From midnight to 7:30 A.M., New York is uncharacteristically quiet, its Citibikes — the city’s new shared bicycles — largely stationary and clustered in residential neighborhoods. Then things begin to move: commuters check out the bikes en masse in residential areas across Manhattan and, over the next two hours, relocate them to Midtown, the Flatiron district, SoHo, and Wall Street. There they remain concentrated, mostly used for local trips, until they start to move back outward around 5 P.M.
Washington, D.C.’s bike-share program exhibits a similar pattern, though, as you’d expect, the movement starts a little earlier in the morning. On my animated map, both cities look like they’re breathing — inhaling and then exhaling once over the course of 12 hours or so.
At Sci Foo Camp last weekend, we enjoyed sitting down with several thoughtful scientists and thinkers-about-science to record a few podcast episodes. Here we speak with Tom Daniel, a professor of biology, computer science, and neurobiology at the University of Washington, andBen Lillie, co-founder of The Story Collider and a Stanford-trained physicist. First topic: what brings people to science, and how we compare to our icons. Along the way, we mention Hans Bethe, Isaac Newton’s epitaph, and John McPhee’s trip across Interstate 80.
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”— Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices (via volumexii)
Open government developer Waldo Jaquith had a problem: he wanted transcripts for videos of the Virginia legislature but didn’t have the resources to fund their creation nor time to transcribe sessions himself.
When he talked to Matt Cutts at the Newsfoo unconference last December, Google’s lead for Web spam suggested to Jacquith that he make use of YouTube ability to automagically created machine-generated transcripts of video.
It is an impossibility for a subcultural style to be “owned”. Sub-culture exists when gazed at by mass-culture. The only way to ensure that your aesthetic is not going to become used by others is to never share it with anyone. Another approach is to protect your aesthetic with physical violence (see: gang colors). Otherwise, once you allow your presence to be seen, it can be consumed.
Most communities protect their culture through some form of obfuscation: hiding the meaning of their communication by making it hard to interpret.
This is a practice I’ve been studying for some time and some of it is incredible.
Tum bl r an d L J u sers sep ar ate w ords thr ou gh o dd spacin g in o rde r to fo ol sea rc h en g i nes.
If you want your subculture to go undetected, all of these techniques are moderately effective at keeping your activity away from people and their machines. Until they *want* to find you. Then they’ll find ways around the gates you throw up.
Today, the White House responded to the We The People e-petition on open access.
John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, released a memorandum directing agencies with “more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication.”
Today’s White house #OA directive & #FASTR = watershed for US public’s right to access taxpayer-funded research bit.ly/VBnwC6
ThThe Obama administration has been considering access to federally funded scientific research for years, including a report to Congress in March 2012. The relevant e-petition, which had gathered more than 65,000 signatures had gone unanswered since May of last year.
While the memorandum and the potential outcomes from its release come with caveats, from that $100M threshold to national security or economic competitions, an answer from the director of the White House Office of Science Policy accompanied by a memorandum directing agencies to make changes is a substantive outcome.
While there are many reasons to be critical of some open government initiatives, it certainly appears that today, We The People were heard in the halls of government.
Last week, the White House hosting a second iteration, calling it a “fireside Hangout” in a nod to the fireside chats that President Franklin Roosevelt held in the 21st century.
President Obama was asked about gun violence, eliminating the penny, the best book to understand his political philosophy (“the writings of Lincoln), the Senate filibuster of Hagel & drones during the hangout. Notably, Limor Fried, the founder of Adafruit, asked him several questions focused on technology.
There are several ways that this e-petition platform could be improved, which is always true if you think of open government being in beta. (That’s particularly true architects are improving a given government platform using citizen feedback).
While the code hasn’t been repurposed by another national government yet, in the months since, they’ve continued to work on an API that would allow other petition services, like Avaaz, Change.org, 38 Degrees or SignOn, to tie into it.
In January, the White House released a snapshot of data about the nature and growth of the platform’s use but didn’t sharing open data about the Web analytics behind We The People as it changes. The upgrade could change that, as Nick Judd pointed out at TechPresident:
Beyond all the ways a developer could make use of the read API — tracking petitions that are removed, for instance, displaying brand-new petitions, or analyzing petitions and connecting ones with common characteristics like similar keywords — a write API would change that.
