First Post



Civic tech for the children; are tech philanthropists discounting expertise of nonprofit leaders because their skills are feminized?; and more.

  • Today’s civic-tech must-read: Kristen Joiner, the co-founder of Scenarios USA, writes for Stanford Social Innovation Review about the uneasy relationship between tech philanthropists and social change leaders, asking “Is it possible that, in the marriage between the new tech philanthropists and social change leaders, our culture ignores and sweeps aside the expertise of nonprofit leaders simply because critical skills required for social change (like empathy) are feminized, along with the nonprofit sector itself?”

  • New Haven-based SeeClickFix is partnering with the Oakland-based Workers Lab to develop an app that will make it easier for workers to report occupational safety violations, Caroline O’Donovan reports for BuzzFeed.

  • UNICEF has announced a $9 million venture fund for civic tech that can benefit children, Ben Schiller reports for FastCoexist. The money comes from governments in Finland and Denmark, plus the Walt Disney Company Foundation and the Page Family Foundation.

  • Tech and politics: Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is pushing the limits of political voter surveillance, the AP’s Michael Biesecker and Julie Bykowicz report. Not only does his Facebook app grab his supporters’ personal information—including their location data and lists of their friends and relatives—his campaign is combining that with a privately-built database that has “quantified the personalities of every adult American,” according to its builder Cambridge Analytica’s Alexander Nix. The data allows for precision-levels of pandering. For example, on gun rights, “For voters who care about traditions or family, a message may resonate about guaranteeing the ability of a grandfather teaching shooting lessons. For someone identified as introverted, a better pitch might describe keeping guns for protection against crime.”

  • Seamus Kraft of the OpenGov Foundation takes a close look at how Congressional staffers actually track and report office expenditures, and the results aren’t pretty.

  • Code written on GitHub by women is approved at a higher rate than code written by men, researchers have found. But as Julia Carrie Wong reports for The Guardian, this is only true of women coders whose gender was not identifiable on the site.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Writing for The Atlantic, Adrienne Lafrance explains exactly why Facebook’s “Free Basics” program in India is indeed, colonialism for the digital age.

First Post



Bernie breaking online fundraising records; Obama calls for universal automatic voter registration; and more.

  • Small donors, big data: In 2004, Howard Dean’s presidential campaign built a grassroots base of 600,000 donors, largely by using the internet, and vaulted a formerly obscure small-state Governor to the top of the Democratic field, for a time. “We all felt the muscle flex of this new progressive movement and were stunned by it,” Nicco Mele, Dean’s webmaster, told me back then. Well, now a formerly obscure small-state U.S. Senator has been vaulted to the top of this year’s Democratic field, and overnight between Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary and yesterday afternoon, we saw that muscle, rebuilt, flex again. In the 18 hours after the polls closed, the Sanders campaign reported raising $5.2 million, at an average of $34 per donation. In 23 hours, it hit $6.3 million, according to this Kenneth Vogel story in Politico (which does a nice job of profiling Tim Tagaris, one of Sanders’ key online strategists). By the evening yesterday, according to an ActBlue thermometer included in a follow-up email from the campaign, the Sanders’ haul had reached $7 million, a new record for one day during a president primary.

  • The one-day record for a fundraising email by a presidential campaign during a primary was previously held by the 2008 Ron Paul campaign, which invented the “money bomb” and raised $6 million from 58,000 donors on December 18, 2007 (the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party). The 2012 Obama campaign raised $10 million overnight after Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, where she mocked him for being a “community organizer.”

  • New Hampshire has long been a great springboard for fundraising online; in 2000 John McCain’s upset victory over George W. Bush generated $1 million in such donations through his website, averaging $110 each. (Kids, candidates with websites and people making donations using credit cards was a novelty back then. It was a big deal in the fall of 1999 when Bill Bradley, the Sanders to Al Gore’s Clinton, announced he had raised $650,000 that way.)

  • Speaking of records, Kickstarter celebrated the 100,000th successful project on its crowdfunding platform a few days ago. Nearly 9.1 million people have pledged to those projects.

  • Speaking of large numbers, Marc Andreessen’s offhand tweet criticizing anti-colonialism in India had the effect of riling a county of one billion, prompted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to explicitly disassociate himself from Andreessen’s comments. Andreessen is a member of Facebook’s board.

  • Trump watch: Robert Paxton, a noted historian of fascism, explains to Isaac Chotiner of Slate how the short-fingered vulgarian compares to Hitler and Mussolini.

  • What sharing economy? Remember Airbnb’s “transparency” press event at Civic Hall in December, when it invited members of the press to come view a spreadsheet of its New York City user data? A new report by Murray Cox of and Tom Slee, author of “What’s Yours in Mine: Against the Sharing Economy,” shows “the data was photoshopped: Airbnb ensured it would paint a flattering picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of over 1,000 listings in the first three weeks of November.” Specifically, the company removed more than 1,000 “entire home” listings from its site, using the resulting data to argue that only 10% of those listings belonged to hosts with multiple listings. “The true number had been close to 19% for all of 2015,” Cox and Slee point out. The number of multiple listings is an indication of “sharelords,” people who aren’t just renting out a room or their own apartment on occasion, but using the platform to turn their properties into de-facto hotels and circumvent state laws.

  • Commenting on Cox and Slee’s report, New York state senator Liz Krueger, a longtime Airbnb critic, said, “Far from being open and transparent, this report shows that Airbnb intentionally misled the press and elected officials in New York. The data clearly disproves Airbnb’s perennial argument that they want to work with city officials to protect everyday New Yorkers, fight illegal hotel activity, and remove “bad actors” from their site. Instead, it appears the company took extraordinary one­time measures to manipulate data and make themselves look good on one day in one city.”

  • Cox and Slee’s report has generated critical coverage in The GuardianRe/CodeThe Awl, and Fusion. Christopher Nulty, Airbnb’s public affairs head for eastern North America, has responded to the report, arguing that most Airbnb users are single-listers, not sharelords. He says, “Our community in New York has evolved to a point where 94 percent of hosts have just one listing and where there is no material presence of illegal hotels, which is why accusations from the same elected officials who called for there to be no illegal hotels on the platform and now want to fine middle class families $50,000 is akin to asking someone to walk on water and then, when they do, fining them for not swimming.”

