Category Archives: application

Checking into Foursquare’s Time Machine

This data visualization below traces the data contrails that I’ve left around the District of Columbia over the past four years.

foursquare-the-next-big-thing

Foursquare’s Time Machine is a lovely reminder that the stories we can tell with data.

The infographic above, generated by Foursquare crunching 887 of my checkins, represents a life of work, travel and recreation. It’s one, however, that’s wholly created by my intention, as opposed to constant logging of my movements, intentions or experiences.

The map above isn’t even close to a complete snapshot of who I am, or even all of my Foursquare checkins. (I’ve checked in from Europe, Africa, South America and all around the USA.)

I’m quite happy about that, to be honest. There’s so much that exists in the spaces between these shared vignettes that I prefer to keep to myself, friends, family, colleagues or sources.

That said, thank you for the trip back through time, Foursquare.

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Less TV, more Internet: First White House Google Plus Hangout features real questions from citizens

Today, more than a quarter of a million people* watched the first Presidential Google Hangout with President +Barack Obama from +The White House.  The archived video, below, comes courtesy of  Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa, whose shared his review of President Obama’s first Hangout at Reuters.com. For the best reporting I’ve seen on the participants and questions, read Sarah Lai Stirland on President Obama’s Hangout.

My immediate takeaway? The forum featured real questions on significant issues, with genuine citizen-president interactions, with back and forth conversation. That was precisely the promise of the platform that I considered ahead of time, when I asked whether a Google+ Hangout could bring the president closer to the citizens he serves.

Earlier in the afternoon, I joined Google’s Daniel Sieberg on our own Google+ Hangout to talk about the potential impact that online video, hangouts, and live broadcasts between citizens and their elected officials could have on the political landscape.

The moderator, Google’s Steve Grove, gave the participants (2 men, 2 women and one classroom of young people) the opportunity to follow up on their questions to the president. There will be much more analysis of the questions asked and the president’s answers tonight, as there should be.

Here’s a quick recap, distilled from my notes: The forum began with a video question to the president about promoting a living wage for students working their way through college. The second question came from the Hangout, on why the White House doesn’t expand expanded H1B visas for foreign workers at the expense of skilled labor with the U.S. President Obama told the wife of a semiconductor engineer (who asked the latter question and, critically, got to follow up in the Hangout) if she sent him her husband’s resume, he’d be happy to find what’s happening.

One could dismiss it as pandering — or celebrate it as a citizen cutting through the morass of bureaucracy to tell the nation’s chief executive that the system wasn’t working as he said it should. Such followups in the Hangout are what made this different than the past YouTube and White House interviewed. Politico talked to Jennifer Wedel, of Forth Worth, Texas, who asked the question during the presidential Hangout:

“I’ll have to take you up on that,” Wedel said of the president’s offer to help her husband, Darin, who lost his job at Texas Instruments three years ago.

Later, Wedel told POLITICO that she and the president had a “pretty crazy interaction” that she hadn’t expected when she asked about the federal government granting H-1B visas to skilled foreign workers while U.S. citizens such as her husband are out of work.

“I don’t think he was trying to be condescending or anything,” said Wedel, who never completed college and was a stay-at-home mom before her husband was laid off, but now has a full-time job at State Farm to help make ends meet. “I just think I stumped him a little and he wanted me to hush about it.”

“I think he knows pretty well that the H-1B is an issue because — it’s kind of like the Occupy movement — big corporations are putting up the money to get the visas” and choosing lower-paid foreign workers over domestic ones, Wedel said. “I don’t think what he was telling me was true, and I think he knew it, and that’s why he offered to take my husband’s resume,” she said, adding that her husband has kept it updated.

Another question from YouTube featured a video taken from an #Occupy protester in Portland. A question taken from within the White House Hangout asked about the president’s plans to help small business and to restructure government, which the Washington Post covered this month.

Another question posed within the Hangout about a lack of dialogue with children about the financial crisis offered the president a human moment, where he said that he tries to explain what’s happened with economy to his daughters over the dinner table.

There were incontrovertibly tough questions asked tonight, including one from a homeless veteran who asked why the U.S. is sending money to Pakistan and places that are known to give money to terrorism. In answer, the president said that the U.S. only spends 1% of its budget on foreign aid, and that it pays off in a lot of ways as part of the country’s national security strategy. What we don’t want is countries to collapse, have to send in our guys at huge potential risk and cost to taxpayers, he said.

The President was asked a video question from YouTube that cited a New York Times story on the use of drones in Iraq, which the president called “overwritten. The drones have not caused an unusual number of civilian casualties, he said, stating that it was a targeted focused effort aimed at Al Queda, not for other purposes.

