

Robert Bectel: DOE is getting a serious fire hose of info from the grid, and they don’t yet know what to do with it. So they’re thinking about releasing the 89B data points and asking the public what they want to do with it.

Robert Kirkpatrick: You need the wisdom of crowds, the instinct of experts, and the power of algorithms [quoting someone I missed]. And this flood of info is no longer a one-way stream; it’s interactive.

Ahmed: It helps to have people who speak the language and know the culture. But tech counts too: How about a twitter client that can detect tweets coming from a particular location. It’s a combo of both.

Clark: We use this combined approach. One initiative we’re working on builds on our smartphone app by letting us push questions out to people in a location where we have a suspicion that something is happening.

Linton: Security and verification?

Robert K: Info can be exploited, so this year we’re bringing together advisers on privacy and security.

Ahmed: People ask how you can trust random people to tell the truth, but many of them are well known to us. We use standard tools of trust, and we’ll also see who they’re following on Twitter, who’s following them, etc. It’s real-time verification.

Clark: In public health, the ability to get info is much better with an open Net than the old hierarchical flow of info.

Q: Are people trying to game the system?
A: Ahmed: Sure. GayGirlInDamascus turned out to be a guy in Moscow. But using the very same tools we managed to figure out who he was. But gov’ts will always try to push back. The gov’ts in Syria and Bahrain hired people to go online to change the narrative and discredit people. It’s always a challenge to figure out what’s the truth. But if you’ve worked in the field for a while, you can identify trusted sources. We call this “news sense.”
A: Clark: Not so much in public health. When there have been imposters and liars, there’s been a rapid debunking using the same tools.

Q:What incentives can we give for opening up corporate data?
A: Robert K: We call this data philanthropy but the private sector doesn’t see it that way. They don’t want their markets to fall into poverty; it’s business risk mitigation insurance. So there are some incentives there already.
A: Robert B: We need to make it possible for people to create apps that use the data.

Q: How about that Twitter censorship policy?
A: Ahmed: It’s censorship, but the way Twitter approached this was transparent, and some people is good for activists because they could have gone for a broader censorship policy; Twitter will only block in the country that demands it. In fact, Twitter lets you get around it by changing your location.

Q: How do we get Netvibes past the security concerns?
A: Robert B.: I’m a security geek. But employees need tools to be smarter. But we can define what tools you have access to.

Q: Clark, do you run into privacy issues?
A: Clark: Most of the data in HealthMap comes from publicly available sources.
A: Robert K: There are situations arising for which we do not have a framework. A child protection expert had just returned frmo a crisis where young kids on a street were tweeting about being abused at home. “We’re not even allowed to ask that question,” she said, “but if they’re telling the entire world, can we use that to begin to advocate for their rescue?” Our frameworks have not yet adapted to this new reality.

Linton: After the Arab Spring, how do we use data to help build enduring value?
A: Ahmed: It’s not the tech but how we use it.
A: Robert K: Real time analytics and visualizations provide many-to-many communications. Groups can see their beliefs, enabling a type of self-awareness not possible before. These tools have the possibility of creating new types of identity.
A: Robert B: To get twitter or Facebook smarter, you have to find different ways to use it. “Break it!” Don’t get stuck using today’s tech.

Linton: A 26-ear-old Al Jazeera reporter was at a conf “What’s the next big thing?” She replied, “I’m too old. Ask a high school student.”

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W. Craig Fugate is the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He’s giving a keynote.

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.

“Technology is not magic,” he says. “Cyberattacks might destroy our way of life? You mean we might be reading books that don’t have screens.” [He’s doing a light opening, but jeez that’s really not what’s at stake in cyberattacks.] The question is, he says, what does social media really do for us. “I’m in the business of trying to change outcomes. Disasters happen. I can’t stop ’em…I’m dealing in an environment where something has happened. If we do nothing, it will follow a predictable course: it’ll probably get better” because people aren’t going to wait around for us to save them. So, you have to ask what part of the outcome you’re going change. Will fewer people die? How quickly can we reestablish particular functions? Is it going to be safe and secure? Can we get to the injured or trapped? Can we create critical infrastructure fast enough to keep people alive long enough for recovery to begin?

