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June 20 2010

Gov 2.0 Week in Review

This week's review comes as the nation comes to grips with the expanding scope of its worst environmental disaster in living memory, as the extent of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico becomes more clear. Despite the dire circumstances, the fact that I was able to stream President Barack Obama's first address to the nation from the Oval Office using the White House app on my iPhone as I walked home was a reminder of new ways government can use technology to share information. When I arrived home, I was able to stream the rest of the speech from, coupled with real-time press reaction on Twitter. And after the speech, I watched a real-time YouTube question and answer session with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and White House new media director Macon Phillips.

While livestreamed speeches and online forums will do nothing to stop oil gushing from a mile below the Gulf's surface, nor protect the livelihood of those who live around it, the role of new media, open data and technology platforms in the response to the spill is notable. The use of social media in the oil spill response has been extensive, as examples listed on a post on GovLoop shows. That's critical, given new government estimates of the flow rate of the oil spill are now between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day. At 42 gallons per barrel, that puts the oil flow between 1.4 million and 2.52 million gallons of oil per day.

noaa-oilspill-map.jpgWhether the oil spill response team is using Facebook, leveraging the technical resources at Google's oil spill crisis response page or using NOAA's new GIS tool to map the response of the spill, technology is being used in unprecedented ways to address an extraordinary threat.

More on the week past in Gov 2.0 news after the jump, including government work places privacy, a "do not pay list,", Digital Capitol Week, Knight News Challenge winners, Gov 2.0 Hero Day and more.

Mapping fraud for a new "Do Not Pay List"

On Friday, President Obama directed government agencies to withhold pay from delinquent contractors in a memorandum delineating a new "Do Not Pay list." The memo, embedded below, directs agencies to "review current pre-payment and pre-award procedures and ensure that a thorough review of available databases with relevant information on eligibility occurs before the release of any federal funds." The president gave federal agencies 90 days to develop procedures for parsing databases for signs of past fraud before writing any checks.

WH Memo: Enhancing Payment Accuracy Through a "Do Not Pay List"

As Vice President Biden and White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said on Friday, there's now software for fraud detection that allows government officials to cross-check multiple databases for background on prospective contractors. One such software product, Palantir, has already been used in the intelligence community and in mapping open government data for digital forensics. A public demonstration from this past week in Washington, featuring Palantir engineer Alex Fishman, is embedded below.

Government and workplace privacy

The Supreme Court ruling on Quon vs Ontario upheld a 1987 decision on electronic privacy. The so-called 'sexting case' outcome changed the rules on workplace privacy, The issue is not about sexing, per se, as it is about right to electronic privacy. The Court noted, applying a 1987 precedent, that government employees generally retain their Fourth Amendment privacy rights, but, when it comes to the use of agency-issued devices, usage can be gauged. The ruling, embedded below, emphasized the need for most agencies to create good policies which will stand in court, including good training and acknowledgment by signature that employees have read, understand the expectations and ramifications of those policies. Governments that issue mobile devices need to consider how to ensure taxpayer dollars are used appropriately and look for new ways to validate it, especially given public scrutiny of that usage, all while balancing giving public officials the necessary freedom to accomplish their goals. Finding that balance won't be easy.

Quon v Ontario Supreme Court Decision workshops wrap up

"Law.Gov is an idea that the primary legal materials of the U.S. are the raw materials of our democracy," said Carl Malamud last week, a Gov 2.0 pioneer. Malamud was speaking at a workshop at the Center for American Progress and Harvard Law School. As White House deputy CTO wrote later at, echoing Malamud's words, would provide access to the raw materials of our democracy.

"I'd love to see law as the source code of our democracy, watch programs execute and effectively debug the system," said Tim O'Reilly, who also participated in the workshop. "By making laws more accessible, we can get better insights into whether they achieve their intended outcomes."

Later in the day, Ray Mosley, Director of the Office of the Federal Register, remarked that "July 26 will mark the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Federal Register, a landmark achievement in open government," said Mosley said "Version 2.0" of the Federal Register will launch in late July.

"The one thing that the private sector can't do is publish the raw data that underlies our democracy"-Harlan Yu, a scholar at Princeton University. "Everyone knows about Moore's Law. At least as important is the trend in availability of powerful open source tools."

Yu would know, given his involvement in the development of, a browser for the Federal Register in eight days. Open source tech also drives, which also allows the public to explore the content in the Federal Register, taking bulk XML from Federal Register, storing it in MySQL and indexing it with Sphinx for search.

Look for more coverage of the workshop this week.

Gov 2.0 Hero Day

The workshop was held on the same day as "Gov 2.0 Hero Day," a grassroots effort by Govfresh founder Luke Fretwell to recognize leaders in the space.