  • This is civic tech: Public Lab’s Jeff Warren announces the launch of Spectral Workbench 2, an updated version of the nonprofit’s kitchen table tool for analyzing chemical traces. Here’s a great profile of Public Lab’s work by Benjamin Preston for Make magazine.(Full disclosure: I serve on Public Lab’s board.)

  • President Obama went to Springfield, Illinois, on the 9th anniversary of his launching his first campaign for the presidency to talk about fixing the nation’s politics, and issued a call for universal automatic voter registration and an end to partisan gerrymandering of election districts.

  • Crypto-wars, continued: Rep. Ted Lieu (R-CA) has introduced the “Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,” or ENCRYPT. As Brian Barrett writes for Wired, it’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.

  • If the core conflict of the 21st century is between open and closed, as our friend Alec Ross likes to say, then Simon Oxenham’s story on the rise of, a sort of Pirate Bay for academic science papers, is proof that open is winning.

  • Your moment of zen: There’s a strange poetry to be found in the subject lines of campaign emails; to wit, the emails the Clintons have been sending of late.

First Post



Clinton promises data-driven campaign going forward; Politwoops is back; and more.

  • Tech and the presidentials: After swiftly conceding to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire last night, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook sent a memo to reporters promising “a data-driven approach to maximizing delegates” going forward and urging them not to make too much of the next two primaries compared to the delegate-rich votes in March. It reads, in part:

    The way to win the nomination is to maximize the number of delegates we secure from each primary and caucus. That means, in many cases, that the margin of victory (or defeat) within a given state is actually more important than whether the state is won or lost. Thus, the campaign is building the type of modern, data-driven operation that it will take to turn voters out and win the most possible delegates.

    The memo goes on to promise that each congressional district “will have its own data-driven plan.”The memo uses the word “data-driven” four times overall.

  • Upon winning the primary, Bernie Sanders made a live call for donations during his televised victory speech, which ActBlue’s Erin Hill tells First Post led to “incoming traffic at historic levels.” Some donors did experience a “still processing” message that appeared to hang, but Hill says, “In big moments, we prioritize incoming contributions first, sending receipts and updating metrics later. That’s by design and that worked by design last night. …Everything processed. There was a snafu with our thanks page UI, however, that caused donors to not get to the thanks page & leave some uncertainty about whether those contributions were completed. That was not by design and something we got fixed within an hour. But obviously not the experience we want donors to ever have, which is why we were also busy with concurrent real time customer service last night.” (She’s too modest to say that she was still up at 4 am doing some of that customer service.)

  • Hillary Clinton knows what selfies are, but according to this report from Amy Chozick of the New York Times, she’s not sure what it means for something to “go viral.”

  • As a fan of puns and culture hacks, here’s a robo-call out to Aaron Black of Americans United for Change, who jumped on Marco Rubio’s robotic performance during last week’s GOP debate and started following the candidate around dressed in a silver robot costume and holding a #RobotRubio sign. After some Rubio supporters roughed him up, an incident that was captured on video, Black spoke to Politico’s Nick Gass, saying, “You know, I don’t know what their major malfunction was, but I must have seriously pressed their buttons.”

  • Trump watch: Vox’s Ezra Klein has a must-read reminder on why Trump’s continuing rise is “terrifying.”

  • This is civic tech: West Carrolton, Ohio, is the first city to power its website with ProudCity’s beta product, reports Dustin Hailer for

  • The Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops site is back online, after being shut down by Twitter. The revived tool will now include every deleted tweet made by elected officials and candidates for office, and there are plans to expand to executive branch officials and state legislators. Already it has caught deleted tweets from Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Chris Christie.

  • Congrats to Civic Hall member David Moore, who demoed NYC Councilmatic at the NY Tech Meetup last night, his first time on that stage.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Longtime tech industry observer Om Malik explains why he has always been critical of Facebook’s so-called “” or “Free Basics” project. “I am suspicious of any for-profit company arguing its good intentions and its free gifts.”

  • Outspoken VC Marc Andreessen takes the opposite and ahistorical view, tweeting, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?” As Kurt Wagner reports for Re/Code, the backlash was swift and fierce and ultimately the chastened Andreessen tweeted a full apology.

Accessibility Tech Culture World



Take a minute to imagine you’re a newcomer to the internet. First of all, you are not alone. The web has been around for decades, yes, but on the scale of the world’s population, regular connectivity is still technically a minority experience. With an estimated 3.3 billion internet users out of a world population of 7.2 billion, and a stunning 833 percent growth rate over the past five years, we can expect diversity on the internet to increase significantly, especially as the world internet population inches toward a tipping point.

Now imagine you don’t speak English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish or another majority language on the internet. Imagine you speak Bihari or Ilokano, minority languages in India and the Philippines, respectively. Again, your experience isn’t unique. With the so-called “next billion” coming online, we can expect a significant increase in language diversity on the internet.

For English speakers, the internet might seem like a teeming wonderland of information and games and social connections, but for those who are just coming online, the internet has a dearth of content—if any—in their native languages. The pipelines for voice and civic action that we’ve seen for much of the world are facing a significant challenge: crossing language and cultural barriers.

For one, some languages are completely invisible and unusable on browsers, operating systems, and keyboards. In the words of Tibetan blogger Dechen Pemba, who can’t access the Tibetan language on a phone:

Given that the Tibetan literary tradition goes back to the 7th century and its linguistic influence reaches far across the Himalayas encompassing areas of India, Bhutan, Mongolia, Russia and Pakistan, my pet hate is when Tibetan language is described as “obscure”. I wonder how it is possible that the language of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhists, comprising of as many as 60 million people, can be wilfully left behind in terms of modern technology? For instance, Google has failed to incorporate a Tibetan font into its Android software, failed to develop a Tibetan language interface and failed to include Tibetan in Google Translate, the most useful of tools. At least Apple has seen the light there.

In a recent series of lectures at UCLA hosted by the Digital Media Arts program and the Processing Foundation, I talked through some of these issues, drawing on an essay I’d written for the Digital Asia Hub, a new think tank in Hong Kong that’s grown out of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Here’s a summary of the key points I think we should be paying attention to with regards to the language biases inherent to our technologies. These are pulled directly from the Digital Asia Hub essay and transcripts from the UCLA talk provided by the terrific Open Transcripts, with minor editing to contextualize the words for this piece:

Language biases create sharp divides in the global web—laying the foundation for digital ghettos of information and community.

