When Hacking Is Actually a Good Thing: The Civic Hacking Movement

, Founder and CEO, PublicStuff in Huffington Post: “Many people think of the word “hacking” in a pejorative sense, understanding it to mean malicious acts of breaking into secure systems and wreaking havoc with private information. Popular culture likes to propagate a particular image of the hacker: a fringe-type individual with highly specialized technical skills who does what he or she does out of malice and/or greed. And so to many of us the concept of “civic hacking” may seem like an oxymoron, for how can the word “civic,” defined by its associations with municipal government and citizen concerns, be linked to the activity of hacking? Here is where another definition of hacking comes in–one that is more commonly used by denizens of the information technology industries–basically, the process of fixing a problem. As Jake Levitas defined it on the Code for America blog, civic hacking is “people working together quickly and creatively to make their cities better for everyone.” Moreover, as Levitas points out, civic hacking does not necessarily involve computer expertise or specialized technical knowledge; rather, it is a collective effort made up of people who want to make things better for themselves and each other, whether it be an ordinary citizen or a programming prodigy. So how does it work?”

New Book: Untangling the Web

By Aleks Krotoski: “The World Wide Web is the most revolutionary innovation of our time. In the last decade, it has utterly transformed our lives. But what real effects is it having on our social world? What does it mean to be a modern family when dinner table conversations take place over smartphones? What happens to privacy when we readily share our personal lives with friends and corporations? Are our Facebook updates and Twitterings inspiring revolution or are they just a symptom of our global narcissism? What counts as celebrity, when everyone can have a following or be a paparazzo? And what happens to relationships when love, sex and hate can be mediated by a computer? Social psychologist Aleks Krotoski has spent a decade untangling the effects of the Web on how we work, live and play. In this groundbreaking book, she uncovers how much humanity has – and hasn’t – changed because of our increasingly co-dependent relationship with the computer. In Untangling the Web, she tells the story of how the network became woven in our lives, and what it means to be alive in the age of the Internet.” Blog: http://untanglingtheweb.tumblr.com/

Create a Crowd Competition That Works

Ahmad Ashkar in HBR Blog Network: “It’s no secret that people in business are turning to the crowd to solve their toughest challenges. Well-known sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow people to raise money for new projects. Design platforms like Crowdspring and 99designs give people the tools needed to crowdsource graphic design ideas and feedback.
At the Hult Prize — a start-up accelerator that challenges Millennials to develop innovative social enterprises to solve our world’s most pressing issues (and rewards the top team with $1,000,000 in start-up capital) — we’ve learned that the crowd can also offer an unorthodox solution in developing innovative and disruptive ideas, particularly ones focused on tackling complex, large-scale social issues.
But to effectively harness the power of the crowd, you have to engage it carefully. Over the past four years, we’ve developed a well-defined set of principles that guide our annual “challenge,” (lauded by Bill Clinton in TIME magazine as one of the top five initiatives changing the world for the better) that produces original and actionable ideas to solve social issues.
Companies like Netflix, General Electric, and Proctor & Gamble have also started “challenging the crowd” and employing many of these principles to tackle their own business roadblocks. If you’re looking to spark disruptive and powerful ideas that benefit your company, follow these guidelines to launch an engaging competition:
1. Define the boundaries
2. Identify a specific and bold stretch target. …
3. Insist on low barriers to entry. …
4. Encourage teams and networks. …
5. Provide a toolkit. Once interested parties become participants in your challenge, provide tools to set them up for success. If you are working on a social problem, you can use IDEO’s human-centered design toolkit. If you have a private-sector challenge, consider posting it on an existing innovation platform. As an organizer, you don’t have to spend time recreating the wheel — use one of the many existing platforms and borrow materials from those willing to share.”