Such an API could also allow integration into Facebook or other social networking services, which could expand the reach and power of e-petitions, particularly if networks of people can be activated to engage in offline actions, like phone calls, in-person visits, demonstrations or votes.
This is genuinely good news for those trying to make sense of what’s happening there. It would be useful to have more than check-ins twice a year on use and to be able to see how long petitions have been open or how quickly they’ve passed a threshold.
Now, there’s a real chance that’s going to happen.
Today, the White House invited developers to come work on that vision at a hackathon held at the White House on Open Data Day, later this month.
If you want to participate in the White House hackathon, you’ll need to move quickly: the application period closes at 5 PM ET tomorrow, February 6th.
If more civic coders get involved in “hacking the government this month, some of the improvements might come sooner rather than later.
Important note: 18% of the first class of 18 fellows were women, a situation that did not sit well with observers like Merici Vinton. Park and Valerie Jarrett wrote today that they hope to improve on that record, “increasing the participation by those who have been historically under-represented, including women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and people with disabilities.”
Public service isn’t for everyone — and taking 6-12 months off from work or away from family is not possible for all either — but if you have relevant skills and are frustrated with government, this is a way to code the change you wish to see in the world.
"The idea of using government data to help consumers is not just aspirational. Open government data already plays an important role in existing apps and services that consumers can use today. Entrepreneurs have used government data to allow people to spot suspicious charges on their credit card bills, understand fees associated with their 401(k) plans, and receive advice on managing investments. In addition, entrepreneurs have used government data to help people obtain loans when they are starting up a small business. Government data that is being used to fuel these apps and services can be found in Treasury’s Finance Data Directory, an online resource for more than 50 key finance data sets published by Federal agencies.
As underscored by the enthusiasm and energy on display at Treasury’s working session, finance data sources stand to empower even more Americans to manage their finances and assert control over their financial lives. The event and Treasury’s broader Finance Data Initiative are key parts of this Administration’s ongoing work to catalyze innovation that harnesses the power of open data to improve thelives of Americans.”
-Nicholas Bramble, Presidential Innovation Fellow in the Office of Consumer Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury
-Nick Sinai is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at OSTP
According to a new White House blog post on “Building Apps and Services for Financial Empowerment,” software developers and entrepreneurs who participated in a recent workshop will work on building prototypes for products or platforms that use finance data to “help Americans manage their finances plan for retirement, and make more effective
"Beyond elections, technology can improve everyday civic life: the way we connect, engage, access and act on critical government information. Worldwide, organizations are developing new ways to encourage more open and innovative societies. Google.org is supporting two of these leaders—the Sunlight Foundation and mySociety—and their work on tech solutions for civic innovation.
We are providing $2.1 million to the Sunlight Foundation to grow their programs for open government data, with a focus on making civic information for U.S. cities transparent, available, and useable. By opening up information at the city level for developers as well as citizens, Sunlight is creating opportunity for new ideas that can have an impact in local markets.
We are also supporting mySociety, providing $1.6 million to build a global platform to equip developers with tools and resources—such as open source code—to more easily and quickly launch new civic apps and services. This initiative can promote collaboration between civic-minded technologists, regardless of geography. For example, a civic app created in Finland might be easily replicated 9,000 miles away by a developer in Chile.
Both organizations are working to bring together a larger community—governments, developers, companies, nonprofits, and citizens—with an interest in improving societies. By creating these open platforms today, we can open doors to ambitious new solutions in the future.”-Matthew Stepka, VP, Google.org
“Thanks to GPO, all House bills for this Congress will be available in one XML file that can be downloaded by anyone,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner, in a statement at Speaker.gov. ”This is a win for every American who believes in open government. Making legislative data easier to use for third parties, developers, and anyone interested in how Congress is tackling current challenges is a priority for House leaders. We’re going to keep working to make the legislative process more transparent and to better connect lawmakers with the people we serve.”
In a post on Tuesday at Speaker.gov, Don Seymour, digital communications director for the Speaker of the House, detailed the progress made during the 112th Congress:
As Speaker Boehner said, this is good news for every American. Despite the abysmal public perception of Congress, genuine institutional changes in the House of Representatives driven by the GOP embracing innovation and transparency have been happening over the last three years.