I was personally glad to see that Grove asked a question on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), noting that both were hot within the YouTube community. Needless to say, that part of the transcript will be carefully analyzed by the people whose collective online action changed Washington.

We need to use tools we have, he said, noting recent takedown action by the Justice Department. At the same time, when SOPA came up on the hill, said the President, “we expressed some concerns about the way the legislation had been written.”  Now, he said, the content and server sides need to come together for strong IP protections that preserve basic architecture of the Internet.

While the top-rated question was asked, concerning the extradition of a British national, there were no questions posted about legalizing marijuana, which once again rose to the top of CitizenTube (perhaps Grove and his colleagues at YouTube felt it had been asked enough?) nor any question was asked about the National Defense Reauthorization Act, which many other users on YouTube wanted to see addressed.

UPDATE: When I followed up with Grove on Google+ about the process behind the questions, he made the following comment:

We chose the questions from among the top-voted questions on YouTube… it’s always a fun challenge to ensure you get a broad range of issues and perspectives into these discussions from amongst the top-voted questions, but I hope people feel that we did a good job of listening to community votes. We asked several of the top-voted questions, including the #1 voted question on YouTube. Some people asked why we didn’t ask about marijuana legalization… as an FYI, we asked the President about it last year (see here: Drug Policy – President Obama’s YouTube Interview 2011).

As far as the hangout participants, we also selected them based off of the questions they had submitted to YouTube — again looking for a range of Americans… that part had to happen a little earlier during the submission process, so we could prepare for the Hangout today.

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with YouTube and Google+ to discuss his State of the Union Address, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2012. The interview was held through a Google+ Hangout, making it the first completely virtual interview from the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with YouTube and Google+ to discuss his State of the Union Address, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 30, 2012. The interview was held through a Google+ Hangout, making it the first completely virtual interview from the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Overall, I can honestly say that we saw something new in the intersection of government, technology and society. From where I sat, plugged in within the Sunlight Foundation, it felt like a good thing, not just for the White House or the president’s campaign or Google (although all certainly benefitted) but for the promise of the Internet to more directly connect public officials to those that they serve, with all of their real problems, concerns, doubts and fears.

At the end of the event, there was a moment of unexpected human connection, when one of the women on the hangout invited her three children to come meet the president.

They stared and smiled, left a bit wide eyed by the President of the United States smiling out of the computer screen and bidding them to obey their mother and do their homework. We could do with more wonder in the world, where such unexpected encounters occur online.

Viewership estimate via Google’s Steve Grove, who said at the end of the netcast that a quarter of a million people were watching on YouTube. Given the White House’s own livestream, the number could be higher.

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PBS 2.0

Earlier tonight, ReadWriteWeb dropped the news that PBS has rolled out a major new redesign. The news about the rebooted PBS.org and a new iPad app confirmed a notable aspect of the digital future that PBS vice president of digital strategy, Robert Bole, described at Fedtalks. His talk is embedded below:

As Curt Hopkins points out at ReadWriteWeb:

18 months ago, PBS launched an initiative to make the public broadcasting corporation’s site a player in multimedia. They introduced their media player, made 4,700 hours of broadcast offerings available for free, created mobile apps for kids and rolled out a subscription-based teaching platform. The next several months may add significantly to the organization’s new media juice.

Along with that iPhone app, “PBS 2.0” includes national-local integration of programming. People that follow how convoluted the licensing and syndication of public media can be for local stations know that’s a notable evolution.

New PBS apps for the iPhone and iTouch are also on the way. Note: Android apps are “on the road map” but don’t have a delivery date at the moment. I don’t think PBS is afflicted with “shiny app syndrome,” exactly, but it will be worth watching to see if an Android app is forthcoming, along with HTML5 support and more mobile optimization.

In the meantime, PBS viewers who want to watch full length episodes of programs like Frontline can now do so on demand using a Web browser. They can watch Sesame Street on YouTube. And, of course, viewers can let the folks behind all of it know what they think about it and engage them at @PBS on Twitter or Facebook.

The press release about PBS 2.0 also highlights the premiere of the first full episode of series CIRCUS, a documentary about life at the Big Apple Circus, on the new iPad app. CIRCUS can also be streamed today, in advance of the broadcast premiere.

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Tech Term of the Week: Location-based service (LBS) bacn

Over the past year, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the prevalence of notifications about mayorships and badges on Foursquare or finds on Gowalla.

During the SXSW festival, it grew monumentally worse.