I chose to acknowledge Carl Malamud, "Washington's IT Guy," Tim O'Reilly, the "oracle of Silicon Valley," federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the "grandfather of the Internet," Vint Cerf, all pictured to the right.

Other selections included the father of HTML, Tim Berners-Lee, Gabe Klein, Wayne Moses Burke, Phil Tate, Lucas Cioffi, Ted Hsieh, Bryan Sivak.

Fretwell posted a terrific roundup for Gov 2.0 hero day, including a friendly "group hug."

Gov 2.0 Day and the 140 Conference at Digital Week

This past week, Digital Capital Week Showcases Technological Innovation in Washington, including a number of Gov 2.0 initiatives.

Francesca Rodriquez wrote about "Gov and Org 2.0 Day" for the New America Foundation in "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Public Information." As Rodriquez wrote:

During the subsequent panel on "Office of the CTO: Past, Present and Future Gov 2.0 Leadership," the District's Chief Technology Officer, Bryan Sivak, took a different tack towards government incentives for using social media, emphasizing the potential for improving municipal efficiency with new media technologies. Sivak began the discussion by saying that the city is interested in "increasing the utility of the city's services,"; and he presented some of the various D.C. initiatives, such as QR tags on city buses, possible two-way communication with buses, and the D.C. Public Library Labs. When an audience member posed a question to Sivak about creating a site that would inform citizens about the length of road construction projects, Sivak replied, "We have that at"; Sivak also challenged the developer community to "write new apps with data." In my hometown of Chicago, the Open Government Chicago/ group of techies and better government geeks have already gotten energized around citizen-generated apps such as (created by Everyblock';s Daniel X. O'Neil and developer Harper Reed) and a site that promotes better recycling. Citizen developers mashing up data is not a new idea, but it is promising to take note of the increasing number of locally-focused transparency projects

For more perspective on the progress of open government in cities, make sure to read "Online Engagement for Sustainable Urban Mobility."

The last session of the day featured Department of Energy new media director Cammie Croft and Altimeter consulting founder Charlene Li. Their presentations are embedded below, including Li's perspective on the cost savings and impact of open government.

On Thursday, Jeff Pulver's D.C. 140 Conference highlighted all of the ways that the real-time Web affects society, from arts and media to sports and dating. There were also several speakers that focused on Gov 2.0, including a panel where NPR's Andy Carvin and I talked about "emergency response 2.0."


We talked about the evolution of how technology and the Internet has been used to coordinate government and citizen reactions crises and natural disasters, from the early days of listservs and the Kobe earthquake to Crisis Commons, the use of Ushahidi, the Oil Reporter data initiative and "grassroots mapping" in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Later in the day, Harvard Business School graduate and former Army Ranger Blake Hall talked about how he and three other veterans developed Troopswap, which aggregates content relevant to military personnel and makes it available with a "folksonomy approach." Hall also quoted MIT professor Andrew McAfee for his definition of enterprise 2.0, "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers." Hall focused on the potential of secure enterprise 2.0 systems to provide better Army operations during wartime, describing the danger to deployed units that came from poor knowledge sharing. "If we'd had a secure social software program that we could have accessed, there would've been little need for peer to peer communication."

TroopSwap would be a "bit like Craigslist, but targeted for the troops, as well as their families," said Laurel Ruma, my colleague at O'Reilly Media. "At that point, you are talking about an audience of tens of millions, but also a creating a fantastic platform for this group of people. What if you could see the up-to-date availability of backpacks at a certain base/commissary? Childcare? Homeschooling? Medical?" TroopSwap donates 10% of its profits to

Mark Story, new media guru at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also reflected upon "using social media effectively in government and spending taxpayer dollars wisely." At the end of his talk, he also offered up an interesting prospect: the SEC would be releasing XBRL feeds into Twitter. Whether developers will do something useful with that financial data remains to be seen.

Representative Mike Honda (@RepMikeHonda), the Democrat who represents Silicon Valley in Washington, reflected upon Twitter a bit as well. "People's essence comes through when they communicate in 140 characters," he said. "If politics is about participation, we should take the risk of asking you guys what's on the website that's important to you. It's about sharing who you are, rather than trying to sell what you'd like to have people believe about you."

Knight News Challenge Winners

Last week. the Knight Foundation announced its News Challenge Winners for 2010. Every winner of a grant from the Knight Foundation in 2010 deserves congratulation. The following selections have special meaning for the Gov 2.0 and open government community. Descriptions and videos are excerpted from The video embedded below features all of the winners talking about their projects.

CityTracking by Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design "To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful."