I believe the public has an Internet-fueled expectation that they should understand what happens in Congress. It’s one explanation for rock-bottom esteem for government in opinion polls. Access to good data help produce better public understanding of what goes on in Washington and also, I believe, more felicitous policy outcomes—not only reduced demand for government, but better administered government in the areas the public wants it.”
…and offered some constructive criticism for improvement:
For now, this data is of limited use because it includes only House bills. The entire oeuvre of congressional bill-writers should be published the same way in the same place so that contrasts and comparisons can be drawn among House and Senate work. In short, why is the Senate not on board?
That I’ve been able to find, the XML is not well documented. What each of the technical codes means is understood by several people in Washington’s transparency community, but the idea is to make it available very broadly, so the documentation should be very strong. The information at xml.house.gov should be updated, tightened up, and made easily available to the people gathering bill data on FDsys.
The XML data structures put in bills are limited in terms of what they convey. There is rudimentary information about who introduced and cosponsored bills, what committees they were referred to, and other procedural information. That’s good. But the effects of bills—on agencies, existing law, programs, places—this is not available in machine-readable code. That would be great.
Josh Tauberer, the author of “Open Government Data,” added some caveat’s on the House’s move to bulk bill XML on his blog. Tauberer is the civic hacker behind Govtrack.us, which has been scraping and making legislative data more open for years.
In his comments, excerpted below, he notes that “there’s no new data here, and thus not the data that the bulk legislative data advocates have been asking for." In other words, this is evolutionary change, not revolutionary change.
What we’re seeing with the bills bulk data project is how the wave of culture change is moving through government. Over the last two years the House Republican leadership has embraced open government in many ways (my 112th Congress recap | the new House floor feed). With this bills XML project, we’re seeing more legislative support agencies being involved in how the House does open government.
This isn’t a technical feat by any means, but it is a cultural feat. The House and GPO worked together to institutionalize a new way for the House to publish bulk data.
Because of the way Data.gov is managed in the executive branch, we’ve become accustomed to big announcements. The bills bulk data project and the other recent projects show that the House is taking a different approach, an incremental approach, to open government data: publish early and often, gather feedback, then go on to bigger projects. This is something open government advocates have been asking for.
As I mentioned, the tech side itself is not much. They took files they and the Library of Congress already make available (and in some sense already in bulk) and zipped them up into up to 16 ZIP files. (4 files now, but that will probably grow to 16 by the end of the Congress.) So there’s no new data here, and thus not the data that the bulk legislative data advocates have been asking for. But it’s on the road to that. The files involved in this project have the text of legislation but not bill status, which is what the bulk data advocates have been asking for.
As we head into 2013, here’s hoping that the United States Senate follows the lead of the House has taken making itself more accessible to the hundreds of millions of people its Senators represent around the country.
This post has been updated with new links and commentary.
"Everyone wants to know how to make that one thing go viral. Especially bosses. Here’s the answer. So now maybe they will stop asking you."-Upworthy
"Excellent points about headline writing (takes 25 to find the one that works), shareability (your audience has to click and share, then it’s whether THEIR audience clicks on it), and A/B testing (they talk about what they learned doing it ruthlessly)."-Nat Torkington, O’Reilly Radar
“"We’re seeing data companies saying they want volunteer programs for employees and asking to connect on social projects. We’re seeing foundations looking for support from us or other groups for their grantees. We’ve had requests [for DataDives or DataKind chapters] from more than 20 cities and have seen people start to build their own in at least five. It’s going to keep spreading."-Jake Porway”—
“"We estimate that collectively we served and informed 10 times as many individuals by embracing an open strategy. That’s hundreds of thousands of people. And it validates the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to this technology."-NYC Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot”—
A clarification from Alec J. Ross regarding a draft of the State Departments’s new social media policy strongly suggests that media coverage of the proposal isn’t grounded in existing policy.
According to Ross, Secretary of State Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation, the draft policy will actually speed up the process, not add more layers of review.
He made a similar statement to Federal Computer Week and CNN, where Elise Labott covered the online reaction that the Diplopundit post catalyzed, and responded to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof on Twitter:
In answer to a question I posed on Twitter, Ross clarified via email that the State Department had already been taking up to 30 days to decide how (or whether) to respond on an official social media account.
"Normal review is minutes, not hours, much less days," he wrote. "Draft rules would decrease allowable time for review from 30 to 2 days, not that we’d start taking two days or subject an increasing percentage to review. It’s a more social media-friendly content publishing rule. At its most basic: 30 to 2 days."