As location-based services (LBS) like Foursquare and Gowalla have picked up users over the past year, many of them have chosen to share their activity on Twitter.

I have a term for that sort of notification, pushed towards followers: “LBS bacn.

I define LBS bacn as default notifications from location-based services that are autoposted to social networks.

In my view,  LBS bacn adds bits and bytes of “datafat” to otherwise useful lifestreams. For those who aren’t familiar with this porktacular digital slang, Wikipedia defines bacn as:

email which has been subscribed to and is therefore not unsolicited, but is often unread by the recipient for a long period of time, if at all. Bacn has been described as ‘email you want but not right now.'”

According to WhatIs.com’s definition for bacn,

“The term was coined in August 2007 at Podcamp Pittsburgh, a social media “unconference” attended by bloggers and podcasters. The term “bacn” was chosen because of its similarity to spam. Both are popular pork products and both can fill up your inbox pretty quickly. The term “ham,” by way of contrast, is sometimes used to refer to email that a user wants to both receive and read right away.”

Some of Foursquare, Gowalla, BrightKite or other location-based service post can be useful or entertaining. After all, a location is a relevant response to Twitter’s original question: “What are you doing?” After all, it’s not so far off as an answer to the new question, “What’s happening?” either.

Annotated locations are even interesting, in most cases. One of the best check-ins of that sort pushed to Twitter came from Amy Senger, who tweeted:

“Skilling v the U.S. (@ Supreme Court of the United States) http://4sq.com/6HSdgV

But LBS bacn, at least to me on Twitter, is not. As ever, with Twitter everyone’s approach will be different. And if LBS bacn gets too much from a given source, it’s much easier to stop reading it then to give up bacon in the real world: you can just unfollow the bacnator. I don’t hate the idea of a location-based services, or the people that use them,  although location-based services do raise online privacy concerns. Everyone will can — and will — use Twitter differently, so don’t please take this as me telling anyone what to do.

I’m just as tired of reading LBS bacn as I am of notifications from Facebook or updates that I have new friends on Friendster. No, Seriously.

/rant

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Anil Dash on Expert Labs, useful online communities and “.com as the new .gov”

“Politicians know they can use social media to talk to people. What they don’t know yet is how to listen.”

That was Anil Dash’s summary of a basicchallenges that lie ahead for many world’s representatives as they explore Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other online platforms that allow reciprocal communication. Last year, he wrote that “the most Interesting new tech startup of 2009” was government.

Dash knows a thing or two about tech startups as the first employee of Six Apart LLC, one of the world’s leading blogging companies. He understands online engagement too, after blogging at Dashes.com since 1999. Now, however, he’s set his sights on an even bigger goal: transforming the ways citizens relate to their government through social media using a startup mindset.

2010-03-11-anildashdebbieweil.jpg

Speaking to a group of “digerati” at Baked and Wired, a chic purveyor of cupcakes and Internet in Washington’s tony Georgetown neighborhood, Dash laid out his vision for Expert Labs, “a new independent initiative to help policy makers in our government take advantage of the expertise of their fellow citizens.”

The first project at Expert Labs will be a “ThinkTank App,” an open source web application that aggregates and organizes replies to status updates on Twitter. ThinkTank App was developed by Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani, who has signed on with Expert Labs to develop the platform.

The event was the fourth “Sweets and Tweets” event produced by corporate social media consultant Debbie Weil.

The first client for Expert Labs is one that would make most startup founders swoon, too: the White House will be using the ThinkTank app to get better answers from citizens.

As Dash wrote in describing “Expert Labs, Gina Trapani, ThinkTank App and our Grand Challenges,” he’ll be collaborating with the White House in support of the Grand Challenges initiative.

“We want to create a different space for participation that rewards good answers, said Dash. He cited several online websites with communities that allow meaningful exchange of information without the ugliness that pervades many comment boards, including stackoverflow.com, ask.metafilter.com and the site his wife manages, SeriousEats.com.

“We need to establish our priorities as a nation, with citizens as the think tank,” said Dash.” If we can go from six people in closed door room to sixty thousand addressing a problem, that will be a small win.” Dash asserted that the disruptive influence of online collaborative tools will cause “entire federal agencies will be transformed, just as newspapers have been.”

Given the immense economic, social and technological challenges that lie ahead for the United States and the world in this young 21st Century, that’s a vision worth keeping an eye on.

Dash’s talk was livestreamed on uStream and may be viewed there. Debbie Weil has also blogged about Anil Dash and Expert Labs, along with DC cultural maven @KStreetKate‘s write-up on NBCWashington.com@ClearedJobsNet has also posted photos from the event.