Without improved language and writing script support, new netizens run the risk of living in digital ghettos created by their native tongues. Any online actions they engage in or media they create will be largely invisible and unappreciated by those outside their cultural-linguistic spheres. This can have significant effects, for instance, on human rights advocacy, which can depend so heavily on using social media and email to raise awareness among international news sources.

New internet users who don’t speak majority languages will likely be unable to participate in global internet culture and conversations as both readers and contributors. A number of internet researchers looking at language divides online have noted that minority languages speakers, especially those from the global south, will experience substantial information inequality online. Indeed, people’s inability to speak English can significantly affect their very adoption and use of the internet, even if they are aware of its existence.

The internet has proven to be a crucial pipeline for attention for those who have traditionally been marginalized. But language barriers can prevent the broader public from understanding their voices.

I think a lot of us are famil­iar with the internet’s role in build­ing social move­ments and the abil­ity to amplify one’s perspective and words. Certainly the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and the Black Lives Matter movement here in the U.S. rely on the abil­ity to broad­cast a mes­sage, to use hash­tags, and to cre­ate a pipeline from social media to main­stream media, and then hope­fully to other audi­ences.

And cer­tainly we can think about major hash­tags and major move­ments that’ve been in English or a major­ity lan­guage: #TweetLikeAForeignJournalist in Kenya was a cri­tique of media cov­er­age of East Africa. And then #JeSuisCharlie, a sim­ple enough French phrase for people to remember, understand and repeat online and offline.

But there are a num­ber of other move­ments in other lan­guages that are more dif­fi­cult to under­stand, and get sig­nif­i­cantly less atten­tion: There’s #sas­soufit in Congo; there’s the gau wu (#鳩嗚) move­ment, part of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, but also a tangential group with dif­fer­ent aims and strate­gies. As I argued at a recent panel on the topic of biased data, language is one important barrier that prevents these movements from reaching a wider audience.

Ultimately, language biases in our technologies are a full stack problem. These compound on each other, and as technologists, we have to think holistically about solutions.

In tech­nol­ogy design we talk about the full stack, a series of the layers, such as the code and the user interface, on which software is built. As we note during the biased data panel discussion, human-facing part of that code is in English. Admittedly, much of code is constructed from sim­ple phrases, like “if” and “then”. Yes, you can learn those phrases, but imag­ine try­ing to relearn code in a lan­guage that you don’t speak, and sud­denly hav­ing to learn two lan­guages: the pro­gram­ming lan­guage and then the lan­guage in which the pro­gram­ming lan­guage is expressed.

And then it moves up to the typog­ra­phy pres­sures. The abil­ity to input Arabic on a mobile phone up until recently was severely lim­ited, and Arabic speak­ers developed “Arabizi”, a chat language made of Roman letters and numbers to express their lan­guage online. This was incred­i­bly cre­ative, but it was also a response to a lack of support for the Arabic script. This affects many other languages whose primary script is not Latin.

Then it goes up from there into con­tent. If you want to engage with the broader internet, you have to have access, and we can include language as a form of access. As one example, Stack Overflow is a critical go-to source for the open source community and coders in general, but the majority of the knowl­edge on the site is only avail­able in English and Portuguese right now. If someone who speaks neither language wants to ask a question from this rich community of more experienced practitioners, whom could they ask?

And then the stack moves all the way to the typog­ra­phy. We’re talk­ing about the polit­i­cal deci­sions around typog­ra­phy. In lan­guages that use Latin let­ters, you have a wide vari­ety of typog­ra­phy and fonts that you can use, and if you have that kind of crit­i­cal knowl­edge about the impli­ca­tions of all these fonts you can really make impor­tant design deci­sions. But if you have access to only one or two fonts, sud­denly the abil­ity for you to cre­

ate a space around the very con­tent and the sites that you’re try­ing to cre­ate again becomes lim­ited and you’re inher­it­ing some­one else’s designs around your typog­ra­phy.

To be clear, language biases in tech are an extension of the language biases we live with in broader society. As we discuss what it means to “speak American” in this diverse, multilingual country, and as we look to a world multilingual internet, it’s important to remember how often language barriers manifest. Just recently, I wrote about U.S. candidates’ attempts at Spanish language engagement on Twitter, which sometimes falls flat for native speakers. Both Clinton and Sanders have been called to task online for their not-always-perfect Spanish:

This is a bias of content, one that is higher up on the technology stack, but that creates a barrier between a candidate and their electorate. Whether a language is misunderstood, or, like Tibetan, completely invisible, the barrier of understanding creates a barrier to access. Solving this at all levels will take a lot of work, but it will be essential for a truly interconnected, accessible, and civically-engaged internet.

First Post



The “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” 20 years later; ad firm says DIYers like Trump; and more.

  • This is civic tech: The great John Perry Barlow looks back on the 20th anniversary of his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. And while he expresses a few regrets (was it the champagne, he asks?) about his somewhat naive belief that the net would govern itself “with consensus systems aimed at the commonweal,” he asserts, “I do not believe that the Nation State, for all its efforts to bring the Net to heel, has really succeeded. It is still the case that if one is reasonably savvy technically, he or she can express whatever they wish without fear of reprisal….The War between the Control Freaks and the Forces of Open-ness, whether of code, government, or expression, remains the same dead heat it’s been stuck on all these years.”

  • Speaking of the forces of openness: New York City Council member Ben Kallos is pushing two bills, the Free and Open Source Software Act, which would minimize city contracts using proprietary software, and the Civic Commons Act, which would encourage the collaborative use of free and open source software among agencies, cities and states. The council’s committee on contracting will hear testimony on both bills February 23.

  • Our Christine Cupaiuolo takes a close look at two technologies that British researchers have been using in conjunction with major political debates there. The first, Democratic Replay, is an open-source web platform that enables viewers “to re-watch a debate with a full array of interactive visuals and analytics on discourse, audience feedback, debate topics (such as healthcare or the economy), and, in the future, data-mining tools that could answer such questions as, “Did the candidate actually promise this last year?” The second, Democratic Reflection, is an audience-response web app that enables viewers to choose in real-time from a panoply of nuanced responses, that range from straightforward (“This is informative” / “I’m losing interest”) to more complex reflections (“If s/he understood my situation, s/he wouldn’t say this” / “S/he’s provided convincing evidence for this claim”). As she reports, the University of Leeds team that built the tool is “open to discussions with media partners in and outside Britain interested in using the Democratic Reflection app in future debates.”