There will continue to be exceptions for certain issues, which makes considerable sense, given how politically fraught some of the topics the State Department has to address will continue to be.
"Theoretically, we are allowed to take 30 days to review any content of sensitive nature," he wrote. "The actual percentage of social media postings that get reviewed is very, very small and related to extremely sensitive content (security-related or politically very consequential) and even then tends to be cleared and edited in minutes or hours, never days."
[Image Credit: State Department Flickr feed. In the picture, “Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith Mchale, center, participates in the State Department’s first global Twitter Q & A, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2011.”]
“An open and transparent administration makes it easier for residents to hold their government accountable, but it also serves as a platform for innovative tools that improve the lives of all residents,” said Mayor Emanuel, in statement on the city website.
“Chicago’s vibrant technology and startup community will leverage this wealth of open, public data to create applications that will improve service delivery and lead to greater quality of service for residents and more public engagement in City government.”
The city released 21 new “high value” datasets today, including real-time traffic data from Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses, environmental data, liquor regulation, and recycling programs.
When asked what made these datasets high value, the Mayor’s Office responded via email.
"The datasets released today aren’t necessarily more critical than the more than 400 others that have been released,” wrote Caroline Weisser, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office.
"They continue the commitment the administration has taken to being a leader in municipal open data. The executive order itself codifies the actions that Brett and John Tolva, the CTO, have taken over the past year and a half to pursue both open data policy and detailed analytics in tandem. Making a firm commitment to continue adding writable data to the dataportal about how the city works provides the raw materials for the City to collaborate and innovate with the developer community, which ultimately helps the City do a better job of serving Chicagoans."
As citizens look for hurricane information online, government websites are under high demand. In this information ecosystem, media, government and citizens alike will play a critical role in sharing information about what’s happening and providing help to one another.
In New York City, as the city’s websites faced heavy demand when residents went to its hurricane evacuation finder, residents could also go and consult WYNC’s beautiful evacuation map, putting the open government data in action. data news editor John Keefe is responsible for the map below.
By releasing open data for uses in these apps, New York City is acting as a platform for public media, civic entrepreneurs and nonprofits to enable people to help themselves and one another at a crucial time. Civiguard has also activated an instant evacuation zone checker for smartphones and modern browsers. For another example, look at the storm surge map for New York and New Jersey:
Why does open source matter? Read Tim O’Reilly’s presentation, embedded below. He delivered it at the World Government Summit on Open Source in Washington, DC, on Oct 11, 2012. He considers how open source enabled the Internet as a platform, the role it is playing in open government today and much more.
Last December, the U.S. House of Representatives hosted its first ‘hackathon,’ which ended up being a soft of hybrid of unconference and code-a-thon in the House Oversight Committee’s offices. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, introduced the beta version of MADISON, a new online tool to crowd sourcelegislative markup. The vision was that MADISON would work as a real-time markup engine to let the public comment on bills as they move through the legislative process.
“The assumption is that legislation should be open in Congress,” said Issa. “It should be posted, interoperable and commented upon.”
Congressman Issa told Radar this summer that “the reason that we’ve formed a public nonprofit” was to open source MADISON. Now his office has followed through.
"I don’t want to own it or control it or to produce it for any one purpose, but rather, a purpose of open government," he said. "So if it spawns hundreds of other not-for-profits, that’s great. If people are able to monetize some of the value provided by that service, then I can also live with that."
Why open source MADISON? It needs to get better. Here’s an except from the ReadMe doc on Github:
The goal of this development project is to deliver software that supports open, accountable, social and collaborative government. Specifications include but are not limited to the following: It needs to allow users – individuals and organizations - to comment on, edit/improve and share discreet chunks of government documents. It needs to power discussion around those chunks, including comments, sharing, and debate. It needs to allow users to draft from scratch and publicly display that user’s prior contributions and discussion. Users should be able to load “drafts” from other users as starting points for their own work. On the backend, the document’s sponsor (e.g. a Congressman, City Councilwoman, or advocacy group) needs to be able to make sense of the contributions, separate the wheat from the chaff, and be able to seamlessly respond to and incorporate user-generated comments and suggestions.
Every new, “living” government document needs to reference the parts of the law/regulations/treaties that it changes, the user needs to be able to view the “living” document within the referenced document (e.g. individual document view vs. US Code view), and the user-generated data needs to be associated with both.