5 Big Data Projects That Could Impact Your Life

Mashable: “We reached out to a few organizations using information, both hand- and algorithm-collected, to create helpful tools for their communities. This is only a small sample of what’s out there — plenty more pop up each day, and as more information becomes public, the trend will only grow….
1. Transit Time NYC
Transit Time NYC, an interactive map developed by WNYC, lets New Yorkers click a spot in any of the city’s five boroughs for an estimate of subway or train travel times. To create it, WNYC lead developer Steve Melendez broke the city into 2,930 hexagons, then pulled data from open source itinerary platform OpenTripPlanner — the Wikipedia of mapping software — and coupled it with the MTA’s publicly downloadable subway schedule….
2. Twitter’s ‘Topography of Tweets
In a blog post, Twitter unveiled a new data visualization map that displays billions of geotagged tweets in a 3D landscape format. The purpose is to display, topographically, which parts of certain cities most people are tweeting from…
3. Homicide Watch D.C.
Homicide Watch D.C. is a community-driven data site that aims to cover every murder in the District of Columbia. It’s sorted by “suspect” and “victim” profiles, where it breaks down each person’s name, age, gender and race, as well as original articles reported by Homicide Watch staff…
4. Falling Fruit
Can you find a hidden apple tree along your daily bike commute? Falling Fruit can.
The website highlights overlooked or hidden edibles in urban areas across the world. By collecting public information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, municipal tree inventories, foraging maps and street tree databases, the site has created a network of 615 types of edibles in more than 570,000 locations. The purpose is to remind urban dwellers that agriculture does exist within city boundaries — it’s just more difficult to find….
5. AIDSvu
AIDSVu is an interactive map that illustrates the prevalence of HIV in the United States. The data is pulled from the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s national HIV surveillance reports, which are collected at both state and county levels each year…”

9 models to scale open data – past, present and future

Open Knowledge Foundation Blog: “The possibilities of open data have been enthralling us for 10 years…But that excitement isn’t what matters in the end. What matters is scale – which organisational structures will make this movement explode?  This post quickly and provocatively goes through some that haven’t worked (yet!) and some that have.
Ones that are working now
1) Form a community to enter in new data. Open Street Map and MusicBrainz are two big examples. It works as the community is the originator of the data. That said, neither has dominated its industry as much as I thought they would have by now.
2) Sell tools to an upstream generator of open data. This is what CKAN does for central Governments (and the new ScraperWiki CKAN tool helps with). It’s what mySociety does, when selling FixMyStreet installs to local councils, thereby publishing their potholes as RSS feeds.
3) Use open data (quietly). Every organisation does this and never talks about it. It’s key to quite old data resellers like Bloomberg. It is what most of ScraperWiki’s professional services customers ask us to do. The value to society is enormous and invisible. The big flaw is that it doesn’t help scale supply of open data.
4) Sell tools to downstream users. This isn’t necessarily open data specific – existing software like spreadsheets and Business Intelligence can be used with open or closed data. Lots of open data is on the web, so tools like the new ScraperWiki which work well with web data are particularly suited to it.
Ones that haven’t worked
5) Collaborative curation ScraperWiki started as an audacious attempt to create an open data curation community, based on editing scraping code in a wiki. In its original form (now called ScraperWiki Classic) this didn’t scale. …With a few exceptions, notably OpenCorporates, there aren’t yet open data curation projects.
6) General purpose data marketplaces, particularly ones that are mainly reusing open data, haven’t taken off. They might do one day, however I think they need well-adopted higher level standards for data formatting and syncing first (perhaps something like dat, perhaps something based on CSV files).
Ones I expect more of in the future
These are quite exciting models which I expect to see a lot more of.
7) Give labour/money to upstream to help them create better data. This is quite new. The only, and most excellent, example of it is the UK’s National Archive curating the Statute Law Database. They do the work with the help of staff seconded from commercial legal publishers and other parts of Government.
It’s clever because it generates money for upstream, which people trust the most, and which has the most ability to improve data quality.
8) Viral open data licensing. MySQL made lots of money this way, offering proprietary dual licenses of GPLd software to embedded systems makers. In data this could use OKFN’s Open Database License, and organisations would pay when they wanted to mix the open data with their own closed data. I don’t know anyone actively using it, although Chris Taggart from OpenCorporates mentioned this model to me years ago.
9) Corporations release data for strategic advantage. Companies are starting to release their own data for strategic gain. This is very new. Expect more of it.”