He points to the dynamic between first responders who focus on saving individuals and the humanitarian organizations that take a more systematic view. It’s forests vs. trees. But that means you have to decide what outcomes you’re trying to change and what constitutes success.

Social media can be seen as a publishing activity: posting for anyone to see. If people are doing that, can we look at that info and get a better outcome? Well, what info do you need to get a better outcome? When Joplin was hit by a tornado what social media info could affect an outcome we’re trying to achieve? “No tweet stops bleeding.” The question is what info will help actual outcomes.

“All disasters are local,” Craig says. Local government generally has day-to-day responsibility for emergencies, e.g., 911. If the disaster gets bad enough, it goes to the state level, and then to the federal. FEMA looks initially primarily for reliable assessments. E.g., we screwed up the response to Katrina because we didn’t know how bad it was. It takes 12-24 hours to get someone into a disaster area. “Social media will only speed up the confusion cycle” [?] There’s a 24-hour window for changing the outcome of the seriously injured, generally. So, we have to assess far more rapidly. “Maybe we should assume that if something is bad has happened, it’s bad.” Get people in without waiting for an assessment. “Technology gives you a sense of precision” that is unwarranted. But isn’t over-responding wasteful? “Yes, but we’re looking at lives.”

During the Joplin tornado, tweets were coming in, then videos from storm chasers, indicating that there were more tornadoes happening. FEMA sent in aid before the official assessment. “We looked at social media as the public telling us enough info to suggest that this is worse than we thought, to enable us to make a decision to get moving without witing for a formal request or for formal assessments.” “All I need is enough info to hit my tipping point.” He doesn’t need screens filled with info. In emergency centers, the big screens are “entertainment.”

People panic. How can you trust their tweets, etc.? No, the public is a resource, he says. Is the public voice consistent and always right? No, but who is. It’s just a tool, and it can help change outcomes. “I don’ care about the tech. I care about what people use to communicate,” if it can help him make a decision faster, and not necessarily more accurately. The social media tools “are how people communicate.” It’s not a matter of listening and responding to every voice, but getting aggregate assessment real-time on the ground.

“Social media weren;t around for Hurricane Andrew. It was just scratching the surface in 2004. How will people communicate in 2016.” He holds up his mobile phone. “This is how. Mobile, geocoded, fast…” What matters is how people communicate; don’t get wedded to the tech.

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[tech@state] State Department conference on real-time data

I’m at a State Department conference at Georgetown U about real-time data. I’m unfortunately going to have to miss a chunk of the afternoon due to another obligation.)

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.

After a welcome by Dean Paul Schiff Berman, Ambassador Janice Jacobs — Ass’t Sect’y for Consular Affairs — talks about the importance of the Net and real-time awareness to State’s mission. She says she joined before email and Skype, when international phone calls were expensive. “Now we use Facebook, Twitter and blogs in ways we could not have imagined.” State uses the Net for internal communication and to communicate with us. In the old days, urgent messages were disseminated by “wardens,” designated residents who would spread the word to their neighbors. On Dec. 22 of this year, the American consulate in Mexico, urgent warnings about buses were posted on Twitter. Journalists have tweeted before being arrested in other countries, alerting the embassy. American passengers on the shipwrecked cruise liner updated their Facebook pages, and that info made its way to the embassy that could help them. When there’s an emergency, the Bureau of Consular Affairs creates a task force that sets up the appropriate social media, and has created databases of info for victims. She ends by quoting Steve Jobs: “We need to be willing to stay foolish.” [As always, my liveblogging is far choppier than her actual talk.]

(Check @travelgov to see how the bureau is using Twitter.)

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