“We’re working to hold the executive accountable to taxpayers,” said Seamus Kraft, the digital director of the Oversight Committee, in December. “Opening up what we do here in these two halls of Congress is equally important. MADISON is our first shot at it. We’re going to need a lot of help to make it better.”
Now they can get it, if the world’s open source community decides to pitch in.
Open source is now playing an important role in open government, although it’s hardly a precondition for it. It’s also not a partisan effort: House.gov moved to Drupal last year and Congressman Issa has indicated his intention to open source the MADISON platform.
"We the Coders": White House commits open source code on Github
One small step for humans, one giant commit for mankind. The White House has open sourced its e-petitions platform on Github, fulfilling a commitment to the Open Government Partnership that the President of the United States made last September.
"…we’re launching a new online tool — called “We the People” — to allow Americans to directly petition the White House, and we’ll share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same." — President Barack Obama, September 20, 2011
Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital, explained the move at the White House blog, below. In the post, Phillips indicated that the roadmap for We the People includes creating an API for third party clients and more integration of social media.
In the larger sense, it’s notable that the White House is releasing software code developed for the people, back to the people, with the hopes that with the people that code base will be improved upon.
After reading the post embedded below, you can watch an interview on open source and open government with Chris Wanstrath, co-founder of Github. Here’s Phillips:
I’m thrilled to announce that we are publishing the source code for We the People, the online petitions system that has been a popular way for the public to connect with the White House over the past year.
When President Obama talked about We the People at the Open Government Partnership last year, he promised to, “share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same.” Now anybody, from other countries to the smallest organizations to civic hackers can take this code and put to their own use.
One of the most exciting prospects of open sourcing We the People is getting feedback, ideas and code contributions from the public. There is so much that can be done to improve this system, and we only benefit by being able to more easily collaborate with designers and engineers around the country - and the world. Here are a few favorites from the roadmap in the README doc:
The current platform requires users visit the site directly in order to create or sign a petitions via the We the People website. We would like to develop an API that would allow users to sign a petition via a third party website, but with some level of verification that confirms a valid email address to potentially receive a response.
Developing an API would greatly expand the appeal of this tool, allowing other organizations to control the user experience and flow for petitions within their own environment while still registering verified signatures against a We the People threshold.
*Improved Social Media Integration*
The current platform allows basic sharing of petitions, responses and other content on the site via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In the future, we would like reduce the friction of signing a petition by making it possible to sign a petition in the context of a social network (e.g. by “liking” an object on facebook).
Whether through a mobile browser or standalone application, We the People should be accessible through mobile devices given the large and increasing portion of mobile traffic on the web.
But the bigger potential comes from the fact that the source code for the application has been released in a way that allows anybody to download a copy, make changes, and use it for their own projects. So we’re just as excited to see where others take it.
If you’re a Drupal developer and have an interest in using We the People or contributing to its development, check out the code and let us know. We’d also love to learn about how you’re using the code for your own projects, so drop us a line @WHWeb on Twitter. Or hit me up directly @macon44.
In addition, this is our team’s first big release of code (we’ve got a few things up here), and we’re eager for feedback about how best to engage the open-source community generally. So suggestions on our overall approach are greatly appreciated as well.
In October of 2009, WhiteHouse.gov was relaunched on Drupal. Two years later, the White House launched We the People on Drupal, a big step forward for Open Government. While governments haven’t traditionally recognized the importance of the grassroots, word of mouth organizing that thrives on the Internet, We the People encourages grassroots citizen engagement.
Even more exciting is that if you are an Open Source developer, you can get involved with improving how your government actually works. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to see Open Source and Drupal changing the world in a positive, powerful way.
US Census Bureau launches iOS apps, says 860 developers have asked for API key
America’s Economy, U.S. Census Bureau’s first mobile application, is now available for iPhone and iPad. The app was available to Android users on Aug. 9. According to the Census Bureau, there have already been more than 10,000 downloads of the app from the Google Play store in the past three months.
The app provides frequently updated statistics on 16 key indicators in the U.S. economy. U.S. Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel announced the launch of the apps earlier today at the White House.
Since the Census Bureau’s Application Programming Interface was released in July, 860 developers have received API keys to access census data, with users generated 24 million data requests in the first 3 weeks of the API’s release, an average of 18 per second.