Nick Sinai at the White House Blog: “Today, we’re excited to share a sneak preview of a new design for Data.gov, called Next.Data.gov. The upgrade builds on the President’s May 2013 Open Data Executive Order that aims to fuse open-data practices into the Federal Government’s DNA. Next.Data.gov is far from complete (think of it as a very early beta), but we couldn’t wait to share our design approach and the technical details behind it – knowing that we need your help to make it even better.  Here are some key features of the new design:


Leading with Data: The Data.gov team at General Services Administration (GSA), a handful of Presidential Innovation Fellows, and OSTP staff designed Next.Data.Gov to put data first. The team studied the usage patterns on Data.gov and found that visitors were hungry for examples of how data are used. The team also noticed many sources, such as tweets and articles outside of Data.gov featuring Federal datasets in action. So Next.Data.gov includes a rich stream that enables each data community to communicate how its datasets are impacting companies and the public.


In this dynamic stream, you’ll find blog posts, tweets, quotes, and other features that more fully showcase the wide range of information assets that exist within the vaults of government.
Powerful Search: The backend of Next.Data.gov is CKAN and is powered by Solr—a powerful search engine that will make it even easier to find relevant datasets online. Suggested search terms have been added to help users find (and type) things faster. Next.Data.gov will start to index datasets from agencies that publish their catalogs publicly, in line with the President’s Open Data Executive Order. The early preview launching today features datasets from the Department of Health and Human Services—one of the first Federal agencies to publish a machine-readable version of its data catalog.
Rotating Data Visualizations: Building on the theme of leading with data, even the  masthead-design for Next.Data.gov is an open-data-powered visualization—for now, it’s a cool U.S. Geological Survey earthquake plot showing the magnitude of earthquake measurements collected over the past week, around the globe.


This particular visualization was built using D3.js. The visualization will be updated periodically to spotlight different ways open data is used and illustrated….
We encourage you to collaborate in the design process by creating pull requests or providing feedback via Quora or Twitter.”

Open Data Tools: Turning Data into ‘Actionable Intelligence’

Shannon Bohle in SciLogs: “My previous two articles were on open access and open data. They conveyed major changes that are underway around the globe in the methods by which scientific and medical research findings and data sets are circulated among researchers and disseminated to the public. I showed how E-science and ‘big data’ fit into the philosophy of science though a paradigm shift as a trilogy of approaches: deductive, empirical, and computational, which was pointed out, provides a logical extenuation of Robert Boyle’s tradition of scientific inquiry involving “skepticism, transparency, and reproducibility for independent verification” to the computational age…
This third article on open access and open data evaluates new and suggested tools when it comes to making the most of the open access and open data OSTP mandates. According to an article published in The Harvard Business Review’s “HBR Blog Network,” this is because, as its title suggests, “open data has  little value if people can’t use it.” Indeed, “the goal is for this data to become actionable intelligence: a launchpad for investigation, analysis, triangulation, and improved decision making at all levels.” Librarians and archivists have key roles to play in not only storing data, but packaging it for proper accessibility and use, including adding descriptive metadata and linking to existing tools or designing new ones for their users. Later, in a comment following the article, the author, Craig Hammer, remarks on the importance of archivists and international standards, “Certified archivists have always been important, but their skillset is crucially in demand now, as more and more data are becoming available. Accessibility—in the knowledge management sense—must be on par with digestibility / ‘data literacy’ as priorities for continuing open data ecosystem development. The good news is that several governments and multilaterals (in consultation with data scientists and – yep! – certified archivists) are having continuing ‘shared metadata’ conversations, toward the possible development of harmonized data standards…If these folks get this right, there’s a real shot of (eventual proliferation of) interoperability (i.e. a data platform from Country A can ‘talk to’ a data platform from Country B), which is the only way any of this will make sense at the macro level.”