  • Tech and the presidentials: It looks like some voters in New Hampshire have been receiving so-called “voter-shaming” mailers aimed at trying to push them to vote by supposedly comparing their voting history to their neighbors, but as Rachel Stockman reports for, it’s not clear what campaign is sending them out.

  • Has presidential long-shot John Kasich been reading Sherry Turkle on the dangers of the digital age? Here he is talking at campaign event yesterday in New Hampshire, as reported by Ross Choma and David Corn for Mother Jones:

    “Our lives are being lived so fast. We’re constantly on the device. The Apple TV…Have to get the new Apple phone.” He held up an iPhone, as he continued: “We have to slow our lives down and listen to people’s hurts and victories.” He repeated this call to de-accelerate: “When we do…it’s a more beautiful world.”


  • Video satirist Hugh Atkin catches Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio debating with himself on whether or not President Obama knows what he’s doing. The results aren’t pretty.

  • The almost-too-close-to-call Iowa Democratic caucus battle gets a detailed deconstruction from Darren Samuelsohn of Politico, who shows that party leaders in the state were not prepared for the way the Clinton-Sanders race tightened and precinct volunteers were often not interested in using Microsoft’s app for reporting caucus results.

  • Digital advertising firm Dstillery used location data to identify more than 16,000 mobile phones that appeared at caucus locations across Iowa, Donovan Slack reports for USA Today. The company found that sports fans and techies were more likely to show up at caucuses won by Marco Rubio or Bernie Sanders, where those who were into grilling, lawn and garden care, and other household DIYers were more likely at caucuses won decisively by Donald Trump.

  • International internet: Facebook’s Free Basics program had only reached one million of India’s 252 million internet users, Reuters’s Jeremy Wagstaff and Himank Sharma report. The decision by Indian regulators to effectively kill the program for violating net neutrality will likely embolden other regulators to demand equal access from ISPs elsewhere, they note.

  • Commenting on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, Anil Dash tries to school the company CEO in the problematic history of Western colonialism in India, writing, “A colonialist “trust us, it’s for your own benefit” pitch is a hard sell with good reason….What about pausing the Internet Basics effort and spending some time on a real effort to listen to Indian voices about what would help them have connectivity on their own terms, in a way they find acceptable?” Zuckerberg kind of maybe gets it, replying “I think you’re right about focusing on following the local culture and empowering local entrepreneurs.” The giant social networking company is also facing a setback in France, where regulators are giving Facebook three months to stop tracking non-users activity and to also end the transfer of personal data to the United States, Reuters reports.

  •, a new online magazine about global development and culture, is looking for pitches from writers for articles about open data.

Civic Tech Germany World

What’s Going On in German Civic Tech?

What’s Going On in German Civic Tech?


A couple of years ago I was idly scanning through Google Zeitgeist, the search giant’s annual data release of each year’s top search trends. Somehow I found my way onto the international results, and picking almost at random I chose to look at the search terms for Germany.

There, sitting at the top of the pile, was something I could barely believe. The term in poll position was ‘Wahl-o-mat.’ Despite not being a German speaker, I recognized it: it was the brand name of a German website that helps people work out who to vote for.

Not a recently deceased TV star, or a major movie, or a massively viral YouTube video, but an old-fashioned, 36 question online quiz that ultimately spat out a suggested political party. Further searching revealed that it had been used, through to completion, over 13 million times in the 2013 national elections. Even more astonishing is the quiz is run by an arms-length public body—effectively a ‘who to vote for’ service delivered by part of the state.

Since then, I’ve been acutely aware that Germany has a social-impact technology scene that is somewhat unlike that of many other rich countries. So in January this year I set out on a trip to Berlin to find out about tech initiatives that might be a bit different from what you find elsewhere.


It is no great secret that Germany has been closely associated with the groundswell of discontent since the Snowden revelations. But I wasn’t prepared for just how big and central it is to how all technology was viewed, or how widely the suspicion of digital technologies has spread.

The best yardstick of how big the security and privacy tech community is in Germany is to consider the attendance of the year’s biggest community shindig, the Chaos Computer Conference (CCC), held in Hamburg. There were an astonishing 12,000 people present this year, and demand for tickets still substantially outstripped supply. Nearly as many people go to CCC as go to Defcon in America, but in a country that’s about four times smaller. And the number rises rapidly every year.

The concerns are much more widespread than the NSA reading German email, too. After a few days I realized that several people I talked to were using the word ‘algorithm’ (referring to automated technologies like Facebook’s wall) with a kind of distasteful wince. It was similar to the way that a lawyer might reluctantly use swear words when quoting a defendant in front of a judge. This is because the very idea of algorithmic sorting of content in social media has become a kind of dirty word in the tech community—yet another way that big institutions could exploit the rest of us. Poor Al-Khwārizmī, who gave his name to the mathematical concept, must be rolling in his grave.

Several people I talked to remarked that Berlin has become a kind of sanctuary to people who work for both well-known and obscure privacy enhancing technology projects. Living there meant not only more like-minded people to hang out with, it meant less hassle at airports, less likelihood of being followed around or interviewed, less of a feeling of being a bad or wanted person generally. You can buy more stuff with cash. Everyone speaks English, and many people the language of cryptography too. People were not naive about the fact that Germany has it’s own well-staffed security apparatus, but clearly it to this community it feels like a much more acceptable home than most other alternatives.

There wasn’t any consensus about what led to Berlin becoming the hub of this community. More than one person strongly contested the almost-standard idea that the history of the Stasi and of the the Nazis has made the average German more worried about surveillance than the average Brit. I was told that Google and Facebook usage was sky-high in Germany, and that these behaviors at an aggregate just didn’t fit the theory of national suspiciousness. Ultimately, I had no objective way of assessing why there is such a large security and privacy community in Berlin, but if it isn’t due to the sad, violent history of this place then there’s clearly some other very interesting explanation lurking. Theories on an encrypted post-card, please.

My final observation on the privacy and security scene is that the energy surrounding privacy tech and privacy laws has created opportunity costs for the wider civic and social impact tech scene. There were actually, overall, fewer big mainstream civic tech or social impact tech projects than I would have expected to find in a country with wealth, tech chops and political consciousness that Germany has. I suspect it’s because more than a few ideas die in the cradle, smothered by concerns about how user data might be abused. At least one person told me they’d seen this happen.


I talked to a lot of people during my stay. The following list, which is in no particular order, simply attempts to give a taste of the interesting projects and people I met, rather than a verbatim record. If I spoke to you and you’re not here, please don’t feel slighted!