As Weil shared on her blog, there’s no shortage of other places to learn more about Dash’s progress or last night’s event:

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FCC goes mobile, launches iPhone, Android apps for crowdsourced broadband speed testing

Test your broadband speed? Yep, there’s an app for that.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) built upon its growing new media prowess with the launch of iPhone and Android applications today.

The FCC’s new apps will allow users to test the speed of mobile broadband service and report deadzones where mobile broadband is not available. The FCC iPhone app is a free download from iTunes or the Android marketplace.

“Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition,” said Chairman Julius Genachowski in a press release. “The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country. By informing consumers about their broadband service quality, these tools help eliminate confusion and make the market work more effectively.”

The Consumer Broadband Test and the Broadband Dead Zone Report are also available as fixed applications at Broadband.gov. According to the FCC, the Ookla, Inc. Speed Test and the Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) running on the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform are used to power the app.

In the future, the FCC says it will making additional broadband testing applications available for consumer use. Consumers can also submit availability information by e-mail to fccinfo@fcc.gov. And, perhaps taking a page from Google’s playbook, this application is in beta. According to the Consumer Broadband Test information page, “this beta version is the FCC’s first attempt at providing Americans with real-time information about their broadband connection quality.”

I ran a quick test on my home cable Internet connection.

My downlink isn’t quite fiber optic speed, but I found it close to existing tools. The test depends upon Java, though many users are likely to have that installed at this point.

I tried out the mobile app as well, which used the GPS in my iPhone to discover my location. According to the FCC mobile broadband testing app, I’m getting 1.42 Mbps download speed from AT&T 3G here in Capitol Hill and .11 Mbps upload.

Beats GPRS, if not a Clearwire 4G connection — or my wifi.

Privacy concerns?

The FCC states that it’s “committed to protecting the personal privacy of consumers utilizing these tools, and will not publicly release any individual personal information gathered.” It’s posted a privacy statement to that effect.

Crowdsourcing citizen reporting

The larger context of the release of the FCC mobile broadband testing app is worth noting. The FCC will release its National Broadband Plan next week.

Part of that plan will certainly incorporate assessing where broadband service is exists, how robust it is and, perhaps, how closely service matches advertised rates.

This kind of data could serve in much the same vein as the FTC’s consumer complaint assistant works at FTComplaintassistant.gov. The FCC has given citizens a tool to report service quality and availability around the country. Equipped with that data, commissioners may be able to make more informed policy decisions as they roll out the broadband plan.

Now it remains to be seen whether citizens use it or not.

UPDATE: On Saturday night, March 13th, the FCC tweeted that over 80,000 tests had been registered using the Broadband Speed Test. It was unclear how many tests were through Broadband.gov or the apps.

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Voices from the #Gov20LA Unconference: On Innovation and #Gov20

Earlier this month, I stopped in Los Angeles to see what was happening at Goverment 2.0 LA, a hybrid of the unconference/camp and conference model organized by Alan W. Silberberg and Lovisa Williams. I’ve already shared some thoughts on what I learned about language of government 2.0, the history of disruptive innovation and the ways government adapts to technological change.

While I’m proud of those posts, one of the themes that emerged from the weekend was the importance of video for communication. I’m not at all on “video as the new text,” especially for countries with low Internet penetration or bandwidth, but there’s no denying that online video has extraordinary power in conveying messages. Just look at video of Iranian protesters on the streets of Tehran, reports from the earthquake in Haiti or the President of the United States on YouTube. Tune in to CitizenTube any minute of the day to witness that power in action.

Following are short videos from Gov2.0 LA organizers and attendees that share their takeways from the event.

Lovisa Williams

@lovisatalk talks about the goals of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Ben Berkowitz

@BenBerkowitz is the CEO of SeeClickFix.

Lewis Shepherd

@LewisShepherd discusses collaborative technology and government.

Wayne Burke

@wmburke talks about Govluv.org, on online platform for connecting to government representatives using Twitter.

Antonio Oftelie

@AntonioOftelie conducted a Government 2.0 Survey for Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Alan Webber

@AlanWebber talks about the international flavor of the Gov2.0 LA Camp.

Laurel Ruma

@LaurelRuma on her impressions from Day 1.

Lisa Borodkin

@LisaBorodkin on the language of Government 2.0.

Christina Gagnier

Christina @Gagnier on communicating about Government 2.0.

Justin Herman

@JustinHerman goes West Coast.

Adriel Hampton

@AdrielHampton on his impressions from Day 1.

Finally, here’s GovFresh.tv‘s video that features interviews with some of the people above and more:

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