Local Wiki by Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov
"Based on the successful in Davis, Calif., LocalWiki will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn — and share — their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects."

CitySeed by Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell
"Cityseed would allow community members to connect an idea to a specific place. For example, if you see a great spot for a community garden, you can use your mobile device to "geotag" the idea, linking it to the exact spot where you are. Others can look at your place-based ideas and debate them, from any place and at any time."

TileMill by Eric Gunderson of Development Seed
To inspire residents to learn about local issues, TileMill will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.

GoMap Riga by Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus
"To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the web and place it automatically on the map. Residents also will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while also discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities."

Order in the Court 2.0 by John Davidow of WBUR
"To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and 80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a wifi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms."

Net Neutrality moves forward

The F.C.C. approved a process for changing the way ISPs are regulated. The F.C.C. moves to expand its role in broadband will be closely watched by both net neutrality advocates and opponents. While itself still needs an upgrade, the proceedings at the F.C.C. where the vote to go ahead was made were livestreamed Susan Crawford provided some context for why they were important and argued in GigaOm that U.S. tech policy needs Silicon Valley's input."

Internet freedom and tech delegation to Syria

The U.S. deployed several tech firm to win Syrian allies, reported the Wall Street Journal. Alec J. Ross led the delegation, accompanied by Jared Cohen, who tweeted its progress through Syria. The group, which met with Syria's Bashar, had a bit of a different feel than the Russian tech delegation that visited Moscow and Siberia this February, perhaps because of the absence of Ashton Kutcher.

Tech delegations aside, an interview with the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta showed how directed denial of service (DDoS) attack are is used for censorship in Russia. That reality highlights the potential utility of developing better "Internet freedom technologies" to defend against them.

Government 2.0 Bits and Bytes

OpenPlans announced OpenBlock, a project to open source EveryBlock. Nick Grossman's slides are embedded below.

If you missed it earlier this month, Health 2.0 went to Washington.

Can open source tech from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is leading to better outcomes for babies? NASA technology leads to better medical decisions.

In "From Apache to Health and Human Services," Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf discusses the CONNECT health data project with Andy Oram.

The New York Senate launched the "first mobile app in the nation developed by a legislative body."

Chris Dorobek recorded a great interview with Tim Berners-Lee on open data for Federal News Radio.

What's's next big thing? Mashing up federal stats with maps.

The addition of animation and interactivity can greatly improve a visualization, as this Radar post on visualizing the Senate social graph shows.

In the wake of sustained Twitter downtime, the EPA's new media guru emphasized the importance of both multiple channels is key and agility of thinking in Atwitter About Reliability."

"Government can be a reality," wrote Stephen Collins regarding Australia's Gov 2.0 and open government prospects.

Who owns public crime data? Mike Masnick explored the issue using the recent dispute between and

People are petitioning FourSquare, using, to create an "I Voted" badge. There are rumblings in D.C. about asking for an "I got my Flu shot" badge too.

People are crowdsourcing election monitoring in Guinea, writes Craig Newmark, linking over

Will Congressional staff read faxes from mobile users? Visible Vote connects voters with legislators in a new (and old) way.

WIll the iPhone edge out the BlackBerry in Washington? "The iPhone introduced a new paradigm, the apps paradigm, and that paradigm is everything that matters now," said Tim O'Reilly. "But a lot of people in D.C. really love their BlackBerrys, and they have a strong relationship with them." The Washington Post reporter noted O'Reilly has "been introducing apps developers to the people who run federal agencies." According to the article, there are currently 86 iPhone users at work in the House of Representatives, in "a sea of 9,140 BlackBerry users."

Finally, dressing for success in Washington involves suits, shirtsleeves and shorts.

What else is happening in Gov 2.0?

Inevitably, we're going to miss some links, so make sure to follow my Gov 2.0 list on Twitter, embedded below. And as always, if you have tips or suggestions, please email them to or leave links in the comments.

June 17 2010

Four short links: 17 June 2010

  1. What is IBM's Watson? (NY Times) -- IBM joining the big data machine learning race, and hatching a Blue Gene system that can answer Jeopardy questions. Does good, not great, and is getting better.
  2. Google Lays Out its Mobile Strategy (InformationWeek) -- notable to me for Rechis said that Google breaks down mobile users into three behavior groups: A. "Repetitive now" B. "Bored now" C. "Urgent now", a useful way to look at it. (via Tim)
  3. BP GIS and the Mysteriously Vanishing Letter -- intrigue in the geodata world. This post makes it sound as though cleanup data is going into a box behind BP's firewall, and the folks who said "um, the government should be the depot, because it needs to know it has a guaranteed-untampered and guaranteed-able-to-access copy of this data" were fired. For more info, including on the data that is available, see the geowanking thread.
  4. Streamhacker -- a blog talking about text mining and other good things, with nltk code you can run. (via heraldxchaos on Delicious)