Debates elections



Can political debates become more informative after the debate? Researchers in Britain are building a debate-replay website that aims to increase viewer comprehension,
engagement, and political confidence.
The Democratic Reflection app aims to gather nuanced feedback from political debate viewers. All images (c) the Election Debate Visualization Project.

Case Study:
 Election Debate Visualization Project
Country: United Kingdom
Research Team: University of Leeds: Stephen Coleman, Giles Moss (School of Media and Communication), Paul Wilson (School of Design); the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute: Anna De Liddo, Brian Plüss, Alberto Ardito, Simon Buckingham Shum (now at the University of Technology Sydney)
Debate: ITV Leaders Debate, April 2, 2015—the only debate where all seven leaders of British political parties met in advance of the May 7 general election for the 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Picture this: You’re watching a televised debate involving two political candidates, and one of them accuses the other of breaking a campaign promise. There’s a denial, followed by a cross-accusation. Pretty soon you’re not sure if either candidate is telling the truth, but you are certain that they’re avoiding the central question, and the moderator seems unable to refocus the conversation.

Now, what if you could replay the debate—but this time, there’s built-in fact-checking and data maps that track the arguments and show who violated the debate rules? And what if the viewing platform was interactive, so you could call up previous articles about an issue, pull in other viewers’ responses to the debate, and share your own?

What if, in other words, debates became more informative after the debate? Could the enhancements increase viewer comprehension, engagement, and political confidence?

That’s the question researchers working in Britain on the Election Debate Visualization (EDV) project are attempting to answer.

Robust political debate is common in the United Kingdom; the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions has been broadcast live since 1990, drawing international audiences. The first televised election debates, however, didn’t take place until 2010. They attracted strong public interest, but through a series of national surveys completed before and after the debates, Stephen Coleman, a professor of political communication at the University of Leeds, found that many viewers were left with questions on the issues and uncertainty about the candidates’ competing responses.

In 2013, researchers from University of Leeds, including Coleman, teamed up with data science experts at the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMI), a research and development lab, on the EDV project. The three-year effort (it concludes this fall) aims to identify the information needs of various audiences and create interactive visualization tools that respond to those needs.

“The analogy that I often use is that the debate is rather like trying to buy a car from someone who is a very fast-talking salesperson,” said Coleman. “What we want to do is to give you a chance to go home, sit at your computer, slow the whole thing down, take it apart, and really ask the questions that you want to ask.”

KMI researchers had already been conducting some informal experiments around creating interactive maps that tracked argumentative moves during the 2010 prime-ministerial debates. They were eager to do more with debate rhetoric and computer-supported argument visualization (CSAV), which captures and presents argument structure. They also wanted to analyze “fair play,” a specialty of EDV team member Brian Plüss, a research associate at KMI who codes linguistic behavior. Also known as non-cooperative dialogue, fair play refers to how well a candidate sticks to the debate rules. Avoiding a question or interrupting another candidate would be considered violations.

With a grant from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, the EDV team set out to develop an open-source web platform that would allow viewers to re-watch a debate with a full array of interactive visuals and analytics on discourse, audience feedback, debate topics (such as healthcare or the economy), and, in the future, data-mining tools that could answer such questions as, “Did the candidate actually promise this last year?” They named it Democratic Replay and expect to release in May, with a tutorial explaining the components.

But that’s not the only interactive use of technology they are introducing to the debate experience. Early on in the collaboration process, as ideas were being tossed around, the project team decided to see if they also could create an audience-response web app that would provide genuine insight into voters’ attitudes and needs. It was outside the project scope (and unfunded), but they were motivated by voters wanting a say in the debates and the limitations of existing ways to capture feedback.  

In 2010, for instance, U.K. debate broadcasters introduced the “worm,” an analytic tool used to gauge audience responses. Using a control device, such as a dial, a pre-selected group of voters register approval or disapproval of the candidates’ comments, and the responses appear in a line graph on screen, wiggling like a snake or a worm. Some researchers have had concerns about the tool’s influence on debate viewers.

“We agree with the view of the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications that ‘the use of the worm might distort the viewer’s perception of the debate,’” EDV team members wrote in a 2014 project report, referring both to the small sample of participants and the fact that the worm only asks the audience to “like” or “don’t like” what the candidates are saying. There’s no context.

More insight into voter reactions can be gained by analyzing Twitter activity during the debates, but this, too, is limited. “If instant audience feedback is to be a new fact of political life,” they concluded, “we need better tools for capturing and interpreting what viewers and voters are thinking.”

Gathering Debate Reactions

The audience-response app—called Democratic Reflection—began as a paper prototype. EDV team member Anna De Liddo, a research fellow at KMI and leader of the Collective Intelligence and Online Deliberation group, proposed using flashcards to elicit more nuanced feedback.

The team settled on 18 cards representing three categories: emotion (how debate viewers related emotionally with what they were viewing), trust (whether viewers trusted the person speaking or what was being said), and information need (if viewers had questions about the debate topics).

Collective intelligence systems generally require complex tasks to be broken down into smaller tasks, with the actions distributed across large collectives. Looking at how this could be applied to political debates, De Liddo focused on this question: “How can we capture and harvest people’s feedback to the debate in a way that is light and non-intrusive enough so that people may be willing to react, but also in a way that is nuanced and detailed enough so that analysts can make sense of the feedback?”  

The flashcards were designed to gather “soft feedback,” meaning that viewers voluntarily share what they are thinking or feeling. There are no intrusions, and no binary questions such as, “Do you agree or disagree with the candidate’s response?” This type of collective intelligence can be useful for analyzing both the viewer’s immediate experience and shifts over time.

On April 2, 2014, the team invited 15 students from the University of Leeds to demo the cards during a one-hour televised debate between Nick Clegg, then-deputy prime minister, and Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, on whether the UK should remain in the European Union. The BBC hosted the debate in front of a live audience.

Participants were encouraged to raise a card in the air at any time if it represented how they were feeling. The experiment was recorded so researchers could later code each response. They used Compendium, a software tool for mapping information, ideas and arguments with support for synchronized video annotation.

Plüss said the team initially thought the cards offered too many options. Debates can be complicated enough to follow without the added responsibility of choosing from 18 different reflections. To their surprise, the students not only engaged with the cards throughout the entire debate (researchers cataloged 1,472 times the cards were raised), they even started to combine several cards together to express more complex feelings.