The Science of Familiar Strangers: Society’s Hidden Social Network

The Physics arXiv Blog “We’ve all experienced the sense of being familiar with somebody without knowing their name or even having spoken to them. These so-called “familiar strangers” are the people we see every day on the bus on the way to work, in the sandwich shop at lunchtime, or in the local restaurant or supermarket in the evening.
These people are the bedrock of society and a rich source of social potential as neighbours, friends, or even lovers.
But while many researchers have studied the network of intentional links between individuals—using mobile-phone records, for example—little work has been on these unintentional links, which form a kind of hidden social network.
Today, that changes thanks to the work of Lijun Sun at the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore and a few pals who have analysed the passive interactions between 3 million residents on Singapore’s bus network (about 55 per cent of the city’s population).  ”This is the first time that such a large network of encounters has been identied and analyzed,” they say.
The results are a fascinating insight into this hidden network of familiar strangers and the effects it has on people….
Perhaps the most interesting result involves the way this hidden network knits society together. Lijun and co say that the data hints that the connections between familiar strangers grows stronger over time. So seeing each other more often increases the chances that familiar strangers will become socially connected.
That’s a fascinating insight into the hidden social network in which we are all embedded. It’s important because it has implications for our understanding of the way things like epidemics can spread through cities.
Perhaps a more interesting is the insight it gives into how links form within communities and how these can strengthened. With the widespread adoption of smart cards on transport systems throughout the world, this kind of study can easily be repeated in many cities, which may help to tease apart some of the factors that make them so different.”
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1301.5979: Understanding Metropolitan Patterns of Daily Encounters

A Smarter, More Innovative Government for the American People

Steve VanRoekel and Todd Park at the White House Blog: “This morning, the President held a meeting with his Cabinet and senior officials to lay out his vision for building a better, smarter, faster government over the course of his second term. During the meeting, the President directed Cabinet members and key officials in his Administration to build on the progress made over the first term, and he challenged us to improve government even further….
This morning, the President stated, “We need the brightest minds to help solve our biggest challenges. In this democracy, we, the people, realize this government is ours. It’s up to each and every one of us to make it work better. And we all have a stake in our success.” Read the President’s full remarks here, and see all the graphics from his speech below.”

The Management Agenda for Government Innovation

Open Government is an Open Conversation

Lisa Ellman and Hollie Russon Gilman at the White House Blog: “President Obama launched the first U.S. Open Government National Action Plan in September 2011, as part of the Nation’s commitment to the principles of the global Open Government Partnership. The Plan laid out twenty-six concrete steps the United States would take to promote public participation in government, increase transparency in government, and manage public resources more effectively.
A  year and a half later, we have fulfilled twenty-four of the Plan’s prescribed commitments—including launching the online We the People petition platform, which has been used by more than 9.6 million people, and unleashing thousands of government data resources as part of the Administration’s Open Data Initiatives.
We are proud of this progress, but recognize that there is always more work to be done to build a more efficient, effective, and transparent government. In that spirit, as part of our ongoing commitment to the international Open Government Partnership, the Obama Administration has committed to develop a second National Action Plan on Open Government.
To accomplish this task effectively, we’ll need all-hands-on-deck. That’s why we plan to solicit and incorporate your input as we develop the National Action Plan “2.0.”…
Over the next few months, we will continue to gather your thoughts. We will leverage online platforms such as Quora, Google+, and Twitter to communicate with the public and collect feedback.  We will meet with members of open government civil society organizations and other experts, to ensure all voices are brought to the table.  We will solicit input from Federal agencies on lessons learned from their unique experiences, and gather information about successful initiatives that could potentially be scaled across government.  And finally, we will canvass the international community for their diverse insights and innovative ideas.”