Sponsored post

June 09 2010

Four short links: 9 June 2010

  1. Game Dev 101 lessons with WarioWare DIY -- Nintendo's long-running and (at its debut) groundbreaking WarioWare franchise has always been predicated on discrete games played for 5-10 seconds at a time, in rapid succession, and it's precisely that stripped-bare approach that makes it an ideal launchpad for re-wiring the way aspiring designers think about what makes games fun. With its own bespoke image and music editor, a graphical scripting language not altogether (so I'm told) that different from the tools available in popular PC package GameMaker, and -- crucially, if a bit over-long for those more familiar with game dev proper -- hours worth of mandatory tutorials that leisurely stroll you through Your First Animated Sprite or Your First Logic Gate. (via BoingBoing)
  2. What Should Mozilla Look For In an Automated Review System -- Mondrian's review comment system really seemed to encourage a style where there was a one-way flow of instructions from the reviewer to the reviewee: "Do this. Do this. Do this." and the reviewee replies with "Done. Done. Done." Sometimes this is appropriate, but oftentimes it isn't. (Mondrian is Google's internal tool for this) (via Marc Hedlund)
  3. DOE Releases BP Oil Spill Data -- As part of the Obama Administration's ongoing commitment to transparency surrounding the response to the BP oil spill, the Department of Energy is providing online access to schematics, pressure tests, diagnostic results and other data about the malfunctioning blowout preventer. (via EllnMllr on Twitter)
  4. The Rise of Crowd Science -- fascinating account of the life work of Alex Szalay, who has turned astronomy into a data-sharing discipline embracing crowdsourcing. I loved this story: More than 270,000 people have signed up to classify galaxies so far [on Galaxy Zoo]. One of them is Hanny van Arkel, a schoolteacher in Holland, who found out about the site after her favorite musician, Brian May, guitarist for the rock group Queen, wrote about it on his blog. After clicking around on Galaxy Zoo for a while one summer, she landed on an image with what she describes as a "very bright blue spot" on it. "I read the tutorial and there was nothing about a blue spot," she says, so she posted a note to the site's forums. "I was just really wondering, What is this?" Her curiosity paid off. Scientists now believe the spot is a highly unusual gas cloud that could help explain the life cycle of quasars. The Hubble telescope was recently pointed at the object, now nicknamed "Hanny's Voorwerp," the Dutch word for object. Astronomers have published papers about the discovery, listing Ms. van Arkel as a co-author. "Don't ask me to explain them to you, but I am a co-author of them," she says with a laugh. Szalay will be at Science Foo Camp this year, and I can't wait to meet him. (via Penny Carnaby)

May 26 2010

Crisis Commons releases open source oil spill reporting

oil-reporter.11-174x300.pngCrisis Commons has released a new open data initiative to enable response organizations to report from the oil spill. Oil Reporter allows response workers to capture and share data with the public as they respond to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

"The cool thing about the app is that the photos and information will be open to anyone to use," said Heather Blanchard, co-founder of Crisis Commons. "We want response organizations to use it. They can localize the app with their own logo and add data elements, thus expanding the API. They can be assigned a code so they can compare their data with the public. We believe the data with codes would be more of a verified set, as they would be response organizations and their volunteers using those codes."

These smartphone apps allow response workers to take geotagged photographs, record video, and enter text and basic data elements, like instances of oil and affected wildlife. The Oil Reporter app provides official phone numbers to report oiled beaches, wildlife and volunteer information links.

Oil Reporter uses an open API for greater information sharing. Response organizations wishing to expand data elements of the API can do so by requesting customization through the match program. All data provided by the response organizations and those using Oil Reporter is public data.

Data collected utilizing the Oil Reporter mobile applications will be managed by San Diego State University’s Visualization Center. Dr. Eric Frost will lead a team to provide visualization tools and products based on the Oil Reporter data. Response organizations requiring assistance will be able to submit a request via for volunteer visualization and analytics support.

Organizations can adopt and customize the code for Oil Reporter as needed, including adding data collection elements. Oil Reporter mobile application source code is publicly available on GitHub for reuse and customization. Response organizations that want to create an Oil Reporter app can make a request for help from volunteer mobile developers.

More details about the development of the app and the many people who worked on it over the past weeks can be found at the Crisis Commons blog post on Oil Reporter.

You can follow @OilReporter on Twitter or Facebook. As pictures and videos are added, watch the Oil Reporter Flickr group and Oil Reporter YouTube channel.

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