When Plüss reviewed the video, he also realized the students started selecting the cards based on design elements. “That gave us a lot of courage because we thought if they engaged with these pieces of paper like that, then maybe if we give them an app, it’s going to be even easier,” he said.

Determining Democratic Entitlements

Around the same time the flashcards were being developed and tested, Coleman, along with two other University of Leeds researchers (Giles Moss, a lecturer in media policy, and Jennifer Carlberg, a doctoral candidate), asked groups of voters and non-voters about their experience with the 2010 televised debates and what they hoped to gain from future debates.

The Leeds team identified five demands, or “entitlements,” that people said the debates needed to fulfill in order for them to feel comfortable taking part in the democratic process:

  • They wanted to be addressed as if they were rational and independent decision-makers.
  • They wanted to be able to evaluate the claims made by debaters in order to make an informed voting decision.
  • They wanted to feel that they were in some way involved in the debate and spoken to by the debaters.
  • They wanted to be recognized by the leaders who claimed to speak for (represent) them.
  • They wanted to be able to make a difference to what happens in the political world.

The design of the focus groups was ambitious. Researchers looked at the relevance of debates in the broadest sense; that is, not whether the debates simply influenced viewers’ perceptions of the candidates, but what people need in the run-up to and during the debates to propel them to engage. (The interviews are also discussed in this report). This moved the focus from the politicians (suppliers of information) to the public (demanding information).

Why go to such trouble?

“We were looking at this on the basis that Britain claims to be, as the United States claims to be, a democracy. In a democracy, you have a public which is in charge and which makes the most important decisions about its future,” said Coleman.

“Very often when political scientists talk about the public, what they say is, ‘Oh, people can’t understand that,’ or, ‘This is too confusing for people.’ That wasn’t really good enough for us. We wanted to know the answer to the question, ‘What is it that makes this confusing?’ Is it inherently the case that the electorate is just dumb? Probably not. If not, then there are barriers in the way. If there are barriers in the way, what are those barriers? Are they barriers that are the same for everyone, or are they different for some people? Are they movable?”

Coleman said getting to that point was made possible by the decision to go into the focus groups with a curiosity about what norms people would establish for themselves, instead of establishing a set of norms for them to meet. Besides being surprised about how forthcoming people were about what they needed to make democracy work for them, and how much people wanted the debates to involve them as well as inform them, the researchers were a little startled by the lack of interest in digital technology as a solution.

“There’s an assumption that people are looking to digital technologies. They weren’t looking,” said Coleman. “They’re looking for particular opportunities to do things rather than particular technologies that they think have got a magic solution.”

Focus group participants came up with interesting ideas for improving the debates, said Plüss, including penalties for candidates who dodge questions. While such a suggestion would never pass the negotiation stage—much like it is with debates in the United States, the debate format in the United Kingdom is decided after a long negotiation between the political parties and the broadcasters—the EDV team began to envision how technology could be used to deliver more of what the public wants.

“If one of the politicians says something that has no evidential basis or that is plainly wrong, we can show it, and then make people aware of that,” said Plüss. “Even though we can’t make changes to the debates themselves, with technology we can empower citizens. That’s one of the overall grand goals of the project.”

From Flashcards to Web App

It took almost a year to turn the Democratic Reflection flashcards into a web-based app. The digital design ended up being similar, but the statements were restructured to extract meaningful insights around the entitlements identified in the focus groups. Coleman recalled arguments over Skype, debating whether to make the questions more colloquial, for example, or the options easier to analyze.

The choices now range from straightforward (“This is informative” / “I’m losing interest”) to more complex reflections (“If s/he understood my situation, s/he wouldn’t say this” / “S/he’s provided convincing evidence for this claim”).

“People’s reactions are used to make sense and assess the debate, but from a people-perspective,” said De Liddo, adding that this collective point of view “would be impossible to capture otherwise in such a rich way and, most importantly, in a way that provides very specific insights on the democratic entitlements.”

“Additionally, people who did not watch the debate can eventually ‘replay’ people’s reactions, and these can also be part of how they shape their opinion on the debate,” she added.

In March 2015, researchers assembled a dozen Open University students and staff in an auditorium to watch the Clegg/Farage debate from a year ago. This time, instead of holding up flashcards, participants could open the Democratic Reflection app on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones and select from 20 color-coded reaction buttons. A second test that month was similarly structured, except participants from the University of Leeds watched the debate independently (on YouTube), at home or at work, to better simulate a real-world scenario.

Everything worked as expected. But all of these tests involved university students or staff, so the users were generally tech-savvy, and no consideration was given to their age, gender, or political leanings. There wasn’t money in the budget to repeatedly test the app with a demographically representative sample of voters.

For that, the EDV team would have to wait until the main event—the ITV Leaders Debate on April 2, 2015—a year to the day of the original flashcard test.

One Test Becomes Two

In advance of the Leaders Debate, the EDV team turned to a polling company to recruit more than 300 people to use the Democratic Reflection app. Participants were given a pre-debate survey about their views on the election and a post-debate survey about the event and their experience using the app. At the end of it all, the team gathered data from 242 participants; some didn’t watch all of the debate, or didn’t complete both surveys.

Plüss said most users were active for the full two hours, with activity peaking near the end, during closing statements. The EDV team was concerned 20 buttons would making viewing more complicated, but that didn’t seem to be an issue.

“It leaves the question open to see how many [statements] people would be able to take,” said Plüss, adding that some users indicated that they would have liked more options, particularly more emotionally charged responses—the impolite things people say when they’re watching a debate and something happens that makes them yell at the TV.

On April 16, during a BBC election debate featuring the leaders of the five main opposition parties, the EDV team made the app available to everyone.

It wasn’t planned as part of the study, and they did very little promotion, only a couple of tweets and a mention on the Open University’s Facebook page. The server was optimized to support up to 700 users, said Plüss, and that night, as he watched the number of logins inching upward, he grew anxious. Close to 2,000 people joined in. Sure enough, the server crashed.

“Obviously, if we had collected that amount of data without any interruptions, it would have been amazing, but the fact that we got that amount of interest, I think it’s wonderful,” said Plüss. “It’s not that people were just coming in, taking a look, and leaving—they were actually wanting to interact.”

In fact, that interaction is probably what caused the crash. The team had modified the platform, allowing users to view a live feed of other viewers’ reflections as well as their own responses.

“The idea was to create a bit of a more of a social community kind of experience,” said Plüss. “Technically, that’s what got us in trouble, because that stream of information, when you have such a high number of users, is huge.”

The server was down for about five minutes. But Plüss considers the extra run a success of sorts: To his surprise, some users returned, and the EDV team ended up with about 400 streams of data—not useful for longitudinal data, due to the gap in the middle, but researchers could still study responses to specific moments of the debate.

Besides harnessing more data, said Plüss, “It was amazing to see that people had the appetite for this concept.”

The EDV team is open to discussions with media partners in and outside Britain interested in using the Democratic Reflection app in future debates. The entitlements on which the questions are based might be different, and the technology might be applied in different ways, but the ultimate goal of providing debate viewers with the means to express their emotions as well as their needs could be applied in any country, said Coleman.

“When we were doing this in April and May of 2015, we were saying to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something for the presidential election in the States in 2016?’ My guess is it is almost certainly too late for that,” said Coleman, adding that Germany’s election in 2017 might be a more realistic possibility.

“What we’re looking at is who we can work with for the greatest public good,” he added.  

Launching Democratic Replay

Democratic Replay will be made public in May as a tutorial website. It will include an analysis of data gathered from the Democratic Reflection app—51,964 pieces of data to be exact, one for each time a viewer clicked on a reflection during the ITV Leaders Debate on April 2.

The EDV team is working on multiple layouts with programmer Alberto Ardito, a visiting research student from the Polytechnic University of Bari in Italy. One shows a timeline of audience responses; click anywhere on the timeline to bring up that point in the debate. Another option shows a histogram as the video plays. There’s also a “feedback flower,” its size corresponding to how many people chose a particular reflection during each 10-second segment.  

“What our analysis will show is what was going on during the debate when people felt that particular entitlements were either being satisfied or being particularly not satisfied,” said Coleman.

Users will be able to filter the demographic profiles of viewers who provided feedback, making it possible to compare, say, how men and women responded to a candidate’s statement. Argument maps, fact-checking, and other components will also be available.

The EDV team finished the first iteration of Democratic Replay in October, five months after the election—too late to test if the platform could affect civic engagement or influence voting behavior. But between May and the end of the EDV project in September 2016, the team will continue to assess its use.

In the future, it might be possible to produce a Democratic Replay within a week of a debate, said Plüss. That’s well outside the 24-hours news cycle, but the team thinks the value is in turning the debate into an educational resource and a hub of data for journalists and other researchers.

As for the general public, the platform is going to be most useful for those who watched the debate, said Coleman. Both technologies, Democratic Replay and Democratic Reflection, are aimed at people who are “taking some notice of what’s going on,” but who may not have followed everything closely or who have not yet decided who to vote for.

“What I don’t think Democratic Replay as a technology does is open up a lot of space for people who are completely disengaged from the process,” said Coleman. “I think that will involve us in a different piece of work.

“It can be done, but I think that the problem is to throw everything in and try to take the disengaged, the engaged-but-confused, and then the engaged-but-highly opinionated all together and assume that you can create technologies for all of them. You can’t, I think.”

After all, this isn’t the worm.

First Post



In India, a win for net neutrality; presidential candidates, lost in translation; and more.

  • This is civic techWriting for TechCrunch, Stacy Donohue, investment partner at the Omidyar Network, offers three predictions about the rising fortunes of civic tech in 2016. First, a “new wave of citizen engagement tools and platforms aimed at education voters and boosting voter turnout,” like Change Politics. Second, “more funding opportunities than ever,” citing an internal study showing that 23 civic tech companies raised $285 million in 2015. And, third, more governments will embrace civic tech startups, citing the success of CityMart as one example.

  • Registration has opened for the School of Data, BetaNYC’s civic tech and open data conference on March 5 here at Civic Hall.

  • International internet: In a huge victory for net neutrality activists in India, the country’s top regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, announced new rules today banning internet service providers from having differential policies for accessing different parts of the web, Reuters reports. The decision is a huge blow to Facebook’s “Free Basics” program there. Here’s the authority’s full statement.

  • On Friday, Twitter announced that it had suspended more than 125,000 accounts “for threatening or promoting terrorists acts, primarily related to ISIS.”

  • That news was quickly overshadowed by Alex Kantrowitz’s story for BuzzFeed that Twitter was about to introduce an “algorithmic timeline” set off a firestorm of protest among loyal users of the app, leading Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to re-assure users that real-time feeds weren’t going away and that “we never planned to reorder timelines next week.”

  • Tech and the presidentials: According to former President Bill Clinton, after staffers from Bernie Sanders’ campaign took advantage of a database failure to access confidential Clinton campaign voter data last fall, “in private they sent an email out” saying that the Democratic party had left “the keys in the car, and all I did was drive off,” reports Jonathan Martin for the New York Times. Clinton’s harsh comments on Sanders, coming two days before the New Hampshire primary, mark a sharp shift in the ex-President’s public role in the presidential campaign.

  • Note to candidates: Google Translate doesn’t travel well. After observing how people are live-sharing presidential events in New Hampshire, An Xiao Mina of Meedan takes a close look at how social media works, or doesn’t work, in translation. Attacks on the “establecimiento” sound like you are attacking a physical building, rather than “el systema,” for example.

  • How well did Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns employ “voting science” in their get-out-the-vote efforts in Iowa? Harvard’s Todd Rogers and Adan Acevedo have the answer.

Civic Tech Design



I am frequently asked what key factors have made SeeClickFix a successful platform for engaging residents and officials where others have failed. These ten key principles that have been translated into product and design decisions have led to a rapidly growing platform that constructively solves problems while making government officials look good in the process. We believe these principles can be applied to other civic tech efforts and leveraged for more inclusive, representative governance.

The following is a list of biases and opinions that have been baked into the SeeClickFix platform over the past 8 years. It is not meant to be exhaustive and it is evolving as we learn more about the community we serve.

1) Transparency

SeeClickFix was launched because we were concerned that the opaque 1–1 protocols (phone calls and email) for managing citizen communication was crippling participation and strengthening distrust in government. Where legally possible communication with government and communication with residents should be immediately available to the public. This is different than an open data or FOIA policy which makes records available after the government has processed them. Real-time transparency maximizes overall efficiency by deceasing the duplication of public communications and internal government work. Feedback Loops have a stronger impact when they are published to everyone.

2) Feedback loops at every step

When you report an issue on SeeClickFix you are immediately sent an email that your issue has been created. In that email you are told who from the government has received the email as well as how many neighbors were sent a message. When you check out your issue you can see how many times it has been viewed and all of the public responses and the number of people who are following along. When the status changes on the issue (Open>Acknowledged>Closed) or a comment is made you receive an update. With feedback loops nothing is lost in a black box. With transparent and immediate feedback loops everyone can see the responsiveness of government and word of mouth spreads to others who are encouraged to show-up and communicate constructively. Twitter, Medium, Facebook and every other successful communication platform leverage stats (likes, follows, reads, shares) to encourage more engagement. This is no different and your government product needs to be thinking about creating feedback loops at every step.

3) Resident experience must rival experience with popular consumer applications

There’s no reason why digital engagement with your government can’t feel like digital engagement with your friends and family. The experience needs to be well designed, meaning that a product person is listening and responding to the needs of the market. The experience should also be beautiful. Interacting with government should not feel like a lesser form of digital interaction designed by a time traveler from the late 90s. People fall in love with products that feel like they are designed for their needs and speak to their aesthetics. People can fall in love with their government for the same reasons.

4) Official experience must be as good as resident experience

If you are in local government and you want to engage residents, you need to do it in a way that benefits your co-workers, managers, and direct reports as well. Admittedly, this is not where SeeClickFix started but it’s where we live today. Incorporating gratitude into the platform for those that are creating the feedback loop can be done in a number of ways. SeeClickFix has a “thank you” button that residents use to praise local officials when a request is finished. As external communication increases, the product needs to make communication simple, easy and convenient. More residents engaging can translate to more work produced but it does not have to translate to more work done.

5) Understand that residents and officials are users of a bigger ecosystem than one government

Residents and officials live and work in multiple communities served by multiple public agencies. Software needs to acknowledge this and provide officials and residents opportunities to talk to each other beyond the traditional boundaries created by one-off systems. SeeClickFix users can report an issue in their county, their city, a neighboring town and to even smaller entities within towns like universities and housing authorities. Preaching regionalism feels like preaching to the choir these days. Still, many overlook software design and procurement as an opportunity to realize a regional vision.

6) Anonymity

Wherever possible residents and public employees should have the opportunity to participate in two way civic conversation anonymously. Studies have shown that communities that are previously disengaged are more likely to participate if they can do so anonymously. Put good community flagging features in place and terms of service that favor respectful communication and the concerns for trolling will be behind you. SeeClickFix is one of the largest digital platforms engaging people in government but trolling and disrespectful communication is minute, isolated and easily controlled. Anonymity is a baby quickly thrown out with the bath water on the web. In civic tech it’s a must.

7) Meet users on equal ground

A citizen needs to have equal say in the tools they use to communicate with government if communication is going to be a truly empowering to residents. This means the software that you are using for internal communication needs standardized API’s for other software applications to connect. It’s also important that residents are treated as equals. If a request is not resolved, the resident should be given the same opportunity to reopen the issue that a government has to close it out. I think this can apply in others areas of civic tech but maybe this is esoteric to request management and open 311. This is how trust is built in both directions.

8) Features should empower citizens to be more helpful than they previously thought was possible

At SeeClickFix we have enabled anyone to receive alerts, claim responsibility, and help out even when they are not ultimately responsible. As a result neighbors have helped out other neighbors in snow storms, cleaned up parks, helped to spread important civic information and offer suggestions for improving traffic safety and general quality of life. If your engagement strategy is working well residents will feel like they are helping and officials will feel like they are being helped.

9) Be portable

City Hall does it’s best engagement when it shows up at community meetings outside of the doors of City Hall. Your digital product should take the same approach. SeeClickFix achieved early growth in the community through it’s widget which can be embedded on a local news site, a community group blog as well as the City’s website.

10) Iterate

At SeeClickFix we persistently take advantage of the ability to push updates to our government partners and resident users continuously. We built dynamic mobile apps where service requests, buttons and other local customizations are dynamic and can be updated remotely without resubmitting to app stores. The days of legacy software installed on premise are gone. Your government software like your government has the ability to respond iteratively to the needs of its community.

In the spirit of #10 I will continue to iterate on this list as we learn more. These values are what make SeeClickFix so powerful. Without them the platform would be a shell of itself, not have created meaningful change and likely failed. As one of our spiritual leaders Micah Sifry once said, “Civic tech can’t be neutral.”

Ben Berkowitz is the CEO and founder of SeeClickFix. This piece was originally published on Medium.

First Post



Advice for civic technologists from people who know; campaigning on Tinder; and more.

  • This is civic tech: In Civicist, Kristen Rouse, the founder of the NYC Veterans Alliance, describes how relationships she built after joining Civic Hall helped her win a big legislative victory here this past year.

  • Also in Civicist, SeeClickFix co-founder Ben Berkowitz offers some hard-won advice for other civic tech entrepreneurs on how to build a successful platform for engaging residents and city officials.

  • Former Los Angeles chief data officer and Code for America OG Abhi Nemani offers a useful list of “7 tactics for fostering 21st century civic life” including creating collaborative hubs, pulling in civic-minded capital, opening up slots for civic innovators to work inside government, focusing attention through contests and dedicated media, educational programs, creating more civic apps, open data, and strengthening user engagement.

  • Making the rounds: the video presentation of “Equipay,” the Comedy Hack Day San Francisco 2016 Grand Prize winner. Don’t be fooled by its formal description: “Pulling data income data from U.S. Department of Labor, Equipay allows you and your friends to split the cost of a meal in accordance with gender and racial income inequalities.”

  • Tech and politics: Some young women are using Tinder to campaign for Bernie Sanders, Joseph Bernstein reports for BuzzFeed.

  • Molly Longman of Cosmopolitan magazine went on Tinder while attending a bunch of rallies for most of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, to see what kind of guys were nearby on the app. The results are pretty hilarious.

  • Classified information was sent to the private email account of Secretary of State Colin Powell and top aides of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News Ken Dilanian reports, suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary wasn’t unusual.

  • The FCC is close to finished updating rules for the Lifeline service to allow it to begin subsidizing Internet service to low-income Americans, Maria Trujillo reports for The Hill.

  • Crypto-wars, continued: Oscar-winning documentarian Laura Poitras is publishing a book February 23rd called Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance, and as Andy Greenberg previews for Wired, it’s based on journals she kept detailing what it’s been like for her to be on the U.S. government’s watch list for years.